News Release Archive - Science/Health/Tech

Mars Mission Had 1-in-960 Odds of a Plutonium Release

Share

KARL GROSSMAN, kgrossman@hamptons.com
Grossman just wrote the piece “Applause for Perseverance Ignores Plutonium Bullet We Dodged” for the media watch group FAIR.

He writes: “With all the media hoopla last week about the Perseverance rover, frequently unreported was that its energy source is plutonium — considered the most lethal of all radioactive substances — and nowhere in media was the NASA projection that there were 1-in-960 odds of an accidental release of the plutonium on the mission.

“’A “1-in-960 chance” of a deadly plutonium release is a real concern,’ says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.
“Further, NASA’s Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the $3.7 billion mission acknowledges that solar energy could have been an ‘alternative’ power source for Perseverance. Photovoltaic panels have been the power source for a succession of Mars rovers.

“One in 100 rockets undergo major malfunctions on launch, mostly by blowing up.”

See NASA document: “Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement for the Mars 2020 Mission” [PDF] which gives the 1 in 960 probability.

Earlier this month, Grossman wrote the piece “Nuclear Rockets to Mars?” for Counterpunch.

Grossman is professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, “The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space.” [PDF]

Actual Causes of the Texas Disaster

Share

MITCH JONES, mjones@fwwatch.org@foodandwater
Jones is policy director of Food & Water Watch, which just released a statement: “The climate change-supercharged deep freeze covering Texas has left millions without power and water. The failure of the energy system is the direct result of corporate deregulation and an overreliance on fracked gas. While right-wing media outlets and politicians make wildly false claims about the failure of wind power, the whole disaster is yet another clear sign that we need bold government action to transform our energy system.

“The Texas energy system relies primarily on fracked gas — a source that greatly contributes to climate change, in addition to the litany of public health and environmental impacts linked to the fracking process. The failure of Texas’ gas-powered system due to freezing temperatures shows fracked gas to be an unreliable energy source.

“The other culprit is the structure of the Texas power system itself. The grid, primarily operated by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), is mostly cut off from the rest of the country. In the late 1990s, companies like Enron were pushing energy deregulation across the country, most notably in states like California and Texas. The ‘free market’ disaster in California led to wild price swings, market manipulation and widespread blackouts in 2000 and 2001. In Texas, critics of deregulation point out that the promised cost savings have never arrived, and there is little incentive for companies to invest in the kind of weatherization and maintenance that would have prevented some of the problems that have left millions without power. And in a deregulated market faced with a supply shortage, prices have skyrocketed.”

Jones added: “The power and water crisis in Texas is the result of climate change, fracking, deregulation, and poorly maintained water and power infrastructure. It’s exhibit A on why we need a Green New Deal that invests in building renewable energy with battery storage, modernizes our power systems, rebuilds our water infrastructure, and regulates these systems in the public interest. This should be a massive wakeup call that oil and gas barons shouldn’t be driving decisions around our energy needs. We need publicly-owned utilities that are operated for the benefit of the people and the planet, not corporate profits.”

Bill Gates, Super Emitter

Share

TIM SCHWAB, timschwab2020@gmail.com@TimothyWSchwab
Available for a limited number of interviews, Schwab is an independent journalist who just wrote the piece “Bill Gates, Climate Warrior. And Super Emitter” for The Nation. His prior pieces on Gates include “Are Bill Gates’s Billions Distorting Public Health Data?” and “While the Poor Get Sick, Bill Gates Just Gets Richer” and “Journalism’s Gates Keepers” for Columbia Journalism Review.

Schwab writes: “During the pandemic, Bill Gates’s personal fortune has increased by an impressive $20 billion, but even these gains pale in comparison to his soaring political influence — as the news media has widely trumpeted his leadership on Covid-19, praising his charitable donations or extolling him as a ‘visionary’ who predicted the outbreak.

“It’s a highly questionable narrative, one that ignores widespread controversy over the way Gates made his fortune and how he chooses to spend it. …

“’I expect to spend much of my time in 2021 talking with leaders around the world about both climate change and Covid-19,’ Gates notes in his new book, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, which seems destined to be a best seller.

“Even before the release of his book this week, Gates’s move into climate change has made waves — an interview on ’60 Minutes,’ op-eds in Time magazine and The Guardian, and a podcast with actor Rashida Jones. Given Gates’s track record of success inserting himself into other policy debates — everything from U.S. education to global health — it seems likely he will continue to take up oxygen in the climate discourse going forward.

