As a guy who has been involved in many IT projects, my first inclination at the end of a project, or major event, is to get together with others and share and document “lessons learned.” Documenting issues is important in identifying risks for future projects — so that problems can be avoided, mitigated, or faced, if possible. We’ve had some pretty severe disasters over the past year: Fukushima, the Macondo Oil Spill, and from my POV the Tea Party “Empire Strikes Back” disastrous election of 2010; and now the result of the Wisconsin Recall vote. Looking at all these events all I can say, is that I don’t see too many people learning the right lessons. That needs to be remedied.

It’s not that people aren’t doing lessons learned reviews and learning lessons. I’m pretty convinced that the folks on the right are treating their entire right wing effort as a long run project and that their management gets their leaders and genuine analysts together to go over events and analyze them systematically. When you see names like “Project for a New Century” etc… look for a program office behind it. I just don’t see anything similar going on from a Progressive viewpoint — at least not systematically. Our Union movement doesn’t run projects. It doesn’t have program offices. Our Democratic Party seems lucky if it can herd all its cats.

Lesson Learned I: Need better Democratic Institutions.

So the first lesson I’ve learned recently is that we severely need process reform in the Democratic party, among progressives, and among what remains of our various civil and economic rights movements; labor movement, women’s movement, minorities, etc…. All us Cats need to recognize we are facing long term programs and not just situation ethics and opportunism. More importantly to be successful we need long term programs and institutions that reflect our ideals.

I’m not going to go into detail about what I’m talking about in this post, but the high level is that we need to either reform or create democratic institutions that reflect basic principles such as “Democratic Republicanism”, Representation, Direct participation, inclusiveness, and checks and balances.

For example, it is because of the weaknesses of our institutionalization of the principle of worker representation in Unions, that they are vulnerable to savage attack by business on the political, legal and economic fronts where over the past 40 years they’ve been decimated. If our unions directly reflected the mission of worker representation, they could also fill other roles and be flameproof from business attacks. The essential structure of the Union movement has not changed in almost 100 years and that is part of its problem. Reform Unions and Union membership and they are in a position to do their mission and provide a vehicle for workers to win back rights they are in danger of losing; and also in a position to actively recruit people because their role and mission will be clear.

Lesson learned II — The Power of Denial

The second lesson is the one that our greedy, mendacious and complacent business and government officials have learned but we haven’t clued ourselves into yet, and that is the power of Denial. If people don’t see something they can deny it is happening and that has been a useful principle of the greedy, malaevolent and malicious since the Germans disguised Treblinka as a train station to make it easier to Gas Jews sent there. The lesson learned was that if one can hide what is going on — people will get used to it and not make much of a fuss. If you can successfully deny crimes, and force the victims (who often are in no position to complain) to prove they are victims, one can often get away with murder.


And that is what BP did, more or less successfully with its massive oil spill, the folks who committed huge frauds and swindles in the mid 2000′s did with their behavior and the Japanese are still in the process of doing with their massive nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Deny, minimize, fight in courts, or simply selectively release information and minimize the impact of that. A court case recently confirmed what Scientists were saying about the “Deep Water” Macondo spill while it was going on. The amounts being leaked were an order of magnitude greater than the amounts BP admitted to leaking. But by now people have forgotten, and because BP was admitting to small leaks, nobody seems to really care whether it was 1000 Barrels per hour or 10,000 barrels per hour. In fact I can’t remember how many barrels an hour it was. BP learned the lesson that the right combination of disclosure, and minimization can control the damage of a major oil spill. And that seems to be their strategy for dealing with oil drilling in the Gulf. Less than a year later and Obama is being criticized for not releasing massive numbers of leasing zones to be drilled in. Never mind that they drill, measure and cap the drillings anyway. We aren’t even pumping that oil, and a lot of it is being pumped for overseas production. People forget. Business as usual, and the lesson learned is “we can get away with this — it is just a cost of doing business if we kill huge swaths of ocean.”

Further readings:


If the Mocondo Oil spill was massive in it’s scale, destroying or degrading marine life for miles around and threatening the long term health of the Gulf of Mexico. The Fukushima disaster threatens to dwarf it. There is a radioactive cloud, that appears to still be circulating the globe. One can go to web sites, or buy a geiger counter, and still measure radiation from the disaster. They still haven’t finished re-inclosing some of the blown reactors from Fukushima and the amounts of release of cesium, strontium and radioactive iodine in the official reports are incredible. But like with Macondo, a lot of experts who are watching believe that what is going on is far worse than the official reports and includes releases of radioactive plutonium and uranium as well as the other hot particles already mentioned. For example in April TEPCO released this report, which found its way into Business Week:

“Tokyo Electric Power Co. said as much as 12 tons of radioactive water leaked from a pipe at its crippled Fukushima nuclear station, the second such incident in 11 days at the same pipeline, raising further doubts about the stability of the plant.”

But of course, like with Macondo, what is getting reported is the tip of the iceberg compared to what activists and experts outside believe is actually going on and is being reported in alternative media, but for some strange reason not in the major media the same way. We are starting to hear the full scope of what is going on, only because we are starting to find out that Blue Fin Tuna caught off the coast of California are irradiated, or because one of our Congressmen visited Fukushima and came back asking questions. Congressman Markey released this press release:

“Time spent on the West Coast should include watching Pacific Blue waves washing up on shore, not tainted Bluefin tuna,” said Rep. Markey, top democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “The importance of our seafood stocks and the jobs they support require vigilance when monitoring the half-life of radiation present in fish and marine debris. We need to understand the environmental and human health implications of the Fukushima disaster on Pacific seafood, and I look forward to responses from these two agencies.”

But the disaster is bigger than radioactive Tuna, and is ongoing. It’s like with Macondo, we are being managed, and nothing is being done to finish containing Fukushima, and I’m not sure anything can be done — so the lesson learned is that one can kicke the can down the road. And if one dims the lights enough nobody will notice the Elephant in the Room.

My activist friend Paul Langley calls it “normalizing Radiological Pollution” and his blog entry is as good as any for understanding what these companies are doing with their polluting activities. He’s talking about Nuclear radiological releases, where there really is no safe level of ingestion of “hot particles” because even the tiniest of them cause cancer and other disease. My friends could be marginal nuts, but then on a lot of these things I can verify their statements and speculations fit the facts better than the alternatives put out there. They are like the folks who insisted that the Macondo Oil spill was much bigger than BP was admitting it. They could just be right.

Unfortunately “normalizing” the ugly and deadly reality seems to be the strategy they’ve adopted. “Probabilistic disease” is what nuclear and chemical pollution cause. Maybe most people will get no more than a headache or flu-like symptoms from exposure, but nature’s lottery means that many will die.

I’ve learned some important lessons myself. And one of them is that it’s going to take a long term perspective to set all this right, and that this sort of abusive denial will continue until we acquire the institutions and programs to help people be aware of what is going on. I’m prayerfully hopeful that events like Fukushima aren’t the end of the world, but if we keep letting our leaders practice these techniques they’ll succeed sooner or later. Millions of square miles of poisoned water is a slow disaster, but I think that as people see it for what it is they’ll see what kind of action they need to take. In Japan they may have already killed millions of people, but we can hope its only thousands.

Further Readings and references

Markey’s Press release:
Paul Langley’s Blog: