Thursday, January 31, 2008

The 2008 Elections and The Peace Movement

Recent surveys show that American voters have a critical view of how things are going in the country, and that they are confident that the next American President will have the power to change much of what is wrong. Voters begin this election year with a grim assessment of the status quo. Roughly three-fourths say the country is on “the wrong track.” Some say the Democrats don’t have the spine to improve things. In my view, progressives have to push the Democrats to end the war, restore our civil liberties, particularly the right of “habeas corpus,” and to protect our environment.

In short, even if the Democrats win, the progressive peace movement needs to continue to “bear witness” to the crimes that our government, the CIA, and the Pentagonians are committing in foreign lands against people that have never harmed or attacked America. We must continue to protest, to act outside the electoral process, to stand up for our rights, speak our conscience, defend human rights, even if our so called “leaders” can’t.

Yet, I agree with those progressives who argue the need to strategically vote “democratic” in the elections - just to get some room to maneuver. The American unions, and most civil rights and environmental groups, consider it imperative to get the Democrats elected and in the White House, and they are certainly a part of progressive America. They may be right, given the lack of any genuine practical alternatives.

We need to vote for the Democratic nominee and get the neo-cons and the Republicans out of the White House. I know, I know - we have all heard this sorry story before, we have all been betrayed before, and the historical record of the party over the last few decades makes us nauseous.

Yet, I will still compromise and vote Democratic just because I fear what another Republican victory would do for the Supreme Court, and frankly, for the American people and the world. There is some evidence of division and stirrings of rebellion at the elite levels of the American ruling class, including among the intelligence agencies and the military, regarding the course being followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the future course to be pursued with regard to Iran.

A Critical Historical Juncture For Americans

Tom Hayden, in THE NATION, writes that progressives and peace movement should vote Democratic in the next Presidential election to stop the further consolidation of power on the Right. I agree for many of the reasons cited below. I know that some will call me a “sell out” for compromising with the two party “duopoley” and for voting Democrat rather than voting for a Green candidate or a Peace and Freedom Party Candidate. In my view, we are at a critical historical juncture in American history. We cannot let the country move further to the political Right, or allow the Republican Party to remain in power. The pendulum needs to swing the other way just enough to give progressives more air to breath, more hope, and more freedom to speak.

Frankly, what has already occurred is historic, something I never thought I would see in my lifetime - that we have a woman and a black man of mixed decent as the two leading contenders for the Democratic Party Presidential nominations. All the other candidates have dropped out! More amazing is the pronounced support for Barack Obama among the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, represented by the recent rousing endorsements by John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy. Who would have, could have, predicted this?

Both Democratic candidates are intelligent and qualified to be President. Hillary Clinton has stirred the hopes of millions of women who would love to see a strong and intelligent female President sitting in the White House. Her victory would be historic. Barack Obama has charisma, and has attracted large numbers young and black people, while showing us that he can attract white voters and female voters as well. His message of hope and change seems to have tapped into the boiling well of frustration disturbing the American people. It is still an open question whether this type of frustration will translate into a Democratic victory against the pro-war John McCain, who will most likely be the Republican candidate in spite of Rush Limbo’s blustery squeals and protestations..

The tide of the “conservative revolution” that placed a clique of neo-con ideologues and warmongers in the White House has ebbed significantly as a result of a failing economy exacerbated by the costly debacle in Iraq. The Republican Party is facing a serious credibility crisis, and the polls and surveys show very low ratings for Bush and Cheney. I have personally talked with Republicans who are so disgusted with the Bush administration that they will vote Democratic in the next election. Independents are also leaning heavily on the Democratic side of the ledger.

Of course, anything can happen between now and next Fall, and none of us has a crystal ball. . Another terrorist attack could place the ball right back in the Republicans hands, although a terror attack in Spain had the opposite effect. We have no guarantee that the Democratic candidate would win.

What The Democrats Would Likely Do

Yet, the Democrats could potentially control both the Congress and the White House. If they win the elections by a big enough margin, they could begin to undo some of the damages that the Bush administration imposed on the American people. Of course the Republicans would squawk and resist and try to mobilize opposition. And it wouldn’t be easy -the Democrats would inherit a jittery economy on the verge of recession and an America suffering from a serious housing and financial crisis and two counter-insurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, they have some responsibility for both wars.

What else are the Democrats likely to do? They would raise taxes to provide more support to poor and desperate Americans. They could pass legislation in support of universal child health care, a first step toward universal health care, and pay for it through an increased progressive tax base that takes a greater amount of money from the rich. They would likely create a more favorable balance in the Supreme Court through the appointment process. They would protect Roe vs. Wade. They would restore “habeas corpus” rights and other civil liberties that were removed by Bush. These are not insignificant possibilities.