“If so, he proceeds from a precarious position, not just because of his thin credentials, untested solutions, and stunning financial conflicts of interest, but because his undemocratic assertion of power — no one appointed or elected him as the world’s new climate czar — comes at precisely the time when democratic institutions have become essential to solving climate change.

“Gates’s main credential related to climate change is as an investor. In 2015, he started a multibillion-dollar venture capital fund called Breakthrough Energy — recruiting a who’s who of the global super rich to join the fund: Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani, and others.

“This billionaire club boasts that its investments in new technologies can ‘lead the world to zero emissions,’ but the fund’s portfolio includes companies whose impact on fighting climate change is largely hypothetical and in some cases highly dubious — like lab-cultured breast milk substitute and a hydrogen-powered airplane.

“In some ways, Gates’s book could be read as a long-winded advertisement for his investments, because he devotes many pages to promoting the need for new technologies to fight climate change. At one point, Gates even calls on the U.S. government to become a co-investor in advanced nuclear energy companies, like the one he founded, TerraPower (which has yet to put any energy into the power grid). …

“In many respects, that’s the entire modus operandi — or sleight of hand — of the Gates Foundation. Incorporated as a charity, the foundation is probably better understood as a political organization, one that uses its outsize resources to push public policy in line with Bill and Melinda Gates’s view of how the world should work (which is also sometimes in line with the Gates Foundation’s financial investments). …

“According to a 2019 academic study looking at extreme carbon emissions from the jet-setting elite, Bill Gates’s extensive travel by private jet likely makes him one of the world’s top carbon contributors — a veritable super emitter. In the list of 10 celebrities investigated — including Jennifer Lopez, Paris Hilton, and Oprah Winfrey — Gates was the source of the most emissions.

“The study only looked at Gates’s jet travel, but might have also considered Gates’s emissions from his farmland, which includes large tracts of corn and soybeans, which typically goes to feed animals (often on factory farms) — a particularly carbon-intensive model of agriculture.”

WikiLeaks: While Upholding U.S. Government’s Core Arguments, British Judge Rejects Assange Extradition

Share

KEVIN GOSZTOLA, kevin@shadowproof.com@kgosztola
Managing editor of Shadowproof, Gosztola reports: “Citing harsh federal prison conditions in the United States, a British district court judge rejected the United States government’s extradition request against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Judge Vanessa Baraitser found Assange suffers from a ‘recurrent depressive disorder.’ Although he functions at a high level, he suffers from autism as well.”

In a detailed Twitter thread, Gosztola wrote this morning: “Judge Baraitser accepted virtually all of [the] allegations against Assange that made this a dangerous case for press freedom. Despite the fact that the request was rejected, there is plenty in this ruling to cause alarm.” See Gosztola’s extensive reporting on Assange’s trial, which he covered in London.

JAMES GOODALE, jcgoodal@debevoise.com
Goodale is a former vice chairman and general counsel of the New York Times and is the author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles. His piece on the verdict is expected to be published in The Hill shortly. His prior articles include: “Pentagon Papers lawyer: The indictment of Assange is a snare and a delusion.”

Desmond Tutu: Biden Should Stop Israeli Nuclear Cover-up

Share

The Guardian just published a piece by Archbishop Desmond Tutu titled “Joe Biden Should End the U.S. Pretence over Israel’s ‘Secret’ Nuclear Weapons: The cover-up has to stop — and with it, the huge sums in aid for a country with oppressive policies towards Palestinians.”

Tutu, a Nobel peace laureate, is a former archbishop of Cape Town and, from 1996 to 2003, was chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The piece states: “Every recent U.S. administration has performed a perverse ritual as it has come into office. All have agreed to undermine U.S. law by signing secret letters stipulating they will not acknowledge something everyone knows: that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Part of the reason for this is to stop people focusing on Israel’s capacity to turn dozens of cities to dust. This failure to face up to the threat posed by Israel’s horrific arsenal gives its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a sense of power and impunity, allowing Israel to dictate terms to others.

“But one other effect of the U.S. administration’s ostrich approach is that it avoids invoking the U.S.’s own laws, which call for an end to taxpayer largesse for nuclear weapons proliferators. …

“Israel in fact is a multiple nuclear weapons proliferator. There is overwhelming evidence that it offered to sell the apartheid regime in South Africa nuclear weapons in the 1970s and even conducted a joint nuclear test. The U.S. government tried to cover up these facts. Additionally, [Israel] has never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. …

“Amendments by former Senators Stuart Symington and John Glenn to the Foreign Assistance Act ban U.S. economic and military assistance to nuclear proliferators and countries that acquire nuclear weapons. While president, Jimmy Carter invoked such provisions against India and Pakistan.

