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#856 -- Once Again, No Nukes!, 25-May-2006

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Friday, May 26 (today!) is the deadline for registration
for the big national Precaution Conference in Baltimore
June 9-11, 2006. A few mini-scholarships are still
available: phone (703) 237-2249.

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #856

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, May 25, 2006..................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Time to Dust Off That Old 'No Nukes!' Button
  The "powers that be" have begun a new campaign to convince you that
  we must build hundreds of new nuclear power plants to avert global
  warming. Campaign partners include the Cheney/Bush administration,
  the nuclear power corporations, and the New York Times.
Is It All Over for Nuclear Power?
  Wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy are sprouting all
  over the world. Local, small-scale energy projects now produce more
  power than the nuclear industry, globally. As Lester Brown pointed
  out in March, the U.S. could meet all of its electricity needs from
  wind alone. Next-generation nuclear plants face MANY challenges. This
  article explains why nuclear power is doomed (though that won't stop
  pro-nuke campaigners from trying).
Nuclear Power Industry Continues to Implode
  Contrary to the talking heads of the nuclear power industry,
  nuclear power isn't clean, safe or cheap, compared to the
  alternatives. Just ask Washington state residents now saying goodbye
  to one huge loser of a power plant that has haunted them for thirty
  years.
Washington Toxics Coalition Releases Study of Toxicants in People
  The latest study of industrial poisons in humans has revealed that
  people in Washington State all carry a "body burden" of toxicants,
  with effects that are unknown but surely not good. Studies confirm
  that in the U.S., babies are all born carrying a body burden of
  toxicants, which they pick up in the womb. What's wrong with this
  picture?
A Generation of Debtors Grow Up Owing
  Young Americans are shouldering far more debt than ever before.
  College grads used to look forward to decent-paying jobs, home
  ownership and a lifetime of relative financial security. Not any
  more... As corporate profits and CEO pay skyrocket, middle America is
  falling behind. How will this race to the bottom end? How will the
  "powers that be" retain legitimacy in the eyes of youth?
Hostile Takeover: An Interview with David Sirota
  "So what I'm really trying to do is to open up the possibility to
  folks that all of this stuff -- the entire system -- is not just a
  creation of nature. It didn't just happen. On all of these issues, we
  are experiencing a very deliberately constructed system. It's
  constructed by humans; it's not something that God just created. And
  once we realize that, then we realize that we can actually change it."

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News, May 25, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

TIME TO DUST OFF THAT OLD 'NO NUKES!' BUTTON

By Peter Montague

It's time to dust off your "No Nukes!" button -- or grab that old one
out of your Mom's top bureau drawer. You may need it soon.

The "powers that be" have begun a new campaign to convince us that we
must have dozens or hundreds -- worldwide, thousands -- of new nuclear
power plants to avert the threat of global warming.

Three groups have teamed up for the campaign: the Cheney-Bush
administration, the nuclear power corporations, and most recently the
New York Times. The campaign has two official mascots -- Christine
Todd Whitman, the failed former head of U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), and Patrick Moore, the widely-mistrusted former head
of Greenpeace International.

Each of the three campaign partners has a different agenda, but they
all want you to believe that building hundreds or thousands of new
nuclear power plants is the best way to meet the world's need for
electricity -- that nuclear power is safer, cleaner and cheaper than
all the many alternatives.

Electricity can be generated by many kinds of machines. Commercial-
scale electric plants exist now based on wind turbines, photovoltaic
panels that turn sunlight directly into electricity, geothermal plants
that draw their heat from the deep earth (one to two miles below
ground), turbines powered by natural gas, coal-fired dinosaurs, and
nuclear power plants. There are other ways to make electricity but
these are the main ones in commercial use today.

Nuclear power plants are by far the most complicated way to make
electricity. Nuclear power starts by mining radioactive uranium out of
the ground, then "enriching" it in a centrifuge that can make nuclear
fuel but can also make fuel for an A-bomb. (Iran's current plan to
operate its own centrifuges is what all the wrangling is about with
Tehran.) The enriched uranium is then stuffed into a nuclear power
plant where it undergoes a controlled fission reaction, splitting
atoms to release tremendous quantities of heat, which is used to boil
water to turn a turbine to make electricity.

In contrast, a wind turbine uses the wind to turn a turbine to make
electricity.

But of course the electricity from a wind turbine must be stored in
some form to provide power when the wind is not blowing. Nuclear
plants produce electricity more-or-less steadily unless there is
mishap such as a leak or spill or other glitch. Hydrogen is the
leading candidate for energy storage.

So now let's listen to the New York Times editorial staff as it tries
to convince us (May 13, 2006) that nuclear power is the best way for
the nation and the world to meet its electricity needs:

New York Times: "Not so many years ago, nuclear energy was a hobgoblin
to environmentalists, who feared the potential for catastrophic
accidents and long-term radiation contamination. But this is a new
era, dominated by fears of tight energy supplies and global warming.
Suddenly nuclear power is looking better."

Rachel's: Yes, big accidents and routine radioactive releases are two
valid concerns about nuclear power, but the biggest concern by far has
always been the unbreakable link between nuclear power plants and A-
bombs. Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea all built A-bomb
arsenals by first building nuclear power plants, so this is not merely
a theoretical concern. As we speak, Iran is shuffling down this well-
trodden path.

New York Times: "More important, nuclear energy can replace fossil-
fuel power plants for generating electricity, reducing the carbon
dioxide emissions that contribute heavily to global warming. That
could be important in large developing economies like China's and
India's, which would otherwise rely heavily on burning large
quantities of dirty coal and oil."

Rachel's: Yes -- even after taking into consideration the large
quantities of fossil fuels required for mining, processing, and
enriching fuel, and in plant construction, operation, waste disposal
and plant decommissioning, nuclear power could reduce carbon dioxide
emissions by some amount while generating electricity. The question
is, are there better ways to achieve the same result? But the Times
fails to address this question.

New York Times: "As nuclear expertise and technologies spread around
the world, so does the risk that they might be used to make bombs.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration erred badly when it signed a
nuclear pact with India that would undercut the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of international efforts to
prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. That misguided deal needs to be
repudiated by the Senate. We can only hope that it does not undercut a
more promising administration plan to keep the most dangerous fuel-
making technologies out of circulation by supplying developing nations
with uranium and taking the spent fuel rods back."

Rachel's: In that paragraph, the Times' first sentence should be
rewritten as follows: "As nuclear expertise and technologies spread
around the world, so does the near-certainty that they will be used to
make bombs." Since this has already happened several times, we know it
can (will) happen again. The connection between nuclear power and
nuclear bombs simply cannot be broken.

The rest of the Time's paragraph makes it seem as though President
Bush is to blame for this problem, and that if he would just uphold
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, no one would be able to make
bombs from the ingredients in a nuclear power plant. Tell it to India.
Tell it to Pakistan. Tell it to Israel. The Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty was in full force when these nations joined the "nuclear club"
of A-bomb-wielding nations. Nuclear power is simply an unmanageable
technology. If you have a nuclear power plant and you are committed to
making an A-bomb, you can almost certainly do it, sooner or later.