The Democrats certainly would be more supportive of the unions and the right of American workers to make a living wage. This is why most unions are saying it is essential that the Democrats win. They would be somewhat better on the environment and would most likely join the rest of the world in fighting global warming. Finally, there would be much pressure on them from the American people to end the war in Iraq, although here they will face resistance from the Republican Party, establishment bureaucracies like the Pentagon and the CIA, as well as the privately organized Right.

The Critics View: “Repugs and Dimocrats!”

However, I understand the resistance of those cynics who say “no,” who refuse to compromise and vote Democrat, or even participate in the electoral system. The wars go on and on, and a shameless bipartisan Congress keeps funding them. Little wonder, they say, that the American people have so little respect for Congress today.

The critics also say the Democrats have failed us in as much as they have refused to use the tools (like impeachment) available to them to prevent this country from degenerating into a hyper-militaristic and paranoid “fortress America” with fewer civil liberties. I would agree that the trend of reaction and regression has been very strong. Yet, we cannot afford to fail to reverse the reactionary trend, and we must do what we can to change this country for the better. And at this juncture in history, that means to vote Democratic.

Recently, I saw a cartoon poking fun at “the Repugs and Dimocrats.” I laughed. Nader is at least partly right when he claims the two party system is corrupt and compromised by money from the corporate establishment. Journals like COUNTERPUNCH, and many on the Left, believe that both parties are war parties, and that neither is capable of defending the Constitution or the genuine long term interests of the American people. In fact, COUNTERPUNCH argues that there is not “a dimes worth of difference” between them. I disagree , for the reasons cited above.

“Vote Democrat,” the critics mock, “that’s the same old recycled BS that we on the left are sold every Presidential election year.” Then we are invariably betrayed. And the wars go on and on, the environment disintegrates, and the gap between rich and poor grows exponentially.

In spite of my decision the vote Democratic, I would agree up to a point with those who maintain that the current two party system has increasingly been dysfunctional. Both parties have responsibility for the imperial overstretch that currently characterizes the American Empire. It may even be true is that the American political system as it is structurally organized cannot adequately address the serious problems we face, and needs serious transformation before the government becomes “a failed state.” We have a legitimacy crisis which is also a political crisis in America, and the possibility of two stolen elections testify to that.

With the critics, I agree that Ralph Nader did NOT cost the Democrats the election in 2000, a line promoted by the Democratic Party to absolve itself of responsibility. The election campaign in 2004 was poorly run, actually emphasizing John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam, a strategy that obviously backfired. Bush was selected by the Supreme Court and has been sitting in the white house ever since.

Many in the Democratic party also went along timidly with the rigged election, supported the invasion of Afghanistan, voted for the use of force in Iraq, voted for the “Patriot Act,” and voted over and over again to fund the war of aggression in Iraq, and refused to impeach Bush, etc., etc, And it is true that during the past decade the Democrats have been stumbling over themselves to show us that they worship the military as much as the Republicans. In fact, their behavior during the last decade has been abominable, and they have increasingly acted like Republicans embracing the deep structure of militarism and imperialism that is so dominant in our society and culture.

Like the critics, I am truly sick of it! Sick of the endless wars, the endless sell outs, the surrendering of our civil liberties, and the endless privatization of health care, education, and even warfare. So I don’t wonder why people are skeptical and cynical, or why Congress has such a low approval rating. Still, it is important that we thoroughly repudiate the Republicans in a landslide.

While I recommend that people vote for the Democratic nominee, I know that inevitably progressives and peace activists will once again be disappointed. Some will be further radicalized if there is no real change. We must stay active and hope that we can build a social movement that can change America. Right now, however, we desperately need air and room to breathe.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Plutonium Paradise? A Critique of Nuclear Power

I just can’t believe the cheerful propaganda coming from the nuclear power industry and its boosters. They are telling us now that nuclear power is a “clean and safe solution” to the crisis of global warming. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my view, we are being offered a glowing picture of a cool plutonium paradise, a false bill of goods if there ever was one.Just recently, The Sacramento Bee published two essays promoting nuclear power as a solution to global warming. One from a former Greenpeacer who now works for the nuclear industry, claimed that current anti-nuclear activists such as Greenpeace are “living in the 1970s.” Another essay from a jazz-critic-turned-nuclear-revivalist sang non-improvised hosannas of “nuclear power for the people.”

