Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nov. 22, 1963: A Turning Point for America

By Reginald Johnson

                For a long time, I  believed 9-11 was worst thing that ever happened to the United States.

    It was awful. Nearly 3,000 people killed in those terror attacks and so many families left grief-stricken.

    And 9-11 set the stage for the brutal (and in one case misguided) wars that followed, in Iraq and Afghanistan

          But in the last few weeks, I’ve changed my mind.  When I saw the 50th anniversary shows on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and saw the old footage, it all came back. As bad as Sept. 11 was, I don’t think anything shook this country as much as the death of President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t seem like this country has ever been the same since that day.

     I’ve heard phrases thrown around recently to describe the meaning of that day: “The day we lost our innocence,”  and another, (the title of a blog by Ira Chernus) “The day truth died.”  These are both right. It was such a shattering event.

    Maybe it’s because I was a naive 16-year-old private school student when this happened. Very idealistic, and, like a lot of  people my age at the time, a great fan of JFK. Here was this dashing young president who was both bright and witty and inspiring. He seemed to say and do all the right things: urging young people to get involved,  helping their country and the world with efforts like the Peace Corps; working to help the movement for integration; backing legislation that would eventually become Medicare; signing the nuclear test ban treaty; promoting the space program and sending men into space.

   In those days, we were in a Cold War with Russia, and we were proud when Kennedy stood up to the Soviets over the placement of missiles in Cuba and spoke out for freedom while visiting the Berlin Wall.

   And he came to be president  at a time when the country was booming economically and was the most admired country in the world. Our standard of living was tops and there were plenty of jobs --- particularly manufacturing jobs.

   It seemed like America and our young president could do no wrong.

   It was in that cocoon of innocence that I returned from lunch on Nov. 22, set to go to another class, when I overheard someone say, ‘Kennedy was shot.’   Feeling stunned, I rushed over to this small building where students could socialize and smoke cigarettes. Some of my friends were there listening to the radio. I lit up a cigarette as  the news came over. Minutes later, there was silence. Then a somber voice announced, ‘The president is dead.’ The Star Spangled Banner began playing. I couldn’t believe it.  Just total disbelief.  I was also pissed. I threw down my cigarette, stomped on it and left. I didn’t want to talk with anyone.

   The next several days, I was glum and kept to myself. I missed the 24-7 television coverage, missed Oswald getting shot, missed new President Lyndon Johnson’s announcements and much of Kennedy’s funeral. How could this happen here? The United States?  It took months for me to get over the shock.

 I was able to get over it in part because I was reassured by Johnson’s statements and actions. He pledged to follow the Kennedy program, particularly with civil rights. When the following fall came around, Johnson seemed downright saintly compared to the crackpot Republican candidate for president that year, Barry Goldwater, who had talked about dropping an atomic bomb on Vietnam!  Johnson, meanwhile, said he would not send U.S. troops to Vietnam. Seemed like a good guy.

  But within months, it was clear Johnson was lying. In early ’65,  the U.S. had started bombing North Vietnam. By the spring, the first troops were sent. Within a few years, we had hundreds of thousands of troops there, all in the name of “stopping communism.” Many of our soldiers died. But many, many more Vietnamese died. We pulverized that country with bombing and poisoned it with napalm and Agent Orange. When all was said and done, we had lost 55,000 people; the Vietnamese had lost 3 million.

   And during the Vietnam era, a lot of ugly divisions in our society began to surface, between hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives, hippies and hard hats, religious versus non-religious. A lot of that divisiveness is still out there today.

  After Johnson, we got the corruption of Richard Nixon and Watergate.  A few years later, the downward curve continued with the coming of Ronald Reagan, and his backwards notion that “government is the problem.”  Reagan began the process of chipping away at the safety net and the New Deal, and undermining unions --- more trends we’re still dealing with today.

  More recently we’ve had George W. Bush and his disastrous war on Iraq and two vacillating small ‘d’  democrat presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Their vision of government is almost as limited as the Republicans.

   Maybe I am idealizing the Kennedy years, but things were better then. Since that period there’s been progress only in few areas. Women’s rights are certainly better today than they were in the early ‘60s. Legal and political rights for blacks are better, though the economic struggle for most blacks still goes on.

  But what else? Our middle class has sunk, quality jobs have evaporated, and our nation is constantly at war.

  I think if Jack Kennedy lived, I think the late 1960s would have been better, and that would have provided a good foundation for the future. It is a fact that he signed a memorandum a month before he died that he intended to pull all U.S. advisors out of Vietnam by 1965. Supposing there had been no Vietnam War? And supposing Kennedy had followed up on feelers to bring a rapprochement with the Soviet Union, and end the insane arms race?