“But no president has done so with regard to Israel. Quite the contrary. There has been an oral agreement since President Richard Nixon to accept Israel’s ‘nuclear ambiguity’ — effectively to allow Israel the power that comes with nuclear weapons without the responsibility. And since President Bill Clinton, according to the New Yorker magazine, there have been these secret letters. …

“The incoming Biden administration should forthrightly acknowledge Israel as a leading state sponsor of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and properly implement U.S. law. …

“Israel’s per capita gross domestic product is comparable with that of Britain. Nevertheless, U.S. taxpayer funds to Israel exceed that to any other country. Adjusted for inflation, the publicly known amount over the years is now approaching $300bn. …

“South Africa learned that it could only have real peace and justice by having truth that would lead to reconciliation. But none of those will come unless truth is faced squarely — and there are few truths more critical to face than a nuclear weapons arsenal in the hands of an apartheid government.”

Available for interviews:

GRANT F. SMITH, gsmith@irmep.org, @IRmep
Smith is director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy. He was featured on an accuracy.org news release last month, “How Biden Could Advance Peace and Save Hundreds of Billions in Funds: Will Biden Finally Acknowledge Israel’s Nukes?

Vaccines: Paid for by Public, Made for Profit

Share

DEAN BAKER, dean.baker1@verizon.net@DeanBaker13
Baker is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and just co-wrote the New York Times op-ed “Want Vaccines Fast? Suspend Intellectual Property Rights.”

The piece discusses a major proposal “forward by India and South Africa in October, [which] calls on the W.T.O. to exempt member countries from enforcing some patents, trade secrets or pharmaceutical monopolies under the organization’s agreement on trade-related intellectual property rights, known as TRIPs.

“It cites the ‘exceptional circumstances’ created by the pandemic and argues that intellectual property protections are currently ‘hindering or potentially hindering timely provisioning of affordable medical products’; the waiver would allow W.T.O. member countries to change their laws so that companies there could produce generic versions of any coronavirus vaccines and Covid-19 treatments.

“The idea was immediately opposed by the United States, the European Union, Britain, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia and Brazil. It was opposed again at another meeting in November, and again last week. …

“The vaccines developed by these companies were developed thanks wholly or partly to taxpayer money. Those vaccines essentially belong to the people — and yet the people are about to pay for them again, and with little prospect of getting as many as they need fast enough.”

CRISPR Comes with Serious Threats

Share

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are slated to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Sweden on Thursday, Dec. 10 for developing the genome-editing technology CRISPR.

STUART NEWMAN, stuart_newman@nymc.edu, @sanewman1

Newman is co-author of the book Biotech Juggernaut: Hope, Hype and Hidden Agendas of Entrepreneurial Bioscience (Routledge, 2019). His past books include Biological Physics of the Developing Embryo (Cambridge University Press, 2005). In 1997, he filed the first ever patent for human chimera (combination) with a chimpanzee. Not because he wanted to create it, but because he wanted to prevent others from doing so and to challenge the rules for patenting life. See 2005 piece in the Washington Post about his lengthy legal fight: “U.S. Denies Patent for a Too-Human Hybrid.”

Newman recently wrote the piece “Engineering Future People Would be a Disaster,” writing: “Studies in animals, including one described recently in Wired, show that the gene manipulation technique CRISPR has a habit of inserting bacterial DNA along with the desired sequences into various sites in chromosomes, with unknown consequences. Even more alarming was a news article last month in the scientific journal Nature that bore the title ‘CRISPR Gene Editing in Human Embryos Wreaks Chromosomal Mayhem.’ It reported results described in three preprints — ready-to-be-published studies — by several prominent investigators in the field that attempted to make specific, targeted changes in the embryos’ DNA, the sort of alterations that might be tried to prevent a newborn from inheriting a gene associated with a disabling condition. There was no intention by the scientists to bring these embryos to birth. They were just being used experimentally to see if the technique worked. It didn’t.

“Thus, even if the modification method were perfect, the variability of human biology means that we won’t know what the outcome will be. The new results, however, cast strong doubt on the CRISPR technique itself. In the words of the Nature news story, ‘the process can make large, unwanted changes to the genome at or near the target site.’ …

“The techniques of embryo engineering have now been shown to be flawed. Embryos are just too complex to engineer. We must ban, not simply pause, gene editing of human embryos before biomedical entrepreneurs start offering clients the opportunity to modify their offspring, threatening their health and hijacking their identities before they are even born.”