New York Times: "There remains the unsolved problem of what to do with
the radioactive waste generated by nuclear plants. Many people are
unwilling to see a resurgence in nuclear power without some assurance
that the spent fuel can be handled safely. The Energy Department's
repeated setbacks in efforts to open an underground waste repository
at Yucca Mountain in Nevada do not inspire confidence, but there is no
reason why the spent fuel rods can't be stored safely at surface sites
for the next 50 to 100 years."

Rachel's: Perhaps the radioactive waste problem can be resolved in 50
to 100 years. But what if it cannot? Some of the smartest scientists
in the world, with essentially unlimited budgets, have been working on
this problem for more than 50 years. They have devised the highest of
high-tech solutions, all of which have turned out to be dead ends.
Fifty years of study and experiment have yielded no useful
solutions. Meanwhile, we keep making this stuff with a hazardous
lifetime that far exceeds the time that humans have walked the earth.
Perhaps it would be prudent to assume that this problem cannot be
solved, and that further deployment of nuclear power should be delayed
until solutions have been demonstrated.

New York Times: "More problematic is the administration's long-term
solution for waste disposal. It wants to recycle the spent fuel in a
new generation of advanced reactors that would use technologies that
don't yet exist, following a timetable that many experts think
unrealistic. Its current approach is apt to be costly and would leave
dangerous plutonium more accessible to terrorists."

Rachel's: Our point exactly. The nation's best scientists have failed,
and now political appointees in the Cheney/Bush administration have
elbowed the scientists aside and decided to impose their own
"solution." These are the same people who have demonstrated failure in
essentially every major decision during the past six years. Now they
want to "recycle" nuclear waste into new, untried, and clearly risk-
prone and terrorist-prone "solutions" that this nation considered and
rejected for compelling reasons 25 years ago.

New York Times: "Nuclear power has a good safety record in this
country, and its costs, despite the high initial expense of building
the plants, are looking more reasonable now that fossil fuel prices
are soaring. How much impact it could really have in slowing carbon
emissions has yet to be spelled out, but there is no doubt that
nuclear power could serve as a useful bridge to even greener sources
of energy."

Rachel's: Huh? We're not sure how much nukes can reduce global
warming, but we should spend billions more taxpayer dollars to
subsidize nukes? This is no basis for national policy. Between 1948
and 1998, civilian nuclear power received at least $77 billion dollars
of federal subsidies (in constant 2005 dollars).[NRDC, pg. 5] The
insurance industry still won't touch nuclear power with a ten-foot
pole so Congress has to limit the industry's liability by law -- a
huge subsidy to the nuclear power corporations. Wall Street won't
touch it either without huge additional federal guarantees and
subsidies. This is a technology that falls on its face unless Uncle
Sam provides a permanent crutch.

We should ask ourselves, Why aren't we willing to spend $77 billion to
subsidize energy-saving measures, and the development of existing
minimally-polluting technologies like wind turbines with hydrogen
storage, and hydrogen fuel cells to make electricity and power
vehicles? Even Ford and General Motors -- not the brightest bulbs
on the corporate landscape -- say they will offer us hydrogen fuel-
cell vehicles in the next few years. These technologies exist now.

Solar technologies such as wind power have an even better safety
record than nuclear and they too are looking more affordable as the
cost of oil rises.

The time is now for all of us to get behind wind and solar power as
solutions to our energy challenges. Together they constitute a highly-
desirable and entirely-achievable precautionary energy program. Today
the environmental-health-and-justice movement is bogged down bickering
over individual projects like Cape Wind on Nantucket Sound. Every
day we wait to align solidly behind wind and solar improves the odds
that the nuclear cowboys will have their way with us,

A study published in Science magazine (June 24, 2005) concluded that
hydrogen-fuel-cell-automobiles would be cheaper to run than today's
gasoline-powered vehicles. Conservation is the cheapest and least
polluting option of all, and it is available in abundance right now.
Conservation, wind, photovoltaics, hydrogen storage (and hydrogen
fuel-cell vehicles), plus a modicum of ethanol and methanol can
provide a far safer and cleaner bridge to even greener sources of
energy. It's time to take a principled stand for conservation, wind
and other solar options. They are good for the planet, good for
people, and good for local control, good for "local living
economies," and good for self-determination.

These alternative sources of energy don't fit the divergent agendas of
any of the three pro-nuke campaigners. Of all these alternative energy
options, only nuclear power offers to create an endless series of
international crises (think Iran, think North Korea) requiring macho
threats of military showdown at the OK corral. Only nuclear power
requires multi-billion-dollar centralized machines that can be
controlled by a tiny handful of investors -- thus empowering Wall
Street elites instead of empowering farmers who would be only too
happy to put wind turbines in their corn fields. (A farmer in Colorado
is likely to receive $3000 to $5000 per year for hosting a single wind
turbine on a quarter-acre of land, instead of producing 40 bushels of
corn worth $120 or beef worth perhaps $15 on that same land. Lester
Brown, pg. 191.)

Of all the available alternatives, only nuclear power relies on
machines that require armed guards, anti-terrorist exercises and
simulations, evacuation drills and other paramilitary apparatus. Only
nukes with their threat of rogue weapons can provide endless excuses
to spy on other nations and search through the phone records from
every citizen. Only nuclear power with its unbreakable link to A-
bombs "requires" the President to declare habeas corpus null and
void, and to declare that he and Mr. Rumsfeld will torture anyone
they choose to torture any time it suits them, thus commencing the
Great Unraveling of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which
was imposed upon Real Americans by that class traitor Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and his commie-loving wife back in 1948.

In sum, none of the available alternative energy sources can match
nuclear power's ability to thwart the nation's inherent democratic
tendencies and stop the nation's slide toward local control, small-
scale enterprise, self-reliance, and a populist political reawakening.
Without nuclear power and petroleum to anchor their centralized
authority and provide excuses for their military adventures, the
"powers that be" will soon seem very much like the little man behind
the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. And that would never do. It simply
would never do.

And so I say to you, dust off your protest banners and buttons. That
time may be coming around again when we must hit the streets. No blood
for oil! Climate justice! No nukes!

Return to Table of Contents

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From: New Scientist, Apr. 26, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

IS IT ALL OVER FOR NUCLEAR POWER?

By Michael Brooks

Adam Twine doesn't look like the kind of person the nuclear industry
should be scared of. An organic farmer, Twine is skinny, with big
round glasses and unruly hair that makes his head look like it's
fraying at the edges. How could he possibly be a threat to a
multibillion-dollar industry?

Maybe he wouldn't be if he were operating alone, but Twine is far from
alone and has serious money behind him. He has just managed to
persuade 2127 people to send him a total of more than u4 million that
he will use to set up a co-operative wind farm on land he owns in the
south of England. In fact, the idea of owning a share in the Westmill
wind farm in Oxfordshire has proved so popular that the project is
having to return some of the cash: it only needed u3.7 million [$6.9
million dollars]. The plan now is to give priority in ownership to
people living within 80 kilometres of the site, and asking others to
accept a smaller stake in the co-op.

