SHOCKED AND AWFUL: If my adrenal glands weren’t already shot, I’d no doubt find myself freaking out about revelations brought to us this past week, courtesy of California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer as part of their respective swan songs as Democratic Party powerhouses now that Republicans are poised to take control of the Senate. Instead, I retreat into that fatalistic shrug of the morally numb and exhausted. Whatcha gonna do?
Of the two recently dropped bombshells, Feinstein’s 500-page executive summary of a 6,000-page report on torture practices conducted by the CIA at “black sites” like the “Salt Pit” has, for obvious reasons, commandeered world headlines. But if you need help justifying insomnia as a lifestyle choice, Boxer’s one-woman committee performance on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant will definitely add horsepower to your nocturnal tossing and turning.
While it’s undeniably true that DiFi has been an influential and dependable stooge for the so-called intelligence establishment through much of her career, she deserves serious credit for getting portions of the torture report released. That it saw light of day required all of her considerable mojo. Initially, I thought Republican Mitch McConnell — our soon-to-be new majority leader — was right when he dismissed the findings, stating, “It didn’t tell us much we didn’t probably already know anyway” (emphasis added). Like a lot of people, I thought I had assumed the worst. Turns out I lacked the imagination necessary to really do so. Who knew, for example, that we subjected detainees to “rectal force-feeding” and “rectal rehydration” for no medical purpose and for weeks on end? I didn’t. Feinstein’s committee examined in scorching detail 20 instances in which so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” elicited information from otherwise unwilling informants that supposedly saved lives. In all 20 cases, Feinstein discovered that not to be the case. Instead, she found torture led only to false confessions and fabricated information. The extent to which we, the so-called good guys, went so willingly to the Dark Side has clearly shocked Feinstein. But so too has the utter incompetence of our depravity. With at least 26 of the 199 detainees studied, our agents had no idea why they were being held. In other instances, the CIA farmed out the torture work to less-than-qualified subcontractors who lacked the language skills — or necessary informational background — to conduct a meaningful interrogation of any kind. In other words, they were playing with their food. But while it was still alive. Lastly, the report makes it painfully clear that everyone involved lied about their involvement every step of the way, whether to their superiors at the CIA or to Congress itself.
Whatcha gonna do?
Likewise, as chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, Barbara Boxer opted to swing her gavel repeatedly upside the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for not doing more to ensure the seismic safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant — not to mention the other 99 operating in the U.S. — in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster of 2011. Boxer, it turned out, was the only member of the committee who bothered to show up last Wednesday, allowing her maximum spleen ventage that none of the 12 safety recommendations made by the NRC in response to Fukushima — caused by tsunami and earthquake — had been implemented yet. But the real star of the show, in terms of raw freak-out factor, was San Luis Obispo’s understated Sam Blakeslee, a card-carrying Republican and former California state senator who also happens to hold a PhD in seismic geology. Blakeslee reminded the committee — Boxer — when Diablo Canyon was first approved in 1970, no seismic faults had been discovered within 30 miles. Since then, four significant faults have been discovered. The most recent is the Shoreline Fault, discovered in 2008, just 600 meters from the plant and 300 meters from the plant’s water-intake valves, which are so crucial for meltdown prevention. The real bombshell delivered by Blakeslee — the über-wonky Republican, pro-nuke, PhD geo-physicist — was that recent seismic studies commissioned by PG&E, the plant operator, revealed that these four faults are much bigger than previously understood and that many of them are actually connected. This means they are now known to be capable of delivering far more force than previously understood. And from a much closer distance. When the Hosgri Fault was first discovered in the ’70s — after Diablo Canyon had already been approved — regulators concluded it could deliver a magnitude 7.5 punch, but from a three-mile distance. PG&E was ordered to re-engineer accordingly. Now, it turns out, the maximum quake confronting Diablo Canyon is a 7.3, but from a distance of only 600 meters. Not being an engineer, that seems a lot scarier. But PG&E and NRC officials assure us that none of this matters. They say new research demonstrates Diablo Canyon was over-engineered from its inception to provide more safety capacity than was, in fact, required. And I would like very much to believe them
Sam Blakeslee just won’t let me. He testified that PG&E has repeatedly changed the way it calculates maximum ground shaking at the plant, with each change being “less conservative” than the next. With each change, he said, the margin of safety has shrunk. Worse, he said, the NRC has approved these changes without opening the issue up to the public review required in a license amendment. If the new seismic threats were to be evaluated using the safety thresholds in place when Diablo Canyon was first approved, Blakeslee contended, it could never be built. As a scientist, he expressed skepticism there was sufficient data to support these new ground-shaking-calculation methods. “The regulatory determination of safety should not hang tenuously upon the ongoing results of a science experiment,” he stolidly wrote. At the hearing, Blakeslee proved more theatrical. He even played the “kid card,” pulling out his daughter’s rubber ducky while informing Boxer how his family lived within 10 miles of the plant. Hey, man, better sell the house.