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Japanese adults and children in Fukushima told to endure radiation on par with nuclear plant workers

March 29, 2012 1 comment

This map illustrates the distance between the Daiichi nuclear power plant and the Kawauchi office. It comes in at 20km. Some parts of the town are within the exclusion zone.

Kawauchi, a small town in Fukushima prefecture, had to be evacuated due to its proximity to the radiation coming out of the plant. One year later, several hundred people have returned, or what represents roughly 1/12th of the 3,000 residents who used to live there.

The idea, it appears, is that the town is supposed to return to normal. The municipal office has been reopened, and “elementary and junior high schools are set to reopen” in April, says the Mainichi newspaper. The Mainichi  quotes an old man who said, “It’s nice that there are a lot of people at the office again.” Surely the people in the disaster area have the right to rebuild their lives, and repopulating a village is an integral part of that.

Unfortunately for those residents, the city of Kawauchi is situated about 20 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. That means anyone who lives there will be exposed to levels of radiation that exceed what most safety experts consider to be safe. The levels exceed some areas of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. One would never know it by looking at the positive spin the Mainichi or Japan Today newspapers have given the story. It’s an emotional story of a “rebirth” (reminiscent of the legendary Phoenix ).

The Japan Today newspaper reports: “the village told more than 2,500 residents that” Kawauchi has “levels below 20 millisieverts per year, which it says is safe” (see here). This leads one to believe that the levels are close to 20 mSv. Some of the town lies in the exclusion zone (see here). There is no comment, questioning or anything other than the clause “it says is safe,” and the next sentence which says levels of radiation would need to be reduced further in future. The Japan Times published an article in which it said areas near the plant were between 1 to micrsoieverts, which would average close to 20 mSv per year (3 microsieverts per hourwould be 26 mSv per year. See article here). How is exposure to radiation near 20 mSv per year safe?

Does the city government have a basis for claiming that 20 mSv per year are safe for children? “The average annual radiation exposure from natural sources is about 310 millirem (3.1 millisieverts or mSv),”says the NRC (see link). The NRC is giving a high estimate; many places have levels at 1 mSv per year or lower. Environmentalists and parents often prefer the more conservative figure of 1mSv (see here). However, even at the NRC’s rate, a person would be exposed to 20 mSv in a year, which is over six times the normal recommended background levels. This figure might be reduced a little with decontamination efforts, but that might take years and, in the meantime people will have been exposed to abnormally high levels of natural radiation (not background).

For instance, if the rate of radiation is 20 mSv per year, it would take just five years for a person to be exposed to 100 mSv. Even if the rate is lower, say half that due to decontamination efforts, then it would take ten years to reach 100 mSv, which is a likely scenario under the current plan. In either case, the levels are high because 100 mSv is the point at which a person is more likely to get cancers. With regard to low doses over time, there is not total agreement among scientists, nor is there a high level of understanding. “There’s a point beneath which you just don’t know,” said Dr. Richard Monson in the NY Times, a respected epidemiologist (read here), who is among scientists who use the atomic bomb data in part to support his views (there is not much else to go by). In other words, putting residents in areas with such high levels of radiation is an experiment. It is possible it is “safe” like the people at the Kawauchi office claim, but they are taking a position on a subject that many scientists are saying is anything but clear.

To put it into perspective, workers at American nuclear plants can be exposed to up to 5 rem or 50 milisieverts per year (see here). It is one thing to have limits, but in actual terms of exposure, “Few U.S. nuclear workers ever exceed more than 1 rem [1mSv] of exposure a year,” reported USA Today (see here).  The Japanese standard went up after the disaster because their workers were being exposed to levels that, according to USA Today, are simply not normal in the US (from 100 to 250 milisieverts see here). This is not considered low radiation. “This is a considerable amount of radiation,” CNN quoted G. Donald Frey as saying, who is a  medical physicist and professor of radiology at the Medical University of South Carolina (see here, and he was discussing levels only up to 150 mSv. Note Japanese in Kawauchi may read 100 mSv in a few years).

This map appeared in the Japan Times March 8, 2012 article. It shows the areas and radiation from the Fukushima power plant. Kawauchi lies in a heavily contaminated zone.