Though the wind farm is small -- five turbines in a vast, bleak field,
amounting to 6.5 megawatts of electricity [500 megawatts would power a
small city of say 125,000 homes] -- it represents another nail in the
coffin of nuclear power, one of many being hammered in all over the
world. If the nuclear industry wanted to convince governments to start
building another generation of nuclear reactors as soon as possible,
it needed to bury the likes of Twine before their schemes took off.
Now it may be too late.

According to projections by the International Energy Agency and a
handful of energy industry experts, 2005 was the first year nuclear
power's electricity output dropped behind that of small-scale plants
producing low or no carbon dioxide emissions -- and that's not
counting large hydroelectric projects on the low-carbon side of the
balance sheet.

Though small, such projects are already flourishing. Much of the
world's small-scale generation involves combined heat and power "co-
generation" projects, whose carbon dioxide emissions are 30 to 80 per
cent less than that of large-scale gas-fired plants. On average they
are at least 50 per cent less. The worldwide uptake of this technology
is being accompanied by fast growth in the use of renewables such as
solar and wind. The Danish company Bonus, from which the Westmill co-
operative wants to buy its wind turbines, now has a backlog of orders
from wind farms in Texas, Florida, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and
Greece. In 2005 the company, bought by Siemens, almost doubled its
wind turbine sales, and its fabrication capacity for 2006 is fully
booked.

This burgeoning "micropower" movement is a significant step towards
reducing carbon emissions (New Scientist, 21 January, p 36). It is
also a knock for a nuclear industry that has been struggling to get
back on its feet in the western world. Until last year, near-zero
emissions of greenhouse gases were nuclear power's trump card, its big
advantage over other sources of electricity and the one thing that
might make western governments invest in a nuclear renaissance:
nuclear is clean and produces a lot of power, so we need it. That
argument now has a hole punched through it, and it boils down to
economics.

Until recently, it seemed the wide-scale construction of a new
generation of nuclear power plants was inevitable. China is investing
in nuclear, after all, as are Japan, Russia and India, so why not the
west? Though Germany, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland have forsworn
investment in new nuclear plants, other western nations, notably the
UK, France and the US, are taking the idea seriously. In August 2005,
the US government handed out a range of nuclear subsidies and
incentives worth nearly $20 billion. In the UK, Prime Minister Tony
Blair has commissioned an energy review with what is widely believed
to have a pro-nuclear agenda, marking a move away from the position
three years ago when his government said there was no case for nuclear
new build. France, which already gets 78 per cent of its electricity
from nuclear power, has its eye on starting construction of at least
one more plant within the next decade.

In the UK and the US, the case for a nuclear renaissance is on the
table mainly because the reactors now generating electricity are
coming to the end of their lives. The cry is going up that this will
lead to an energy gap: in a few years there won't be enough
electricity to go round, and the lights will go out. That's a
simplistic analysis, of course. "The idea of a 'gap' is artificial and
fails to acknowledge the dynamics of the market system," says Jim
Watson, an energy analyst in the Science Policy Research Unit at the
University of Sussex, UK. The energy markets in these countries will
tend to ensure that there will always be electricity to buy and sell,
Watson points out. The cost may go up and the sources may change, but
the market will quickly adjust by using more electricity derived from
coal and gas, for instance.

Without nuclear, though, won't we be producing ever more carbon
emissions? Not necessarily. Nuclear never was part of the short-term
solution to climate change, and the rapid growth in small-scale energy
production means nuclear may not be needed as part of the long-term
solution either.

Of the electricity added to the worldwide supply in 2004, micropower
technologies generated almost three times as much as nuclear. Spain
and Germany's ventures into wind power alone added as much power
capacity in 2004 as the world's nuclear industry will add from 2000 to
2010. Industry projections indicate that by 2010, renewable and low-
carbon sources will offer 177 times as much added capacity as nuclear.

This is not going to be enough to power the world; large-scale fossil-
fuel generators will still be needed in this timescale. But the
overarching global trend is clear. Few new nuclear stations will be
operating before 2020, and by the time these plants are even half-
built, there will be enough low or no-carbon electricity available
from non-nuclear sources to give investors in nuclear plants second
thoughts.

The 'negawatt' effect

If they ever invest at all, that is. In January, the financial analyst
Standard & Poors issued a report saying that even the new incentives
for the US nuclear industry will not be enough to persuade investors
to climb aboard; from a business perspective, nuclear remains the
highest-risk form of power generation. That's because the subsidies
don't deal with the capital, operating and decommissioning risks that
most concern the capital markets, says Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky
Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based energy analysis firm. "The effect
of even such huge subsidies will be the same as defibrillating a
corpse," he says. "It will jump, but it will not revive."

What's more, a report issued in February by the California-based
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), whose members include
private and public organisations concerned with power generation and
distribution, says that implementing energy efficiency measures
together with technologies that can respond to changes in demand
offers a cost-effective alternative to adding new generating capacity.

Contrary to what is often said, we are getting better at controlling
our hunger for electricity. If you want proof, just ask the US firms
who built gas-fuelled power plants capable of generating 200 gigawatts
of electricity, and then found that the anticipated demand they were
catering for never materialised. The investors lost $100 billion.
According to Lovins, worldwide electrical savings, or "negawatts", now
match or exceed global additions of low or no-carbon micropower. So
far, the EPRI says, we have only scratched the surface of possible
efficiency increases; it is estimated that the US could save three-
quarters of the electricity it now uses.

Some states are making progress towards this goal. In California,
energy use per capita has been flat for 30 years, and the state has
issued plans to halve its rate of growth of electricity consumption by
2013. Vermont has done even better, with efficiency measures that have
already cut per capita energy use.

It is economics that is driving these changes. Producing and
delivering electricity costs money, so not wasting it makes good
sense. Businesses, of course, respond well to market forces and are
implementing changes well ahead of domestic users. DuPont's 600-
hectare Chambers Works in New Jersey has reduced by one-third its
energy use per kilogram of chemical produced. Western Digital's disc
drive factory in Malaysia cut energy use by 44 per cent and recouped
the cost of implementing the efficiency measures in just one year. By
last year, Toyota US had reduced its energy consumption per unit of
production by 15 per cent from 2000 levels. All these measures add up
to less need for new electricity generating plants.

Nuclear power is also being squeezed on the cost of the electricity it
produces. According to a report last year by the New Economics
Foundation, a London-based think tank, a kilowatt-hour of electricity
from a nuclear generator will cost as much as 8.3 pence once realistic
construction and running costs are factored in, compared with about 3
pence claimed by the nuclear industry -- and that's without including
the cost of managing pollution, insuring the power stations or
protecting them from terrorists. This compares with about 3.4 pence
for gas, 5 pence for coal and up to 7.2 pence for wind power,
according to a report in 2004 by the UK's Royal Academy of
Engineering.