Neither essay addressed the unresolved problems connected with nuclear power: reactor accidents, waste disposal, and the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation. Neither mentioned the astronomical costs or the fossil fuels consumed in the mining, building, maintaining, transporting waste, and the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

Environmentalists fear that the promised air-conditioned plutonium paradise will produce a toxic, cancer-filled, irradiated earth. Sci-fi movies have provided us with depictions of mutant humans and animals evolving into monsters as a result of exposure to nuclear radiation from nuclear weapons testing. I call such horrifying depictions “nukemares.” Remember The Planet of the Apes? Remember Godzilla?

On Christmas Eve, I drove to see the ominous two towers at Rancho Seco, 25 miles southeast of Sacramento. I enjoyed a picnic lunch at “Rancho Seco Park,” the recreation area SMUD created after the plant closed down.

Rancho Seco was the first nuclear power plant to be closed down anywhere in the world as the result of a popular anti-nuke organizing effort and a public vote. In December 1986, the anti-nuclear organization SAFE gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. In a voter referendum in June of 1989, the majority of Sacramento voters said, “Close it down.”

The day after Christmas 1985, a nuclear “event” (traced to a trip wire in a tiny electric box) caused the reactor to dramatically overheat. After Three Mile Island incident in 1979, and the meltdown of Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, the people of Sacramento had reasonable cause to be concerned when they voted to close down the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in 1989.

SMUD accepted the results of the non-binding referendum and began the expensive process of decommissioning, which ends in 2008. Ranch Seco exemplifies what can happen when an alert community faces the dangers of nuclear power. We all breath easier because of those so-called “anti-nuke fanatics.”

Remember what happened at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979? There was an explosion inside a containment building, a partial meltdown of the reactor core, and a deliberate venting of radioactive gases into the atmosphere. A 140,000 people fled the area, where elevated levels of cesium and iodine were found in the milk samples collected from dairy farms. Ironically, the movie The China Syndrome with Jane Fonda was just opening in movie theaters that week.

Yet, we still worship our advanced technologies as if they are infallible.

Does anyone remember Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union? On April 26, 1986, a powerful explosion instantly killed two people. Dozens of fire fighters died from radiation poisoning within a few years. Nuclear radiation fallout spread throughout Western Europe to the point where the people of England could not eat lambs that grazed on their fields. Numerous cancer clusters and other effects of radiation such as contaminated mushrooms and berries in southern Germany, and contaminated reindeer in Scandinavia, emerged throughout Northern Europe and western Russia.

Remember the problems at Oak Ridge, Kyshtym, or Windscale? Remember the waste disposal accidents at Hanford, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste containing plutonium leaked out of tanks between 1945 and 1973? Are Californians comfortable with the fact that coastal nuclear power plants at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are susceptible to tsunamis and located adjacent to earthquake faults? So far, no one has been able to convince me that today’s generation of nuclear power plants has eliminated the risk of nuclear accidents.
Yet, people have short memories. There is talk in the media about a “nuclear revival,” or a “nuclear renaissance.”

In June 2007, Dale Klein, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), told a gathering of industry leaders in Atlanta that he expects applications for 27 new reactors over the next two years. One corporate applicant said, “There is no serious opposition.”

Congress provided help for the “revival” at taxpayer expense. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 had generous subsidies for nuclear power and other alternatives to fossil fuels. Billions of dollars in tax credits, loan guarantees, and insurance was offered to cover licensing delays for new nuclear plants. The latest 2007 energy bill has more of the same.

New nuclear power plants are going to go up around the world. The US, China, France, Japan, Iran, India, Pakistan, England, Finland, Russia, Germany, Brazil and other modernizing countries are planning to build a new generation of nukes. Iran has plans for 18 new nuclear power plants. As plants are built in more countries, nuclear weapons proliferation will likely expand into previously non-nuclear countries. Governments will seek more repressive laws and tighter security arrangements to make sure the plants do not become targets for terrorists.

The US gets 20% of its energy from nukes and operates 103 nuclear power reactors, or a quarter of the 440 plants worldwide. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada has been under development for more than 30 years. Construction has been frozen since 1997. A five-mile tunnel was drilled 10 years ago. If it opens, approximately 77,000 tons of nuclear waste would travel through this tunnel to chambers 1,000 feet below the ridgeline. In a January 18, 2008, edition of USA TODAY, an editorial on the Yucca nuclear waste site condemned Democratic presidential candidates for their opposition to the site, stating: “Opposing Yucca won’t strangle nuclear power, which appears poised for a rebirth.”

Nevertheless, no “safe and clean” solution to nuclear waste has been found.