This is not theoretical. Exposure to Japanese workers have even exceeded the new limits possibly by a factor of two (see here). In essence, people in Kawauchi will experience levels of radiation way beyond what American plant workers get and may be up there with the extraordinarily high levels Japanese nuclear plant workers are exposed to. Most countries consider radiological exposure  an occupational hazard. Children do not work in plants and are not normally exposed to those levels – not in places outside Japan at least.

Second, the type of radiation in Fukushima is not the same as background radiation – it is a false equivalent says Dr. Christopher Busby. This not exactly the normal type of radiation one might get from normal background radiation. These are alpha, beta and gamma emitters, some of which are not easy to detect, and can wreak enormous damage if put inside the body. Fukushima did not emit just a little bit of solar rays or radon gas. Like a volcano it spewed untold amounts of caesium-134 and 137; add to that plutonium, strontium-90 and many others. Moreover, the exposure standards count external radiation, not what is ingested or inhaled, which could be very serious (see Dr. Busby’s comments at 3:14). In discussing the return of people to their homes now that “cold shutdown” has been declared, “Those people should not return to their homes…this is discourse manipulation,” commented Dr. Busby.

Internal radiation exposure is not probably not theoretical. Of the ten children tested for internal exposure (radiation in their bodies) with a urine test, all had delectable levels. Whilst scientists may argue over the long term ramifications of the on children’s health, the fact is that when they urinate, caesium-137 and caesium-134 is detected. Their ages? Between 6 and 16. Is Article VI of the Convention on the Rights of the Child being respected? It says Japan has a legal obligation to “ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child” (see here). Is that going to happen by exposing children to such high levels of radiation?

Third, the power plant is not stable by any means. It is still emitting radiation, and reports are coming through that plutonium and other substances being detected as far as 45 km away from the plant (Kawauchi town is about 20 km away). It is not inconceivable that some of these isotopes could be there as well. Further, it “leaked” 120 tonnes of radioactive water just a short time ago, and has some of the world’s most contaminated water in the ocean nearby – thanks to earlier “leaks.” If this is stability, then either the Japanese have rewritten the dictionary or the standard against which it is being measured is Chernobyl, which in and of itself is a benchmark for disaster.

A nuclear plant that is a complete wreck and emits radiation constantly just a short distance away can hardly inspire confidence. Only about 200 residents have returned to Kawauchi, an area that for all intense purposes might be as vacant as Chernobyl, if the similar standards were being applied. The Japan Times reported that more than 1,800 refused to return when asked, citing radiation. In true Edward Bernays style, some in the Japanese press – hardly a neutral observer- promotes this re-population by selecting emotionally ridden comments to which we return: “It’s nice that there are a lot of people at the office again.” Is it really? A press that refuses to ask the simple question, “Why is anyone returning to that area?” is hardly an independent source of analysis.  Be it Suzuki’s or Noda’s government, people are expected to sacrifice for the good of the nation. Has anything changed?

Civis Journal

Do Japanese newspapers mislead readers on the state of the Fukushima nuclear reactor?

March 29, 2012 2 comments

This image from Google Earth illustrates the distance of the town Kawauichi, Fukushima relative to the Daiichi nuclear plant (about 20 km).

Japanese newspapers published a piece on the current state of the Fukushima Daiichi No. 2 reactor on March 28. Japanese newspapers like the Japan Today (AP report), Japan Times and the Asahi discussed the levels of water and the incredibly high levels of radiation in the Fukushima reactor No. 2. “Radiation inside the reactor 2 containment vessel…has reached a lethal 73 sieverts per hour,” reported the Japan Times in the very first sentence (click or article). The Yomiuri, in contrast, did not mention radiation levels, much less the fact that, at those levels, a person would die if exposed to it for just a few seconds (see article). It is hardly secret information. “Tuesday’s examination, with an industrial endoscope, detected radiation levels up to 10 times the fatal dose inside the chamber,” reported the Guardian.

