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On this week’s show Helen Caldicott says “the French are ignorant” and “the English are nuts,” Dr. Alan Lockwood discusses Japan, Loretta Napoleoni calculates the terror economy, Marcia Dawkins measures misogyny and Mr. Fish finds his inner princess.
Click to listen to the show, or continue reading the full transcript below.
Peter Scheer: I’m Peter Scheer, and this is Truthdig Radio, featuring the best interviews, features and commentary from Truthdig and KPFK. In keeping with our desire to bring you a wide variety of brain food, today we speak with doctors Helen Caldicott and Alan Lockwood about the radiation leaking out of Fukushima Daiichi. Loretta Napoleoni calculates the terror economy; Lupe Fiasco calls out President Obama; Marcia Dawkins measures a rise in misogyny; and Mr. Fish battles Disney’s ice princesses. Let’s do it.
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Peter Scheer: This is Peter Scheer with Robert Scheer. We’re joined by Dr. Alan Lockwood, a professor of nuclear medicine and neurology at the University of Buffalo, and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Lockwood, let me start by asking you, there’s been a lot of reports of radioactive material in the soil around the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, and also in the water around the plant. And you have a quote here that’s been widely reported in different papers, that plutonium, “If you inhale it, it’s there, and it stays there forever.” That’s rather terrifying. Can you elaborate on that?
Alan Lockwood: The reason that that is true is that the half-life of plutonium-239, which is the isotope that is almost certain to be present, is 24,200 years. So, considering the life span of the average human being, it’s basically going to be there for the rest of your life.
Peter Scheer: And when you say that’s what’s present—present in the soil? Is that, can you elaborate on that? Where is it in the plant?
Alan Lockwood: Well, plutonium-239 is likely to be coming from any one of a number of sources. First among these is the spent fuel rods that are housed in these tanks of water that have been a source of great concern, and the source of several fires that have been widely reported. Plutonium-239 is also present in the core of all of the reactors that are there; particularly large amounts would be found in the reactor that uses the mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium as the fuel source.
Robert Scheer: As a medical doctor specializing in this, what happens when you inhale this? I mean, what is the effect?
Alan Lockwood: Well, the most important thing that determines risk is the activity level of a particle that you inhale. If you were to inhale just a few atoms of plutonium-239, it’s likely that nothing would happen. But the probability of inhaling just a couple of atoms is low. It’s more likely that you would inhale a particle of some defined size, of plutonium, that would have a measurable level of activity associated with that. And that very fine particle—the smaller the particle, the deeper it travels into your lung—would lodge there and stay there forever. And one of the reasons that plutonium is so dangerous, aside from its half-life, is related to the fact that it decays by emitting an alpha particle. And these particles have very large amounts of energy, but travel for very short distances in tissues. So basically this particle will sit there in your lung for the rest of your life, irradiating a very small volume of lung with very high doses of radiation. And it’s that combination of long period of irradiation and high dose that increases the risk of developing cancer at some future time.
Peter Scheer: The BBC is reporting that the water clear-up at the plant is urgent; there have been conflicting reports about how dangerous the water is, that if it’s washed out to sea, it might be mostly diluted and inconsequential to human life. Do you have an opinion on that?
Alan Lockwood: The people who are at the highest risk from radiation injury are clearly those men, and perhaps some women, who are working to try to clean that place up. The reports that I’ve seen in the news and at various other media sources indicate that radiation fields there are really quite high, and that limits the length of time that these people can stay and work under those conditions without exceeding industrial exposure limits. The lower your exposure, the less the risk.
Robert Scheer: I actually happened to visit Chernobyl 11 months after the disaster. And what frightened me—I was working for the L.A. Times then—what frightened me was what we didn’t know. And just recently I’ve been reading reports of people who’ve gone back to Chernobyl, and they say there’s an area the size of Switzerland that you can’t live in. Is there anything like that in the prospect for Japan?
Alan Lockwood: I don’t think so. The Chernobyl disaster was orders of magnitude worse than what’s happening in Japan. And what’s happening in Japan is bad enough. But the reactor at Chernobyl had no containment vessel, and the whole thing blew up, so the entire core and all of its radioactive elements in it, got spread out over as perhaps, you say, an area the size of Switzerland that is now basically a dead zone. I was in Moscow about six weeks after the Chernobyl accident, and was taken to the hospital there, where the survivors of the team of engineers and firefighters were being cared for, the ones who were still alive. And I’m sure most of those men died as a result of their radiation exposures. It was a sobering experience.
Robert Scheer: So what is the prospect for Japan? I mean, is this something that we’ll get over and forget? Does this mean that these power plants can be made safe, or is this a nonissue?
Alan Lockwood: No, I don’t think we’re ever going to forget it. It’s etched indelibly in the memories of people all over the world, just like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Hopefully, the dispersion of radionuclides around the plant is such that there won’t be anything like a dead zone that surrounded the Chernobyl reactor, and it’ll be more like the Three Mile Island incident, where very shortly after the release of Iodine-131, radiation levels returned back to those that were indistinguishable from normal background levels, and there will be no additional risk to people who move about in those areas. I think it’s likely that they’re going to have to entomb those reactors in something like the sarcophagus that was constructed over the Chernobyl reactor.
