Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bill Maher Interview

Bill Maher on Masturbation and National Security

The comedian has just launched the twelfth season of Real Time and is about to hit the road for a tour of stand-up dates in red states.

Phil McCarten/Reuters
As his HBO show Real Time begins its twelfth season with higher ratings than ever—4.1 million viewers, high for a premium-cable talk show—the iconoclastic comedian and political commentator Bill Maher spoke to The Atlantic about why he likes doing comedy shows in red states, how his show is different from Jon Stewart's, why the God of the Old Testament is "the most psychopathic character in fiction," and why he believes most opposition to President Obama is racist.

Let me start by asking the question you're probably most sick of answering, so we can get it out of the way. The infamous episode of your ABC show Politically Incorrect, on September 17, 2001—

The tragic events of 9/17?

Yes, The tragic events of 9/17. [Ed. note: Maher said, in response to President George W. Bush's comment that the 9/11 hijackers were cowards, "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly." Advertisers withdrew and the show was cancelled a few months later.] You've said the aftermath of that was the most traumatic period of your life. So I'm curious, what has it been like moving over to HBO, where there are no advertisers? And, second, why does everyone forget that when you made your remarks, you were just agreeing with a guest, Dinesh D'Souza?

Yeah, I had Dinesh on our show last season, and brought that up to him. You know, I was just agreeing with what he said. I was concurring, as a good host does, you know? And maybe extrapolating a little. But yeah, I could have used a little cover from Mr. D'Souza.

Are you tired of talking about the events of 9/17?


It's now been 13 years. Do you feel like HBO has your back in a way that ABC did not?

Absolutely. They always have. And, of course, let's be honest, it's easier for them to have my back because they don't have to deal with advertisers. You know, I was never mad at ABC for firing me. I totally understood that I was on a broadcast medium that depends on advertisers, and if the advertisers pull out there's really not much you can do. I was only pissed at them because they lied about it. They said we lost our audience and we never did! We always had good ratings, and we retained good ratings, and very high retention ratings from Nightline. It took a long time for Jimmy Kimmel to come up to the ratings that we used to get in that timeslot. So, that was the only thing that pissed me off about it.

You're a comedian. But Real Time is somewhere between a pure comedy show and, say, Morning Joe. When you sit down to write your show, are you thinking that your job is to generate laughs, or are you trying to convey a perspective on the news? It's been observed that many young people now get their news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Who's your intended audience, and what are you trying to communicate to them?

Part of it is what you just attributed to those other two shows. You said people get their news from those two shows, but I'm guessing at least as many people watch my show. So, I think I'm trying to do the same thing. Give people news. The main thing I'm thinking of, because we are after all a weekly wrap-up show, is I'm doing this show for people who are interested in the news, but don't have time to follow it like I do. They have lives. They have kids. They have jobs. They can't read the paper every day. So, Friday night at 10 o'clock when they sit down in front of the television set, I want them to be able to feel as they watch it—an hour of Real Time—in one section of the show, either the monologue, in the New Rules, in the panel, in one of the one-on-one interviews—I want them to feel like every important issue, or at least what I feel is important, that happened that week got in some way mentioned. And then, of course, I do want to make it as entertaining as possible. And we have enough prewritten stuff that I know there's always going to be laughs throughout the show. And the panel is lively too, but the panel, you know I have no control over what three other people say, or how amusing they're going to be.

How do you view Stewart and Colbert? Do you see what you're doing as kind of comparable to what they're doing? Or are you doing something different?

I'm more comparable to them than to, say, Dancing With the Stars. But I see vast differences. I don't think we're as predictable. I will disagree with my liberal audience. I will challenge them. Sometimes I'll even yell at them. I'm real about it. I treat the audience like real friends, and sometimes we argue. And sometimes they need to be educated about something. Sometimes liberals can be in a bubble too. And, you know, there's just a host of issues that I think our show and the old show has been out front on, that are more and more becoming mainstream. Things like atheism and marijuana legalization—but not just those—that I've been talking about for years; somehow things get into the mainstream after somebody has been pounding away on it for a long time. And then they just seem normal.

You famously gave a million dollars of your own money to the pro-Obama super PAC. From the perspective of where we are now, do you feel that was money well spent?
If you look at what the alternative universe would be under a Mitt Romney presidency, I think it's money very well spent. There's not an issue I can think of where Mitt Romney would be better. And I can only imagine what sort of cavalcade of nutcases would have followed him into Washington. Because he basically promised his soul to those hard-right groups that control the party now. And Mitt Romney never has had much of a backbone. So I'm very happy with that, because I did some research on it and it seemed to make a difference. At least that's what the people who run the PACs—like Paul Begala—have told me. Until we had that little bit of publicity, the big-money people on the left were kind of sitting on their hands. I got scared at that point, because I remember talking to a lot of liberal people who were saying Obama's reelection is in the bag. And I said, you know you don't get outside of your circle of people. Out there in America, it's not in the bag! Not in the bag at all.

How would you characterize yourself politically?

I think everybody thinks they make sense. I don't see issues ideologically. I see what makes sense. You know, I've tried to identify this new category called "the 9/11 liberal," because after 9/11 there was a category that sprung up called "9/11 conservatives." These were people like Dennis Miller, who became very, very conservative. Ron Silver was another one. We were all freaked out by 9/11, as we should be. It was a horrendous attack. But I think at a certain point, the liberals turned a blind eye to the singular threat that is radical Islam. This is something I've had a lot of problems with my liberal audience over, and we talk about it quite frequently on the show. That's a good example of something where I just think it makes common sense, and if you don't understand that there are disturbing percentages, often majorities of people across the Muslim world, who believe in things that are anything but liberal. You know, rule of law isn't just different than theocracy. It's better. Free speech, respect for minorities, and equality of women. Separation of church and state, freedom to practice any religion you want, or none, without the threat of violence. All of these issues, if anyone in their own country stood up against, the liberals would be incensed about. But somehow because they see Muslims as a minority, they want to defend them for the very things that are illiberal. I hold a number of positions that I think would be seen as conservative—but, again, I don't see them as liberal or conservative. I see them as "that's what I think makes sense."

Speaking of Dennis Miller, what happened to him? Did 9/11 break him?

First of all, I've never been a close friend of Dennis's. We've been colleagues for many years. Dennis is a very private guy, but we certainly were friendly. We shared the same manager for 30 years. And I'm a fan of Dennis as a comedian. I think he's a terrific kind of comedian. He really knows how to practice the art of standup comedy. That being said, yeah, he became a lot more conservative. I understood the national-security side of it. That's the "9/11 conservative" moniker that was hung on him and some other people, and that makes sense. What I didn't understand was why he became a down-the-line right-wing conservative on a number of issues. He's Fox News's go-to guy now. Maybe it's just the money, you know. People want to work, and he found an audience. But it doesn't really follow that you have to be conservative on every issue just because of 9/11. I cannot tell you what goes on in Dennis Miller's mind, and people ask me that all the time.

It seems to be what happened to David Mamet too.

That I think is religion. David Mamet is seriously influenced by religion. Very orthodox religion. And religion warps thinking. It's impossible to worship superstition on Sunday or Saturday and just be a normal person every other day of the week.

Another area where you've sort of broken faith with the liberal conventional thinking is on the right of the NSA to be collecting all this metadata in the service of protecting us from what could be a really horrible nuclear catastrophe. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

I never said that I was outright in support of the NSA. I'm certainly on the page of most Americans in that we need to know more. I think Edward Snowden did the country a great service by opening up this can of worms. What I did say in one of our editorials that we did this year is I used the quote that so often is bandied about in the media by Benjamin Franklin who said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. Well, Franklin didn't live in the 21st century. Franklin didn't live in post-nuclear-weapons times. The worst that could've happened in his era is that the gunpowder blew up, or the musket went off. We live in a very different era, and I live very close to the port of Long Beach, and the port of Los Angeles, where almost half of the cargo comes in. It'd be a very likely place for them to sneak in a dirty bomb. My day would be much more ruined a dirty bomb going off than it would by the NSA knowing when I masturbate. Now I don't think the NSA should know when I masturbate, but I'm just saying, we live in different times than when Benjamin Franklin said that, so let's get real. What I did say is, I am willing to give up some liberty for some security.