France gets close to 80% of its energy from its aging nuclear power plants, and reprocesses 95 % of its waste. It has no idea where to store the remainder, “the worst of the worst.” It has considered dumping it in the oceans, but has encountered opposition from the Polynesians.

England’s Sellafield nuclear complex discharged all kinds of radioactive nuke waste and a quarter to a half ton of plutonium into the Irish Sea stirring up controversy until they were banned from doing so in 1983.

Greenpeace discovered the discharge as divers were trying to plug a main discharge pipe. Sellafield and the surrounding areas have higher than normal childhood cancer rates. Finally, a Greenpeace study following 9/11indicated that an air-born terrorist attack on the Sellafield nuclear complex in England could kill over three million people.

Countries with nuclear power plants and huge nuclear weapons complexes such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, are creating a toxic mess that will plague human and non-human life for thousands of years. But will it really be a plutonium paradise? I say no - not so fast with nuclear power!

Nuclear links & background reference resources for “A Plutonium Paradise”:

nuclear proliferation
online Fortune Magazine article on the nuclear revival

NUCLEAR UPDATE & ALERT ( anti -nuke Watchdog)
map of US nuke plants w/ radiation circles. (scary)
nuclear resource site

Sacramento Bee
Going Nuclear Over Global Warming, by Patrick Moore (editorial page: 12-12-2007)
Nuclear power to the people, byStanley Crouch: (editorial page: 12/29/2007
Letter to the editor: 12/15/2007 “Not So Fast with Nuclear Power,” Rick Nadeau 12/15/2007

Dr. Helen Caldicott Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer
The New Nuclear Danger
Jonathan Schell The Seventh Decade
Richard Curtis and Elizabeth Hogan Perils of the Peaceful Atom

Rick Nadeau, a former director of Greenpeace Action in San Diego, now lives in Sacramento and is on the “Because People Matter” editorial board.

(This article is from the forthcoming March-April 2008 edition of “Because People Matter”, a Sacramento-based publication.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

OBAMA AMAZES - More Reflections on 2008 Elections

John Kerry’s endorsement of Barack Obama for President must have shocked the Democratic Party establishment as much as it surprised me. Obama won in Iowa, and then came in a very close second, after pre-election polls had him running first. I listened to both Obama’s post election speeches, and frankly was amazed by his charismatic presence and eloquent oratory. He is certainly capable of moving people, and I would argue he is certainly qualified and capable of being President.

Obama promised something we all desire “change, hope, and unity.” This is the basis of his appeal, as well as his likeable personal qualities and his outsider status. He promised to bring a polarized America together, and to end all the squabbling and divisiveness. He says with conviction that we all need hope, and he is right in that. He wants to end inequality and the war in Iraq and bring American s together. We believe him. Could he do it? Is it really possible that he could be elected President in November 2008?

Many say that there are still too many racial barriers, deeply entrenched prejudices, that will inevitably prevent Obama from winning in a national Presidential contest. Maybe. Yet Obama’s remarkable popularity in both Iowa and New Hampshire has shocked nearly all media observers and election experts: he has a powerful message, and delivers it clearly and masterfully. Amazement extends to yours truly.

If Obama runs neck to neck with Hillary Clinton throughout the elections, could a joint ticket be formed with either candidate as VP? If Obama failed to win the nomination could this create embitterment and more claims of prejudice based upon race? And what about Hilary Clinton - could the same be said of claims of prejudice based upon her female gender? We cannot rule out the role of either of these prejudices in the final election. And as far as we know, another white Republican male like McCain or Huckabee could be President.

At this historical conjuncture, it is also amazing that we have a woman and an Afro-American leading the pact of Democratic candidates. Political friendships are shattering, new alliances within the Democratic Party are being formed. Women may indeed be tired of seeing the White House as a privileged “boys club.” Likewise, many African Americans would love to see a qualified black man as President. Obama to his credit has not emphasized race - it remains to be seen whether he can escape it. And could they protect him from the crazies?

Personally, I wish both of them had a stronger anti-war stance, and were more critical of the corporate establishment and the “war on terror.” I have not ruled out voting for either one, but see both of them as more compromised by the establishment than either Kucinich or Edwards. But neither can I imagine either Edwards of Kucinich, the two most progressive Democratic candidates, catching up.

Perhaps this is still premature, but I am now willing to wager that either Clinton or Obama will be the Democratic nominee. The next question is whether the Republicans can come up with a candidate that can beat either one. Finally, granted that either Clinton or Obama would be better than the Republicans, we must still ask what is going to be the strategy of the peace/progressive movement regarding the 2008 elections and the “war on terror.”