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How the Three Mile Island Accident Was Made Even Worse By a Chaotic Response

March 27, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

For tellers at a Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania bank, the final days of March 1979 should have felt like business as usual. Instead, they were sheer chaos: customers piled up, trying to withdraw money in the days before ATMs.

“Customers were stopping by with their cars packed up to flee, withdrawing their cash,” recalled bank teller Bailey Brown in 2014. “One even showed me the diamond necklace she bought; she figured we were all going to die and she wouldn’t have to pay for it!”

Shrewsbury wasn’t under evacuation orders during the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island. But people were evacuating from the town 40 miles away from the power station anyway. The response by local, state and national officials had been so alarming—and confusing—that the public didn’t know what to think.

Journalist and TV news broadcaster Walter Cronkite, anchor for the ‘CBS Evening News,’ reporting on the meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979.

The disaster itself was made worse by human error. And the botched public response was no different. During the tense days following the accident, conflicting reports and recommendations made it hard to know what to believe. Was the area on the verge of a China Syndrome-style catastrophe, or was it just fine to stay at home?

Today, the response to the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis is considered a textbook example of what not to do during an emergency. But before 4:00 a.m. on the morning of March 28, 1979, nobody had made adequate plans as to how to respond to an accident at the nuclear power plant. That morning, a chain reaction began inside one of Three Mile Island’s nuclear reactors. Due to a constellation of mechanical and human errors, the reactor’s automatic cooling system didn’t cool down the reactor as expected, and a partial meltdown occurred. For hours, the radioactive core of the reactor was left uncovered, causing radiation levels to spike throughout the facility.

It took until nearly 7:00 a.m. for reactor staff to notify local and state authorities about the situation, and at 7:24 a.m., an emergency was declared. But though officials had begun responding to what they considered to be an emergency, the outward-facing message downplayed the danger. The day after the partial meltdown occurred, an official from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told the public the danger had passed. …read more


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When American Women Were Yanked off the Streets and Jailed in Droves for ‘Promiscuity’

March 27, 2019 in History

By Scott W. Stern

Under the government-backed American Plan, many were injected with mercury and forced to ingest arsenic-based drugs as ‘treatment.’

For much of the 20th century in America, a little-known but widespread government program locked people up without trials simply for having sexually transmitted infections—and then forced them to undergo dangerous, poisonous “treatments.”

If they were women, that is.

Take, for example, the nearly two dozen women rounded up by authorities on a single day in Sacramento, California in 1919. Margaret Hennessey was one of them, apprehended while walking with her sister to the meat market. It was Tuesday, February 25, a clear winter morning with a gentle wind and temperatures rising to the 40s or 50s. Hennessey—who lived in Richmond, California with her husband, H.J., a Standard Oil foreman—had been staying in town, recovering from influenza at the home of her sister, known from press reports only as Mrs. M. Bradich. As the two women walked to the market, they were approached by an Officer Ryan and other members of Sacramento’s “morals squad”—a unit formed that very morning, tasked with cleansing the city of vice and immorality. The police told the two lone women they were under arrest as “suspicious characters.”

Mrs. Hennessey tried to explain who she was and what she was doing in Sacramento. She offered to show the officers identification. She told the officers her 6-year-old son was attending school in a local convent, and if they arrested her, someone would have to care for him. The officers, Hennessey later told the press, “paid no heed, but took my sister and I to the hospital.” The morals squad delivered Hennessey and Bradich to the “Canary Cottage,” as the city’s isolation hospital was known. There, a doctor probed and prodded the two women’s genitalia, examining them for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “At the hospital I was forced to submit to an examination just as if I was one of the most degraded women in the world. I want to say I have never been so humiliated in my life,” Mrs. Hennessey told the local newspaper. “My reputation means something to me and I am going to defend it.”

Margaret Hennessey’s experience was far from unusual. She had been detained under a program she likely had never heard of: the “American Plan.” From the 1910s through the 1950s, and in some places into the 1960s and 1970s, tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of …read more


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When the Pentagon Dug Secret Cold War Ice Tunnels to Hide Nukes

March 27, 2019 in History

By Eric Niiler

The project, dubbed “Project Iceworm,” sounds like a setting for a James Bond spy movie—except it was real and the remains present a toxic mess

On a clear, cold day in May 1959, two U.S. Army officers clad in polar gear gazed through their aviator sunglasses at the endless white horizon before them. Standing heroically in front of Arctic personnel carriers, Col. John Kerkering and Capt. Thomas Evans took measurements for a new military installation to be buried beneath Greenland’s ice cap. They called it “Camp Century.”