If the NSA's knowing when you masturbate was directly correlated with their ability to stop an attack, that would probably be okay, right?

[Laughs] That would be okay, yes.

I was looking at your standup schedule for the next couple of months: Mobile, Alabama; Corpus Christi, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama. Do you have a death wish? Or are you trying to find the liberals there or are you trying to speak to the red staters? What's your goal in picking those venues as opposed to on the East or West Coast where it would be easy to sell out theaters?

Yeah, but I can sell them out in Corpus Christi and Mobile too. The thing is, I don't have to seek out the liberals in those cities. When I come to town, they seek me out. I guess we're seeking each other out. I've learned this over the last 10 or 15 years. There are so many liberal people in conservative areas. There's a lot of reasons why people live where they live, and it's not often, or certainly not always, because that's where they're politically aligned. So there's lots of progressive, free-thinking, liberal people in all these states, and what makes it so fun to go to red areas, if you will, is that those people there are so, I think, gratified that I didn't write off the whole state, go "Alabama, I would never go there!" No, I understand that there are smart people living in Alabama. Yes, they're surrounded by a bunch of rednecks, but when I come to town, there's something more magical than when I go to San Francisco or New York, which is predictably liberal.

And do you find that the people who turn out are, as it were, the liberal base? Or do you get more hecklers?

Oh, no … I mean, I do see sometimes there's very often somebody in the front row scowling at me with his arms folded, but that's invariably a husband who was dragged there by his wife.

I've seen you talk about how 25 years ago, there were Republicans you respected—like Bob Dole, Howard Baker. Who in the Republican Party now, if anybody, do you respect?

Oh, that's a great question. [Laughs] I don't know, do you have a few minutes while I think that over? I mean, name some people, and I'll try to…

Joe Scarborough?

Um, yeah, Joe is more of an honest broker. Joe will attack his own party, which I think is the key. You have to be willing to, just like when you're an artist, edit your own best jokes, or you make an album and you cut 16 tracks and you gotta take away four. You gotta be able to kill your own children. That's the same thing with politics. You have to be able to be ruthlessly self-critical and turn on your own people. I've seen Joe do that, so yeah, whenever somebody does that, I do respect them. What I do not like is people who just know how to cheer for their own team. That's the problem I have, again, sometimes with my studio audience in L.A. They only know to cheer for the blue team and boo for the red team. And it's not as simple as that.

How about John McCain, who's intermittently maverick?

Right. John McCain, it's almost like alternate side of the street parking. One day, he kind of takes hits and reminds you of the old maverick John McCain from 2000, the guy we all liked so much. And then he's also capable of just being as bad as anybody in the Senate.

How about John Boehner?

No. What? John Boehner? Very recently, I think he's got fed up with the Tea Party finally and maybe has shown signs of bucking them. But until very recently, this is the guy who wouldn't call votes because he was afraid of the Tea Party. He's not exactly been a profile in courage.

How would you characterize your foreign policy? You came out after being an ardent opponent of Iraq, but supported the Libyan intervention. Are you a liberal interventionist or a realist?

Number one is I'd love to see us end the empire. And stop getting into every war that comes along. If you Google "wars in America," I think that in 216 of our 237 years, we've been at it with somebody. At some point you gotta look in the mirror and say, "Maybe it's me." Of course, this is because our defense industry, as Eisenhower warned 50 years ago, warning us about this idea that we have to watch out for this greedy maw that is the military-industrial complex. Of course we're always in a war, because we create endless amounts of armaments that have to be used up somehow. I think if you take the 13 countries who spend the most behind us on defense, and you add up everything they spend, we still spend more than all of them combined. That's insane. Even deficit hawks like Paul Ryan want to add $500 billion more to the defense budget, which is already the most bloated part of the budget. So that's number one. Can we get the troops out of Germany and Japan? Jesus Christ, how long do these wars have to be over? Do we ever end anything? I think that would solve so much in this country if we stopped having an empire and stopped spending so much money on blowing shit up. And then, to be smart about the war on terror, which I think Obama has been much more than Bush was. It's not a war that needs to be fought with armies, and cannot be won with armies. It's a war that needs to be waged with good police work and spy work. And that's more of how we're doing it now. If you want to ask me about drones, yeah, drones do some bad things, but again there are no great answers to this war. I'd rather fight the war with drones than with armies.

What is your view of Obama now? I know you've expressed disappointment with him on some issues. How would you grade him a year into his second term? 

Well, I always grade him with an eye to knowing that there was probably no president in history that had more opposition, irrational opposition, to everything he tried to do.

By irrational, do you mean racist?

Absolutely, racist. We all remember that as soon as he was elected, Mitch McConnell, and Boehner, they all had a meeting and they said they would not, in any way, support anything that had President Blackula's bite marks on it. You know, he's had to deal with that from the beginning. Yes, it is racial. I know that's the one thing that they hate to be called. They just cannot stand to be called racist. Okay, but let's look at the facts. So much of what he has done is the exact thing they asked him to do. He lowered taxes. That was the first thing he did, he lowered everybody's taxes. A third of the stimulus package that they hated so much was a tax cut. You'd think a party that's called "taxed enough already," that's all about lowering taxes, would've liked that. Nope. When they did polls, over 90 percent of Teabaggers didn't even know he did that. He cut the deficit in half! He has shrunk the size of government and reduced the number of government workers, something Bush never did. The stock market has more than doubled. And yet they still don't like him. I can't put my finger on what it is, but it's certainly not his record. If they think he's a socialist, they really need to think again because he's not even a liberal. He's got Mitt Romney's healthcare plan and George W. Bush's foreign policy. What do they want from the guy?

So you don't think it's his policies that cause him problems?

It's personal. Who was the guy who said, was it Pete Sessions, was that the congressman, the Republican, who said, "I cannot stand to be in the same room with him?" [Ed. note: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin claimed Sessions told Obama, "I cannot even stand to look at you," though Sessions and the White House denied it happened.]

I can't remember.

I can't stand to be in the same room? They hated Clinton, but they never said anything like that about Clinton, that they couldn't stand to be in the same room with him, and his cum was on the furniture.

How delicious do you find the prospect of a Hillary presidency or at least a White House with Bill Clinton rattling around as first husband? How do you balance your excitement about that as a comedian versus your enthusiasm for—or terror about—the politics of it?

I am not afraid of Hillary as president. She is really smart and very capable obviously. Unfortunately the Clintons are centrist Democrats, they are corporate, centrist Democrats. They are in a lot of ways part of the problem, a lot of our problems that we face now are because in the ‘90s the Democrat Party gave up on being the liberal party. And a lot of that was Bill Clinton. Glass-Steagall was repealed under Clinton. [Robert] Rubin was the treasury secretary and you were left with a country that did not have a left party. And we still don't. We have a far-right party, and we basically have a center-right party. And we don't have a left-wing party. That is why things like Obamacare are really Republican plans that were repackaged—and as soon as Obama put his name on it, they didn't like it, but it is really Bob Dole's old plan. Or cap and trade! Cap and trade is somehow the Democratic response to global warming now, whereas 20 years ago, that was George [H.W.] Bush's plan to fight acid rain. So you know I am not thrilled with a Clinton presidency, but as a comedian, yes, Hillary and Bill Clinton are always going to be good for comedy.

Who would thrill you politically in 2016 from either party?

Elizabeth Warren would be somebody I would be very excited about. A true Democrat, a true progressive, and somebody who I think has the right ideas about everything. I love her.