He said in a recent interview: “It’s not simply (as the writer Walter Isaacson asks) ‘Should the Rich be Allowed to Buy the Best Genes?’ but that the whole idea of perfecting humans based on nebulous genetic theories is misconceived. Sometimes it may work, or appear to work, but other times it will fail, producing people with impairments they would otherwise not have had. Sometimes it won’t even be clear what the effect was. Advocates will say that unmanipulated nature can also produce unsatisfactory outcomes. But introducing irreversible experimental errors in pursuit of human biological improvement would be an entirely novel and troubling development in human history.”

See past interview with Newman by The Real News.

* Problems with Nobel Peace Prize * CRISPR: Engineering Future People?

Share

The Nobel Peace Prize is to be announced Friday at 11 a.m. Norway time. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Wednesday to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their work on CRISPR, a controversial method of editing DNA.

FREDRIK S. HEFFERMEHL, fredpax@online.no@nobelpeacewatch
Heffermehl is with Nobel Peace Prize Watch and wrote the book The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. He is critical of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which picks the recipients. Heffermehl states that it has not followed Alfred Nobel’s criteria for the Prize. His most recent book is Behind the Medals, a study of the Committee’s internal archives. See: “The Nobel Committee condemned in new book.”

STUART NEWMAN, stuart_newman@nymc.edu, @sanewman1
Newman is co-author of the book Biotech Juggernaut: Hope, Hype and Hidden Agendas of Entrepreneurial Bioscience (Routledge, 2019) and recently co-wrote the piece “Engineering Future People Would be a Disaster,” which states: “Modifying genes shows promise in curing medical conditions in sick people. Should it be used to make irreversible changes in people who don’t yet exist? Current research suggests that this would be a big mistake.

“Studies in animals, including one described recently in Wired, show that the gene manipulation technique CRISPR has a habit of inserting bacterial DNA along with the desired sequences into various sites in chromosomes, with unknown consequences. Even more alarming was a news article last month in the scientific journal Nature that bore the title ‘CRISPR Gene Editing in Human Embryos Wreaks Chromosomal Mayhem.’ It reported results described in three preprints — ready-to-be-published studies — by several prominent investigators in the field that attempted to make specific, targeted changes in the embryos’ DNA, the sort of alterations that might be tried to prevent a newborn from inheriting a gene associated with a disabling condition. There was no intention by the scientists to bring these embryos to birth. They were just being used experimentally to see if the technique worked. It didn’t.

“Thus, even if the modification method were perfect, the variability of human biology means that we won’t know what the outcome will be. The new results, however, cast strong doubt on the CRISPR technique itself. In the words of the Nature news story, ‘the process can make large, unwanted changes to the genome at or near the target site.’

“Genetic modification of animals such as humans can be either somatic or embryonic. Somatic modification affects limited tissues or organs in an existing person who is ill. Certain forms of blindness, sickle cell disease, and some other conditions are today targeted by such treatments. We take no issue with somatic modification provided it is carefully monitored as to medical need and conflicting commercial interests.

“With embryo engineering, however, changes made, including mistakes, will be passed on to future generations via the reproductive cells (or germline). In fact, every cell in the body of the new individual is affected, making that person something different from what they would have been without the intervention. This may be done, at least initially, to prevent the transmission of disease-associated genes. But with outcomes so uncertain, what will be the fate of children resulting from these experiments?

“Entrepreneurial scientists eased the way to acceptance of embryonic editing by downplaying technical problems and by issuing vague reassurances that they will not go too far, too fast. Yet they never explained what they meant by this. …

“Any line that once existed between academic research and commerce has worn thin. Researchers at universities and institutes who were once relatively shielded from business interests now sit on the boards of and own shares in biotech companies that are major sources of scientific funding and infrastructure. Scientists who overstep cultural norms or federal restrictions rarely suffer consequences beyond the loss of their federal funding. In the U.S., private corporations or even states will define their own acceptable practices regarding embryo engineering. How these entities define too far, too fast, is completely subjective — a recipe for human disaster.

“The techniques of embryo engineering have now been shown to be flawed. Embryos are just too complex to engineer. We must ban, not simply pause, gene editing of human embryos before biomedical entrepreneurs start offering clients the opportunity to modify their offspring, threatening their health and hijacking their identities before they are even born.”

See interviews with Newman by The Real News (2018), the Organic Association of America (2020) and his talk with the group Genetics and Society (2008).

How the Gates Foundation Is Killing Open License Pandemic Remedies

Share

JAMIE LOVE, james.love@keionline.org, @jamie_love

just published in-depth report by Tim Schwab in The Nation focusing on the Gates Foundation states: “James Love, director of the NGO Knowledge Ecology International, says the foundation’s decades of work on vaccines, along with its sprawling financial ties, allowed it to assert influence early in the pandemic.

