English

Japanese journalist on nuclear energy

By Engelbertus Wendratama

Today the way most Japanese people see nuclear energy is different from how they did before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. There are wide public protests against nuclear power, calling for it to be abandoned. This radical change of attitude occurred in many Japanese journalists, including Rie Yamada, who has been reporting for the Asahi Shimbun for ten years.

It is one of her biggest regrets that she didn’t start writing about the downsides of nuclear power in 2008 when she had an opportunity.

That year she met Professor Hiroaki Koide, a nuclear scholar who has been opposed to nuclear energy for decades.  Yamada interviewed him, but she dropped the story. Like her fellow journalists and the Japanese people in general, she was surrounded by the “nuclear energy renaissance” mentality, suggesting nuclear power is very advanced, sophisticatedly safe technology, and therefore excellent for the country. Another opinion was simply unacceptable.

Rie Yamada in Cambridge, October 24.
Rie Yamada in Cambridge, Oct. 24.

Rie Yamada, 35, said, “At that time, I kept asking myself, ‘What if I am wrong? What if Koide is wrong?’ because all people seemed to support nuclear power. Almost all nuclear experts supported nuclear energy. My senior said, ‘Even Germany now uses nuclear power’. All these factors and my lack of understanding of the energy led me to drop the idea.”

Now Yamada is in the U.S. studying the closures of American nuclear reactors and how they affect their host communities. As a country with the most nuclear power plants in the world — now 100 active reactors — the U.S. has a wide range of nuclear-related experiences that Yamada believes to be important for her country. She is determined to let Japanese people know various effects of the energy, which she thinks should have been learned by the public many years ago.

“Before 3/11, people didn’t know much about nuclear energy. We just believed what experts and the government said. It’s also journalists’ fault because journalists didn’t really know about the energy,” Yamada said in Cambridge, her base for her year-long research.

Her reporting experience in Fukui, and then Fukushima, is what encouraged Yamada to do the research. In March 2011, she was based in Fukui Prefecture, reporting challenges faced by Fukushima refugees. These people used to live in coastal areas of Fukushima, and most were fishermen — the poorest people in Japan.

“Basically these refugees became jobless because all they know is fishing. Local people in Fukui also lost their jobs because most of them worked for nuclear power plants in Fukui. When reactors stopped operating, there’s a big number of unemployment. Electricity shortages also created problems for businesses. People were just waiting, some of them found seasonal jobs. There’s a lot of social economic problems in Fukui after 3/11,” she recalled.

The refugees were allowed to visit their hometowns for the first time in November 2011, for only four hours, to collect their belongings after evacuating. Yamada went to the affected areas for the first time with the residents of Futaba, the host town of the Fukushima power plants.

“It was like a ghost town. Time stopped in March 2011. Animals are everywhere — pigs, cows, rats. It’s a scary place,” she said.

A sign on the main road of Futaba saying
A sign on the main road of abandoned Futaba saying “Nuclear energy for bright future.” Photo courtesy of Rie Yamada, Nov. 2012.

Yamada said the earthquake followed by the meltdowns really devastated local people. They lost almost everything in their lives. She thinks that the nuclear operator, Tepco, should have done more to prevent this all from happening. “Tepco really didn’t anticipate this. For example, when it happened, the emergency centers in Fukushima couldn’t be used because they’re too close to the reactors. This is unacceptable,” she said.

Various negative aspects about nuclear plants only came up in the mainstream media weeks after 3/11. Previously the media was a big supporter of the nuclear companies, together with government officials and nuclear scholars. Whenever people raised opposing voices, they were easily regarded as just “protesters or activists who were not experts, so we didn’t need to listen to them,” she said.

As a research fellow at Harvard University, she visits active and non-active nuclear plants in New York, Vermont and San Diego, California. She wants to learn how things could possibly be handled better since the Japanese government plans to reactivate some of the 50 currently-offline nuclear reactors. When companies restart their reactors, she will do her best to make sure that more related aspects are under consideration, mainly safety issues and socioeconomic concerns for host communities.

Yamada is also concerned with what she saw during her two visits to Fukushima. Although the affected areas are closed for human beings due to the radioactive contamination, birds and other animals still go in and out of the areas, carrying hazardous substances. She agrees with what Professor Koide told her: once nuclear reaction happens, no human being can control the energy.

English

Patients requesting more rights in accessing medical marijuana

By E. Wendratama

Some patients with debilitating conditions praised the regulations proposed by the Department of Public Health, noting the DPH has listened to their concerns and revised its first draft. However, they still proposed changes in the regulations.