Obviously everybody knows your staunchly atheist views. But do you ever think about Pascal's wager, which is that, as crazy as a lot of religious doctrine may seem, and as bad as it can make people behave, what if you're wrong and you're dooming yourself to eternity in hell? Do you worry about that?

Of all the reasons to be religious, that is the one of the dumber ones. What if I'm wrong? If it is the God of the Old Testament, I am so fucked already, and you and everybody else. A more psychopathic character you will not ever find in fiction. Just the idea that people worshipped the God of this Bible is insane. There is no more psychopathic mass murderer than God, so good luck with worrying that you picked the wrong religion, you're going to suffer for it. As far as the question of how do we know? No, we don't know. Am I a billion percent sure? Nobody is a billion percent sure of anything. I don't know how it all began, no one does. But I am pretty sure it's not that God had a son. [laughs] You know he's this orb of perfect energy, this powerful beyond imagination, but he's got kids. That would drive him fucking nuts, let me tell you. So you know we don't know the answers but the answer to that is not to make up stories. If you don't know something, just say, I don't know. That's your gospel right there. The gospel of "I don't know." I combined apathy and atheist, and I came up with apatheist. I don't know what happens when I die, and I don't care.

Is your primary goal to get people to laugh or to get them to think?

I have never been interested—even when I was a young comic starting out—in material that didn't have some bite to it. That didn't have some nutrition to it. I never did the "men do this, and women do this, and dogs and cats." Jerry Seinfeld is a genius because he can talk about trivial subjects in a way that everyone will know what he's talking about and the most intelligent people are not insulted at all and are in fact delighted. But I am not that guy. I always wanted to talk about stuff that mattered. So if my joke doesn't have some meaning behind it, I am not going to be doing that, I am not going to be interested in that subject anyway.

You're a George Carlin admirer.

Yeah, Carlin was pretty much the same way. But Carlin would do 20 brilliant minutes on society and then 10 minutes on farting. He mixed it up. I don't. I just do the society.

What's the significance of being over 50?

I just think when you're under 50, and of course you're stretching it a little into your 40s, it's okay to sort of play that, hey, I'm the swinging-bachelor type. And we did used to do jokes on Politically Incorrect, and maybe on the early years of Real Time, that ended with me in the hot tub with twins or something. There were some of those punch lines. I just think when you're over 50, I can't explain it, maybe it's not logical, but I just think it is time to just not talk about your personal life. Unless you're married and have kids and grandkids or something. There is something about it to the average person that if you're not married, you're either gay, or you're a dirty old man, and I don't want to be any of those things.

You've acquired dignified reticence in your old age? 

Yes, beautifully put Scott, a dignified reticence.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Light of the Moon

Living by the Light of the Moon
by Lacee Martinez

Beyond illuminating the night sky, the moon synchronizes the life cycles of the flora and fauna of the islands and ocean.

Guam's ancient seafaring people also relied on moon phases to guide their lives, says John Calvo, a local fishing advocate.

"Modern Chamorro traditions and cultural values have evolved from these practices that encourage living in respect and harmony with the island environment," he says.

Celebrate the continuing connection between life and the moon on Sunday at the 6th annual Gupot Fanha'aniyan Pulan CHamoru, or the Chamorro Lunar Calendar Festival.

The Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association, with support of various agencies and groups, will hold a celebration at the cooperative's grounds beside the Chamorro Village and Greg D. Perez Marina in Hagåtña on Sunday.

Expect a day packed with cultural activities, local crafts, fruits and vegetables for sale, while picking up your copy of the new calendar.

The Chamorro Lunar Calendar Committee, under the auspices of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, will be distributing one calendar per family at the event, which features the moon phases in the Chamorro language, the Guam tide charts and fishing seasons.
This year's festival theme is "Tinilaikan Klema yan Inirensian Lugat: Direcho yan Opbligasion," or "Climate Change and Traditional Places: Rights and Responsibilities."

"This theme encourages discussion on how climate change impacts our Chamorro culture and traditional places," says Calvo, who also is coordinating the event. "Traditional knowledge and cultural practices promote sustainable use of natural resources through cultural rights and responsibilities, as mandated by our Chamorro cultural values. The lunar movement directs the life cycles of the flora and fauna of the land and ocean and central to life in our islands. The practice of culture and traditions has provided the people of the Marianas resiliency and ensured the availability of food through sound traditional management of natural resources."

The public can observe a traditional underground oven preparation during one of the highlights of the event. The chinahan ceremony will feature fish and starch crops, including yams, breadfruit and taro, being placed in the chåhan, or underground oven. The feast will be unearthed at 4 p.m. and shared with the public in the spirit of the Chamorro culture, Calvo says.

The festival also will feature displays, demonstrations, exhibits and live entertainment by local artisans, much of it done in Chamorro.

Bring some cash to purchase the various crafts, locally grown produce, foods and other items up for sale at the event.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Matai Si Ben Blaz

Vicente Garrido Blaz passed away recently. Although he spent most of his life outside of Guam he was for the past few decades a major force in Chamorro history and the telling of the Chamorro story. For so many the history of Chamorros has been intimately linked with the US military, first as Guam was their colony, later a battleground and now as a strategic military location. Chamorros were used to being objects, fodder, extras in the background in that story. Someone like Ben Blaz changed the way that story was told because it helped to form the Chamorro as a potential subject, someone who had reached a certain pinnacle within that infrastructure that always dictated the meaning of Guam. Now this is still tokenism. This does not mean that Chamorros achieved an ability to see themselves in a decolonized way, but within a colonized framework Blaz through his service as a soldier and his service in Congress was empowering. This is one that that people often miss when they are considering the empowering of a people. There are many ways that you can elevate the identity or revitalize feelings of community within a people. For Guam the two most basic ways are that you do so within a colonial framework, meaning that you find things to bolster the Chamorro spirit in ways which followed the teleology of Chamorros being minor American subjects and eventually being included in the United States. To put it more simply this empowers Chamorros as a minority, it accepts that the Chamorro exists within the circle of American belonging and so the future of its existence is dedicated to fully fitting within that family. The other way is the decolonial, which means to bolster the Chamorro spirit in an independent or indigenous sense and not accept that the purpose of the Chamorro today is to become American or prove they are American. Blaz was a powerful symbol within the first track, although he later came to see the need for that second track, the decolonial to also be taken seriously.

In 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the US reoccupation of Guam during World War II Blaz work an article titled "Chamorros Yearn for Freedom." It talked about his experience during the war, as a Chamorro after the war and touched on the relationship of Chamorros to the United States. It has been beautiful at times, disgusting other times. It has been rocky and contradictory and most importantly Blaz argues the final relationship between Chamorros and the United States is far from resolved. Its resolution he argues is tied not to recognition or Chamorros becoming full/real Americans, it is tied to their achieving the long-denied right of self-determination.

This is an important rhetorical move that few save for those with a critical or activist mentality appreciate. The way that Liberation Day and the war is normally remembered traps Chamorros within the first route. It makes it seem that the very existence of Chamorros, their purpose in this world is to wait for the United States to save them, to beg to become Americans and to be pathetically dependent upon Uncle Sam for almost everything. The war story is chilling and inspiring but it also reeks of these colonizing dimensions. If you think that I am being unfair in my characterization of Chamorros and their war stories, you should remember what the first Liberation Day celebration was like. It had no American symbols. No parades, no patriotism. It was a solemn Catholic ceremony. This is the way that Chamorros felt in 1945 was the best way to commemorate their experiences, not by praising Uncle Sam and bowing before him. All of the patriotism that we take for granted came much later and was created because certain individuals felt that Chamorros should be patriotic to the United States and should have a certain devotional relationship to it.

