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More than 50,000 people have signed a petition led by environmental advocacy organizations Stand.earth and Friends of the Earth US calling for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to extend its no-sail order for cruise ships, due to the risk that resumed operations would pose to public health and the environment. The organizations submitted the petition signed by just over 28,400 supporters from Stand.earth and 23,400 from Friends of the Earth US to the CDC on Monday, September 21, 2020, which is the closing date for the federal agency's comment period on whether cruise lines can safely operate in the COVID-19 era.
Over the weekend, the cruise industry caught wind of the organizing efforts by advocacy organizations and community groups, with Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley posting on his Facebook page urging cruise fans to submit comments after an "anti-cruise group has lobbied their supporters to comment."
"For decades, the foreign-owned cruise industry has put its bottom line before the health of people and the planet. Its recent failure to cease operations when it was clear that its vessels posed a serious risk to public health contributed to the spread of the COVID-19 virus around the world, and placed an enormous burden on the CDC and the Coast Guard to respond to onboard outbreaks. As recent outbreaks on board Norwegian Cruise Line vessels demonstrate, there is no such thing as safe cruising during a pandemic," said Kendra Ulrich, Shipping Campaigns Director at Stand.earth.
"The cruise industry has known for years that viruses spread easily on board their ships, just as they know how much pollution they generate. As long as the cruise industry refuses to implement changes needed to protect its passengers, our environment, and local communities, the industry should not restart cruising," said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Program Director at Friends of the Earth US.
A cohort of environmental nonprofits and community organizations also submitted a 12-page technical letter to the CDC outlining multiple concerns regarding cruise ships and COVID-19. Read the letter here.
The letter is signed by advocacy organizations and community groups Stand.earth, Friends of the Earth US, Pacific Environment, International Cruise Victims, Global Cruise Activist Network, reEarth (Bahamas), Seattle Cruise Control (Washington), Alliance for Responsible Tourism (Maine), Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (South Carolina), and Protect our Future (Cayman Islands). Their concerns include:
In addition to submitting the technical letter and petition, Stand.earth also organized 2,039 of its supporters to submit comments to the CDC encouraging an extension of the no-sail order.
"Our small town of Hoonah, Alaska, has no respirators, and is only a small clinic, staffed with elders, mothers with infants, and grandmothers. If an emergency arises and we are in need of a hospital or critical care, we have to take a helicopter or an emergency plane ride out of the village, IF the weather allows. ... If a cruise ship came into our town and potentially had COVID-19, our town of 800 would suffer just like our Alaska Native people did when westward expansion reached Alaska, dying of diseases and illnesses in which they had no cure, and were never exposed to because of the remoteness. I demand that the CDC extends its no sail order until after this pandemic because cruise ships are a vector for disease, not only COVID-19, but many other illnesses," wrote Rebekah Sawers, an Alaskan Native Yupik living with her family in Hoonah, Alaska.
Hoonah is a largely Tlingit community located near Glacier Bay National Park, where in 2018 Carnival Corporation's Holland America Line committed a felony when it illegally dumped untreated greywater and failed to report it to the Coast Guard.
"Until the pandemic is actually under control, traveling via cruise ship will be extremely hazardous. The people on the ship -- staff and customers alike -- will be at severe risk. ... As a retired Public Health Nurse, I am encouraging the strictest measures to protect us all rather than encourage the spread of this virus," wrote another commenter.
"Cruise ships are already hazardous to the environment and need tighter regulations. They pollute everywhere they sail. Sailing in the midst of a pandemic is not responsible behavior. It is the behavior of greedy people who worship money," wrote another commenter.
"Dead people make lousy customers," wrote another commenter.
As of 12:00 p.m. PT Monday, September 21, only 3,584 of the 10,539 comments submitted were approved and posted on the CDC's comment portal. There appears to be a lag between when the CDC receives and posts comments -- in some cases up to two weeks -- so it is unknown how many additional comments the CDC will publish after the deadline.
Stand.earth (formerly ForestEthics) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with offices in Canada and the United States that is known for its groundbreaking research and successful corporate and citizens engagement campaigns to create new policies and industry standards in protecting forests, advocating the rights of indigenous peoples, and protecting the climate. Visit us at
"Doctors know that there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation, and that harmful impacts are cumulative," said the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Two years after the closing of Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York, public health experts and campaigners are warning that an energy technology company's plan to discharge one million gallons of wastewater from the plant's fuel-cooling pools into the Hudson River could harm at least 100,000 people who rely on the river for their drinking water.
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is among the groups sounding the alarm about radioactive contaminants, including the radioactive isotope tritium, which could be present in the treated water that Holtec International plans to release into the Hudson.
Spent fuel pools at the plant, which was decommissioned after decades of advocacy by anti-nuclear campaigners, have cooled radioactive fuel for more than 45 years, and health experts from PSR and other groups warned on Thursday at the first of several public forums that Holtec has not been transparent about the risks associated with the wastewater discharge plan.
