Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Thorn by Any Other Name

What would you call a person whose actions kill more people than were murdered by Osama Bin Laden? What would you call a person who holds a metaphorical gun to the head of the United States threatening its very existence?

What you call that person doesn't matter. But the fact that the Republicans, epitomized by John Boehner, fit that description is frightening.

It's bad enough that the Republicans, much more than the Democrats, stonewall the confirmation of important presidential appointments. But John Boehner's misuse of his power as Speaker of the House to hold the nation hostage to his party's economic policies is a shonda. If he believes the American people want fewer government services and tax breaks for millionaires, he should follow the established legislative process and introduce a bill to implement these changes. But he knows that such a bill would never pass. Instead, he is using the debt crisis as a bargaining chip and is willing to inflict more pain and suffering to advance his failed political mantra.

And what a failure the Republicans have been. Their Ivy League MBA president brought on the fiscal crisis (and the unnecessary wars) that were repudiated in 2008 and will define America's path in the 21st century.

What Boehner and his ilk fail to recognize is that government is the art of compromise. So while President Obama capitulates to just about every Republican demand, Boehner would rather see the nation default than participate in a shared victory with a president whose legitimacy has never been acknowledged by the Right.

The Republican stench has already hit one agency. Portions of the Federal Aviation Administration have been shut down over a dispute about another bogeyman of the right, unions. The shutdown does not affect air traffic control (yet), but the GOP has shuttered important work in safety and training.  While Bohner and his comrades are still able to fly home to their districts, they have also added thousands of Americans, who had productive jobs, to the unemployment rolls.

Unfortunately, the Boehners of the world put ideology over pragmatism and corporate welfare over compassion. If the outcome of the current crisis is as bad as many predict, the financial ruin of the United States will fall directly in the lap of people like John Boehner. And the number of people who die because the GOPs aversion to health care, the environment, and product safety will be orders of magnitude more than were murdered by an equally fanatic partisan almost a decade ago.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Anarchists in our Midst

Merriam Webster defines anarchist as “a person who believes that government and laws are not necessary.”

Republicans are killing America by opposing laws that regulate their Wall Street benefactors.

Republicans are killing America by holding the American people hostage to the debt crisis in their obsession to eviscerate government.

Republicans are killing the world by opposing laws that protect the environment.

And they call themselves patriots?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Crazy is the New Normal

Paul Krugman has an excellent column in today’s New York Times where he says that the GOP has gone insane. He points out how the Republicans refuse to participate in government because they don’t want to hand President Obama any credit, even in areas where Obama’s position is to the right of what the GOP proposes.

Now, I have friends who are Republicans, and they are not insane. But Krugman is right – their party leadership is batshit crazy. Just like the children who marched to their oblivion after being led and herded by the Pied Piper of Hamelin, today’s Republicans are being led and herded by demagogues and crazies toward the destruction of America.

Krugman also correctly points out that it’s our fault for letting them do this. Poll after poll shows that the American people are against tax cuts for the wealthy, against the endless wars which were started by a Republican president, and against the co-opting of democracy by the corporate power brokers. Yet a combination of apathy, prejudice, voter repression, and a feeling of powerlessness have allowed the extreme radical wing of the Republican Party to occupy the mainstream seat.

The culpability of the left is also apparent. With only a few exceptions like in Wisconsin, where is the rage? Where are the demonstrations against an unpopular war like there were in the sixties? Where are the massive marches for equal rights for gays, lesbians, and immigrants akin to the civil rights movement for African-Americans?

The insane, radical, and extreme right has already taken over one branch of Federal government – the Supreme Court. They hold one of the two houses of Congress and exert undue and unrepresentative control over the other. And they have moved a smart but weak president too far to the right. We are one election away from enabling them to gain complete control of our government, and if we allow that to happen, our fate will be the same as that of the unfortunate children of Hamelin.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Have They No Shame?

First they lied about ACORN and killed an organization that provided health care and voter registration to the poor and indigent. Now, they are lying about Planned Parenthood, trying to kill an organization that keeps women alive. Today, New Jersey State Senator Gerald Cardinale accused that organization of promoting child prostitution. What’s next? Will they use their lies to close down food banks that feed the hungry? Have they no shame?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

All Politics is Local - Except When it Isn't

Tip O'Neill
A former Speaker of the House, the late Tip O’Neill, has been quoted as saying, “All politics is local.” And in a sense he is right. For example, this past winter, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie arguably took more flak for botching the state’s snow removal than he did in weakening labor unions.

But in another sense, O’Neill was wrong. In today’s world, to get elected to a state legislature or to Congress requires candidates (especially challengers) to cast a wide net for support, in terms of both money and volunteer effort.

In 2008, I supported Ed Potosnak in his attempt to unseat a former moderate Republican-turned-teabagger in a congressional district that’s an hour’s drive from my house. Once a week during Ed's campaign, I drove to his headquarters to make phone calls, and I also contributed money to his campaign. Ed is running again in 2012, and I look forward to helping him get elected this time.