In looking at the articles published on the topic, it becomes immediately clear that there is a disparity between the Japanese and foreign press, with the international media outlets generally taking a more critical approach. “Radiation ‘fatally high’ at Japan reactor,” says the headlines of an AlJazeera report (click for article). “One of Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors still has fatally high radiation levels and much less water to cool it than officials estimated,” reports the Guardian newspaper (click for story). The question, therefore, is not just the water levels (as the Yomiuri would have one believe), but the amount of radiation inside the reactor, and the fact it is fatal to humans. Readers of the Yomiuri article would only know the water levels are low. That can hardly be called accurate reporting, can it?

What the Yomiuri says next stands out, “The discovery of the unexpectedly shallow water level will not affect TEPCO’s judgment that the reactor is in a state of ‘cold shutdown.'” The Guardain says the same, but according to which group of experts? It very well may not affect TEPCO’s or the Japanese government’s judgement on whether the reactor is in a “cold shutdown,” but what credibility do they have? It is widely acknowledged by experts that both covered up the three meltdowns and lied or misled the public for months over there being three meltdowns and the levels of radiation released (See here & here & here). There is an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” They may be telling the truth this time, but a healthy dose of skepticism is good in cases like this.

The terminology “cold shutdown” means what exactly?  “A nuclear reactor’s coolant system is at atmospheric pressure and the its reactor core is at a temperature below 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), making it impossible for a chain reaction to take place,” says the Associated Press (click for story). This would mean fission has stopped, which is a positive development, but hardly cause for celebration. “I actually think it’s going to blow up in their face… this is an exaggeration,” said an Arnie Gunderson, a well respected expert on nuclear power in a Bloomberg article (read here).  “Some nuclear scientists say the term doesn’t apply to melted reactors,” says the same Bloomberg report.

“The Japanese authorities have cheated by redefining  ‘cold shutdown’ to suit the situation at Fukushima. Only operating nuclear reactors can be put into a state of “cold shutdown,” said Greenpeace (read here). And it is not just the environmentalists who take this position. Consider what Tadashi Narabayashi, a nuclear engineering professor told Bloomberg, “Achieving cold shutdown does not change the condition of the reactors.” Changing the definitions of words, exaggerating and having respected experts and organisations questioning the use of the phrase “cold shutdown” does not inspire confidence. Even the Japan Times said, “But many skeptics believe the declaration is little more than political grandstanding.” The Japan Times is a Japanese source, and in this instance reported correctly (as cited by NPR).

There is more that the Yomiuri article does not cover: the overall stability of the plant. The “internal examination…renews doubts about the plant’s stability,” says the Guardian. “The latest findings renew doubt about the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s stability,” says AlJazeera. This is potentially very serious. After all, the town of Kawauchi in Fukushima “will reopen facilities such as a nursery, elementary and junior high schools, and a village-run clinic in April,” reported the Mainichi newspaper (click for story). This means exposing children to radiation levels 6 to 20 times higher than recommended does (NRC says 3mSv per year whilst international standards say 1mSv); add to this the fact that these people will be near a plant whose stability some experts are questioning. It is true the Japanese government and TEPCO say it is “stabilised,” but “experts have questioned its vulnerability,” says the Guardian regarding concerns about future earthquakes and tsnuamis.

Would you trust the Japanese government and TEPCO and send your children to school nearby in already high radiation just 20 km away from a plant that is still giving off radiation? Taking into account that the NRC’s guidelines take into effect naturally occurring radiation from the sun and radon, as well as medical doses. Is this the same as discussing exposure to caesium-137 or possible exposure to plutonium, which has been found at distances much greater away than the town? Some might say this is comparing apples to oranges, and that exposure to nuclear waste is far more hazardous.

Too Soon

Is it too early to discuss the stability of these reactors? Quite possibly, though it is clear the Japanese government and TEPCO are happy to do so. “The other two reactors that had meltdowns could be in even worse shape. The number 2 reactor is the only one officials have been able to closely examine so far,” reported AlJazeera. How can a plant whose two other reactors (no. 1 and No. 3), which cannot be inspected for damage due to high levels of radiation, be “stable”? The government does not actually know the state of the other reactors.  Is it not premature to call any of them “stable”?