In a public hearing held April 22 at the DPH office, Steve Saling, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, asked the DPH not to limit a patient to a single marijuana dispensary. Using a voice recording device to communicate his views, he said, “Every treatment center [dispensary] will produce different varieties of medication, and as a patient I should have flexibility to try different brands of medicine until I find what best relieves my symptoms.”

As a patient with motor neurone disorder, Saling said marijuana provides him relief from ALS as it works as a muscle relaxant. “It calms the constant spasms in my muscles and rigidity in my joints without making me even weaker as happens with other medicine,” he said.

Scott Murphy, an Iraq combat veteran, raised concern about the draft’s definition on debilitating conditions. He asked for a broader definition of the term, saying that besides PTSD, there are other stress-related conditions experienced by veterans.

“I ask the DPH to also consider other chronic conditions that are causing a lot of suffering to veterans. And the qualifying conditions should be decided by their doctors,” Murphy said.

The same view was voiced by Linda Brantley, president of the New England Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, who said that debilitating has been defined too narrowly. “Medical marijuana has proven effective as a preventative measure for people struggling with nausea from chemotherapy and some of the after effects of cancer as well, including chronic pain,” she said.

The rights of patients receiving chemotherapy were also raised by Karen Munkacy, a physician and breast cancer survivor. She is asking the DPH to allow children suffering from cancer to use marijuana during chemotherapy. The draft regulations, considering the baneful effect of marijuana on children brain development, only limit the medicine to dying children.

“As a physician I have seen children go through cancer chemotherapy treatments and it is an unspeakable horror. We have many excellent anti-nausea medications, but they don’t always work. When they don’t, children go through agony,” she said.

Munkacy explained that the effectiveness of medical marijuana derives from its active ingredient called Delta 8 THC, which is available only in the plant, not in pill, nor any other form.

She said if only the dying children are eligible for medical marijuana, then it is not legally available for the 80% of children who live longer than 6 months after their cancer diagnosis.

“Childhood cancer is rare, but distraught parents, who are already dealing the nightmare of their child having cancer, shouldn’t also have the nightmare of buying their children’s medicine from back alley drug dealers,”she said.

Munkacy, who is also a board member of Americans for Safe Access, an organization promoting safe and legal access to cannabis, then proposed a requirement in the matter. “For the child to get this medicine, besides the parents or guardian consent, two doctors must agree that the child needs medical marijuana,” she said.

After hearing from the public, a small team in the DPH works on the draft again. Cheryl Bartlett, interim deputy commissioner of the DPH, said, “We will work quickly to synthesize public comment, and where necessary and appropriate, to amend the regulations.” Then, the team will present its new draft to the DPH council on May 8, and if the regulations be adopted by the council that day, they will go into effect by May 24.

English

Drug prevention groups asking for stricter marijuana law

Substance abuse prevention groups raised various concerns on medical marijuana dispensation, ranging from possible black market activities, dispensary regulation, to edible marijuana-infused products. In the public hearing on April 22, they shared their views on the marijuana draft regulations.

Dave Morgan, chairperson of the Weymouth Youth Coalition Substance Abuse Prevention Team, said that the maximum limit of 10 ounces for a 60-day supply is extraordinarily high, and it could lead to diversions. “Based on a study, heavy users, who met criteria for marijuana dependence, used an average of 2 ounces per month.  The 10-ounce limit will tempt many people to request a 10-ounce recommendation, use up to 4 ounces per 60 days and divert the rest,” he said.

Morgan also proposed that all marijuana dispensaries should report their sales to the health officials like any other pharmacy. “Medical marijuana treatment centers must submit sales to the state Prescription Monitoring Program, as well as using the physician look-up as pharmacies are currently required to do,” he said.

His suggestion was supported by MaryanneFrangules, executive director of Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery. She said that the system will help physicians identify warning signs of addiction and prevent “doctor shopping” for excessive quantities of prescription drugs.

Another group, Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, advised the DPH to define marijuana-infused product as both a food and a drug, therefore subject to the state’s food and drug safety laws. One of its members, Jody Hensley from Westboro, Mass., argued that the draft regulation runs counter to the public health and well-being of the citizens.

“By excluding these products from being defined as a food or drug, DPH is blatantly circumventing food and drug safety regulations. This exception must be deleted from this definition in this regulation.  Why avoid safety standards?” Hensley said.

She noted that the DPH’s definition will exempt the products, like cookies, chocolate and juice, from the state’s food safety guidelines. “These products should be under supervision of the Massachusetts Food Protection Program, within Bureau of Environmental Health in the Department of Public Health,” she said.

Her view on the food products was also highlighted by Morgan, who said, “This is compounding and it needs to be regulated by FDA and Board of Pharmacy.”