Here in New Jersey, our entire state legislature is up for election every two years – in odd-numbered years. In 2011, I am concentrating my support on a legislative candidate in another district that’s about an hour’s drive from where I live.

Like Potosnak, Marie Corfield is a school teacher. Marie is running for the New Jersey General Assembly. She’s a fierce advocate for public education, the middle class, and equal rights. You can learn more about Marie by visiting her web site and viewing her appearances on national, as well as local, television interview programs.

There are many followers of this blog who don’t live in Marie’s district, or even in New Jersey. But you can send a message to the Koch Brothers, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and others of their ilk by supporting Marie’s campaign. Whether you contribute five dollars or a hundred, you are voting with your wallet to save the middle class and the American Dream. Please click on this link and send that important message.

When Speaker O’Neill died in 1994, President Bill Clinton remarked, "Tip O'Neill was the nation's most prominent, powerful and loyal champion of working people." Marie Corfield has shown that she is deserving of similar accolades, but she needs our help to make it happen.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dancing with the Devil

Cross-posted from

All human activity entails risk, and this is especially true for electrical power generation. We have seen the tragic deaths of coal miners as they worked to provide fuel for power plants that spew harmful pollution into the air. We have seen death and destruction in the distribution of natural gas, a highly explosive fuel that requires careful handling. I’m sure we can even find deleterious effects of clean energy like hydro, wind and solar.  But no system of power generation has the lasting effects of nuclear power.  Whereas the impact of a fossil fuel disaster can be cleaned up in a single generation, the residue from the inevitable nuclear accidents can be with our descendants for centuries. To compound this risk, the United States still does not have a comprehensive plan for the safe transport and storage of the tons of highly radioactive waste that are generated each year. That’s why it is so discouraging to read that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently granted twenty year extensions of the operating licenses for the two aging nuclear reactors in New Jersey’s Lower Alloways Creek Township.

The two reactors, known as Salem 1 and 2, went into operation 34 and 30 years ago, respectively. There’s a third reactor on the same site, Hope Creek, which is of the same design as Fukushima reactor number 1. Its operating license expires in 2026. The only other reactor in New Jersey is Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, one of the oldest operating reactors in the nation.

As part of Salem’s license renewal, the plant had to go through a comprehensive safety inspection by the NRC. This is an agency that is notorious for safety violations and inadequate inspections. (See herehere, and here for just a few examples. )

Let’s for a moment compare nuclear power risks to those of another activity – passenger air travel. Over the years, air travel in the United States has become extremely safe. The number of fatal accidents by US passenger airlines in 2010 was zero, as it had been in two of the three previous years. Despite the cutbacks in airline spending, US air carriers and the FAA practice rigorous safety standards. Yet, despite these comprehensive procedures, there was a fatal crash in Buffalo in 2009 that killed 50 people. A tragedy for sure, but outside of the immediate coterie of family and friends, that accident had no lasting effect. People who fly balance the risk of flying vs. the convenience of getting to their destination in a timely manner. Since statistically, flying is safer than driving, those who fly make an informed risk vs. reward decision.

Now, consider a nuclear reactor event. Chernobyl and Fukushima will have a lasting impact on Ukraine and Japan for generations to come. Acres of land will be uninhabitable for decades if not centuries. Cancers and other radiation-induced health problems will affect people who are not even born yet. Events of the past decades show that there’s a high risk in nuclear power. The reward is touted as “cheap” electricity. Notwithstanding the fact that the published cost of nuclear power rarely includes the cost of decommissioning plants and remediating sites, the risk vs. reward balance skews toward the risk side.

Consider the two sites in New Jersey. The NRC recommends a 50 mile evacuation radius in the event of a serious accident. This figure shows the area that would need to be evacuated in such an event. About 5.5 million people live within that radius of the Salem and Hope Creek plants. About 4.5 million people live within 50 miles of Oyster Creek. In the event of a disaster, evacuation of that many people would be chaotic, expensive, and nearly impossible.

No matter how much regulation and inspection are imposed on New Jersey’s nuclear plants, the probability of a major accident is not zero. The risk clearly outweighs the reward, and it would be in the best interests of New Jersey and all of the United States if instead of renewing these licenses for aging plants, we let the licenses expire (like we are doing at Oyster Creek) and start to decommission these ticking time bombs. We would not be the first to have such an enlightened strategy. Germany has committed to shutting the lights on its nuclear plants and filling the gap with renewable energy.

America was once a great country that could set a goal and achieve it successfully. No such endeavor told this story as much as President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 charge to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The space program created thousands of jobs, boosted America’s commitment to science and math education, and resulted in thousands of ancillary developments that benefited consumers around the world. Today, President Obama can issue a similar bold challenge – replacement of 50% of our fossil fuel usage (including nuclear) within a decade. Naysayers will opine that this is impossible and too expensive. Tell that to Neil Armstrong.

We can let events drive us, or we can drive events. Now is the time to eliminate the risk of long-term contamination of our precious environment. Let’s stop automatically renewing nuclear plants’ operating licenses and have a full-court press to lead the world in renewable energy.

Photo of Salem Nuclear facility, taken by author, August 2002