The “accident phase” is now over, claims the Japanese Prime Minister, now that it is has achieved a “cold shutdown” – according to the new Japanese definition. Even if one accepts that, then why is nuclear waste streaming out of the plant like a river? The Japan Today reported that 120 tonnes of water leaked out of the reactor (the word “leak” gives the impression of a few drops, but 120 tonnes is more like a geyser). Of these 120 tonnes, “80 liters escap[ed] into the ocean.” So apparently a “stable” nuclear power plant “leaks” 120 tonnes of water, some of which goes into the ocean – just this week alone. What about the enormous “leaks” from 2011? (see Reuters coverage) The water round the nuclear plant is some of the most polluted on the planet.

A simple analogy. Would a car’s petrol tank be considered “stable” if 1/2, 1/4 or even 1/10 “leaked” out? Nobody in her right mind drive that car, for it would be at serious risk of explosion. But a nuclear power plant? Sure, “leaks” do not matter, even if they are in volumes much greater than the reactor can hold. This is the sort of doublespeak Orwell wrote about. A nuclear power plant, which is an utter wreck constantly giving off radiation, is “stable.” Then what does an unstable nuclear power plant look like?

It also appears that the 40-year decommissioning process will probably not be affected, according to the Japan Times. How long does it usually take to decommission a “stable” nuclear power plant? 40 years? Not even close. Three Mile Island disaster took over 10 years to wrap up (see here).  The Yomiuri does not address this, whilst the Guardian says the technology needed to decommission the plant has not yet been invented (“developed” is its term). It is interesting how that  “experts” can claim to know when decommissioning will be completed, being that the technology required to remove the spent fuel does not even exist. Who believes this stuff?

The Yomiuri’s article is by no means unique. It follows in a long line of articles they have produced since March 11, 2011. They more or less are an unofficial parrot of TEPCO and the government. Maybe one day they will get round to discovering there is a high level of radiation in the No. 2 reactor.

Civis Journal

Only one nuclear reactor plant online in Japan

March 26, 2012 Comments off

Just a little over a year ago, no one would have imagined that all of Japan‘s nuclear power facilities would be offline. As of Monday, March 26, Japan is getting closer to that scenario becoming a reality. The Tomari reactor in Hokkaido is the last of 54 reactors running, but this May it must be shut down for mandatory checks, as is required for all reactors every 13 months.

Barring the restart of others, which the public in many areas oppose, Japan will have reached a milestone that antinuclear  protesters could only have dreamt about. After the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the release of untold amounts of radiation, and government lies and coverups, opposition to nuclear energy has greatly increased. A test of a summer without nuclear energy would serve to prove the validity of some of their claims: namely, that Japan does not need nuclear energy. They might get the opportunity to test their thesis very soon, but it is unclear if they will be successful.

Prime Minister Noda is trying his best to prevent that from happening. He is reported to have said that he would use the “entire government” to force a restart of the nuclear reactors at Oi, in Fukui. With fierce opposition to the restart of any plants – due largely to the inability of the government to get its new nuclear safety agency running or even an end to the worst disaster in nuclear power since Chernobyl – he may not be able to “persuade” the public as easily as he wants to.But he does not need to. Elected and unelected leaders – much like Mr. himself who was not elected by the population – routinely make decisions without public approval. As long as they do not complain too much, it is considered “consensus.”

Be that as it may, demand for energy increases in the incredibly hot and humid Japanese summers.  Living without air conditioning, for example, led to many people getting sick last year. Sometimes, particularly for the elderly, the results can be worse. Not having enough energy is not a pleasant thing, but neither is living with the fear of another Fukushima or Chernobyl, say many activists.

Last year there was lots of talk about terrible blackouts, but they did not materialise as forecast; enormous efforts by people and businesses to reduce consumption played a large role. But the number of online nuclear plants was greater than.

The Minister of Economy, the well known Yukio Edano, is quoted as saying to the press, “We are expected to secure a stable supply of electric power for the time being.” Apparently, this means that there will be neither blackouts nor shortages of energy this summer. Yet, the message seems to change daily, and it is too soon to say whether there will be mandatory power savings introduced or not.