"There has been no prior disclosure of what pollutants or radioactive contaminants are in the wastewater or any public education on the environmental safety and public health risks associated with any potential discharges from the site," said the groups in a statement.
The Hudson River is the primary drinking water source for seven cities and towns including Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, and Hyde Park, as well as the backup water source for other communities along the river.
"Since the Hudson is a tidal river, radioactive wastewater can affect communities all the way up to Poughkeepsie and down to Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey," said Nancy S. Vann, president of the Safe Energy Rights Group, last year.
\u201cSince the Hudson is a tidal river, radioactive wastewater can affect communities all the way up to Poughkeepsie & down to Manhattan, Staten Island & New Jersey\n\nWater from the nuclear plant has already leaked into the river and dead & mutant fish were common when plant was active\u201d— Nancy S Vann, Esq. (JD) (@Nancy S Vann, Esq. (JD)) 1649617375
Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of PSR, was among the experts who spoke at the forum on Thursday and warned that tritium poses risks for adults, children, and developing fetuses.
"It's highly carcinogenic, of course, it enters the fetus," she said at the meeting. "There's no way to remove tritium from the water."
Tritium has also been the subject of concern in Japan as officials prepare to release wastewater from the decommissioned Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, with fishing communities and South Korean officials warning of potential harm to marine life.
Holtec International that told local outlet News 12 that during the 12-15 year process of decommissioning the plant, the discharge of the wastewater will be regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and will result in the presence of substances that "are typically indistinguishable from the natural radioactivity present in the environment."
Caldicott dismissed the company's claims.
"Physicists talk convincingly about 'permissible doses' of radiation," she said in a statement. "They consistently ignore internal emitters—radioactive elements from nuclear power plants that are ingested or inhaled into the body, giving very high doses to small volumes of cells. They focus instead on external radiation from sources outside the body."
"Doctors know that there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation, and that harmful impacts are cumulative," Caldicott added. "Children are ten to twenty times more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of radiation than adults and little girls twice that of boys."
Also speaking at the forum on Thursday was Diane Turco, director of the grassroots group Cape Downwinders in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where Holtec is also planning to discharge wastewater from Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, another decommissioned facility.
"From California to Massachusetts to New York to Michigan to New Mexico, Indigenous and civil society groups are connecting in our efforts," said Turco. "Holtec has no right to dump radioactive wastewater into our waterways or radioactive waste into our communities."
The experts also raised concerns about the demolition activities taking place at Indian Point without efforts to mitigate the spread of radioactive dust and other airborne contaminants, even as Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School stands less than 4,000 feet from the site and lacks air, water, and soil monitoring.
"Although a school air monitoring study has been under consideration, a Request for Proposal for an air monitoring program was only recently issued," said the experts. "Still, hundreds of students were allowed to return to the school this past September. Parents still lack critical information regarding emergency planning and preparedness, monitoring, and protections."
They noted that in 2019, a middle school in Piketon, Ohio was forced to close due to radioactive contamination from demolition projects at a nuclear enrichment facility less than two miles away.
"Independent expert analysis regarding potential health and environmental impacts from these exposures is imperative," said the experts.
Another public forum will be held at nearby Cortlandt Town Hall on February 3, according toNews 12.
"If Democrats really believe in democracy and campaign finance reform, we must ban super PACs in primaries," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday voiced support for a renewed progressive push at the Democratic National Committee to ban dark money donations in the party's primaries, an effort that comes months after the DNC Resolutions Committee refused to allow a vote on the proposal.
"Billionaires and their super PACs must not be able to buy Democratic Party primaries," Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on social media. "If Democrats really believe in democracy and campaign finance reform, we must ban super PACs in primaries. I stand with progressive reformers advocating for this change."
James Zogby, a longtime DNC member who helped craft the resolution, welcomed Sanders' continued support, writing that "Democrats mustn't let billionaires buy campaigns and our politics with deceitful ads."
"We introduced a resolution to ban dark money at the last DNC meeting," Zogby tweeted Thursday. "They wouldn't let it be discussed or come to a vote. We're bringing it back again."
During last year's Democratic primaries, a number of progressive candidates—including Summer Lee in Pennsylvania, who won her race, and Nida Allam in North Carolina, who lost—faced massive opposition spending from super PACs, including at least one bankrolled by Republican billionaires.
Super PACs, entities that are allowed to spend unlimited sums advocating for or against political candidates, are an outgrowth of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which unleashed an avalanche of corporate cash into the U.S. political system.
Though they are legally required to disclose their donors, some super PACs "are effectively dark money outlets when the bulk of their funding cannot be traced back to the original donor," OpenSecrets explains.