The war story has chained Chamorros to the United States and Chamorros themselves do the chaining and keep watch to make sure their chains are not broken or shaken. But what we saw in Ben Blaz was that the war story also holds the means of breaking those chains, there is a logic to it that leads to a contradiction which you cannot shake through patriotism since it leads straight into colonial realities, where the more you consider them the more patriotism seems ridiculous. Blaz eventually came to admit that even if people call July 21st each year Liberation Day, it was a liberation in an immediate sense, but not much else. It was not a liberation in the way people proclaim and worship up until today. It was not an act that should eternally commit a people to the loyalty of a country, since Chamorros remained colonized their island still a colony regardless of how many flags they brandished or sons and daughters they pushed into uniforms.

Here is the final passage of his article. 
On this, the 50th anniversary of our liberation, we will be shedding a few tears — of gratitude to our liberators; of remembrance of our brothers and sisters who suffered with us but are unable to join us; and of thanksgiving as we thank Almighty God for all the blessings that have come our way during these golden years.

But after those tears have stopped and have become a precious memory for us all, we must remember that the work begun by the Liberators in 1944 is not yet complete. The people of Guam picked up the torch of freedom passed to them on July 21, 1944. All who call Guam home have worked so hard and so determinedly that the entire world can see the island and its people have come so far from that terrible time of long ago.

But true self-determination and equality still evade our people. Thus, the quest endures.

Beneath is an obituary for Blaz from the Washington Post. 


From Guampedia:

Vicente Garrido Blaz

Chamorro Soldier

Ben Blaz (1928 – 2014) was a distinguished public elected official and military officer. He lived his life in service to his country and carrying the banner of his home island wherever his service took him. Born in 1928 as Vicente Tomas Garrido Blaz, he was only thirteen years old when the Japanese occupation began in Guam. Tall for his age, he was pressed into service with various labor battalions while he helped his family survive the war as the eldest son. His experiences shaped his sense of obligation and strengthened his resolve to be of service.

Recognized for his intelligence and leadership qualities, Blaz was one of the first Chamorro teenagers coming out of the war experience to win a scholarship to Notre Dame. He began his studies in 1947 and with the onset of the Korean War, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve, attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1951 upon graduation.

He began a military career that eventually led him to become the first General Officer (flag officer) in any branch of the Armed Services who was from Guam. He served three overseas tours that included Osaka, Okinawa and Vietnam. Blaz notes that his most satisfying tour was as Commanding Officer of the 9th Marines. In a life full of twists and turns, it was units of the 9th Marines that apprehended him and a friend in July 1944 during the battle for Guam. During his military service, he was twice awarded the Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, Bronze Star and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

In recognition of his distinguished service both in peace and in combat, Blaz was promoted to Brigadier General, USMC in 1977. This represented significant personal progress as well as a significant event for his homeland of Guam. He became a role model for many young service men and women as he continued to display his leadership skill and plan for the next stage of his life.
He retired from active service in 1980 and returned to Guam where he took up farming, taught at the University of Guam and thought about elected office. During his military service, he was able to earn a Masters Degree from George Washington University and became a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval War College. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Guam in 1974.

Washington Delegate

He ran for Congress in 1982 and came up short against political legend Antonio Won Pat. Under the slogan “Right Man, Right Now,” Blaz defeated Won Pat in a rematch in 1984. He went to Congress as a Republican freshman and he was elected President of his class. He joined the Armed Services, Resources and Foreign Affairs Committees where he quickly established a reputation for a strong national defense and a strong commitment to the political development of Guam and the surrounding region. He established strong relationships and demonstrated a rhetorical style that resonated for years.

In hearings on the status of Micronesia, he admonished the Bush Administration representatives that “we are guardians, not guards of Micronesia.” In response to a New York Times editorial supporting statehood for the District of Columbia, Blaz took the opportunity to explain Guam’s situation. He ended his plea for dignity and recognition for Guam by stating “We are equal in war, but not in peace.”

These words have been used by subsequent Delegates from Guam as well as the other territories whenever matters of political development are raised. In spite of misgivings and his effort to point out the realities of Washington politics, Blaz faithfully introduced the Guam Commonwealth bill twice and advanced the cause of the return of excess lands and war reparations. His successors built upon these efforts.

Chamorro History

After Congress, Blaz continues to use his knowledge by writing and producing television programs as well as an extensive website outlining the history of Guam ( He produced the Nihi Ta Hasso and Nihi Ta Bisita television series that was widely viewed by visitor and resident alike. He has also written extensively including Bisita Guam: A Special Place in the Sun.
He was awarded Alumnus of the Year from Notre Dame in 1988 and Outstanding Asian American in Public Service in 1992 and is listed in numerous Who’s Who publications, Who’s Who in Marine Corps History.

He died at his home in Virginia on January 9, 2014.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gupot Fanha'aniyan Pulan Chamorro

Don't forget that this Sunday at the Fishermen's Coop there will be the Gupot Fanha'aniyan Pulan Chamorro or Chamorro Lunar Calendar Festival. There will be arts, crafts and food.

Here's an interview with John Calvo who helps organize it each year.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


One poem that had a big impact on my while I was in graduate school and cobbling together the first generations of the critical consciousness that I sport today was "Thieves" by Anne Perez Hattori. I took several courses with Anne when I was an undergrad and graduate student at UOG. She was by far the best professor I had, and the one who was most direct in terms of cutting through layers of colonial bullshit and ignorance when dealing with Guam and Chamorro history. When Anne speaks publicly, whether in an interview or on a panel she always has a way of taking something academic and shifting it to be something that a non-academic can engage with and feel that they should engage with. That is the key to someone who wants their work to have an impact beyond just academia. It is not about creating something that people will just understand, but about creating something that people will feel they need to respond to. This is only true if you accept the Marxist axiom about the need to change the world and not just interpret it.

Anne's academic work has changed my life and changed how I see the world. Her poetry however helped to change me first. Two poems in particular "Thieves" and "foreFathers" are poems that I use in my Guam History and English Compositions up until today.

Thieves is representative of the consistent critical lens that Anne brings to her work. It provides in just a few stanzas an entire history of the colonization of Guam and the rhetoric that was used to devalue Chamorros or justify their being oppressed. It is amazing to see how she packs so much into such a short piece. As someone who generally writes poems that are five pages long and packed with far more information, details and poetic flourishes or flounderings than you'd ever want in your life, it astounds me to see someone cover so much in such a succinct intervention.

Here below are some of my thoughts on the analysis for this poem.


Thieves, they called us.
Religious converts, they made us.
Said we were sinful,
naked, savage, primitive
Playmates of Satan,
native souls blackened and corrupted
by immoral appetites.

Overall this poem discusses the problematic place that a colonized people are stuck in. The colonizer comes from afar into your lands and they bring with them not only technology, diseases and weapons. They bring with them ideas, ideologies and rhetoric, all of which is aimed at providing the imperial impetus for you to be taken over and subjugated by another. There are so many ways to devalue a people as part of this process, but in general you call them heathens, savage, uncivilized and that they don't have a language, religion or even culture. In this first stage of colonization, the emphasis was religious and so the network of images and ideologies used to authorize the oppressing of Chamorros was all linked to that moral and religious universe. The souls that Chamorros have need to be saved, they need to be forced to convert to Christianity to save them from the devil and themselves.

Exterminated they called us.
Half-castes, they branded us.
Said we were impure,
Casualties of inauthenticity,
native blood contaminated and polluted
by casual miscegenation

This stanza deals with how the colonizer then interprets the effects of colonization. As a result of colonization many people died, Chamorros were forced to give up many aspects of their culture and adopt new customs, new people came to the island and intermarried with them. Chamorros adapted and accepted new changes as well. There was a give and take in this process, and even though power and feelings of domination were present, you cannot simplify it to say that Chamorros simply "lost their culture."

All of this comes from colonization, but it creates a stigma for Chamorros. When the Spanish saw Chamorros before colonization they saw them as savages, but pure savages. Now they say that Chamorros don't even exist anymore because of all the changes that have taken place. The hypocritical thing is that the Spanish were the cause of many of those changes, but they don't blame themselves for it, instead they use it as another argument for why Chamorros are inferior and should be oppressed and have their lands and lives controlled by another. The argument of the Spanish is akin to someone shooting you in the leg and then mocking you for walking funny. They refuse to take any blame for anything and any problems must be because you suck.