Civis Journal

Highly radioactive tea found in Fukushima City

March 25, 2012 Comments off

The situation with tea in the Fukushima area is worrisome, to say the least. On March 23, the Mainichi newspaper reported (Japanese edition, English translation) that tea grown in the garden of a Fukushima resident last May 2011 measured 24,700 Bq/kg. That is 49.4 times the limit of the 500 Bq/kg set by the government. This is highly radioactive. Though the tea was not sold and there were bans on certain food products last year, that would not necessarily affect a private citizen’s use of tea grown in his/her garden. Needless to say, this person could have easily brewed the tea, unaware of the dangers. Fortunately he/she took it to the be tested (months later). Home gardens are quite common in rural and suburban areas, and school children all over Japan often go on trips to small tea fields to pick and later brew the leaves. They do the same with strawberries, potatoes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Have school children picked and eaten local produce in the Fukushima City area? What about residents who have a garden in their back yard? Have any of them eaten from their gardens? What percent of local food is in the school lunches or adult diet?

Whilst one sample cannot be used to reach conclusions about the overall radiological contamination of gardens in Fukushima City, one must remember that this is not an isolated incident. In December 2011, “hot spots of up to 37 microSieverts per hour in a garden in suburban Watari,” reported Greenpeace (my emphasis). The data indicate that residents simply living in the area waiting for decontamination “are at risk of being exposed to over ten times the 1 milliSievert per year international maximum for radiation doses” (the range of 1mSv/year to 3mSv/year is usually considered normal background radiation, as per the NRC, which would still be 3 times over the limit). Greenpeace refers to the government’s effort to decontaminate as “incompetent,” and one that is “risking [the] health” of residents. There have been checks of background radiation, but what of the gardens? Would a blanket ban be appropriate? How would it be enforced? We do not know. But the government have banned food when much smaller levels were found last summer. The difference is this is not commercial, and hence unlikely to receive as much scrutiny.

In this picture taken in southern Japan in 2009, local residents are about to pick a Japanese radish. There are tea fields nearby where students pick tea regularly. Preparing local foods is usually part of the primary school curriculum.
Stock photo, 2009, southern Japan.

A serious investigation of locally grown food might confirm the suspicion of widespread contamination (and it might not). That is, however, not what the Mainichi article says is going to happen. Instead, the authorities are asking individuals to voluntarily bring samples to a facility in future (not yet in service).  The Mainichi says, “The city plans to increase the number of detectors and will set up 28 testing laboratories in the city by the end of this month.” This could be interpreted as saying there has been inadequate testing of food in Fukushima City for the past year, and that there is no plan to take preventive measures to stop the ingestion of possibly contaminated foods unless someone has the time to get his/her produce tested (not a quick process).

That such high levels have been found is hardly surprising in an area roughly 60km away from the power plant has high levels of radiation. To put it into perspective, the US government advised its citizens to evacuate to an area a minimum of 80km away from the plant. That means Fukushima City itself was considered so unsafe that Americans were told to leave or stay indoors; it goes without saying that food from the area would have been off limits.

The Japanese government never adopted those recommendations, and provides no compensation to residents in the area. How many people have consumed highly radioactive foods grown in their gardens in the past year? These are questions concerned parents have been asking themselves for some time now.

Staff reporter,

Civis Journal

Thousands protest voter ID laws, drawing comparisons to Jim Crow

March 23, 2012 Comments off

A protester holds a sign saying Voter ID equals a poll tax at the civil rights rally on December 10, 2011 in New York.

December 15, 2011

Early on the morning of 10 December, civil rights activists met at the corner of 59th and Madison, just outside the offices of Koch Industries. Organisers gave a few speeches before joining the crowd, estimated at several thousand to later on tens of thousands, to walk southeast towards the United Nations, stopping at Hammarskjold Plaza for a rally, concert and additional speeches.

Some organisers and participants at the rally accused the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch of being involved in efforts to undermine the voting rights of the minorities and the poor in key states, which they argued could cost the democrats dearly in future elections. There were signs in the crowd with phrases like, “Are you on Koch?” and “Welcome to the new and improved racism 2012 edition starring the fabulous Koch brothers.” This protest, unlike some of the recent protests by Occupy Wall Street, had a majority participation by African Americans; there were also significant numbers of Latino, Asian and white participants.