The DPH’s proposed regulation allows any dispensary to have one growing house outside of its distribution store. On this matter, the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance said there should be a notification to the community where a marijuana cultivation will be located. “Communities should be notified. The risk of diversion is too high to leave local officials unaware of potential marijuana sources in the neighborhoods,”Heidi Heilman, president of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, said.

Commenting on the draft in general, these organizations shared the same opinion that the state’s oversight obligations are weak because inspections on dispensaries are optional rather than mandatory, and are not regularly scheduled.Heidi Heilmann referred to the recent case in Maine where marijuana growing facilities violated regulations including use of pesticides.  She said the DPH must include a requirement for inspection and testing for contaminants.  “Medical marijuana treatment center licensing fees should be high enough to pay for the staffing required to do this properly,” she said.

English

Attorneys and advocacy groups raised comments on dispensary rules

While noting that the majority of the regulations drafted by the DPH are well-thought out, several attorneys and coalitions of entrepreneurs said some regulations related to dispensaries are too restrictive and need to be reconsidered.

In a public hearing at the DPH office held April 22, a Massachusetts-based attorney Douglas Noble addressed two issues related to marijuana dispensary. First, the requirement that a dispensary must be operational within 120 days after its application approved by the DPH.

Noble said, “A hundred and twenty days may be a very unrealistic time frame to become operational with all of the uncertainties which exist with zoning issues, and being the first to open marijuana treatment centers in Massachusetts. But this may become less an issue for future developments.” He  proposed change to allow staff to extend the time frame, so long as the applicant is making substantial continuing progress to completion.

His second concern was related to a requirement that, when applying for a certificate of dispensary, every applicant must put at least $500,000 in an escrow account, which is to ensure that applicants have enough resources to operate. He recommended that upon the approval of an applicant, the escrow money should be released for the purpose of becoming fully operational.

Noble’s suggestion to extend the time frame was also voiced by Kris Krane, managing partner of 4Front Advisors, an Arizona-based consulting firm that provides marijuana dispensaries support in business operations and legal issues.

Krane said, “It will undoubtedly lead to certificate winners being forced to forfeit their permit.  Construction and build out of large-scale cultivation facilities can take a few months, and that doesn’t account for the time needed to pull building permits from local jurisdictions, a process that can take months in and of itself.” As a solution, he suggested the DPH to consider either extending this period to at least six months or building in a mechanism for operators to apply for extensions based on reasonable delays in permitting or construction.

As a representative of an organization whose clients are marijuana dispensaries and business entities throughout the country, Krane also asked the DPH to allow marijuana dispensaries to wholesale amongst themselves, which is similar to the Arizona marijuana program. “Wholesaling or trading amongst them will ensure that dispensaries have a more varied and robust product line for patients. If a dispensary in western Massachusetts is growing an effective strain (high CBD for example), they should be able to make it available to patients in more high-density places like the Boston area by wholesaling or trading with dispensaries in Boston,” he said.

The draft regulation allows a registered qualifying patient to change his or her designated treatment center only once every 120-day period.  Most representatives from the various groups attending the public hearing proposed to change this. One of them was by Tamar Todd, a staff attorney of the Drug Policy Alliance, a California-based advocate group for new drug policies.

Todd said experience in other medical marijuana states shows that producers and dispensaries may experience difficulty consistently providing enough marijuana to the patients in the amount they need. “If a treatment center runs out of marijuana or experiences crop failure or disease, patients registered with that dispensary will be forced to wait up to 120 days before being able to obtain marijuana from another dispensary. This regulation should be revised to allow patients to change their designation before 120 days, or else to allow a patient to designate multiple dispensaries at one time,” he said.

Another issue was raised by Michael Kann, an analytical chemist and pharmaceutical scientist, who argued the current draft is lack of clarity in quality control standards. He said the draft requires only cannabinoid profile testing, which would list ingredients without specific quantities of active cannabinoids. “Marijuana patients should have access to the specific information of the active ingredients. We use this information to make informed choices, just like we know Excedrin displays the number of milligrams of caffeine, ibuprofen, and aspirin found in a pill,” he said.

He admitted the testing is costly and complicated, and argued that reliance on self-regulation can lead to poor quality and compromised safety, as recently seen in the compounding pharmacy, oil industries and a dispensary in Maine that used pesticides in their growing facility.

“A reasonable solution is to specify in the bill a pathway for the creation of certified third-party laboratories that will provide proper cost-effective testing for multiple dispensaries,” he suggested. He said this mechanism will promote a conscientious and transparent medical treatment.