Infantile, they called us.
Wards of the state, they made us.
Said we were immature,
UNeducated, UNdeveloped, UNcivilized
Victims of illiteracy,
native intelligence retarded and muted
by indifferent laziness

The next stanza shows how the Americans were similar to the Spanish in terms of making excuses for oppressing Chamorros. For the Spanish it was religion but for the Americans it was civilizing and forcing Chamorros to become like Americans. The Spanish said savages, the Americans said ignorant and immature. If you know someone who is immature then you automatically think that they need to grow up or be guided in life. The Americans called Chamorro immature and then proposed that Americans were the best to force them to grow up and stop being so lazy! They didn't ask what Chamorros might want mind you since they are too immature to be able to make any decisions for themselves.

Now they tell us
we are simply, sadly, contemptibly


The last stanza shows the contradiction of the colonial experience. When the colonizer tells you about how if you give up your language, your culture, your land and become like them you will become civilized and mature, he is lying to you. The colonizer will tell you lies to make himself fell better about what he is doing to you, but he doesn't actually want you to become equal to him or worse yet better than him. This is what some theorists call "the colonial difference." No matter how nicely the colonizer treats the colonies they exist to be inferior, they existed to be seen as backwards, as uncivilized, as problematic, no matter what they do or how they change. In the last stanza Hattori lists all the ways that Chamorros have changed to reflect what the colonizer said they should become, yet people still criticize them for not being good enough at anything. The more they become like the colonizer the more the colonizer says you don't exist anymore. The more they move away from the colonizer the more immature and primitive they become.

That is the ultimate message of this poem for me. Do not see yourself in this colonial context, you will always perceive yourself as wanting and inferior. You need to try to decolonize your view and attempt to see yourself outside of this demeaning perspective.

The most important part to starting to understand this or see things in this new perspective is to recognize who the real thieves are in your colonization.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cetti and Sella

This is the of Cetti Bay from the river. Cetti Bay and Sella Bay are both spots in Southern Guam that are favorites for people with boats and hikers to visit. People known them as beautiful secluded places. In truth their history goes much deeper than that. Sella in particular was notorious in the 1970s as a site of protest against US militarization. The US Navy had wanted to build an ammuniation wharf there. Chamorro rights activists, Senators and environmentalists came out to protest this and were able in delaying the process so much the Navy eventually gave up. Before there was Pagat or even Pott's Junction, there was Sella Bay.

But even beyond this, if we look at these two villages in ancient times, we can see a tragic lesson they embody. In ancient times these bays were actually villages. Cetti was known as Atte and Sella was known as Sidya. They were on different sides of the Chamorro Spanish Wars. Sidya sided with the Spanish, while Atte sided with rebel Chamorros.

Atte was the site of the killing of a Catholic priest, and like most villages that challenged the church and the new regime it vanished from Guam's landscape during that tumultuous period. Sidya remained on the map of Guam for a longer period for two reasons. The first reason is that it was pro-Spanish and so wasn't burned to the ground like other villages were. Sidya is note-worthy for many reasons, but chief among them is that in one account it is recognized as the only village where a woman holds political power and leads the village. Although every clan and every village had Maga'haga, and while the Spanish mention them, they don't give them the due they deserve. The leader of Sidya is not erased or forgotten as so many others were, but this is only because she was vehemently pro-Spanish and had her villagers go out and capture and kill anti-Spanish Chamorros. Despite proving her loyalty in this way she was still not given a name by the Spanish. But this was normal for the accounts, the Spanish had an almost genetic aversion for naming women in Guam.

The second reason is only possible because of the first. Whereas Atte disappeared in the reduccion, Sidya technically did as well, as Guam was reduced to just a half dozen villages.  But during the Spanish period the village re-emerged due to the fact that the Umatac - Hagatna road was basically the Marine Drive of the day. When ships were expected to arrive on island, the center of the island would shift south to Umatac. These ships meant new goods, money, news from the outside, tourists, visitors, all sorts of things and so that road connected to two centers of the island. Sidya or Sella was positioned on that road and was the site of a leper colony, stores, houses.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Vacation in North Korea?

Sesso mangguife yu' put North Korea.

Ti parehu este na klasin guinife yan i guinife-hu siha put i otro tano' taiguhi iya Okinawa yan iya Pagan. Para ayu na tano' siha yan ayu na guinife siha, hu guiguife siha put i ginefpago yan taimanu na debi di ta prutehi ayu na lugat kontra fina'militat. Gi i guinife-hu siha hu keketachuyi pat ayuda i taotao guihi gi un mimo ni chumilong yan iyo-ku pat iyo-ta guini giya Guahan.

Lao sahnge i guinife-hu put North Korea.

Gi i guinife-hu siha kalang puma'ya'ya gi hilo' i tano'. Hu ripapara todu gi oriya-hu, lao ti hu gogof komprende hafa hu li'e'e'. Tano' estrana este. Na'aburidu este na tano', ya gi guinife-hu siha ti hu hulat muna'klaru hafa este na lugat.

Sumasaga' yu' giya Guahan. Fihu hiningok-hu put North Korea, lao sesso nina'manman yu' ni taimanu to gof chumilong i tiningo'-hu put Guiya yan i hiningok-hu put Guiya. Kada simana, kalang kada diha hu hungok gi kuaton klas, hu hungok gi rediu, hu taitai gi internet na ayu na nasion piligrosu nu Hita. Este umestototba yu'. Dangkolu na piligro hun, lao didide' i magahet na tiningo'-ta, ya kao magahet na manmanhahasso hit put i estao-ta? Pat kao ta anggonggokko otro siha, yan hafa i interes-na para Hita, ta humuyongna ti mismo ta hassuyin maimaisa hit?

Ti hu sasangan na ti baba i ma'gas ayu na nasion. Lao hunggan ilelek-hu na anggen kao magahet na ayu na nasion i enimigu-ta, maolekna na ta komprende i estaon geopolitics gi este na region, ya ti ta aksepta i Fino' Amerikanu komo Fino' Yu'us ya osge' todu i tinago'-na yan minalago'-na sin rason.

Buente un diha para hu bisita North Korea, ya bai hu li'e' i mata-na. Hu tungo' na estaba gof mappot ya achokka' mana'i hao "visa" taya' "freedom of movement" gi i tano'. Lao taitai este na dos na tininge' put North Korea gi pappa'.


On the piste in North Korea: Regime's luxury ski resort opens for business

By Frances Cha, CNN
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
(CNN) -- Skiing is not the first thing that immediately springs to mind when thinking about North Korea. But a luxury resort in the isolated nation is now receiving visitors.

Located in Masik, Kangwon province, the hotel and resort officially opened January 1 after reportedly encountering a number of setbacks.

Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based Koryo Tours was one of the first visitors invited to the resort -- representing one of the few foreign tour companies operating in North Korea.

Cockerell shared his surreal experience on the company's blog, recounting some surprise encounters.
"On my arrival at Masik on Jan 12th who was I to immediately run into but Dennis Rodman!," wrote Cockerell. The former NBA star was visiting the resort after his much-publicized and controversial basketball match to mark Kim Jong Un's birthday.

Another interesting encounter was with North Korea's latest pop music phenomenon, a 20-member girl group called "Moranbong Band," who were supposedly hand-picked by Kim himself.
"Women copy their hairstyles, men follow them for other reasons. They were here skiing and all seemed very nice and charming, sadly for our single guides they weren't around the hotel bars in the evening though," said Cockerell.

'Fancy and comfortable'

The resort's entrance fee has not yet been fixed, but Cockerell estimates it will probably soon be set at around €30 ($41) a day without rentals, which will cost around another €12.