The same report told the government that it has to ensure the "long-
term stability of electricity prices" if it wants people to invest in
nuclear power. Around the same time, Oxera, a firm of energy
consultants based in Oxford, UK, reported that a new-build nuclear
programme in the UK would require an injection of billion[s] in
government grants to make the idea appeal to private investors.

The action needed to meet either of these requirements is unlikely to
be allowed within the European Union. Andris Piebalgs, the EU's
commissioner for energy, wants different forms of energy production to
compete with each other on a level playing field, and has declared
that state funds must not be used to subsidise the building of new
nuclear plants. British Nuclear Fuels and the UK's Nuclear
Decommissioning Authority have already been subject to an 18-month
inquiry over potential infractions of fair competition -- though even
Gordon MacKerron, head of the UK's Committee on Radioactive Waste
Management and no fan of the nuclear lobby, has called the alleged
infractions "marginal". Finnish line

More serious are allegations against the European Pressurised Reactor
(EPR) at Olkiluoto, Finland, the only nuclear power station presently
under construction in Europe. A relatively new design of pressurised
water reactor, the EPR is being built jointly by the French nuclear
company Areva and the German company Siemens, and is being financed at
extremely low rates of interest by French and German state-owned
organisations. The scheme is being investigated by the European
Commission, following a complaint by the European Renewable Energies
Federation that the financing breaches the commission's rules.

If the complaint is upheld, it will be a serious blow to the nuclear
industry, which likes to point to Olkiluoto as evidence of the
viability of new nuclear stations. That argument, however, is
questionable whatever the outcome of the complaint. The company the
plant is being built for, called TVO, is not a conventional
electricity utility, but a company owned by large Finnish industrial
concerns that supplies electricity to its owners on a not-for-profit
basis.

"The plant will have a guaranteed market and will not therefore have
to compete in the Nordic electricity market," says Steve Thomas, an
expert in nuclear economics at the University of Greenwich in London.
What's more, he says, suspicions have been raised that the Areva-
Siemens consortium is so anxious to showcase its technology that it
has "offered a price that might not be sustainable" just to get the
plant built.

If that is their aim, they may succeed. When the Olkiluoto project is
completed -- it is scheduled for 2009 -- it will become apparent
whether the EPR design works and how long it takes to build. The US
Nuclear Regulatory Commission is already investigating whether the EPR
is a good model for replacing US nuclear plants.

There are a couple of problems looming, though. First, the US is
experiencing some new public health and safety concerns: in March, the
state of Illinois filed a lawsuit against Exelon, which operates the
Braidwood nuclear power station, seeking damages over tritium leaks
from the plant. The regulatory commission has formed a task force to
investigate radioactive spills that have occurred at plants across the
US in the past decade. Any new technology will need to be proved safe
and reliable.

The second problem was highlighted at a seminar at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology last month, when Peter Lyons, head of the US
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, pointed out that few science and
engineering students are coming through to replace reactor workers who
are now retiring. As a result there will soon not be enough people to
build and operate new reactors. The next decade will be crucial, Lyons
said. If the US does not start investing in nuclear energy over that
period, it will have neither the skilled workers nor the industrial
infrastructure for nuclear power to be a viable option.

It is not just for the US that this is a problem. Last October, UK-
based energy consultant Ian Fells told an energy conference in Rimini,
Italy, that there are only six engineering consortia in the world
capable of building a nuclear power station. None of them is British.
"We do not have the skills to build nuclear power stations in the UK
anymore," Fells told the conference. "The teams of engineers that
built Sizewell B in 1995 are all retired or dead." Even the limited
construction now taking place across the world is stretching the
industry's capacity, and a construction queue is developing that could
kill nuclear plans for the UK, Fells says. Bridging the gap

Despite these obstacles, Fells remains a supporter of nuclear new-
build as the best way to secure energy supplies and protect the
environment. "My feeling is that it is inevitable that we add a new,
nuclear electricity supply component to our energy mix," he says. He
envisages a future in which 30 per cent of the UK's energy comes from
new nuclear plants. Just maintaining the nuclear status quo in the UK,
however, would require eight to 10 new plants, which he says might not
be up and running for 25 years.

That time lag could prove fatal for the nuclear industry. As existing
plants go into decline and are shut down, something else has to
replace their generating capacity. Adam Twine and his ilk, with their
reduced or no-carbon technologies, are already taking up this slack
and pulling themselves into an ever stronger position.

Renewables alone won't bridge the gap, even with increased energy
efficiency. Fossil-fuel generators will also be needed, in both small-
scale projects and large plants, perhaps with carbon sequestration
(New Scientist, 3 September 2005, p 30). And here is the problem for
nuclear: any investment in new nuclear power could damage the chances
of making other climate-friendly technologies work. After all,
finances are not unlimited, and you can only spend the money once.

How can anyone justify spending it on something that is not proven to
be economical, not going to deliver for two decades -- and then will
only provide a limited solution? In the UK, nuclear power supplies
only 8 per cent of energy used, Watson points out. "Why prejudice
programmes and policies to tackle 92 per cent of emissions by spending
lots of political and financial capital on 8 per cent?" he says.

In the end, contrary to everything touted by the industry, nuclear
investment may not help reduce carbon emissions at all -- it might
even increase them over the next two decades. If nuclear supporters
are truly concerned about climate change and an energy gap, they ought
to be encouraging the take-up of renewable and low-carbon technologies
- the very technologies that threaten to drive their industry to
extinction.

Nuclear power continues to prompt concerns based on safety issues,
regulatory problems and the danger that it encourages proliferation of
nuclear materials and weapons. Now it also faces a bigger hurdle:
there are better economic options that are no less climate-friendly.
The slow, steady success of idealists like Twine is showing the world
that it no longer needs nuclear power.

==========

Energy security

How many countries want their energy sources to rest in the hands of
foreign governments? Such concerns were at their height during the
cold war, but they have not gone away completely. Are they a valid
reason for shifting towards new nuclear power plants for generating
electricity?

It's certainly true that much of the fuel for Europe's gas-fired
plants comes from politically unreliable states such as Russia. That
can lead to problems. In January, the supply to many European
countries was interrupted by a dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

In the US, gas sources are more diverse and less vulnerable, according
to a 2004 report from the University of Chicago on the economics of
nuclear power. The researchers studied the prices of natural gas in 34
countries from 1994 to 2002 to see how closely they were linked. They
found that the US buys from at least three major world markets in
natural gas, and that the groups' prices are not strongly linked. That
means, the report concluded, that no one will be able to hold the US
to ransom over gas supplies. So for the US, at least, security of fuel
supply is not a good argument for increasing the nuclear share of its
electricity market.

The point is reinforced when uranium sources are taken into account.
The expected expansion of China's nuclear programme could absorb all
the uranium supplied by Australia, which alone accounts for some 40
per cent of the world's uranium reserves.