The proposed facility in northwestern Greenland was publicly touted as a “nuclear-powered Arctic research center” nestled in a wilderness of ice and snow. But the real reason for this Cold War base was to build and maintain a secret network of tunnels and missile silos connected by rail cars known as “Operation Iceworm.”

Photo of PM-2A Nuclear Power Plant.

It was the tense days of the Cold War when a rivalry between the nuclear powers of United States and the Soviet Union had military leaders constantly scheming new ways to outfox the other side. Pentagon planners thought that by shuttling 600 nuclear-tipped “Iceman” missiles (a new moniker for the existing Minuteman) back and forth between 2,100 silos, they could keep their counterparts in the Soviet Union guessing. Imagine a potentially deadly game of atomic “whack-a-mole” spread out across 52,000 square miles of northern Greenland.

“We needed a flat surface, a level with less than one degree of slope,” Evans says in a voiceover of a U.S. Army film, released in 1960, documenting the scout mission for the site. “This would minimize construction problems by enabling us to keep all of our tunnels on the same level.”

Once the location was settled, hundreds of military engineers and technicians trekked 150 miles from the existing Thule Air Base along Greenland’s northwest coast to the Camp Century site. From 1959 to 1961, they dug hundreds of feet into the compacted snow, fashioning an underground city with a sleeping quarters, laboratories, offices, a barber shop, laundry, library and warm showers for 200 soldiers.

The American public didn’t know about Project Iceworm until a Danish Parliament investigation published documents about the secret project in 1997, but they did know about Camp Century. Television crews and journalists from National Geographic and the New York Times visited as the camp took shape. So, too, were an unlikely pair of Boy Scouts, one …read more


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Why Europe Axed Its Wealth Taxes

March 27, 2019 in Economics

By Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

Senator Elizabeth Warren is pushing a wealth-tax plan on the
presidential campaign trail. She is promising that her tax would
counter a rigged political system and raise enough money to pay for universal child
care, a Green New Deal, student-loan relief, Medicare for All, and
more housing subsidies.

Warren’s tax would be an annual levy of 2 percent on
“net wealth” — meaning wealth minus debt —
above $50 million and 3 percent on net wealth above $1 billion.

Wealth-tax supporters do not seem concerned about the likely
damage to economic growth. But they should know that from a
practical standpoint, wealth taxes in other countries have raised
little money and have been a beast to administer.

They raised little money
and were a beast to administer.

More than a dozen European countries used to have wealth taxes,
but nearly all of these countries repealed them,
including Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland,
Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden. Wealth
taxes survive only in Norway, Spain, and Switzerland.

Before repeal, European wealth taxes — with a variety of
rates and bases — tended to raise only about 0.2 percent of
gross domestic product in revenue, based on Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development data. That is only 1/40th as much as the U.S.
federal income tax raises.

Yet for little revenue, wealth taxes are difficult to administer
and enforce. They may require taxpayers to report the values of
financial securities, homes, furniture, artwork, jewelry, antiques,
vehicles, boats, pension rights, family businesses, farm assets,
land, intellectual property, and much else. But owners do not know
the market values of many assets, and values change over time, so
costly wealth-tax compliance would only make accountants

And what about wealth held abroad? There is no way the Internal
Revenue Service would be able to track down and value everything
U.S. residents owned on a global basis.

In the 1970s, the British Labour government pushed for a
national wealth tax and failed. The minister in charge, Denis
Healey, said in his memoirs, “We had committed ourselves
to a Wealth Tax; but in five years I found it impossible to draft
one which would yield enough revenue to be worth the administrative
cost and political hassle.”

Another problem is that wealth taxes have disappearing tax
bases. In Europe, politicians carved out an increasing number of
exemptions from tax bases to appease special interests. Exemptions
were often provided for farm assets, small businesses, pension
assets, artwork, and other items.