The hotel is "very fancy and comfortable," and features 120 rooms housed in two buildings, a swimming pool, bars, cafes, billiard tables, a karaoke room, a steam room and a dry sauna.

There are 11 runs including two beginner slopes, local tour guides who speak English but don't ski and a large number of ski instructors available.

While the ski resort is expected to draw some foreign interest, the resort is "clearly built for locals," said Cockerell.

"The number of local Korean skiers here was also a great surprise, considering that prior to a fortnight ago there was just one ski slope in the country, and in a very remote and hard to reach area," he said.

Foreign visitors cannot call and book the hotel, but must be part of a tour group package via companies such as Koryo.

"We're waiting for a review from diplomatic corp in Pyongyang -- they know about it, but they need to look into it further," said Cockerell about their plans for offering a Masik ski tour package for foreign tourists.


"We're well aware of the controversies surrounding this ski resort, that is is a highly expensive construction project which many see as economically doubtful and emblematic of recent building developments in the country," he wrote on the Koryo Tours blog.

The resort has been scrutinized from conception to construction. Austrian and French companies declined to sell lifts to North Korea while the Swiss government blocked a potential sale from a Swiss company, reported The Washington Post, due to the new U.N. sanctions blocking the sale of luxury goods to North Korea that were imposed in March. The ski lifts currently in place at Masik were made in China.


How to travel to North Korea

You would think with tension so high, the isolated state would be off-limits to tourists. But it's not. Here's how to travel to North Korea and the best times to go

Despite tense relations between the United States and North Korea, and increased rhetoric from Pyongyang, the isolated state remains open to U.S. citizens, among other travelers.

More on CNN: Rescind North Korea's license to provoke

But what do you do if you want to travel to North Korea?

Tourism is highly restricted, so booking a guided tour with one of the dozen or so companies endorsed by the state-run Korea International Travel Company is the only way in -- even if you're flying solo. 

A popular tour stop, Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang is home to statues of late President Kim Il-Sung and leader Kim Jong-Il. In January of 2010, North Korea changed its policy to allow U.S. travelers to visit on official guided tours any time of the year. Previously, U.S. citizens were only allowed into North Korea during the famed Mass Games, which usually take place in late summer to early fall. 
Beijing-based Koryo Tours, which has been specializing in North Korean travel since 1992, says the revised rules on how to travel to North Korea have indeed led to an increase in visits from U.S. citizens.  

"I wouldn’t say a surge, but we do have a lot more interest," says Koryo tour organizer Hannah Barraclough"Around a third of our 2,000-plus annual tourists are Americans." 
Despite the change in policy, U.S. citizens still face restrictions that don’t apply to other travelers. For instance, they can only enter the country via airplane, unlike travelers of other nationalities who can enter from China by train.

Barraclough says that with the exception of journalists, most North Korea visa applications -- U.S. citizens included -- are approved with no problems.

Here's some more information on how to travel to North Korea.

More on CNN: Gallery: The unseen face of Pyongyang

No wandering around

Regardless of whether you're on your own or in a group, two Korean guides employed by the state-run Korea International Travel Company and a driver will accompany you at all times. This means you aren't able to get out and explore at will.   

Although U.S. citizens can legally travel to North Korea, the U.S. State Department warns that travelers need to make sure their paperwork is pristine.

"The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens about travel to North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK)," says the State Department website.

"The North Korean government will detain, prosecute and sentence anyone who enters the DPRK without first having received explicit, official permission and an entry visa from its government."

Can I bring my phone? 

In January of this year, North Korean authorities announced that travelers no longer need to surrender their mobile phones before entering the country.

"You will not have any network coverage with your own SIM card, but it is possible to purchase local SIM cards from a booth in Pyongyang airport," confirms Barraclough.

The pay-as-you-go SIM cards allow users to make and receive international phone calls or call any other foreigner in Pyongyang with a phone. There's no 3G access or international texting and you won't be able to call your guides, as they'll be on the separate North Korean network. 

More on CNN: North Korea on Google Maps: Monuments, nuclear complex, gullags

Key dates

Most tour companies offer the main North Korean highlights -- Pyongyang monuments, museums, natural attractions -- but there's room for some variation in itineraries depending on the length of time you visit. 

ome tours offer travelers the option of visiting Pyongyang's Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, an amusement park that opened last year. 

For instance, a new addition to some tours is the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, an amusement park that opened last year.  

Attractions aside, most visitors time their North Korea visits to coincide with its elaborately planned celebrations.

Here are some of the key dates Koryo Tours recommends for 2013.  

Kim Jong Il's birthday

February 16 would have been the late Kim Jong Il's 71st birthday, now known in North Korea as, "The Day of the Shining Star."

"February 16 itself remains a national holiday and we expect it to be celebrated with sporting activities and a mass dance, as well as other commemorative events," says Koryo.  

Kim Il Sung's birthday

Another big day of celebration, April 15 will be the 101st anniversary of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung's birth, known as "The Day of the Sun."

Army Day

April 25 is the 81st anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, "a day of celebration for servicemen and army veterans [thus, almost everyone] in the DPRK," says Koryo.


Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the Spring Arts Festival in Pyongyang in April 2012, prior to the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-Sung's birth on April 15. May Day

Just like the rest of the world, North Korea celebrates May 1 as International Labor Day.
"This is the best day of all to mix with local people by attending their folk festival in Taesongsan park," says Koryo. 

Victory Day

July 27, 1953, was the day the Korean War armistice was signed, an occasion celebrated annually in North Korea as "Victory Day." Given that 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, this year's celebrations -- including a famed Mass Dance -- are expected to be particularly spectacular.  

Mass Games

Victory Day leads into Pyongyang's Mass Games, a hot tourist ticket, that usually take place from July through October. Also known as Arirang, this arts and gymnastics event features more than 100,000 performers participating in a spectacle of colorful, intricately choreographed shows.
"We expect the games to run from July 27 to September 9, 2013, but as yet have received no official confirmation," says Koryo Travel.

Packages that include tickets to the Mass Games start at around US$1,500. Visas typically take 10 days to process from the date of application made via Beijing. 

Koryo advises visitors to apply for the tours one month before departure date, though this can be reduced for those who live in Beijing or if they're in a country with a DPRK Embassy. 

Airlines that fly into North Korea via Beijing include Air Korea, Air China and Air Koryo. Non-U.S. citizens have the option for train travel from China. 

More on CNN: 'World's worst airline' launches world's worst booking site 

North Korean tour operators

Koryo Tours: 27 Beisanlitun Nan (East Courtyard), Chaoyang District; Beijing+86 10 6416 7544;

Young Pioneers Tours: Beijing; +86 186 2902 7684;

Asia Pacific Travel: Kenilworth, Ill., United States; 1 847 251 6400, toll free 1 800 262-6420;

Regent Holidays: Colston Tower, Colston Street, Bristol, UK; +44 (0)20 7666 1244;
Explore North Korea: Dandong, China; +86 159 4154 5676;

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fukushima Updates

Toll of U.S. Sailors Devastated by Fukushima Radiation Continues to Climb

The roll call of U.S. sailors who say their health was devastated when they were irradiated while delivering humanitarian help near the stricken Fukushima nuke is continuing to soar.

So many have come forward that the progress of their federal class action lawsuit has been delayed. 

U.S. sailors irradiated while delivering humanitarian help near the stricken Fukushima nuke say their health has been devastated.

Bay area lawyer Charles Bonner says a re-filing will wait until early February to accommodate a constant influx of sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other American ships.
Within a day of Fukushima One’s March 11, 2011, melt-down, American “first responders” were drenched in radioactive fallout. In the midst of a driving snow storm, sailors reported a cloud of warm air with a metallic taste that poured over the Reagan.

Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, at the time a nuclear supporter, says “the first meltdown occurred five hours after the earthquake.” The lawsuit charges that Tokyo Electric Power knew large quantities of radiation were pouring into the air and water, but said nothing to the Navy or the public.