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From: Washington Post, May 22, 2006
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IN THE NORTHWEST, NUCLEAR POWER TAKES A HIT

By Blaine Harden

KALAMA, Wash., May 21 -- It was ironic -- for an explosion.

Just as nuclear power begins to emerge as a possible savior from
global warming -- the co-founder of Greenpeace said last month it
might avert catastrophic climate change, a New York Times editorial
said last week that it deserves a "fresh look" -- the cooling tower
from what had once been the nation's largest nuclear plant is blown to
smithereens.

The explosion occurred near here on Sunday morning. After a carefully
controlled kaboom, the 499-foot cooling tower of the Trojan Nuclear
Plant tilted gently to the east and melted in a cloud of whitish-gray
dust that drifted upstream with the wind along the Oregon side of the
Columbia River.

For most of the past three decades, the concrete cooling tower -- a
spookily gigantic industrial apparition visible for miles above the
evergreens along Interstate 5, the busiest highway in the Pacific
Northwest -- has loomed in the region's imagination as a symbol of all
that was sneaky, leaky and insanely expensive about nuclear power.

The softening of political opposition to the nuclear industry that
seems to be occurring elsewhere in the United States, with tentative
plans by utilities in the Midwest and Southeast to build new plants,
is not yet changing hearts and minds in Oregon or Washington.

For that, the Trojan plant, which began making electricity in 1976 and
was shut down in 1993, has much to answer for. Besides chronic
technical, safety and reliability problems, it cost local utility
customers more than $400 million to build and is costing them $409
million to decommission.

The Trojan plant came online in an era when Northwest politicians and
corporate leaders were besotted by the promise of clean nuclear power.
In a spectacularly ill-conceived scheme, work began on five other
nuclear power plants as part of a consortium of utilities called the
Washington Public Power Supply System, which quickly became infamous
as Whoops.

Whoops indeed. Construction of the five plants -- only one of which
ever produced electricity, none of which was then needed -- led to
what, at the time, was the country's largest municipal bond default.
Consumers across the Northwest are still paying for Whoops in their
monthly electricity bills -- a catastrophe that in one five-year
stretch pushed up electricity rates by about 600 percent. Washington
and Oregon have since passed laws that restrict the construction of
nuclear power plants.

If all that were not enough, the Trojan plant was also widely reported
and popularly believed to have been the real-world inspiration for the
Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, the laughably mismanaged, wildly
dangerous workplace of television's Homer Simpson. Matt Groening,
creator of "The Simpsons," grew up in nearby Portland, Ore., during
troubled times at Trojan.

That rumor, though, turns out not to be true. "There is no connection
between the Trojan Power Plant and the one in 'The Simpsons," "
according to Groening's handlers.

In any case, it took just a few seconds for the towering symbol of bad
nuclear times gone by to disappear in dust. The "Trojan Implosion," as
it was billed, was the handiwork of Controlled Demolition Inc., a
Baltimore company that blows up lots of large concrete things, most
notably sports stadiums such as the Kingdome in Seattle and Three
Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Mark Loizeaux, who owns the demolition company and joined reporters to
watch the blast from the Washington side of the Columbia, cheerily
rated the tower's implosion as "a textbook job." He noted that a
rather large bit of concrete from the tower was still standing --
about 45-feet high in one spot -- but said that he had expected as
much. A 20,000-pound wrecking ball, he said, would soon clean up the
mess.

About a minute after the tower fell in on itself, Loizeaux barked into
a radio, telling police that they could unblock traffic on I-5 and the
Coast Guard that it could unblock shipping on the Columbia.

The plant owner, Portland General Electric, was also pleased. Tower
demolition was a major step in the utility's long, costly and
embarrassing effort to extricate itself from a plant whose problems
ranged from chronic steam leaks to an exceedingly unfortunate location
-- on a major earthquake fault, sitting on the southern bank of the
West's largest river and just upwind from Portland, the second-largest
city in the Northwest.

With ratepayers footing the bill, PGE has been taking Trojan apart for
more than a decade. The plant's nuclear reactor and nearly all of its
radioactive machinery have been barged upstream on the Columbia for
burial at the federal Hanford nuclear reservation. Highly radioactive
fuel rods remain in storage at the site, waiting for the federal
government to decide where they can be safely buried.

Scott Simms, a PGE spokesman who watched the implosion, was eager on
Sunday to talk about how his company has shifted its focus to wind
power and high-efficiency, gas-driven turbines.

Asked about the irony of knocking down a nuclear plant when other
utilities are planning similar plants, Simms noted that Trojan was
"outmoded compared to anything that might be built today." He did not
mention irony.

Copyright 2006 The Washington Post Company

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From: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 23, 2006
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COALITION RELEASES REPORT ON TOXINS IN PEOPLE, CALLS FOR REFORM

By Rachel La Corte, Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A coalition of environmental and advocacy groups
tested 10 Washington residents from around the state and found each of
them had dozens of potentially harmful chemicals in their bodies,
ranging from pesticides to flame retardants.

Coalition officials who released the report in Seattle on Tuesday
acknowledged it wasn't a scientific representation of the state, but
said they wanted to put a face on the issue.

The Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition collected hair, urine and blood
samples last fall from the participants, who were specifically chosen
for the tests. Most of the participants are involved with
organizations that are members of or have worked with the coalition.

The coalition said it chose the people to represent both genders,
different races, professions and people who live in different parts of
the state, as well as people who were local leaders.

Laboratories in Victoria, British Columbia, Seattle, and Los Angeles
tested the samples for 86 chemicals. Each participant, including state
Sens. Bill Finkbeiner and Lisa Brown, both from opposite sides of the
state, tested positive for at least 26 of the various chemicals, and
as many as 39.

An extensive study on exposure to environmental chemicals by the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year stressed
that the presence of an environmental chemical in blood or urine "does
not mean that the chemical causes disease." But state coalition
members said they wanted people to be aware of potential risks.

"It's very likely each of us is walking around with a cocktail of
chemicals in our bodies," said Erika Schreder, staff scientist for the
Washington Toxics Coalition and the lead scientist on the report. "The
chemicals that we found in our test participants are chemicals that
are linked to very serious health problems. That's a concern."

But Dr. Elaine Faustman, a toxicologist and professor of environmental
and occupational health at the University of Washington, said it's
important to keep in mind the levels of chemicals in each person, not
just that they are detected.

She noted that there are persistent chemicals in almost everyone.

"For us, the dose makes the poison," she said.

However, Faustman said that while the sample size was very small, the
report was a good tool to see specific data for the Pacific Northwest.

Among the chemicals found were phthalates, a manmade ingredient of
many plastics, cosmetics and other consumer products.

Other chemicals included fire-retardant PBDEs, and PFCs, which are
found in the plastic coating Teflon.

Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, had 30 chemicals detected and a mercury level
above the EPA "safe" level. Of the group tested, he had the highest
levels of the Teflon chemicals and the pesticide carbaryl.