“’He had enough money and enough presence in the area for a long enough period of time to be positioned as the first mover and the most influential mover. So people just relied upon his people and his institutions,’ says Love, ‘In a pandemic, when there is a vacuum of leadership, people that move fast and seem to know what they’re doing, they just acquire a lot of power. And he did that in this case.’

“Gates’s leadership in the pandemic has been widely, almost universally, praised, with The New York Times calling him a ‘vocal counterweight to President Trump,’ and Madonna making a million-dollar donation to support the foundation’s work. But because Gates is not an elected representative or public official, the details of his far-reaching influence — and finances — have largely eluded public scrutiny.

“’You have an enormous amount of power that affects everyone around the globe, and there should be some accountability, some transparency,’ says Love. … ‘It’s a charity. … [We’re asking], “Can you explain what you’re doing, for example? Can you show us what these contracts look like?” Particularly since they’re using their money to influence policies that involve our money.’

“The Gates Foundation declined requests for interviews and did not respond to detailed questions sent by e-mail, including about its investments in pharmaceutical companies working on Covid.

“Love and other critics say a key role Gates has played in the pandemic has been elevating the pharmaceutical industry — for example, pushing the University of Oxford to deliver its leading Covid-19 vaccine platform into the hands of Big Pharma. The resulting partnership with AstraZeneca had another effect, as Bloomberg and Kaiser Health News recently reported, changing the university’s distribution model from an open-license platform, designed to make its vaccine freely available for any manufacturer, to an exclusive license controlled by AstraZeneca.”

See Love’s blog — recent posts include: “DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] letter to KEI confirming investigation of Moderna for failure to report government funding in patent applications.” In another post, Love writes: “Trump’s Executive Order on international reference pricing is a lot less than promised.” Another posting is about “Senator Durbin’s letters to vaccine manufacturers.”

Schwab, who wrote the recent Nation piece, in August wrote the piece “Journalism’s Gates Keepers” for Columbia Journalism Review about Gates’ influence over a host of media organizations. Earlier this year, Schwab wrote the piece “Bill Gates’s Charity Paradox” for The Nation which documents how the Gates Foundation has given hundreds of millions of dollars to companies it is invested in, including Merck, Unilever and Novartis. It also documents how the Gates family and Foundation’s assets continue to grow, “raising questions about the long-term influence of billionaire philanthropy” in politics.

California Fires Threaten Melted Plastic Pipes and Water Contamination

Share

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported: “CZU [Santa Cruz County] fires’ aftermath points to emerging threat for California: water contamination.”

Michael Dorsey is a leading environmentalist who has been warning of this problem for years.

MICHAEL K. DORSEY, mkdorsey@aya.yale.edu
Dorsey, sits on the board of the Center for Environmental Health, headquartered in Oakland, California. For Fall 2020 he is the global affiliate of the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont.

He recently wrote the piece “We Can Still Win the War on Plastic,” which states: “Across the United States, melted PVC piping destroyed by intense fires has long threatened communities by exposing groundwater supplies to a litany of carcinogens and poisons, from benzene to toluene and much more. Analysis by municipal authorities following the catastrophic 2017 Tubbs fire that destroyed over 3,000 residential and commercial buildings across California found that ‘Benzene was detected at levels above the allowable regulatory limit (Maximum Contaminant Level, MCL)’ in local drinking water. …

“The heat from the August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains melted a 7.5-mile-long plastic water pipe. The pipe was part of a water system, and an official for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District said that ‘They found that there was a lot of water quality contamination from that melting plastic. The polyethylene put out volatile organic chemicals, benzene. So those are concerns that we are monitoring and we will be sampling for.’

“It could take months to determine the full scope of the damage, but one thing is certain: People returning home after evacuating may very well find themselves without certified clean, fresh water to drink. The 2018 Camp fire, which similarly melted plastic pipes in Paradise, California, forced residents there to rebuild their entire water distribution system due to widespread contamination by toxic chemicals like benzene.

“We’ve been fighting the war on plastic for decades, and at times, it can feel like we’re losing. Big Plastic is a global behemoth — consistently misleading consumers and communities with industry-backed ‘studies’ and corporate-funded ‘research.’ Its latest ploy, led by major oil companies, is to ‘flood Africa with plastic’ since it can no longer send plastic waste to China.”

In 2018, Dorsey wrote the report: “Our Health, PVC, and Critical Infrastructure.” He also recently wrote the piece “Renewables’ potential depends on transparent and fair policies, not special interest giveaways.”