And here’s the kicker: Since the base of wealth taxes is
net wealth, debt is deductible. That …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Trump's Latest Attack on Obamacare Damages the Justice Department

March 27, 2019 in Economics

By Josh Blackman

Josh Blackman

Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack
Obama served as its legal guardian. In the span of five years, his
administration defended the law before the Supreme Court in four
high-profile cases. The Trump administration, however, quickly
abandoned that role. In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions
argued that key portions of Obamacare were unconstitutional
following the tax-cut legislation. Now, the Justice Department
contends that the entire ACA must go.

The strategy is patent: Incinerate the law so a new, greater
health-care reform can rise from the ashes. President Trump
stated the matter bluntly: “If the
Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we’ll have a plan
that is far better than Obamacare.”

In the short term, this position will have little impact on the
ACA litigation. Other parties, including the House of
Representatives, can defend the entire law. But in the long run,
this move is counterproductive. The Justice Department has amassed
a treasure trove of goodwill and credibility among federal courts
over the years. But going forward, judges may be less willing to
afford the executive branch this unique type of deference. Because
of this hard-to-justify decision, the Trump administration will
have an even harder time prevailing in other cases.

The decision to jettison
the entire ACA crosses a new legal Rubicon.

This story begins in 2012, during the first constitutional
challenge to Obamacare. Recall that five justices ruled
that Congress lacked the power to compel people to buy insurance.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. found a way to save the ACA
by construing the penalty, which raised revenue, as a tax.

Fast-forward to 2017. The GOP-controlled Congress reduced the penalty to $0.
Did that change kick the legs out of Roberts’s saving construction?
Texas and a host of other red states thought so. They filed suit
and argued that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. But
the states didn’t stop there. They argued that if the mandate fell,
the entire law must fall — from the protections for people
with preexisting conditions, to the Medicaid expansion, to
regulations on medical devices. Everything.

Generally, the executive branch has an obligation, where
possible, to defend the constitutionality of federal laws. And if
part of the law is constitutional, the executive branch usually
tries to salvage the remainder of the statute. Sessions took a
different path. In June 2018, he informed Congress that the Justice Department would no
longer defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate. I
agreed with his decision — the $0 penalty
can no longer be saved as a tax. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Former Governor Sees Things the Way Doctors Do

March 27, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

I recently hosted a
at the Cato Institute that aimed at considering new
strategies to address the nation’s growing drug overdose
problem. One presenter, former Pennsylvania governor Edward
Rendell, vowed to
risk prison
for engaging in harm reduction in the city of

Rendell is a principal of a non-profit called Safehouse that
seeks to open a safe consumption site after getting the green light
from the City Council. Such a facility, more aptly called an
“overdose prevention site,” allows intravenous drug
users to inject their heroin with clean needles and syringes, in a
clean and safe environment, and test it to make sure it is not
laced with lethal amounts of fentanyl. Nurses are close by with the
overdose antidote naloxone and offer them treatment.

This time-tested method of helping those who suffer from the
disease of addiction — part of a strategy called
“harm reduction
” — is in use in
120 cities
throughout the developed world and has been for
decades. But federal law forbids it in the United States, which is
the reason Rendell and his colleagues at Safehouse risk prosecution
and prison.

Medical practice is not
just about treating or preventing illness or injury. Much of what
we do is harm reduction.

As a physician I am mystified by the federal government’s
stand against harm reduction. Medical practice is not just about
treating or preventing illness or injury. Much of what we do is
harm reduction.

Not many decades ago communicable and infectious diseases and
work-related trauma were the biggest threats to health most people
faced. Sadly, much of the underdeveloped or developing world still
faces these threats. In modern, developed countries, better
sanitation, antibiotics and immunization have eradicated many
infectious diseases, and made death from others relatively
uncommon. Some infections, like cholera, typhus, leprosy and
tetanus, are so uncommon that few doctors have ever seen or expect
to see a case and would have a hard time recognizing one.

Engineering and technology have made most jobs in developed
nations much safer to perform, reducing the risk of work-related
injuries. In affluent and advanced countries much of what doctors
treat or seek to prevent are illnesses or injuries resulting from
personal lifestyle choices. They do so by engaging in harm

For example, many cases of diabetes can be prevented or treated
through proper dietary regimens. Yet lots of people with diabetes
either can’t or won’t comply with the rigorous eating
restrictions this entails. So doctors prescribe drugs like
metformin to reduce the harm from imperfect dietary …read more

Source: OP-EDS