"I never gave too much thought or made too many lifestyle choices
based on these issues prior to having this profile. It sure made me
think a whole lot more," said Finkbeiner, who added that he has since
stopped using Teflon pans, plans to buy more organic foods, and will
pull weeds in his yard instead of spraying them with pesticides.

Schreder said the report should serve as a wake-up call to the state's
lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire.

"What we're really lacking is a comprehensive approach to ensure these
harmful toxins are not in our products," she said.

A spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents
about 130 major chemical companies, said the small sample of the
report doesn't warrant "the far-reaching conclusions or
recommendations that are made."

Sarah Brozena said scientists have long known that humans can absorb
chemicals from the environment.

"We are finding them now because there are much better analytical
techniques that can measure them at these very trace (part per billion
or part per trillion) levels," she said in an e-mailed statement.
"Further, detection of chemicals in our bodies -- by itself -- is not
an
indication of risk to health and shouldn't be cause for alarm."

Earlier this year, the state Department of Health and the Department
of Ecology asked the Legislature to ban all trade in PBDEs, arguing
that the fireproofing chemicals are being found in Columbia River
fish, seal blubber, grizzly bears and women's breast milk.

A bill died in the Legislature this year, though supporters said they
will try again next year.

Schreder said that, in addition to the passage of the PBDE ban, the
coalition wants the state to require companies that do business with
Washington state to provide complete information on what types of
chemicals are used. The coalition also wants to see an immediate plan
to phase out certain products and manufacturing chemicals, and to help
companies make the switch with either incentives or technical
assistance.

Gregoire's office did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment
on the report.

Brown, D-Spokane, said the report got her attention, and she's certain
it will open a dialogue in the next legislative session.

"We pretty much take for granted that Washington state is a beautiful
place to live and work," said Brown, who tested positive for 37
chemicals, including high levels of mercury. "We want it to be a truly
healthy place to live."

---

On the Net:

Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition: http://pollutioninpeople.org

Washington Toxics Coalition: http://www.watoxics.org

CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals:
http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/

Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

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From: Alternet, May 23, 2006
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A GENERATION OF DEBTORS GROW UP OWING

By Mischa Gaus, In These Times

The children of baby boomers are the new debtor class. Buckling under
a heavy weight of debt, new workers step into an economy of low-wage
and contingent work, a combination that makes the basics of adulthood
increasingly unattainable.

"We grew up in the Reagan era where everything was fake, voodoo
economics, and we're not seeing the connections," says Anya Kamenetz,
author of Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time to be Young.
"I don't think we can continue treating people as disposable, not
providing them with health care or the means to save."

Educational debt is the most visible -- but not the only -- barrier to
the well-being of the "millennial generation," roughly defined as
Americans born after 1978. Every gate on the way to middle-class life
is now tougher to unlock. Mortgages, health insurance expenses, car
maintenance, child care and tax loads for two-income families have all
ballooned.

The accumulating stress on this generation is spilling over -- not yet
into the street, as it did in France in late March, but into some
emerging forms of collective action.

Owing 'til you're old and gray

The familiar combination of summer work, a part-time job during the
school year and a little help from home doesn't begin to cover today's
college costs. To afford one year at a public university, about
$11,000, students earning minimum wage would have to work full-time
year-round.

"Students are in a pretty deep financial hole," says Luke Swarthout,
higher education associate for the State PIRGs, which advocate on a
variety of consumer, environmental and good-government issues. The
Federal Reserve says graduates now shoulder three times more debt than
a decade ago, after adjusting for inflation. Undergraduates now
average almost $20,000 in debt, with a quarter taking on more than
$25,000, according to Robert Shireman, director of the Project on
Student Debt, a Berkeley-based think tank.

"They end up still paying off their loans about the time when they're
figuring out how to help with their own children's education,"
Shireman says. Some never emerge from their chasm of liabilities. The
Supreme Court recently decided that retirees' Social Security checks
can be garnished for old student debts, and changes to bankruptcy law
last year make it nearly impossible to discharge educational loans.

For students who approach their working lives seeking returns beyond
pure remuneration, rising debt loads postpone basic decisions. Pam
Morus, 29, spends about 10 percent of her income every month keeping
up with $35,000 in student loans. A music therapist in Chicago, she
received no grants during her five-year program at Eastern Michigan
University. She'd like to purchase a home and start a family soon, but
unless she finds a partner who brings in significantly more income, it
is impossible. "I barely make enough money to pay my rent," she says.

Even with a scholarship to American University's law school, Julia
Graff, 28, started her career as a staff attorney at the Delaware ACLU
last year facing $80,000 in debt. She anticipates paying lenders until
she retires. Graff knew her ambition to pursue a nonprofit career
meant she would forgo luxuries. But her debt-to-income ratio means
trips to university dental clinics and taking on odd jobs like
tutoring and translating Spanish.

"I live paycheck to paycheck," Graff says. "Eventually I'm not going
to want to live like I did when I was 18."

And when lives don't match up with debt schedules, the strain can be
severe. After finishing community college, Mandy Minor, 30, bounced
around the University of South Florida before settling on business
administration. She graduated five years ago, picking up $60,000 in
consumer and student debt along with her diploma.

Minor owns a small writing and design firm with her husband, and had a
daughter five months ago. She pays $400 a month just to maintain her
debt load, and has given up on buying a house. She worries how to
provide health insurance once her daughter no longer qualifies for
Florida's state-provided care.

"It bothers me on a fundamental level that we even have to worry a
little about how our daughter will receive medical care," she says.
"It sickens me, and I know I'm not alone."

Minor says some of her credit-card bills predate her college years. "I
think sending high school students offers of credit should be
illegal," she says. Taken together, such individual struggles
illuminate the consequences of punitive political decisions. After
all, student debt is intimately linked to government actions, like
Congress' decision to boost interest rates to 6.8 percent for
undergraduate Stafford loans, both new and old.

Ensuring economic security is not solely an issue of self-interest for
young people. Because higher education remains the most important
factor for predicting economic success -- and thus an opportunity to
bridge inequality -- it is a social justice concern as well.

Last year, Yale students held a sit-in to demand financial aid reform.
Within a week, they won a pledge from the university that families
making less than $45,000 would no longer pay tuition. Yale was just
catching up: The Ivies have embarked on a game of financial-aid
chicken, fighting to see who can boost higher the amount families can
earn before footing college costs. Currently, that figure stands at
$50,000 at the University of Pennsylvania and $60,000 at Harvard.

Struggling for a living wage

Once they've graduated, however, what really staggers young people is
a one-two punch: saddled with loans, students have a hard time finding
a stable job that will actually support them. Steady productivity
gains have been swallowed by capital, stagnating wages for young
people. A Federal Reserve survey says the median net worth of
households under 35 rose just 1.3 percent in the last decade after
inflation.