Robert Scheer: Let me ask you a final question. The physicists and other scientists who worked on nuclear weapons—Hans Bethe, I remember in particular, I interviewed him—they believed in peaceful use of nuclear power. Maybe it was to assuage their guilt at making these weapons, or maybe they just thought it was a good thing. What is your own feeling? Is there a future, or should we abandon these efforts, or can they be made safe?
Alan Lockwood: I don’t think you can ever make everything completely safe. The engineers who designed the power plants in Japan thought they were safe and capable of resisting earthquakes and tsunamis, but that turned out not to be the case. I think that sort of a combination of public pressure, that “not in my backyard” aspect of things combined with the enormous costs that will be associated with the construction of nuclear reactors, will make them financially impractical to construct in the future, even if you were willing to ignore the risk. And the risk is always going to be there. The only reactor that will never create a health-related incident is the reactor that’s never built. I think what we need to be doing is looking for safe, renewable, alternate forms of energy.
Peter Scheer: Well, that’s a good note to end on. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Alan Lockwood.
Robert Scheer: Thank you.
Alan Lockwood: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Peter Scheer: Dr. Alan Lockwood is a professor of nuclear medicine and neurology at the University of Buffalo and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
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Peter Scheer: You’re listening to Truthdig Radio on 90.7 KPFK.
Kasia Anderson: This is Kasia Anderson. I’m associate editor at Truthdig, and I’m here with Dr. Marcia Dawkins, Ph.D. She is a visiting scholar at Brown. She writes on the topics of race, gender and identity, and she’s also the author of the upcoming book “Things Said in Passing.” How’re you doing, Dr. Dawkins?
Marcia Dawkins: I’m fine, how are you?
Kasia Anderson: I’m doing great. And I’m very happy to talk about this topic, because it’s very timely, and it’s also of interest to me. And today we’re talking about your most recent column for Truthdig, called “The Rise of Mad Masculinity.” And do you want to kind of set the stage about your argument in that piece?
Marcia Dawkins: Sure. You know, I just started looking around; I found myself surrounded by the Chris Brown incident, Charlie Sheen, things going on in other parts of the world. And as I was putting my thoughts together, I flipped by E! Entertainment channel and saw this thing with Kirstie Alley being called a pig; then I…
Kasia Anderson: By George Lopez, yeah.
Marcia Dawkins: Yes, with George Lopez. And then I went online and saw that David Prosser had called one of his colleagues out. And I just said, you know, something is really going on here, and I want to dig deeper and find out more about what that is. So that’s what I tried to do in the post; I tried to call attention to what I’m seeing as a rise in mad masculinity, and then get us to think about why it’s happening and what we can do about it.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah. And to pull a quote from your column, you say “As Phil Molé details in a thorough and important post, ‘the worst cases of misogyny in the world today are rarely even deemed newsworthy.’ ” Well, you’re making that topic newsworthy by writing a piece about it, and I’m personally glad you did. But what’s new about this brand of masculinity, as such? I mean, masculinity and misogyny, actually?
Marcia Dawkins: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s a great question. It’s one that a lot of readers have kind of said in the comments, made notes about, and then contacted me personally. And so I’ve given it a bit of thought. And I think you’re right to ask that question, because mad masculinity as we’re seeing it, or misogyny as you’re also calling it, has been around for so long. And I think they’re embedded in our language, our values and our culture to such a large and great degree that we’ve become desensitized. So what I’m noticing is this rise in mad masculinity as reflective of a more blatant and extreme variety for today’s viewing pleasure. So what I’m seeing, and what I think a lot of people are responding to, is this blatant misogyny that’s designed to get us to pay attention and ultimately, in the case of, let’s say, Charlie Sheen, to pay money for this as a form of entertainment. So it’s doing a lot of different things. I think old-school misogyny, if we can even call it that, is no longer just a byproduct of media images. But what we’re seeing now with this rise of mad masculinity and misogyny is that it’s becoming a media image in and of itself. So they don’t need to be critiqued; they don’t need to apologize; in fact, all they require is endorsement, which we’re finding, I think, across a range of media outlets: reality TV, talk shows, news…
Kasia Anderson: “Dancing With the Stars”… [Laughter]
Marcia Dawkins: Oh, my goodness. Everywhere. These places we would never even think to even look.
Kasia Anderson: Right. But what would your response be to the argument that paying attention to this phenomenon, whether it’s positive or critical, actually does something to support it, whether or not you intend to do that?
Marcia Dawkins: I think…I think there is a small degree of truth to that, because I think insofar as all of us as audience members attend to these issues—and I tried to address that in the latter part of my article—but we are, to some degree, guilty. So the question becomes, “What are we going to do about it?” No. 1. I think the second question is, as long as we kind of keep this discussion limited to the realm of entertainment—or even worse, gossip entertainment, right?—we’re kind of letting ourselves off the hook. So we don’t have to take it really seriously; we don’t have to think more critically about cases in misogyny off the TV screen. For instance, a lot of people have been talking—or haven’t been talking, actually—about the horrific child rapes in Texas and California, or the Indian bride burnings, or just a couple of weeks ago a 14-year-old girl was charged with adultery and lashed to death in Bangladesh. And I think a focus on this issue as entertainment can be great for calling attention to it, but also hides other, more pernicious, more political and even more serious cases of violence and abuse of women.