Had the Navy known, says Bonner, it could have moved its ships out of harm’s way. But some sailors actually jumped into the ocean just offshore to pull victims to safety. Others worked 18-hour shifts in the open air through a four-day mission, re-fueling and repairing helicopters, loading them with vital supplies and much more. All were drinking and bathing in desalinated water that had been severely contaminated by radioactive fallout and runoff.

Then Reagan crew members were enveloped in a warm cloud. “Hey,” joked sailor Lindsay Cooper at the time. “It’s radioactive snow.”

The metallic taste that came with it parallels the ones reported by the airmen who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and by Pennsylvania residents downwind from the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island.

When it did leave the Fukushima area, the Reagan was so radioactive it was refused port entry in Japan, South Korea and Guam. It’s currently docked in San Diego.

The Navy is not systematically monitoring the crew members’ health problems. But Cooper now reports a damaged thyroid, disrupted menstrual cycle, wildly fluctuating body weight and more. “It’s ruined me,” she says.

Similar complaints have surfaced among so many sailors from the Reagan and other U.S. ships that Bonner says he’s being contacted by new litigants “on a daily basis,” with the number exceeding 70.
Many are in their twenties, complaining of a terrible host of radiation-related diseases. They are legally barred from suing the U.S. military. Tepco denies that any of their health problems could be related to radiation from Fukushima. The company also says the U.S. has no jurisdiction in the case.
The suit was initially dismissed on jurisdictional grounds by federal Judge Janis S. Sammartino in San Diego. Sammartino was due to hear the re-filing Jan. 6, but allowed the litigants another month to accommodate additional sailors.

Bonner says Tepco should be subject to U.S. law because “they are doing business in America … Their second largest office outside of Tokyo is in Washington DC.”

Like the lawsuit, the petitions ask that Tepco admit responsibility, and establish a fund for the first responders to be administered by the U.S. courts.

In 2013 more than 150,000 citizens petitioned the United Nations to take control of the Fukushima site to guarantee the use of the best possible financial, scientific and engineering resources in the attempted clean-up.

The melted cores from Units One, Two and Three are still unaccounted for. Progress in bringing down Unit Four’s suspended fuel assemblies is murky at best. More than 11,000 “hot” rods are still scattered around a site where radiation levels remain high and some 300 tons of radioactive water still flow daily into the Pacific.

But with U.S. support, Japan has imposed a state secrets act severely restricting reliable news reporting from the Fukushima site.

So now we all live in the same kind of dark that enveloped the USS Reagan while its crew was immersed in their mission of mercy.

Petitions in the sailors’ support are circulating worldwide on, MoveOn, Avaaz, RootsAction and elsewhere.

Harvey Wasserman
Harvey Wasserman's Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show is at, and he edits Harvey Wasserman's History of the US and Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth are at along with Passions of the PotSmoking Patriots by "Thomas Paine."  He and Bob Fitrakis have co-authored four books on election protection, including How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election, at


Worldwide Demand for UN Takeover at Fukushima

| October 3, 2013 11:28 am | Comments

Harvey Wasserman


More than 48,000 global citizens have now signed a petition at asking the United Nations and the world community to take charge of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Another 35,000 have signed at RootsAction. An independent advisory group of scientists and engineers is also in formation.

The signatures are pouring in from all over the world. By November, they will be delivered to the United Nations.

The corporate media has blacked out meaningful coverage of the most critical threat to global health and safety in decades.


The much-hyped “nuclear renaissance” has turned into a global rout. In the face of massive grassroots opposition and the falling price of renewable energy and natural gas, operating reactors are shutting and proposed new ones are being cancelled.

This lessens the radioactive burden on the planet. But it makes the aging reactor fleet ever more dangerous. A crumbling industry with diminished resources and a disappearing workforce cannot safely caretake the decrepit, deteriorating 400-odd commercial reactors still licensed to operate worldwide.

All of which pales before the crisis at Fukushima. Since the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the six-reactor Daichi site has plunged into lethal chaos.

For decades the atomic industry claimed vehemently that a commercial reactor could not explode. When Chernobyl blew, it blamed “inferior” Soviet technology.

But Fukushima’s designs are from General Electric—some two dozen similar reactors are licensed in the U.S. At least four explosions have rocked the site. One might have involved nuclear fission. Three cores have melted into the ground. Massive quantities of water have been poured where the owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), and the Japanese government think they might be, but nobody knows for sure.

As the Free Press has reported, steam emissions indicate one or more may still be hot. Contaminated water is leaking from hastily-constructed tanks. Room for more is running out. The inevitable next earthquake could rupture them all and send untold quantities of poisons pouring into the ocean.
The worst immediate threat at Fukushima lies in the spent fuel pool at Unit Four. That reactor had been shut for routine maintenance when the earthquake and tsunami hit. The 400-ton core, with more than 1300 fuel rods, sat in its pool 100 feet in the air.

Spent fuel rods are the most lethal items our species has ever created. A human standing within a few feet of one would die in a matter of minutes. With more than 11,000 scattered around the Daichi site, radiation levels could rise high enough to force the evacuation of all workers and immobilize much vital electronic equipment.

Spent fuel rods must be kept cool at all times. If exposed to air, their zirconium alloy cladding will ignite, the rods will burn and huge quantities of radiation will be emitted. Should the rods touch each other, or should they crumble into a big enough pile, an explosion is possible. By some estimates there’s enough radioactivity embodied in the rods to create a fallout cloud 15,000 times greater than the one from the Hiroshima bombing.

The rods perched in the Unit 4 pool are in an extremely dangerous position. The building is tipping and sinking into the sodden ground. The fuel pool itself may have deteriorated. The rods are embrittled and prone to crumbling. Just 50 meters from the base is a common spent fuel pool containing some 6,000 fuel rods that could be seriously compromised should it lose coolant. Overall there are some 11,000 spent rods scattered around the Fukushima Daichi site.

Dangerous as the process might be, the rods in the Unit Four fuel pool must come down in an orderly fashion. Another earthquake could easily cause the building to crumble and collapse. Should those rods crash to the ground and be left uncooled, the consequences would be catastrophic.

Tepco has said it will begin trying to remove the rods from that pool in November. The petitions circulating through and, as well as at and, ask that the United Nations take over. They ask the world scientific and engineering communities to step in. The Rootsaction petition also asks that $8.3 billion slated in loan guarantees for a new U.S. nuke be shifted instead to dealing with the Fukushima site.

It’s a call with mixed blessings. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is notoriously pro-nuclear, charged with promoting atomic power as well as regulating it. Critics have found the IAEA to be secretive and unresponsive.

But Tepco is a private utility with limited resources. The Japanese government has an obvious stake in downplaying Fukushima’s dangers. These were the two entities that approved and built these reactors.

While the IAEA is imperfect, its resources are more substantial and its stake at Fukushima somewhat less direct. An ad hoc global network of scientists and engineers would be intellectually ideal, but would lack the resources for direct intervention.

Ultimately the petitions call for a combination of the two.

It’s also hoped the petitions will arouse the global media. The moving of the fuel rods from Unit Four must be televised. We need to see what’s happening as it happens. Only this kind of coverage can allow global experts to analyze and advise as needed.

Let’s all hope that this operation proves successful, that the site be neutralized and the massive leaks of radioactive water and gasses be somehow stopped.

As former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata has put it: full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”

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Japan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’

| December 11, 2013 7:57 am | Comments 

Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.
The site has been infiltrated by organized crime. There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.

But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.


Taro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been leading Japan in an increasingly militaristic direction. Tensions have increased with China. Massive demonstrations have been renounced with talk of “treason.”
But it’s Fukushima that hangs most heavily over the nation and the world.

Tokyo Electric Power has begun the bring-down of hot fuel rods suspended high in the air over the heavily damaged Unit Four. The first assemblies it removed may have contained unused rods. The second may have been extremely radioactive.