“When they look at the political landscape they know they can only win if they can segregate, steal, suppress and isolate the power and the potential of the black vote and the progressive vote. They are driven by the nightmare of their daddy Freddie Koch rather than the dream of Dr. King,” said Reverend Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina State Conference of NAACP, who spoke later in the day near the UN.

Not everyone sees it this way. Supporters of the laws the Koch’s are not being fairly represented in the media and deny involvement on voting ID. “Koch has taken no position on the voter ID issue, which is why these groups are wrong and completely misguided in their false accusations,” said Bill O’Reilly, a spokesman for Koch who spoke to the Associated Press.

People at the rally said the Republican Party, the right wing and others were using racism as a tool to exclude African Americans from voting. “It makes me feel angry, and I’m very disappointed in this country because everybody was supposed to be created equal…so now we have to show the government, show the republicans that we are going to vote,” said Renee Phillips, a long time Brooklyn resident and organizer who marched at the event. She said this was not “1932,” looking back to the time when virtually no African Americans could vote.

A particular bone of discontent among activists is the voter ID requirement, which they say is unnecessary and prevents eligible people from voting. “As long as you’re registered to vote there’s no need for ID,” said Natasha Rudder as she stood with her daughters, one of whom smiled as she held a sign saying, “Voter id = poll tax.” She insisted that the government workers had a variety of tools on hand to verify a person’s identity, and that the meaning of their sign referencing the suppression of African civil rights before the 1960’s was “clear.”

Activists were not the only ones at the rally who expressed sentiments along these lines; prominent politicians joined in as well, though not necessarily using the same terminology. “They say they are trying to protect us from voter fraud. When we asked them where is the fraud, they can’t find any…Brennan has released a report on this. That is a rouse. They don’t want poor people to vote, they don’t want senior citizens to vote, they don’t want people of color to vote,” said Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who spoke briefly at the rally near the UN.

A man holds a sign while marching in support of voter rights.

Supporters of the voter ID laws say race is not the question, yet they seem to run into trouble when discussing the numbers of those who commit voter fraud. During the period of October 2002 to September 2005, “The government has indicted 95 people, and convicted 70 of them, for federal election related crimes,” wrote the New York Times in an April 2007 article entitled, In 5-year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud. The report also describes the tough penalties for people convicted of voter fraud face, including the case of an immigrant who was deported and others who received prison sentences. This and other studies on voter fraud during the Bush years indicate a very low incidence. It is less than 1%. It is a difficult, therefore, to argue that fraud is the motivating factor behind these new laws, argued the Rev. Al Sharpton in a recent television broadcast of his show.

George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU and speaker at the event, said, “The only fraud that exists is the idea that there is voter fraud.” He went further, directly linking the recent changes to state laws across the country to the pre-Civil Rights era: “You’re not gonna take us back to the days of poll taxes, to the days when people of color did not have the right to vote. You’re not gonna change the game when we get good at the game.” Getting good at the game refers to the higher than usual turnout among African American voters in the 2008 election, many of whom voted for the democrats.

John Payton, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said at the event that the high voter turnout among minorities and other groups “threatened some other interests in our country. So what we have seen for the last three years are measures designed to make it harder” to vote. Mr. Payton further added, “These changes affected African Americans and Latinos much more than white Americans. That’s a discriminatory impact.” He went on to discuss the new NAACP Legal Defense Fund report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, which describes in detail many of the recently enacted laws across the US. It makes the case that they may disproportionately affect minorities and the poor in upcoming elections.

According to the Advancement Project’s report, What’s Wrong with this Picture?, 21 million Americans do not possess a valid government issued ID. This includes “25 percent of African American voting age citizens – more than 5.5 million people,” the report says. Whilst the impact the new voter ID laws have in the 2012 elections remains to be seen, they may reduce the number of African Americans who meet the requirements to vote.

This is because obtaining proper ID is not as easy as one might think, particularly for the poor, elderly, naturalised or victims of natural disasters. Such circumstances may complicate or prevent some from getting the necessary papers, argues the report. This could mean lower minority turnout in key states, something President Obama cannot afford if he is to win the election. North Carolina is one of those states where a significant number of African Americans do not have government issued ID. The Advancement Project cites over 250,000 without ID, and says that since “President Obama carried the state by than 14,000 votes” in 2008..