Kasia Anderson: So would it be fair to say that you’re suggesting that what we see happening in this kind of rarefied world of celebrity has something to do with what goes on on a larger scale, both in the U.S. and abroad?
Marcia Dawkins: Absolutely. And the thing that’s most frightening to me is that we’re turning it into entertainment in a way that at least I haven’t ever seen before, or read about before.
Kasia Anderson: Mm-hmm. And, kind of expanding on the celebrity theme—this is a little different from the question I asked you earlier, I think—is that this kind of recurring argument about the spectacle of celebrity—and that’s a term that scholars have used, but I think it’s easy to understand on kind of a more accessible level too—but paying attention to the world of celebrity is inherently a distraction from the things that matter more. And it’s sort of a bread and circuses argument—that, you know, you keep the masses entertained and distracted, and then all these other things kind of can be done under the radar. Do you see a danger of that in having these types of conversations?
Marcia Dawkins: Yes, I do definitely see that there is a danger there. But in today’s world where, to your point, so many people are involved with and perhaps even distracted by celebrity, we have to meet people where they are. So people may not respond if we call out instances of misogyny in other nations that, for whatever reason, we can’t connect to. But if I say Charlie Sheen or Chris Brown, someone knows what I’m talking about. And so I think the onus is on us, as part of the news, as scholars, as people who want to do something about this issue, to meet people where they are even if that is in the realm of pop culture and celebrity—but then get us to look at the larger world, and the larger political world, around us.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah, and it should be noted now that as we are having this discussion, there’s the big Wal-Mart sexual discrimination case at the Supreme Court being deliberated…
Marcia Dawkins: Absolutely.
Kasia Anderson:…and, you know, showing that there’s definitely still systemic problems going on that need to be legislated about, talked about, that have to do with discrimination. But also, since you wrote this piece, I read this morning that Chris Brown, who’s one of the celebrities you mentioned at the beginning, his latest album has hit the No. 1 spot.
Marcia Dawkins: Mm-hmm.
Kasia Anderson: So…
Marcia Dawkins: Well, I know that his album—I don’t know if the album itself was No. 1, but I know that he had at least three No. 1 singles at the time that this incident occurred, about now, last week. And so I think it’s fascinating that we have Chris Brown and we have Charlie Sheen, who are then able to turn…to turn this misogyny into real dollars. And to create a platform just for it to be displayed ever so brazenly. And I think you can see the frustration in both their handlers, right, who just quit on them…but nevertheless, fans—we—seem to be enthralled; we can’t get enough of this behavior. And so that’s another thing, another aspect of the popular culture angle, that I think is important for conversation. So it’s not just a bridge to reach people about the larger issues, but also then for us it’s to figure out, well, why is this so attractive? Why is this image of manly power the image that seems to resonate most for us?
Kasia Anderson: Yeah. And with that we’re going to have to…we’re going to have to end our discussion now, but it looks like misogyny might make for good publicity [laughs], unfortunately.
Marcia Dawkins: Unfortunately, absolutely.
Kasia Anderson: Well, thanks so much for your time, Dr. Dawkins.
Marcia Dawkins: Well, thanks for having me, Kasia. It was a pleasure.
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Peter Scheer: This is Peter Scheer with Josh Scheer, and we are speaking with Loretta Napoleoni. She is an economist and best-selling author whose new book, “Maonomics,” will be coming out soon. And she has calculated the size of the terror economy. So, could you just describe what the terror economy is, and give us a sense of how big it is, and an introduction to that?
Loretta Napoleoni: Well, yes. The terror economy is a parallel economy to our economy that was created after World War II by armed organizations, and it kept growing. It is very much an economy that is based upon the funding of armed organizations. So we have the criminal economy, which of course is interlinked with the terror economy; for example, smuggling of drugs. But also there is a section of this economy which is perfectly legitimate, and that includes donation by people that sponsor terrorism, up to salaries of individuals who are part of armed organization. And they use this money in order to carry out attacks. And I calculated the size, which before 9/11 was about $500 billion, of which one-third was produced and generated by legitimate businesses. And in this economy—this is very important to bear in mind—this economy doesn’t move by itself, does not exist in a vacuum; it’s actually interlinked with the criminal economy and the legal economy. So together, these three components are about—before 9/11 were about $1.5 trillion, which was roughly 5 percent of the world economy.
Josh Scheer: And—I was going to jump in—you began your study with the Italian Red Brigades, if I’m not mistaken, right, in the early ’90s?
Loretta Napoleoni: Yes, I started in 1993, interviewing the Italian Red Brigades. Because they declared the end of the armed struggle, and they made a list of people with whom they wanted to talk to tell their story, and I was one of the people on the list, because my childhood friend had become a leader of the Red Brigades. So I had to change profession, I left my job, I went back to Italy, I interviewed them. And then I became really fascinated by terrorism, and I’ve been working on terrorism ever since.
Josh Scheer: And I know there was a quote that you said early on, that terrorism is an expensive business and that as much as they wanted to do things, they also needed money, right? Is that a…that’s a driving force.