After this hearing, a small team in the DPH works on the draft again. Then, the team will present its new draft to the DPH council on May 8, and if the regulations be adopted by the council that day, they will go into effect by May 24.

English

Award-winning program guides Dorchester’s youth to college

By E. Wendratama

College Bound Dorchester’s College Connections program has received a Community Partnership Award from Mutual of America for its work in guiding the neighborhood’s high school dropouts toward college.

College Connections offers high school dropouts aged 16 to 27 courses in English, Social Studies, Science, Humanities and Math. The program is entirely free, and experts on staff assist individuals outside these core areas.

“We focus on students who are struggling, having a hard time, who have dropped out of high school, students that other college-focused programs don’t really work with,” said Mark Culliton, College Bound’s CEO.

“Our students are wearing a veil of disruption … doing bad things, being involved in gangs or violence. They’re wearing that cloak of negative behavior. But we don’t believe that’s who they are. We help them to take that cloak off, to allow who they really are to come through, to get into and succeed in college.”

The program currently enrolls 380 students, and recruit students through neighborhood associations and from word of mouth through current and former students.

Mutual of America, an insurance company, has been awarding non-profit organizations since 1996. Ted Herman, vice chairman of Mutual of America, presented the award to Culliton on April 4 for making meaningful contributions to the community.

“Our independent committee applauds the College Connections program for addressing the unique needs of students who have left high school prior to graduating,” he said.  The award comes with a $25,000 grant.

Since the program’s start four years ago, 88 students have received their GED and 56 students have advanced to college. Three-quarters of these enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College, a College Bound partner. Recognizing that financing for college can be a significant barrier, College Bound also partners with UAspire, an organization that provides loans to students.

College Bound has four facilities throughout Dorchester and operates out of an administrative office on SamosetStreet in Shawmut. Culliton said programs like this can help to turn an entire community. “A neighborhood stays bad because their young people stay there,” he said. “They create a pattern of negativity. To make Dorchester a better place, the young people need to go to college and leave this place. This is true in any neighborhood. That’s what we’re doing, giving them hope and opportunity.”

He said that in a bad neighborhood, the people who control the streets and make them a scary place are predominantly teens and young adults who have dropped out of high school.

“So we come and work with them, we’re going to show them a different path,” he said.

Alberto Rodriguez, 19, is a typical student in the program. He dropped out of high school, and before joining the College Bound he said he was “just on the streets.”

Two years ago, his girlfriend asked him to join the program.

“At first I didn’t take the class seriously,because I took it so I could date the girl,”he said. “It was on-and-off, it took me a while, but eventually I got it. Now I’m serious about it, and I know that I want to go to college and get a job.”

He spends every weekday in College Bound’s Little House in Savin Hill from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jermaine Hamilton finished the College Connections program three years ago and is currently a Brandeis University student.

“I was a former drug dealer, and I went to College Bound for a second chance,” he said. “Kamau [Parker] was my educator, and I could relate to his troubled past and was inspired by his experience.”

Among the program’s educators are those who’ve made it off the streets and who have the experience to help students like Hamilton, said Parker, who has been working for College Bound for six years.

Parker said he’s happy with how Rodriguez has participated in the program.

“When Alberto joined us, he was not Alberto now,” he said. “He didn’t come here every day, didn’t follow instruction. But we just pushed him to keep coming. And at some point, something clicks, and he could figure it out by himself. That’s what we do to our students.”

Parker also said it’s important for the staff to have the same vested interests as the students do. “We’re looking for staff who come from the same community. It gives us a different piece of leverage to stand on when we talk to the students. Trust is a very important thing. The students need to trust us,” he said.

Culliton said College Connections succeeds in guiding 26 to 28 percent of the students through the program and on to college.

“It’s a low percentage compared to our other programs that have 50 to 80 percent. But without any programs, students who go to college are between 6 to 11 percent,” he said.

He said this year’s budget is $1.8 million, with $300,000 coming from government sources, and the rest coming from the private sector.

College Connections plans to enroll 600 students and increase its budget to  $2.6 million by 2017, said Culliton. “We hope 60 percent of the budget would be from government,” he added.

English

Emerson panel debates 2nd Amendment's reach

Gun Discussion

By Engelbertus Wendratama

In the third of a series of Emerson College panels on American’s “gun violence culture,”  panelists shared different interpretations of the Second Amendment, but agreed that politicians and not the courts should formulate gun control laws.

One of the four panelists, Mark Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said he believes in the concept of “thin Constitution,” which relies on the people and their representatives to formulate gun regulations.