"Management has pulled a fast one," says Kamenetz. "They've gotten
people to accept intangible benefits instead of old, actual benefits.
We've all sort of followed this idea that we're all free agents."
Flexibility and contingent labor have replaced the certainty of
bargaining agreements and pensions. And contrary to media narratives
about consumers run amok, foolish spending is not the root of most
families' financial problems, writes Harvard Law professor Elizabeth
Warren in her book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and
Fathers Are Going Broke. Credit card bills are higher now, but
consumer spending between this generation and the last balances out --
for instance, as more is spent on airline tickets, less is spent on
tobacco.

So where do young people turn to confront their economic plight? They
are channeling some energy into workplace organizing. Retail workers
at Borders and Starbucks have employed minority unionism, which
initially doesn't seek contracts or bargaining units but builds a base
of power through action by less than half the workers. Workers across
the country trade information about corporate policies online,
coordinating efforts between stores and sniping at overpaid
executives.

The underlying model is nothing new: Unions like United Farm Workers
have used it for decades. But it could fit young people in hard-to-
organize retail work, says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor
education research at Cornell University.

"Young people don't feel as vulnerable as older workers because
they're not going to be in this job forever," she says. "They are more
willing to take risks."

Minority unionism could challenge giant chain stores, she says, if
unions commit to long campaigns and follow a social-unionism approach
that brings the community behind the drive. The storybook example is
the L.A. Justice for Janitors Campaign, which in the early '90s saw
the flowering of a community-union partnership that placed moral
concerns alongside economic ones. However, these are difficult,
expensive campaigns in high-turnover jobs exceed the reach of any
sympathetic union local. Critics see minority unionism as a half-
cocked attempt to engage young workers.

"We had industrial unions when we had industrial manufacturing. Now we
have a new way of working that is much more short-term and mobile,"
says Sara Horowitz, president of Working Today, a New York-based
advocacy group that provides insurance and other benefits for
contingent -- and often young -- laborers. "Unions have evolved since
the days of Moses and Exodus, and there's no reason to think they're
not going to evolve again."

Working Today counts 16,000 contingent workers in its ranks. Although
its benefits are limited to workers in New York, it lobbies nationally
to fill gaps like health care and retirement savings for the 30
percent of the workforce it estimates work independently.

Millennials are also warming to another old tactic for addressing
their grievances. They are increasingly appearing at the polls, with
half of voters under 30 turning out in 2004, their largest showing in
14 years. Sustaining this interest, though, would require reversing a
long-standing trend: Youth voting rates have been declining since
1972.

The emerging generation's beliefs could offer an opportunity for
reshaping the political discourse. Recent studies by the liberal New
Politics Institute and a University of Maryland public policy center
suggest millennials are more likely to identify as progressive than
any other age group.

But unless they find political avenues to channel their discontent,
they may soon find themselves screaming in the streets like their
French counterparts. "They have different lives than their parents
did, a different set of economic opportunities," Horowitz says. "It's
time for them to talk about what they need."

Mischa Gaus is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

Copyright 2006 Independent Media Institute.

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From: Alternet, May 23, 2006
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END THE HOSTILE TAKEOVER

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

In his new book, Hostile Takeover, David Sirota unleashes a stinging
300-page indictment of a system corrupted almost beyond recognition.
We have a government in which the greater good is subsumed by
corporate interests day in and day out, and where political discourse
itself is framed by those very interests; we end up discussing
everything but the reasons why average Americans are worse off than
they were 30 years ago.

The indictment has a number of counts -- the corporatocracy has gamed
the tax codes, assaulted our right to a day in court, kept us from
discussing single-payer health care and launched a relentless assault
on Americans' right to organize. Sirota shows how the economy that
most of us experience has been bled dry by "Big Money" interests while
working people have faced a death by a thousand cuts, great and small.

Hostile Takeover is a gut-punch for anyone who still believes in the
American Dream. But while Sirota gives us an unmerciful look into how
the system is gamed, he doesn't leave readers feeling hopeless. Under
a veneer of world-weary cynicism, Sirota's an optimist. Central to the
work is his belief that if people are given a greater understanding of
how the cards have been stacked against them, they can and will defeat
the hostile takeover in its tracks.

I spoke with Sirota last week by phone as he was killing some time in
Chicago between stops on his book tour.

Joshua Holland: You pinpoint the beginning of the Hostile Takeover in
the early 1970s -- as many others have. Most people agree the
proximate causes were the building of conservative infrastructure, the
conservative media, etc. But I want to ask you about the bigger
picture, looking beyond the proximate causes. I mean, was there a
shift in our political culture then, or in our corporate culture?

David Sirota: I think what you're asking is -- and I get this question
a lot -- money has always played a role in politics, what's different
about how it plays out now?

JH: Yeah, you're better at this question thing than I am.

DS: I've been doing a lot of interviews. My take is that conservatives
got smarter in the ways you described, but I think one of the ways
that corporate America got smarter was that they began to understand
that there was value to them in infiltrating the Democratic Party.
They realized that owning the Republican Party was not enough, and
that grabbing a chunk of the Democratic Party -- even a small chunk --
would allow the system as a whole to radically shift to the right far
more quickly than if they just pursued a binary strategy with one
party. We used to have one big business party and now we have one and
a third -- or one and a quarter -- and that quarter is really integral
to what's allowed the hostile takeover to move towards completion --
or at least to intensify.

JH: So you don't see both parties as being hopelessly sold out. What's
your view of the likelihood of retaking that quarter -- of retaking
the Democratic Party?

DS: I'm very optimistic about that.

JH: You are.

DS: Yes, I am. I've been asked why I stick it out with the Democratic
Party. Well, I think my book lays out examples of why. I think there
are really some reasons to be encouraged. There are some people in a
bad system who are fighting back, I think there's infrastructure being
built to better support people who are willing to stand up for
ordinary citizens and I think people are starting to realize that
there is political -- electoral -- value in a politics based on
fighting back against the hostile takeover. I've written about that
before, about how Democrats in red states are winning by being far
more populist.

JH: Can this happen before we get public financing of campaigns?
Because in your book, you do what a lot of policy people do: You lay
out a lot of smart alternatives -- a lot of commonsense policy fixes.
But elsewhere you talk about how we don't have an honest policy debate
-- that those debates are being smothered in huge "piles of steaming
bullshit," in large part because of where the money comes from. Given
that, is public financing a precondition for getting anything done?

DS: I wouldn't call it a precondition, because I think a lot of the
reforms I lay out are possible within a broken system. But, I do think
that you can't really hope in the long-term sense to successfully beat
back the hostile takeover unless you have public financing of
elections. So there are a number of battles we can win, right now,
without systemic change, but we can't win the overall war -- over the
long-term -- without systemic changes like public campaign financing.

JH: Let me ask you about populism more broadly. I caught you last week
in D.C. speaking with Thomas Frank.

DS: Yeah.

JH: And his thesis is that economic populism trumps those -- sort of
made-up -- wedge issues, the social issues. And you hear a lot of
people saying that maybe we should abandon some of those issues in
order to get those economic issues to the fore. I have very mixed
feelings about that. What's your take? Would you de-emphasize some of
the social issues, and, if so, which ones?