Loretta Napoleoni: Yes. Yes. It’s an expensive business because, unlike a criminal business, it’s a business that consumes every single profit in order to carry out the armed struggle. So everything that is produced by the terror economy is then used in order to fight—the state, or whoever is considered the enemy. While in the case of the criminal economy, some of the profits are actually used in investment. So the criminal economy actually is productive, while the terrorist economy is not productive.
Peter Scheer: You said one-third of the terror economy is generated by legitimate businesses. What sorts of businesses are those?
Loretta Napoleoni: Well, before 9/11, one of the most important businesses was actually the investment portfolios of individuals. We are talking about general financial investments, for example, of individuals, who are sponsors of terrorist activity. Now, we’re talking primarily of the so-called Islamic terrorism. So people that were funding Osama bin Laden, training camps, but also people that were funding the mujahedeen, or people that were funding individuals fighting in Bosnia. So that was the primary source of revenue. Now, today, the situation is very different because of course, you know, today we have a different type of terrorism. So we do not have an international network anymore in place, as was al-Qaida before 9/11. But we have sort of homegrown groups, which self-fund themselves, and the primary source of revenue for these groups is actually their salary, or money that they receive from friends. So the best example of this is the July 7 bombers in London, which raised the money entirely, entirely through their own salaries and contributions from friends.
Josh Scheer: And how do you track all this money? I mean, this is something that confounds reporters, police, FBI, everybody. How do you track all of this information?
Loretta Napoleoni: Well, it’s a lot of work done on this field. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to stitch it all together. So the way I track the money is basically by stitching different pieces together, and checking and double-checking that we’re not calculating the same money twice. But there is a lot of information out there. In fact, to a certain extent, there is too much information out there.
Peter Scheer: How has the—as this terror economy has changed over the years as you describe, how has it grown or shrunk?
Loretta Napoleoni: It has grown, actually. It has grown because the terrorist activity today is actually more spread, I would say, internationally. So before 9/11, you know, we actually had terrorist activities in Europe, for example, which was related to the IRA and ETA, but they were really at the very tail end of their life. The IRA was negotiating a cease-fire, and ETA was basically almost being defeated by the Spaniards. In the Middle East, of course, there was the problem with Palestine and Israel. But then you know, the rest of Asia, virtually there was no terrorism. And look at the picture today. I mean, you can see Iraq, you can see Afghanistan. So, I mean, there has been…Indonesia…so there has been, really, the birth of new areas where terrorists are particularly a stronger presence. Somalia, the Horn of Africa…even the business of the pirates. I mean, the piracy in the Gulf of Aden is very much related to terrorist activity, because you know, these armed organizations are in business with criminal organizations, and together they do joint ventures. So I would say that 9/11, and the response to 9/11, was what caused this booming industry of terrorism.
Peter Scheer: So do you have a definition for… parameters of how you describe terrorism?
Loretta Napoleoni: There is, unfortunately—and that’s a very, very good question—because unfortunately we do not have a definition which is accepted in the world; there are thousands and thousands of definitions of terrorism. The one I use is actually, it’s a crime with war aims. So you actually do commit a crime, which can be hard; you know, doing business with criminal activity, to fund terrorism, or just to commit a crime such as, for example, an attack that produces deaths among civilians, or even among the police or even soldiers, as is the case of Afghanistan. But the aim of this crime is not the traditional aim of criminal activity, which is, of course, making money. The aim is political. So the aim is, as in the case of a war, to change an existing regime or to fight an existing regime.
Josh Scheer: Loretta, this is Josh again. I want to talk about the Internet, because you talk about it like it’s a double-edged sword, and you call it a safe haven for rogue groups. And, one, let’s start with—what are rogue groups? So we can explain…and that’s from your book “Rogue Economics,” which is another one of your many books. And then what is, why is it such a safe haven?
Loretta Napoleoni: Well, the Internet is a safe haven because it’s not regulated. So…and also, it’s very…it’s impossible to regulate it. I mean, how do you patrol the Internet? I mean, how do you check…I know that the Chinese have done quite a lot of work in order to contain information on the Internet, but all this work, for example, has been done only in Chinese. So even at the height of the Google confrontation with the Chinese government, you could have gone on Google in English and found everything you wanted about Tiananmen or any of these other topics that the Chinese government actually doesn’t want you to know about. So I think that the Internet is a place where you can have rogue entrepreneurs moving freely and reaching people that, in the past, of course, they could not have reached. Now, I’m thinking pornography, pedophiles, all of this is a good example. But, you know, there are outside examples; for example, gambling. I mean, you can actually…an online gambling outlet can reach people everywhere. So in the U.S., for example, gambling is allowed only in certain states, but through the Internet you can gamble from your sitting room. So this is what I mean about being the ideal environment for these rogue entrepreneurs.
Peter Scheer: We’re speaking with Loretta Napoleoni, who is an economist and best-selling author who has calculated the size of the terror economy.
Josh Scheer: I want to jump in again, because we just talked about the size of the terror economy, and we haven’t talked about that yet. And you put the number at four trillion, right? And you’ve said we can’t afford this, so…right?