Possible Effects on the 2012 Elections

“In North Carolina…in 2008 the media told you President Obama won the state, but in truth he didn’t. He won 37 counties out of 100 state counties.  He lost on Election Day, but won during same day registration, early voting Sunday morning, that had been pushed through by a progressive coalition, Said Rev. William Barber, cited earlier. He went on to argue that changes to the voting laws and redistricting changes would likely prevent President Obama from achieving the same results in 2012.

Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President Bush, seems to agree changes in minority voting could affect future elections. “If their share [African Americans] of the turnout drops just one point in North Carolina, Mr. Obama’s 2008 winning margin there is wiped out two and a half times over,” he said in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal.

The Rev. Al Sharpton referred to Mr. Rove’s comments on the same MSNBC television show cited earlier saying, “Karl Rove openly wrote about targeting black voter turnout in the Wall Street Journal.” Regarding some of the states where these new laws have been passed, “If you bring down the percentage just based on voter ID or any of the other thing, you wipe out the margin of victory in some critical states for the democrats,” said Sharpton. Mr. Rove, on the other hand, hinges his argument in part to a drop in “approval among younger voters,” and that “African-American voters are less excited” about President Obama, not changes to voting laws. He does not address the notion that republicans are “targeting” minorities in his piece.

However, the main point all three seem to agree on is: any reduction in the number of minority votes cast has the potential to decrease the democrats’ chances of success in the 2012 election, particularly since minorities have traditionally voted for the Democratic.

Concerning the allegation that race plays a role in these new voting laws, the Rev. Dr. Barber called the current and proposed changes a “metamorphis” from Jim Crow to “James Crow Esquire.”

Thousands of people marched and gathered near the UN. This protesters holds a sign towards the press box.

Referring to the support democrats enjoy among African Americans, Rev. Barber explained that, “now James Crow Esq. is trying to undermine” minority participation in the upcoming election “because they know if they if we go to the polls they lose.”

One person at the rally who argued race was a factor in the voting laws is CJ Holm, a white female. Though acknowledging the laws did not directly affect her, she said that as a human being, “it offends me greatly.” She added that her purpose in marching was to express solidarity with any who might lose their suffrage rights.

Some at the rally expressed their sentiments more passionately. “We know that them wanting to take back America meant they wanted to take America back to time when there were no unions…when the rich got constantly got richer and the poor got poorer…women couldn’t vote…black people couldn’t vote. But we got news for you. You been working hard to take America back, but we, the people, are here to take America forward,” said Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, president of the Islamic leadership Council of New York.

Organizers at the rally said they would return throughout the winter months to protest bring attention to their cause, promising to work with unions, Occupy Wall Street and others who they said might show solidarity with them.

Staff Reporter

Civis Journal

Anti-Nuclear Protests mark Anniversary of Fukushima Disaster

March 21, 2012 1 comment

In this video, Civis Journal looks at the recent protest to gauge the way in which Japanese in New York chose to mark the one year anniversary of the disaster. Exactly one year to the day, Japan held a nationwide memorial to remember the victims of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. In addition, protesters in Japan and New York called attention to the ongoing radiation problems in the Fukushima area. They called on the Japanese government to protect people’s health, and to end its use of nuclear power.

Egyptian and American activists call for the suspension of US military aid and shipments of tear gas

March 20, 2012 Comments off

December 4, 2011

On November 29th about 25 protesters met outside the offices of the Egyptian Consulate in New York. They carried banners and shouted slogans in English and Arabic. Protesters called for an end the military government in Egypt, as well as US military aid to Egypt. The organizers placed special emphasis on US made tear gas, singling out one of the manufacturers for criticism.

When protesters arrived they found police had already designated a fenced in area on the street for them. Initially overcast, it began to rain shortly after they arrived, reducing their numbers to 16. The weather, other commitments, and a variety of protests had a negative impact on the numbers said Winnie Wong, a protester at the event. She added, “It doesn’t matter if there’s like 3,000 people or 25 people. It’s symbolic.”