DS: Well I don't agree with the premise. I think people are voting on
the social issues because they see no clear contrast or choice -- or
authenticity -- on economic issues. In other words, the supremacy of
social issues in American politics today is a sign of desperation by
the public. The public has made a rational choice, seeing that neither
party is really serious, yet about standing up for their economic
interests. You see it in the polls -- people tell pollsters that both
parties are corrupt, that neither party is standing up for them, etc.
-- so I don't think that the paradigm is that social issues are more
important to people than economic issues. I think they only look more
important in a system in which fundamental economic issues aren't even
discussed.

JH: That's backed up by the fact that white evangelicals who were also
union members actually went for Kerry in the last election.

DS: That's exactly right.

JH: A related point. Ruy Teixera -- someone I don't see eye-to-eye
with on a lot of issues -- pointed at a whole series of polls that
showed that Americans, by and large, are already aware that they're
being gamed by the system -- that they're being screwed over by big-
moneyed interests. So the question is, what's the value in telling
people something they already know?

DS: Well, I think he contradicts himself by saying that people already
know the system's stacked against them, and then later he cites polls
showing that people -- this is just one example -- that people see
America as the most socially mobile society in the world, with the
whole rags to riches story, etc. So he says people believe in that
mobility, even though the undisputed fact -- as documented by not-so-
liberal sources like the Wall Street Journal -- is that social
mobility in the United States is at a historic low. Social mobility
today is far below even Europe, even far below Scandinavia -- where
they basically have democratic socialism, which we're led to believe
has no social mobility.

So the first thing I would argue is that people don't know. And I'm
not saying that people are stupid but -- as I document in the book --
there's a whole propaganda system in place to make sure that they
don't know. And to make sure that people have false impressions about
the economic system they live in.

The second piece is that it's far more rational to look at the
situation and say -- if there's already a broad swath of people who
think that our government is corrupt, that big business has too much
control of the system and that corporations are running roughshod over
the country -- it's a far more logical conclusion that the reason
those people are not voting more for the Democratic Party is that the
Democratic Party hasn't served as a vehicle for those feelings. So
he's going out of his way to create a narrative instead of going
straight from point A to point B.

The simple conclusion is that if people already believe this, and
they're not supporting the Democrats, then the Democrats aren't doing
a good job in showing why they're the party to address these problems.
It's a far more circuitous route to say, "Well, people already believe
the system's being gamed, so there's no reason to tell them the truth
about it because they're not supporting the party for other reasons."
I just think that doesn't make any sense. Usually, the simplest
explanation is best.

JH: His big problem is that he used all this data based on how people
view themselves, so people say, "Yes, I'm doing great." But we have
this massive economic propaganda that raises expectations so high --
and you hear all the time is that the economy is going gangbusters,
and you're standing still, so you end up thinking it must be something
you're doing wrong. Then a pollster calls up and says, essentially,
"Are you a loser?" Of course you're going to say "no."

DS: That's exactly right. That's a huge piece of the puzzle here. I
touch on it in my book, but I think it's a huge issue that you could
write a whole other book about: the propaganda of telling people what
they believe. In other words, the messages in our media aren't just
lies about individual issues, but they're also lies about what we, the
public, are supposed to think. That goes into the whole question of
what's centrist. What it means to be centrist -- as defined by the
political system -- is far to the right of what's centrist or
mainstream in public opinion polls on issues. When the political
establishment says that everyone thinks the economy is doing great --
"Look at the stats, the economy is doing well" -- what it does is it
creates this dissonance, where people look at their own situation and
say, "I'm different, so I must be a freak, and I better just keep
quiet and fall into line."

JH: I wonder how much it feeds into our high rates of depression and
all that, when you get all this economic triumphalism ...

DS: Or look at how that plays out in personal debt. We're being told
that everyone's doing great, and we live in a culture where
materialism equals status, and more and more people are going into
debt to keep up. I think it's the sickest form of propaganda when the
political establishment purports to tell the public what they believe,
when in fact there's no data to show that the public really believes
it.

JH: Let me switch gears here for a moment and ask you what you mean
when you write that people who are interested in change should become
a big fish in a little pond?

DS: There's a lot of media pressure to focus our political activism
only on the White House -- and to a lesser extent Congress -- and if
and when people get engaged on that level, people don't really have a
sense they're having a real impact because it can feel so massive. And
we need to get out of that cycle. If we get engaged at the state and
local levels, we can have a lot more impact. On many of these issues,
at the state or local levels, they affect our daily lives in the same
ways -- if not more -- than on the national scene. I mean if you want
to talk about taxes, state taxes impact our lives as much as federal
taxes. But people can see far more impact when they get involved at
that level.

And it's also a long-term strategy. If you change things farther down
the political food chain, over the course of time that change works
its way up. In the long run, if you get good people in your state
legislature or your city council, they will become the next members of
Congress and the future presidents.

JH: Now, you made an important point about how the big-business
right's greatest success has been convincing people that they're
powerless to effect change. Are you at all concerned that a book like
this is going to make people throw their hands in the air and think,
"It's so hopelessly corrupt; why should I even bother?"

DS: I'm not, because I think that right now people are looking for a
vehicle for their righteous outrage. And we suffer in this country
from there only being a right-wing cultural vehicle for that outrage
rather than a mainstream populist vehicle. I'm not one of those people
who are afraid of being called angry -- you know the Republicans talk
about the "angry left" and that's a complete joke. Just flip on talk
radio, and you'll see real anger. I think the vast majority of the
population is angry, and I'm not afraid of that anger. I think people
should be angry, and I think people are looking for a political avenue
to express that anger.

My writing isn't like a negative campaign ad -- a negative campaign ad
is designed to suppress turnout by saying, "Look, the other guy's a
dirtbag." What I'm trying to say is: Look at how corrupt this system
is to its bone. And look at how we're being lied to, and all the
solutions that I lay out are relatively straightforward. And the way
we get there is for us to start thinking about systemic change and not
just the day-to-day political bickering you see on Hardball or Meet
the Press. In many ways, all of that is part of the corrupt system.

So what I'm really trying to do is to open up the possibility to folks
that all of this stuff -- the entire system -- is not just a creation
of nature. It didn't just happen. On all of these issues, we are
experiencing a very deliberately constructed system. It's constructed
by humans; it's not something that God just created. And once we
realize that, then we realize that we can actually change it.

A great example -- which I talk about a lot -- is these free-trade
deals, which are like a religion. They're not free -- they're
extremely protectionist. This free-trade crap is viewed like a
religion, like it's just the natural way of things. But they're
written by corporations very deliberately and in great detail in order
to do certain things and not others -- namely, protect corporate
profits, while leaving workers and the environment totally
unprotected. Once we step back and say, "Wait a minute, that's not the
natural order of things," then you can change it.

So my optimistic hope is that when people realize that this corrupt
system is not divine and is changeable, then people will react.

Read an excerpt from David Sirota's book "Hostile Takeover".

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

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