Loretta Napoleoni: Yeah. Yeah, at one point five trillion was the number. And no, yes, of course we can’t afford it. But you know, this is part of our economy. I mean, the truth is that these are moneys that move within our economy. Sometimes we do business with these individuals without knowing. People that buy drugs, for example; in reality, they’re not only doing business with the criminals; they’re also doing business with the terrorists. And the same thing is for counterfeit products; sometimes we buy something, you know, a fake handbag. And you don’t know that in the production of this fake handbag, or in the smuggling of this fake handbag, there are armed organizations involved. So you end up doing business with the terrorists. So that’s…this is what is, I think, scary about the globalized economy, is that you cannot really track the origins of most of the goods or services that you’re buying.
Peter Scheer: Speaking of unintended consequences, can you tell us how the Patriot Act and other reactions to terrorism have affected the black market economy?
Loretta Napoleoni: Yes. The Patriot Act, which was introduced in October of 2001, was a sort of anti-money-laundering legislation; I mean, I’m talking about the financial section of the Patriot Act. So what happened was that, all of a sudden, the money-laundering activities which before were taking place in the U.S. and in U.S. dollars, migrated to Europe. And that transformed the euro into the most popular currency used by criminal organizations and also terrorist organizations. Now, the consequences on the U.S. dollar I think is what is mostly interesting, and that also gives you an idea of the interdependency between our world and their world. So the U.S. dollar started falling, vis-à-vis the euro, right after the introduction of the Patriot Act. Now, this is because a massive amount of funds migrated from the U.S. to Europe, or to out of this nation. So one reason, of course, was the money laundering, anti-money-laundering legislation. Another reason was the fact that the Patriot Act allowed the U.S. authorities to monitor dollar transactions everywhere in the world. So a lot of legitimate businesses decided to switch from the dollar to the euro. Because really, nobody wants the U.S. monetary authorities to monitor all the transactions taking place. And the same thing is for international banks; the Patriot Act was very, very ill-received by international banks. Of course they don’t want the U.S. monetary authorities to see what they’re doing for their clients. So this produced a massive outflow from the dollar…which prompted the fall of the U.S. dollar. And the dollar, in reality, hasn’t recovered ever since.
Peter Scheer: So, speaking of this interrelatedness, how has the terror economy been affected by the global meltdown, and vice-versa?
Loretta Napoleoni: Well, really, the terror economy has not been affected by the global meltdown too…because things have changed. So if the global meltdown had taken place in 2001, yes, I think the terror economy would have suffered because a large section of this economy was represented by sponsors. And these sponsors, of course, had portfolios, and the portfolios were invested in the West. But if you see what’s happened after the Patriot Act, so after 9/11, a lot of money of Muslim investors—some of which, of course, were sponsors of Osama bin Laden and other groups—moved away from the U.S. We’re talking about an outflow of about $900 billion taking place in the six months following 9/11. And this money went, mostly, to Islamic banks or Islamic financial institutions in Malaysia, in Dubai. So they basically moved out of the international Western system, where we can monitor what’s happened, and they entered another system, which of course was greatly boosted by this massive outflow from the dollar and inflow into their currencies. So I would say that in 2008, when it took place, because it didn’t have any impact on the Islamic finance too…because of course, Islamic finance was not involved in the subprime bubble. Because they can’t invest in any business that has the interest rate, because the interest rate is considered to be prohibited. So it was totally shielded by the meltdown. So I would say that from this point of view, the impact was minimal.
Josh Scheer: Now—Loretta, this is Josh again—basically, one last question, I think, to wrap this up, is you obviously are saying we’re in trouble. And do you trust the governments that we have, or the people that we have in power, to kind of fix this and get us out of this hole? You know, we’ve spent money, we’re going to continue spending money…I mean, what’s the endgame?
Loretta Napoleoni: No, I don’t think this government or any other government—I’m talking about European governments—really can get us out of the hole we’re in. I think we’ve got to get out of the hole ourselves. I think one way forward, especially for young people—so I’m talking about the millennium generation, but also people in their 40s and even 50s today—is to manage your finances independently from what the big Wall Street is telling you, and use a new approach, which is the collaborative consumption. So, save money; do not buy a car if you don’t need a car, you know, just rent a car when you need it; do not go on holiday spending a lot of money, because you may need that money very soon. So do a sort of out-swap, or share some of your properties with other people. So that, I think, is the only way forward, because we are not going to get out of this hole, and there’ll be another crisis. And until the system actually comes to a halt, nothing is going to change, because nobody has an alternative vision. And the few people, the few economies that actually put forward a sort of different economic system are not the people that are listened to. So, unfortunately, the future is bleak.
Peter Scheer: Well, speaking of economic systems, can you give us a preview of your new book, “Maonomics”?
Loretta Napoleoni: Yes. “Maonomics” is basically a book that looks at the success of the economic model in China. So…always, really, the winner of globalization is China; and why is China the winner of globalization? Because the Chinese economy is not based upon individualism, but is actually based upon the group identity. The loser, of course, of globalization is us. So the book, to a certain extent, uses the success of China in order to analyze and criticize our own system. And the conclusion, of course, is that the system, as it’s in place today, is not working, and actually is working against us.
Peter Scheer: Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Loretta Napoleoni: Well, thank you.
Peter Scheer: That’s Loretta Napoleoni, whose new book is “Maonomics.” She is a best-selling author, an expert on terrorism and many, many other things. And I hope you come and join us again sometime.