But Tepco has clamped down on media coverage and complains about news helicopters filming the fuel rod removal.

Under the new State Secrets Act, the government could ban—and arrest—all independent media under any conditions at Fukushima, throwing a shroud of darkness over a disaster that threatens us all.

By all accounts, whatever clean-up is possible will span decades. The town of Fairfax, CA, has now called for a global takeover at Fukushima. More than 150,000 signees have asked the UN for such intervention.

As a private corporation, Tepco is geared to cut corners, slash wages and turn the clean-up into a private profit center.

It will have ample opportunity. The fuel pool at Unit Four poses huge dangers that could take years to sort out. But so do the ones at Units One, Two and Three. The site overall is littered with thousands of intensely radioactive rods and other materials whose potential fallout is thousands of times greater than what hit Hiroshima in 1945.

Soon after the accident, Tepco slashed the Fukushima workforce. It has since restored some of it, but has cut wages. Shady contractors shuttle in hundreds of untrained laborers to work in horrific conditions. Reuters says the site is heaving infiltrated by organized crime, raising the specter of stolen radioactive materials for dirty bombs and more.

Thousands of tons of radioactive water now sit in leaky tanks built by temporary workers who warn of their shoddy construction. They are sure to collapse with a strong earthquake.

Tepco says it may just dump the excess water into the Pacific anyway. Nuclear expert Arjun Makhijani has advocated the water be stored in supertankers until it can be treated, but the suggestion has been ignored.

Hundreds of tons of water also flow daily from the mountains through the contaminated site and into the Pacific. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen long ago asked Tepco to dig a trench filled with absorbents to divert that flow. But he was told that would cost too much money.

Now Tepco wants to install a wall of ice. But that can’t be built for at least two years. It’s unclear where the energy to keep the wall frozen will come from, or if it would work at all.

Meanwhile, radiation is now reaching record levels in both the air and water.

The fallout has been already been detected off the coast of Alaska. It will cycle down along the west coast of Canada and the U.S. to northern Mexico by the end of 2014. Massive disappearances of sea lion pups, sardines, salmon, killer whales and other marine life are being reported, along with a terrifying mass disintegration of star fish. One sailor has documented a massive “dead zone” out 2,000 miles from Fukushima. Impacts on humans have already been documented in California and elsewhere.

Without global intervention, long-lived isotopes from Fukushima will continue to pour into the biosphere for decades to come.

The only power now being produced at Fukushima comes from a massive new windmill just recently installed offshore.

Amidst a disaster it can’t handle, the Japanese government is still pushing to re-open the 50 reactors forced shut since the melt-downs. It wants to avoid public fallout amidst a terrified population, and on the 2020 Olympics, scheduled for a Tokyo region now laced with radioactive hot spots. At least one on-site camera has stopped functioning. The government has also apparently stopped helicopter-based radiation monitoring.

A year ago a Japanese professor was detained 20 days without trial for speaking out against the open-air incineration of radioactive waste.

Now Prime Minister Abe can do far worse. The Times of India reports that the State Secrets Act is unpopular, and that Abe’s approval ratings have dropped with its passage.

But the new law may make Japan’s democracy a relic of its pre-Fukushima past.

It’s the cancerous mark of a nuclear regime bound to control all knowledge of a lethal global catastrophe now ceaselessly escalating.

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Harvey Wasserman edits, where petitions calling for the repeal of Japan’s State Secrets Act and a global takeover at Fukushima are linked. He is author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth.


70+ USS Ronald Reagan Crew Members, Half Suffering From Cancer, to Sue TEPCO For Fukushima Radiation Poisoning

| December 27, 2013 2:28 pm | Comments 
After U.S. Navy sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan responded to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan for four days, many returned to the U.S. with thyroid cancer, Leukemia, brain tumors and more.

At least 71 sailors—many in their 20s—reported radiation sickness and will file a lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima Daiichi energy plant.
The men and women accuse TEPCO of downplaying the danger of nuclear radiation on the site. The water contaminated the ship’s supply, which led to crew members drinking, washing their bodies and brushing their teeth with contaminated water. Paul Garner, an attorney representing 51 sailors, said at least half of the 70-plus sailors have some form of cancer.

“We’re seeing leukemia, testicular cancer and unremitting gynecological bleeding requiring transfusions and other intervention,” Garner told New York Post.

Senior Chief Michael Sebourn, a radiation-decontamination officer assigned to test the aircraft carrier, said that radiation levels measured 300 times higher than what was considered safe at one point. Meanwhile sailors like Lindsay Cooper have contrasted their initial and subsequent feelings upon seeing and tasting metallic “radioactive snow” caused by freezing Pacific air that mixed with radioactive debris.

“We joked about it: ‘Hey, it’s radioactive snow!” Cooper said. “My thyroid is so out of whack that I can lose 60 to 70 pounds in one month and then gain it back the next. My menstrual cycle lasts for six months at a time, and I cannot get pregnant.

“It’s ruined me.”

Cooper said the Reagan has a multimillion-dollar radiation-detection system, but the crew couldn’t get it activated quickly enough.

“And then we couldn’t go anywhere,” she said. “Japan didn’t want us in port, Korea didn’t want us, Guam turned us away. We floated in the water for two and a half months.”

San Diego Judge Janis L. Sammartino dismissed the initial suit in late November, but Garner and a group of attorneys plan to refile on Jan. 6, according to Fox 5 San Diego.

Though publications like The Washington Times have wondered if the Navy and/or National Security Agency might have known about the conditions the sailors were heading into two years ago, Garner and the attorneys say the lawsuit is solely directed at TEPCO.

“We’re suing this foreign corporation because they are doing business in America,” co-counsel Charles Bonner. “Their second largest office outside of Tokyo is in Washington, D.C.

“This foreign corporation caused harm to American rescuers, and they did it in ways that give rise to jurisdiction here in this country.”

Hear more comments from Bonner, Cooper and Garner in the above video by .

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Judge dismisses sailor radiation case

Door open for follow-on lawsuit; attorney says he will refile with more plaintiffs

A San Diego federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that U.S. sailors were exposed to dangerous radiation during the humanitarian response to the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

But Judge Janis L. Sammartino left the door open for a follow-on lawsuit, and the attorney representing several sailors from the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan said he intends to refile.
The judge dismissed the case Nov. 26 on jurisdictional grounds, saying that it was beyond her authority to determine whether the Japanese government had perpetrated a fraud on its American counterpart.

The defendant in the December 2012 case was Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. 

The lawsuit argued that power company officials lied about the amount of leakage from the damaged plant, in concert with the government of Japan. It says the Navy used those reports in its own calculations about the safety of U.S. sailors in the relief effort, called Operation Tomodachi.
The carrier Reagan responded to the disaster and for more than three weeks stayed off the coast, launching aircraft to help Japanese survivors. 

Two days after the disaster, the Navy repositioned the Reagan after detecting low levels of contamination in the air and on 17 aircrew members. 

Sailors represented in the lawsuit were deckhands who washed down the flight deck, and performed over decontamination tasks on the ship.

Paul Garner, the Encinitas lawyer leading the case, said the sailors’ ailments include rectal bleeding and other gastrointestinal trouble, unremitting headaches, hair loss and fatigue. Some have thyroid and gallbladder cancer. Many are in their 20s. 

Garner said he will refile the case without alleging the conspiracy with the Japanese government.
The number of plaintiffs is now at 51 people. Garner said he intends to add at least 20 more when he refiles.

Radiation experts interviewed by U-T San Diego earlier this year said that acute illness such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea usually comes on quickly — in days or weeks — after massive radiation exposure.

Unless there are fatalities, people recover within a few months. So, with typical radiation sickness, these former Reagan sailors wouldn’t still have symptoms today. 

Long-term illnesses, such as cancer, may result from a smaller amount of radiation exposure. But that type of ailment wouldn’t typically come on so soon, less than two years after the incident.


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