“Let the process be done in the political way, with the Court be in the end of the process,” he said at the college’s Bill Bordy Theater Tuesday. Tushnet added, the political way is also preferred by gun-rights advocacy groups, including NRA, in its efforts to fight virtually any limitations on gun rights.

The discussion was titled “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?” and it started by showing the words of the Second Amendment, which reads simply, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ted Canova, the moderator and executive director of WGBH news, noted that when it was written in 1791, semi-automatic weapons did not exist. “What they meant by arms were muskets, and they’re completely different from weapons we see today.”

He then asked the two panelists from gun-rights groups about their view on this very different context today.

Karen MacNutt, a consulting attorney for gun-rights organizations, said she believes the same right is still applicable, since it’s only a matter of technology.

“The musket was an assault weapon of that day,” she said, noting that knives, the bow and arrow, and other traditional weapons existed when the Bill of Rights was written.

Brent Carlton, president of Comm2A, said that semi-automatic weapon has been around since 1890, and it’s not too different from what we have now.

“Only 15 percent of today’s weapons are semi-automatic, which are typically used for self-defense, and this type is very different from the fully automatic one,” he said. “People also talk about how guns killed innocent people, but they don’t discuss how many times firearms stopped criminals.”

His group, Commonwealth Second Amendment,  filed suit last month in US District Court in Boston against four Massachusetts police chiefs alleging that they violated six citizens Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Another panelist was Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law professor at Boston College. He said cultural background plays big part in the gun debate. “It depends on how one’s culture views guns and interprets the Second Amendment,” he said. “Research shows that there’s a link between gun ownership and cultural and political viewpoint.”

Tushnet agreed that there are basically two groups with different social visions. “One group sees gun possession as liberty, and the second sees it as an aggressive action. In theory, we just need to find the balance of interests,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,  President Barack Obama continues to push Congress to act on gun control bills that he says would reduce gun violence. These include efforts to require background checks and limit the number of rounds in the magazines of semi-automatic weapons.

On Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut signed a gun control bill considered as one of the toughest gun laws in the country. It includes background checks for private gun sales and a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines. The bill was applauded by the family members of the Newtown shooting.

English

Emerson panel debates 2nd Amendment’s reach

Gun Discussion

By Engelbertus Wendratama

In the third of a series of Emerson College panels on American’s “gun violence culture,”  panelists shared different interpretations of the Second Amendment, but agreed that politicians and not the courts should formulate gun control laws.

One of the four panelists, Mark Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said he believes in the concept of “thin Constitution,” which relies on the people and their representatives to formulate gun regulations.

“Let the process be done in the political way, with the Court be in the end of the process,” he said at the college’s Bill Bordy Theater Tuesday. Tushnet added, the political way is also preferred by gun-rights advocacy groups, including NRA, in its efforts to fight virtually any limitations on gun rights.

The discussion was titled “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?” and it started by showing the words of the Second Amendment, which reads simply, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ted Canova, the moderator and executive director of WGBH news, noted that when it was written in 1791, semi-automatic weapons did not exist. “What they meant by arms were muskets, and they’re completely different from weapons we see today.”

He then asked the two panelists from gun-rights groups about their view on this very different context today.

Karen MacNutt, a consulting attorney for gun-rights organizations, said she believes the same right is still applicable, since it’s only a matter of technology.

“The musket was an assault weapon of that day,” she said, noting that knives, the bow and arrow, and other traditional weapons existed when the Bill of Rights was written.

Brent Carlton, president of Comm2A, said that semi-automatic weapon has been around since 1890, and it’s not too different from what we have now.

“Only 15 percent of today’s weapons are semi-automatic, which are typically used for self-defense, and this type is very different from the fully automatic one,” he said. “People also talk about how guns killed innocent people, but they don’t discuss how many times firearms stopped criminals.”

His group, Commonwealth Second Amendment,  filed suit last month in US District Court in Boston against four Massachusetts police chiefs alleging that they violated six citizens Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Another panelist was Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law professor at Boston College. He said cultural background plays big part in the gun debate. “It depends on how one’s culture views guns and interprets the Second Amendment,” he said. “Research shows that there’s a link between gun ownership and cultural and political viewpoint.”

Tushnet agreed that there are basically two groups with different social visions. “One group sees gun possession as liberty, and the second sees it as an aggressive action. In theory, we just need to find the balance of interests,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,  President Barack Obama continues to push Congress to act on gun control bills that he says would reduce gun violence. These include efforts to require background checks and limit the number of rounds in the magazines of semi-automatic weapons.

On Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut signed a gun control bill considered as one of the toughest gun laws in the country. It includes background checks for private gun sales and a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines. The bill was applauded by the family members of the Newtown shooting.