Loretta Napoleoni: Sure.
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Peter Scheer: Truthdig cartoonist Mr. Fish is radical and wickedly funny, but he’s also a father of two young daughters who really, really, really love Disney. He sent us this special audio feature of a father in torment.
Mr. Fish: Ice, Ice, Baby.
On a recent rainy Saturday morning at around 11:20, I found myself inside the Los Angeles Sports Arena in Exposition Park, sitting 13 feet away from a girl wearing ice skates, a bare midriff and a mermaid tail. I was choking back the tears and biting my lower lip to keep it from quivering, the same way that one might close his eyes to stop the day from dawning, but it was no use. The sentimentality of the moment was way too much for me. Just 20 minutes earlier, Tinkerbell had hit the ice with the grace of a goalie having just thrown off the gloves, her torso as thick as a stack of tires, her swinging fists the size of pot roasts. Her appearance was baffling to both my 4-year-old twin daughters, whose concept of the famous Disney fairy had been that of a spirited pixie as lilting as a 9-ounce, 60-watt asterisk. But here, now, was what looked like Bill Shatner in a wig and a green-sequined mini-dress, his polyurethane pantyhose pulled hard over hockey skates, his neck swallowed, like his pride, by middle age.
Immediately, I worried that the fairy-tale magic that my wife and I had promised to our children might not come to pass, and this pissed me off. After all, the title of the program was “Disney on Ice Presents Princess Wishes,” and unless all the princesses were due to suddenly appear and to link hands and to wish aloud for a normal-sized pituitary gland for the Neanderthal currently charging around the ice like a baboon, I was ready to ask for my money back—or, more precisely, I was ready to ask for my wife’s money back. I had to admit that I, myself, would never have wasted my money on anything as sexist and redundant and maniacally optimistic as a Disney production called “Princess Wishes.” “Howard Zinn on Ice,” yes. “Karen Finley and the Baloney Zamboni,” definitely. But “Princess Wishes”? All I can say is that it was a Christmas present that my daughters and me found in our stockings a month earlier. It was the kind of Christmas present that had me hating the baby Jesus all over again and looking forward to Easter when He would get what was coming to Him.
“That’s a big Tinkerbell,” I leaned over and whispered into the ear of the twin sitting on my left.
“Yeah,” she said, her brow furrowed like she was trying to decipher Sanskrit, her eyes locked on the behemoth pumping her gargantuan thighs around the rink. I then started to wonder if this wasn’t one of those rare teachable moments that a parent was obligated to recognize and then to seize with both hands. After all, wasn’t a remarkably telling reality trumping a rather abusive fantasy on the ice right in front of me? Wasn’t this Tinkerbell, by being the stark opposite of the megapetite, superunrealistic body type that defined the animated version, someone to be revered and not criticized? I thought of the agony that many parents are made to suffer as helpless bystanders forced to watch their daughters develop eating disorders, in an attempt to approximate a Barbie-doll thinness that the mere existence of bulky internal organs makes impossible. Of course, to come anywhere close to approximating the body type of the slugger galloping around before us, my daughters would have to learn how to unhinge their jawbones and to grow a second stomach capable of digesting hoof, bone and fur.
Nevertheless, I felt that I had a responsibility as a father to be a truth commentator, rather than a complacent apologist for the brutal commodification and starvation of girls everywhere. Feeling a certain satisfaction that the day might turn out not to be a complete waste of time, I leaned back down towards the same twin, same ear, to tell her that a 7-foot Tinkerbell with an Adam’s Apple and an equine lather was both normal and beautiful, but was interrupted by an explosion of applause celebrating the appearance of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. Both were practically nude by Disney standards, meaning that I could see their navels, their armpits, the dimpled smalls of their soon-to-be-glistening backs, Aladdin’s nipples…Jasmine’s shoulder blades. Plus they were in baggy pajamas; pajamas that, when blown against their bodies, became megaphones for the shape and contour of their parts and services. Immediately preoccupied with the details of a completely invented back story involving these two, I forgot about correcting my daughters’ assumed misinterpretation of what was going on, and I concentrated on my own lurid misreading of the situation.
First, I imagined that Aladdin and Jasmine were really in love with each other, passionately, and not merely actors hired to feign affection. I had them groping each other after every performance, his little red fez being pushed off by her knees, her head thrown back in ecstasy as her baby blue brassiere, festooned with plastic gems and gold lame trim, is rolled up roughly into a twisted annoyance below her chin.
“Popcorn?” said a sweet buttercup of a voice next to me in the dark.
“Hang on a second,” I said, ignoring the tugging on my forearm. “Daddy’s trying to listen to the words.”
Ironically, with the appearance of each Disney princess into the spotlight, each a virgin yearning for true love and getting it right between the eyes by a square-jawed Disney prince—the debauchery that I was imagining slowly gave way to an attention to the song lyrics they were lip-syncing while flamboyantly overacting.
In no time at all, not only had I convinced myself that Aladdin and Jasmine were so perfectly matched, both physically and spiritually, I’d also found myself forgiving the thinly veiled racism personified by the prosthetically hook-nosed Arabs chasing the couple around the ice, along with the missed jumps and falls of the entire troupe.