   It should be said Kennedy had his failings, and there are certainly a lot of skeptics out there who downplay what he would have done if he had lived. He was a philanderer and dishonest to his wife; though publicly pushing integration he was friendly with southern segregationists for political purposes; and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 was a boneheaded move.

   But I believe if Kennedy had lived, there would have been no Vietnam War, and he would have achieved lot at home, in the end compiling a domestic record that would have rivaled FDR’s.

   I think it’s definitely fair to say if JFK, his brother Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King had lived, America would be a much better place today.


I’ve always felt there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy.  Lee Harvey Oswald may well have been part of it, but he did not act alone. Too many people heard too many shots that day in Dallas, and eyewitnesses saw some shots come from the front of Kennedy’s motorcade, something the Warren Commission denied happening. (The Warren Commission, charged with investigating the assassination, concluded Oswald acted alone, and shot Kennedy from the rear, firing a rifle from a 6th-floor window).

 While Kennedy was quite popular in general,  he was hated by some, including right-wingers and anti-Castro Cubans. He also had a lot of detractors in the military and the intelligence agencies, who thought Kennedy was ‘too soft on communism.’  I believe people from the intelligence sector and the military, as well as some anti-communist Cubans, were part of the conspiracy. Oswald was on the fringes. Jack Ruby was sent to shut Oswald up. The fact that Ruby, a nobody, could waltz into the Dallas police station while the most important criminal suspect in American history was being transported, then walk up and shoot Oswald dead, tells you all you need to know about this case. It’s been a total cover-up.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Demanding Action on Fukushima

 By Reginald Johnson

    A determined group of anti-nuclear activists are working feverishly to spread the word about the grave dangers posed by the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, and demanding that other countries get involved in making sure that the plant doesn’t have a catastrophic nuclear accident.

  Recently the group delivered a petition to the United Nations with over 150,000 signatures which asks that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other world leaders take immediate steps to intervene in the Fukushima situation, by sending a team of elite scientists and engineers to Japan to oversee the safe dismantling of the plant.

  The company that owns the facility, Tokyo Electric Power Company, on Monday began the removal of 1300 highly radioactive fuel rods from an unstable storage building at Reactor 4.  The work is expected to last a year.

 But activists such as long-time nuclear power critic Harvey Wasserman maintain that TEPCO does not have the expertise to handle this operation properly, and there’s the possibility of a major accident.

  Wasserman and others say the fuel rods (now in a cooling pool) are in some cases bent or embrittled, and the removal will be extremely tricky. Should any of the rods break, hit each other, or get exposed to the air, there could be an explosion and serious radiation releases.

   The amount of radiation that could potentially be released if all the rods were caught up in an explosion is 14,000 times the amount contained in the fallout from the Hiroshima bomb, according to Hiroaki  Koide, assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.

   Charles Perrow, a professor at Yale University said the amount of radioactive caesium - 137 in the spent fuel pool is 10 times the amount that was present in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. Radiation from the Chernobyl meltdown spread around the world. At Fukushima, one slip-up in the removal process would trigger a chain reaction, Perrow told ABC News.

  “This has me very scared,” he said. “Tokyo would have to be evacuated because caesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly.”

   At a gathering Nov. 7 at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza outside the UN prior to the delivery of the petition and accompanying letter, Wasserman and other activists spoke about their work and the Fukushima crisis. A number of those present were members of  the group the “Green Shadow Cabinet,” an alternative presidential cabinet whose members often speak in opposition to government policies and offer progressive alternatives.

  “The letter we’re delivering promotes a plan developed by 16 top nuclear experts urging that the government of Japan transfer responsibility for the Fukushima reactor site to a worldwide engineering group….this plan stresses that the clean-up be overseen by a civil society panel and an international group of nuclear experts independent from TEPCO and the International Atomic Energy Admnistration (IAEA),” Wasserman said.

  Also speaking was Dr. Margaret Flowers,  a pediatrician and another member of the Green Shadow Cabinet.  “There is the potential for a massive release of radiation that would have significant health effects for people and other life across the world --- from Japan to the Pacific Islands to the continental United States, “ she said.

  Flowers added,  “The U.S. government and many regulatory bodies are dominated by the nuclear industry and have failed to take appropriate action to provide assistance to Japan. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that TEPCO pulls it off,”
  Also on hand was Dr. Jill Stein, the president of the Green Shadow Cabinet and Green Party presidential candidate in the 2012 national election.

 Stein spoke about the need for transparency in the information coming out about Fukushima and the clean-up operation --- also known as decommissioning.