Protesters addressed both the vehicle traffic on the street and the second floor consular offices when they chanted. At one point a worker opened the shade and peered out before disappearing just as quickly. This was the only response to their protest. “Hey Obama can’t you hear? People are dying in Tahrir,” was one of the phrases heard. Another was, “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Tantawi’s gotta go,” a reference to Field Marshal Mohamad Hussain Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the de facto replacement for deposed President Mubarak. In a comment directed at police brutality and US military aid they shouted, “Not another nickel, not another dime. No more money for the army’s crimes.”

“We are working on the same cause. We’re fighting the same corruption and the same system,” said Shimaa Helmy, 21, an Egyptian activist who is working to bring Egyptian and American protesters together. John Penley, an American organizer at Tuesday’s protest said, “The Egyptian delegation came to Zuccotti Park, and we wanted to return that gesture by coming here today.” Tuesday was just one of many events when these groups joined forces to protest, including the protests of November 25th and 26th.

Egyptian activist Shimaa Helmy chants in Arabic and English facind the offices of the Egyptian consulate in New York whilst standing in the rain on November 29, 2011.

“Yesterday, tonnes of the tear gas was stopped from being unloaded at the port in Egypt,” said Mr. Penley, referring to port workers who reportedly refused to unload the shipment they knew would likely be used in Tahrir Square. He continued saying, “Did the US taxpayers pay for it?” This is a question raised by some recently. Just a few days prior to this, a reporter asked the same question to the US State Department spokeswoman, and it was raised yet again during the daily briefing on November 29th. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “No U.S. security assistance funds have been used for the purchase of tear gas by the Egyptian Government. We have approved previous licenses for the export of tear gas to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, and that was paid for with Egyptian funds.” While it may very well be Egyptian money buying the tear gas, protesters called for the immediate suspension of tear gas shipments to Egypt, citing human rights violations and misuse of tear gas.

Protesters in New York also raised moral and legal questions about sending weapons to Egypt. “It’s disgusting, the weapons that are being used on people in Egypt. And it makes me embarrassed and sad that they come from the United States,” said an American protester who identified herself as Shannone from Islip, Long Island. She drove over 50 miles to attend Tuesday’s event, and stood for more than an hour in the rain. Some of the protesters made reference to a female doctor, Rania Fouad, who died in Tahrir Square allegedly due to the use of tear gas. However, with allegations of a more potent type of tear gas in use, most protesters were quick to assign blame to the tear gas manufacturers. Mr. Toner, during the briefing, addressed this as well: “It’s not a necessarily stronger brand. It’s the type of tear gas that’s used by (inaudible) forces around the world.” He added that, “We certainly would condemn the misuse – any misuse of tear gas anywhere that could result in death or injury.”

The Guardian newspaper, in an article on November 21st, cited Professor Alastair Hay of Leeds University, who stated the tear gas was standard issue and that studies conducted by the US military indicated that some people involved in “physical activity” sometimes needed “intensive care afterwards.” Two days later, on November 23rd, the Guardian published another article on this topic, citing people who claimed to be suffering serious side effects from the gas. It quoted Ramez Reda Moustafa, a neurologist at Cairo’s Ain Shams University: “The type of gas used is still uncertain but it is certainly very acidic and is not the regular tear gas used in January.” The Guardian also quoted Ahmed Salah, a protester, as saying some gas canisters were unmarked or labeled with CR, but could not confirm his claims.

There have been physical injures and deaths in the Egyptian protests, but concerning tear gas, American officials say they are not convinced it is the cause. “We haven’t seen any real concrete proof that the Egyptian authorities were misusing tear gas,” said Mr. Toner in the same briefing. Protesters in New York were insistent in calling for an end to the use of tear gas and other weapons in Egypt against protesters, with Ms. Wong, mentioned earlier, saying, “It’s a chemical weapon.” On December 1st, a group of Occupy Wall Street and Egyptian protesters traveled to Pennsylvania to protest one of the companies involved in the manufacturing of tear gas being sent to Egypt, Combined Systems Incorporated. They have also held rallies at CSI’s office in New York.

An Egyptian expresses her anger during the demonstration.

There was, according to PressTV and the video footage they posted, an incident where “private security guards grabbed” protesters attempting to block the entrance “and shoved them to the ground”.

Staff Reporter,

Civis Journal