Well aware that I was demonstrating the same exact brand of willful ignorance practiced by the supporters of every politician who’s ever been elected on the cruel and empty promise of a fairy tale, I decided not to care. Slippery ice was slippery ice, whether it gave Snow White all that she needed to express the exquisite grace of her woodland horniness, or it made Barack Obama and his political credibility fall down and get up, fall down, get up. Fall down, get up. For the sheer spectacle of the fantasy, I was perfectly willing to hate myself in the morning. I was willing to believe.
In no time at all, I was sniffling and wiping my nose with my palm, wanting more than anything else in the world for Ariel to get the human legs she so coveted and to walk with Prince Eric into the soapy Christian goodness of the rest of their lives, scentless and as gleeful as freshly minted coins. This, I figured, is what I got for having no church to go to or any belief in even a smidgen of the optimistic balderdash of any political person, party or platform. I was like a gynecologist who suddenly had his speculum and flashlight confiscated and replaced with a lava lamp and a Barry White eight-track, my analytical understanding of what was unfolding directly in front of me as impossible to conjure as the words water, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium and potassium to describe the substance dribbling from my tear ducts.
And then the world blew up. And, regretfully, it was beautiful.
Peter Scheer: Welcome back to Truthdig Radio. Next up, we have Dr. Helen Caldicott, author of such books as “Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer” and “War in Heaven,” and the leading voice against nuclear weapons and energy for many, many years.
Josh Scheer: Could you expand on, you were talking about…spell the end of the nuclear industry, the disaster in Japan?
Helen Caldicott: Yeah, I did. Well, obviously, it’s…the disaster is so profound, and is ongoing, and hasn’t ended. I think it’s going to wake the whole world up to the profound dangers of nuclear power, and I think the general feeling throughout the population of the world will be, “We don’t want it anymore.”
Josh Scheer: And I wanted to ask you, being a doctor, what are the effects? Because maybe a lot of people don’t know, how does this affect people?
Helen Caldicott: Oh. Well, I think first we should note that the New York Academy of Sciences has put out a report called “Chernobyl,” where for the first time they translated 5,000 Russian articles into English. And it seems…that almost 1 million people have died already from the effects of Chernobyl. Now, that’s just one reactor melting down. There are huge numbers of cancers and leukemia, babies being born severely and grossly deformed, such that we pediatricians have never seen anything like this before. Many of the materials coming out of that reactor last for 600 years. For instance, the whole of the European landmass—40 percent of it is contaminated with Caesium-137, but also plutonium and strontium and the like, and will remain so for 600 years, because that’s how long…but plutonium also lasts for half a million years. Now, the material getting…and what happens is that these elements bio-concentrate in the food chain. For instance, they get into algae and concentrate hundreds of times compared to background water levels; then the crustaceans eat the algae, concentrate it further; little fish, big fish, and finally us. And it’s the same with vegetables and fruit, and milk; the cows come along and graze on the grass that’s concentrating strontium…and caesium and the like, and that then is bio-concentrated in their milk, and then when we drink milk it’s concentrated further in us, in our bones and our teeth, and the like. And so, because we stand at the apex of the food chain, we’re most at risk. Now, you can’t taste any of these substances; you can’t see them or smell them. They’re like minerals that we eat in our food all the time—calcium and zinc, and the like—but they’re radioactive. There are six reactors at risk now in Japan; not one, six. Several of them seem to be melting down. Plus, each one of them has a cooling pool on top of the reactor, unprotected by the containment vessel. And the cooling pools, two of them have run dry. If they are not continually cooled, the water runs out; the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods, containing the uranium pellets and the highly radioactive material, burns and ignites; and as that burns then the fuel melts, and then there’s much, much more radiation in the cooling pool than in the reactor itself. There’s as much long-lived radiation in the reactor as that produced by the explosion of a thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs. So you multiply that by, you know, two to 20 times, and that’s what you’ve got in the cooling pool. So you’ve got reactors melting down, plus cooling pools melting down.
Josh Scheer: So, say you’re someone in the U.S. What are the six reactors melting down right now going to mean—I know we just talked about the, into the food chain and everything else…
Helen Caldicott: Well, it depends on the wind direction. Now, when Chernobyl went, the wind changed 360 degrees in 24 hours, but Chernobyl burnt and melted for at least 10 days. And the whole of Europe was contaminated; in fact, the fallout landed also throughout the Northern Hemisphere in America and right around. The two air masses at the equator do not mix, so this will probably stay in the Northern Hemisphere, but it depends where the wind’s blowing. But they blow from West to East, towards America, and I think there’s going to be—already there’s a fair amount going up there now into the stratosphere; planes have been re-routed around the cloud. Two planes landed in America yesterday and radiation was found upon the passengers and their luggage, an airlift from Tokyo. So it’s already landing in Tokyo. What you need to know, though, is that you only need to inhale a microgram, a millionth of a gram of plutonium, and that will irradiate just a tiny volume of itself for many years. And one of the cells, its regulatory gene could be mutated or biochemically changed by the radiation in one day. Instead of the cell dividing in a regulated way by mitosis, it will go crazy and produce trillions of cells. So it takes a single gene and a single cell to be hit by a single alpha particle by some plutonium, and that’s a death sentence. And that is not just the only one. Plutonium… Strontium-90 is like calcium; it can go to the bone, where it can cause bone cancer or leukemia. Caesium goes throughout the body, so it can cause brain cancer, muscle cancers, ovarian cancers. Radioactive iodine, which only lasts six weeks, but is very potent and concentrates in milk and leafy vegetables, and can be inhaled, causes thyroid cancer. And over 20,000 people in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine have had thyroid cancer; it’s probably many more now.