  “The media must be provided with timely, accurate information and must report on Fukushima throughout this critical phase. The public needs to know what’s going on, step by step,” said Stein.

  The problem with the Reactor 4 spent fuel rods is by no means the only issue of concern at Fukushima Daiichi, which was struck by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The natural disaster caused over 18,000 deaths.

   Three entire reactor cores are missing since the earthquake; massive amounts of radiated water has leaked from the plant into the Pacific Ocean, contaminating sea life; thousands more radioactive spent fuel rods lie in storage buildings around the facility, creating additional health risks in the event of another earthquake.
    The activists will continue to agitate to get the word out about the dangers posed by Fukushima and the need for a proper clean-up. More petition drives and actions are planned.

    Wasserman said he and others also will engage in a fast on the 11th day of every month, “to honor the victims of this horrible disaster, and to focus our efforts on finding ways to survive it.”


Monday, November 4, 2013

Fukushima -- A Global Threat


 By Reginald Johnson

  This week, an event will take place at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that could have grave consequences for the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

  Engineers from the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation, which owns the plant, will attempt to remove more than 1500 highly-radioactive spent fuel rods from a damaged containment building at the plant’s reactor number 4. It is critical to remove the rods and put them in a safe building, given the possibility that another earthquake could strike the area of the plant and bring the existing building down, which could lead to a massive explosion and fire, setting off waves of lethal radiation.

  A powerful earthquake and tsunami already struck the plant in March 2011, creating widespread damage to the complex.

  The problem is that a number of nuclear experts and observers are skeptical of TEPCO’s technical capabilities to perform the removal operation safely. Many of the rods at the reactor 4 building are bent and in a brittle condition, and there is doubt that the company  on its own will be able to extract each one (they’ll be using a 273-foot crane for the operation) without one or several rods breaking. The rods could explode or catch on fire, setting off large doses of radiation, depending on how many rods are involved.

  The amount of radioactivity in the fuel rods at unit 4 is staggering. According to long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, the amount of cesium 137 in the fuel rods in reactor 4 is equal to 14,000 times the amount released by the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

  Making the situation even more worrisome is that another 6,000 spent fuel rods sit in a cooling pool only 50 meters away from reactor 4. Should those rods somehow get involved during an accident, the consequences are unthinkable, say Wasserman and others.
 “The potential radiation releases in this situation can only be described as apocalyptic,” Wasserman commented in an article in Common Dreams on October 24 (
 Despite the difficulty of the task and the dangers involved, TEPCO is planning on going ahead with the removal operation sometime later this week. The Japanese government has reportedly raised no objections to the plan

  But Wasserman and others, such as nuclear engineer and activist Arnie Gundersen, are trying desperately to get the UN and leading countries like the U.S. to intervene and not allow the operation to go ahead until a team of the world’s best nuclear engineers are assembled and sent to Japan to assist in this project.

  “The bring-down of the fuel rods from Fukushima Unit 4 may be the most dangerous engineering task ever undertaken. Every indication is that TEPCO is completely incapable of doing it safely, or of reliably informing the global community as to what’s actually happening,” said Wasserman. “This is a job that should only be undertaken by a dedicated team of the world’s very best scientists and engineers, with access to all the funding that could be needed.”

  On Thursday, activists will go to UN headquarters in New York City to present a petition with the names of more than 100,000 people asking UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to initiate a global takeover of the Fukushima operation. Prior to the presentation, people will gather at 1 p.m. at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza outside the UN.

  (Just as this blog was being written, TEPCO reportedly announced on its website that U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz had met with company officials about Fukushima and offered Washington’s assistance in the fuel rod removal operation and decommissioning of the plant. The nature of the assistance was not described.)

 It is urgently important that the UN get involved in the Fukushima crisis, as this clearly has world-wide implications. A massive release of radiation into the air, in the event of an accident, affects not only Japan, but everywhere --- just as radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986 spread around the world. By all estimates, there is real danger of a radiation accident far worse than Chernobyl taking place at Fukushima.

 The problems at Fukushima’s unit 4 are by no means the only serious issues at the plant. Some reactors at other units have apparently sunk into the earth, due to the earthquake, posing incalculable health and environmental dangers. Hundreds of tons of water contaminated with radioactive elements, are continuing to leak into the Pacific Ocean, affecting fish and seafood. Bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California have been found to contain radioactive elements, most likely picked up when the migratory fish were in waters close to Japan.

   To Wasserman, the situation at Fukushima is beyond dire.  “This is a question that transcends being anti-nuclear. The fate of the earth is at stake here and the whole world must be watching every move at that site from now on. With 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the place, as a ceaseless flow of contaminated water poisons our oceans, our very survival is at stake.”