"While Citizens United may allow for unlimited corporate money in general elections, that Supreme Court ruling does not govern Democratic Party rules."
Appalled by the growing influence of super PACs on Democratic races, progressive DNC members led by Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer proposed a resolution late last year that would have prohibited dark money funding "during any and all Democratic primary elections" and set up "procedures for the investigation of 'dark money' use by candidate committees as well as possible disciplinary action."
But during a September meeting, the DNC Resolutions Committee didn't allow the measure to come up for a vote even though it had the support of dozens of DNC members, spotlighting the committee's increasingly undemocratic procedures and emboldening progressives who vowed to keep fighting for a full floor vote on the dark money ban.
"It was absolutely stunning," Zogby said in an interview after the meeting. "The resolution was never even considered. I know how that works. I was chair of the resolutions committee for 10 years. I was a member of the resolutions committee for 20 years. It means that staff whipped the members and said, 'Don't you dare.'"
"I went up to folks afterwards who I've known," Zogby added. "I mean, you know, they've served on the committee with me. And I said, 'Why? Why did this happen?' They wouldn't look me in the eye."
In a column for In These Times on Thursday, Our Revolution board chair and DNC member Larry Cohen wrote that "while Citizens United may allow for unlimited corporate money in general elections, that Supreme Court ruling does not govern Democratic Party rules."
However, Cohen added, "it is likely that in February, for the second time, the resolutions committee (which determines which proposals move forward) will refuse to report out the dark money ban—despite the significant support it has received from DNC members in about 20 states."
"Increasingly, both the DNC and political leadership in the Biden White House appear interested in preventing party discussion and debate," Cohen wrote. "The good news is that the number of progressives at the DNC is growing, slowly but surely, and grassroots activists increasingly understand that without change within the Democratic Party, we won't win the advances in healthcare, childcare, workers' rights, and climate change that are desperately needed."
"Israel's horrific colonial violence must end," said the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
Israeli forces launched their latest bombing campaign in the occupied Gaza Strip early Friday morning just hours after killing at least nine Palestinians in a raid on a West Bank refugee camp—resulting in the deadliest single day in the besieged territory in more than a year.
The airstrikes came after the Israeli army said two rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by Israel's missile defense system.
No injuries or deaths have been reported from the Israeli strikes as of this writing, but Al Jazeeranoted that the country's warplanes hit the al-Maghazi refugee camp in the center of Gaza with its early Friday bombing, which caused infrastructure damage and power outages.
At least 14 missiles were fired by Israeli fighter jets Friday morning.
"We didn't sleep the whole night, bombing and missiles," 50-year-old Gaza resident Abdallah Al-Husary toldReuters. "There is worry and there is fear, any minute a war can happen. With any clash in the West Bank, there can be war along the borders in Gaza."
Israeli forces have killed at least 30 Palestinians so far this year under the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has elevated virulently anti-Palestinian figures to top posts, including national security minister.
according to data gathered by Middle East Eye, Israeli forces killed more Palestinians in the West Bank—at least 220 people—than in any year since the Second Intifada.
"Israel's horrific colonial violence must end," the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights said in response to the fresh round of bombing.
Friday's attack on Gaza could be the first of many to come, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant suggested Friday. As the
Associated Pressreported, Gallant "instructed the military to prepare for new strikes in the Gaza Strip 'if necessary.'"
The burst of violence by the Israeli military drew a muted international response.
According toAl Jazeera, the United Arab Emirates, China, and France have requested a closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.
"While Palestinian deaths mount, the international response to Israel's violations consists of little more than timid condemnation at best, and unconditional support at worst."
Vedant Patel, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said during a press briefing Thursday that the Biden administration is "deeply concerned by the escalating cycle of violence in the West Bank."
"I want to underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, to prevent further loss of civilian life, and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank," Patel added. "Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely."
Following the deadly Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp, the Palestinian Authority suspended a security cooperation agreement with Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit the Middle East starting Sunday, with planned trips to Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank. Axiosreported that CIA Director Bill Burns "arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday for visits to Israel and the occupied West Bank, where he is expected to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders and his counterparts on both sides."
Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director at Amnesty International, condemned the international community for continually refusing to act in the face of Israel's unending violence against Palestinians.
"For almost a year, Jenin refugee camp has been at the center of Israel's escalating military crackdown," Luther said in a statement Thursday. "Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in the camp last May, and its residents continue to be subjected to relentless military raids which amount to collective punishment."
"Meanwhile, Israel continues to enjoy total impunity for the system of apartheid it imposes on Palestinians—a system which is partly maintained through violations like unlawful killings," Luther added. "While Palestinian deaths mount, the international response to Israel's violations consists of little more than timid condemnation at best, and unconditional support at worst. Today's bloodshed is a reminder of the cost of this shameful inaction—until there is accountability, deadly attacks against Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territories will continue."