Josh Scheer: OK. And now, another question, because…with the green movement, and I know you just wrote the book “If You Love This Planet.” A lot of advocates for nuclear power and lobbyists have jumped on that bandwagon, saying this is clean, this is safe, and this is a great way to…
Helen Caldicott: Well, they don’t understand. They don’t understand biology; they don’t understand radiation biology; they don’t understand medicine. And they have no right to be for nuclear power. First, nuclear power is undergirded by huge industrial infrastructure, all of which produces huge quantities of C02. You have to mine millions of tons of uranium, you have to crush it, you have to enrich it using huge coal-fired plants; you have to build the reactor; you have to transport and store the waste. A large amount of global warming gas is induced by nuclear power. So, it doesn’t affect greenhouse warming, not one little bit. No. 2, it leaves…well there are 64, 70,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from civilian nuclear power alone in America, let alone much more from the production of nuclear weapons. That waste is leaking; as it leaks and gets into underground water, it will bio-concentrate in food chains and over generations will induce epidemics of leukemia, cancer and genetic disease. This is the most monstrous public-health hazard the world will ever face. Most of us will be dead, however, by the time the ramifications can be clearly seen.
Josh Scheer: And how do we step back from this? How do we stop…
Helen Caldicott: Well, you close down every single reactor in the world. And I predict this is the end of nuclear power, when the tragedy and the awfulness of this sinks in. And I commissioned a study by Dr. Arjun Makhijani a couple of years ago, to show that the current forms of renewable energy are sufficient to supply all the energy America needs by 2040, with no carbon and no nuclear. Why hasn’t it happened? The politicians are sycophants and servants and prostitutes of the oil companies, the coal companies and the nuclear companies. Period.
Josh Scheer: And then, I was going to ask, with China, they’re planning a major expansion into nuclear power, and countries like France…
Helen Caldicott: China is watching us really carefully. The Chinese are not stupid.
Josh Scheer:…but with countries like France, Lithuania, Slovakia, and obviously many more, they get a lot of their power…you know, I think the French get 78 percent of their power from…
Helen Caldicott: I know—well, the French are nuts anyway. I’ve got a son-in-law who’s a French count; they’re very arrogant. The French nuclear company, it’s all being run by the French government, and Le Monde has really been sycophantal to the French government. Even Eric’s sister [the sister of the French count], who’s a very big TV personality and news person, knew nothing about nuclear power till I taught her. The French are ignorant, they love their food and its agrarian economy, and at every corner you turn there’s a huge nuclear power plant. And there’s a very big rising anti-nuclear movement in France, and they all have to be shut down. They’re pouring radioactive waste into the sea continually as we speak.
Josh Scheer: They have to be close to population centers, right? Because if they’re too far away, they lose their effectiveness?
Helen Caldicott: Because the transmission is inefficient, and you lose a lot of electricity through the power lines, they are usually located near population areas. But they have to be next to water bodies, because each reactor needs a million gallons a minute to keep it cool. And that water goes back, relatively radioactive, into the lake, river or ocean, and they continually pour out radioactive materials. A new study done by the German government, looking at children under the age of 5 living within 5K of 16 reactors, found they had a more than double increased incidence of leukemia and a high incidence of cancer.
Josh Scheer: And then—we just talked about the French, but who are the, who are all the other bad players in regards to the…
Helen Caldicott: Oh, the English are nuts too, they’ve got…and let me tell you that it’s a ..uranium fueling these Japanese reactors. The English have had the most ghastly accidents. There’s some sort of deep psychological need by some men to go for the energy that is obtained from splitting the atom. Einstein said, “The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s mode of thinking; thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” The Department of Energy in America called nuclear power “hard energy.” Whereas they call solar and wind “soft energy.” So the psychosexual analysis…no statement stands alone.
Josh Scheer: Thank you very much for joining us, and have a great day.
Helen Caldicott: Thank you.
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Peter Scheer: With his new single, “Words I Never Said,” off the album “Laser,” superstar rapper Lupe Fiasco brings mainstream hip-hop back to its best tradition of actually saying something. There’s a debate raging in the comments on Truthdig about how Lupe Fiasco compares to the likes of Bob Dylan, and whether that even matters. You be the judge.
[Listen to the last two minutes of the podcast to hear the Lupe Fiasco song.]
Peter Scheer:That’s it for this week’s episode of Truthdig Radio. Check us out in a week on air, or anytime online at Truthdig.com. Thanks to our guests, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Marcia Dawkins, Dr. Alan Lockwood and Loretta Napoleoni. Special thanks to our board-op, engineers Stan Mizrahi and Mark Maxwell, and also Alan Minsky. For Robert Scheer, Kasia Anderson, Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth, Josh Scheer and myself, thanks for listening.