Category Archives: Politics

Jonathan Alter on Boehner’s Misleading Speech

Here’s a nice summary of all the many falsehoods and inaccuracies in Speaker Boehner’s televised address, from Jonathan Alter via Bloomberg. However, at this point I’m most disappointed in President Obama. He appears to be willing to cut off his own arm to appease the GOP, in exchange for… what, exactly? Nothing that I can identify.

The facts are quite simple. We already spent this money. We need to fulfill our obligations. We have to raise the debt limit accordingly. This has nothing to do with whether we should continue future spending at the same rates, or whether we should try to reduce our national debt overall. Of course we should try to curtail government spending, and of course we should adjust both spending and revenues to reduce our deficits. We can sort these matters out at any time; there is no reason it has to be now, under the gun of the approaching deadline, in a way that risks default and a reduction in our credit rating. We will only end up having to pay even more than we currently owe if that happens. I don’t understand why any of this is a mystery. I don’t understand why “conservatives” are so completely out of touch with the fiscally conservative, prudent position on this matter. Pay what you owe, already, and then roll up your sleeves and figure out how to stop continually spending beyond your means.



Debt Ceiling Madness

An article yesterday in the New York Times describes the preparations that banks, mutual funds, and others are taking in case the current debt ceiling impasse cannot be broken. It seems clear that even if a solution is reached, the gridlock in Washington is damaging confidence in the U.S. as a financial safe haven. If we have to have another debate like this every time the treasury needs to spend more money, how can investors trust that we won’t someday fail to resolve it?

The more I read about the debate, the more it seems that people are making a mistake I’ve mentioned here before: that raising the “debt ceiling” or “debt limit” is the same thing as agreeing to increase the national debt. We already DID increase the national debt, though, when we agreed to these financial obligations. Maybe we shouldn’t have spent so much money, but now that’s water under the bridge. The only question is, having run up the credit cards, are we going to pay them off or not? And we cannot afford to say no. If I say no to my creditors, I end up paying more in interest or penalties, and this is roughly what will happen to the nation as a whole if we even flirt with default!

Should we stop spending so much, though? Absolutely! I agree with the critics of our out-of-control debt who argue that we cannot sustain this course. We need to make difficult, belt-tightening decisions, and doubtless lawmakers will disagree about where to make cuts. But the debt ceiling is a separate issue. Playing political games with the deadline will hurt ALL of us, including those of us who want a more austere budget. I’m starting to become a little amazed that so many people don’t get this. I had assumed that a deal would be reached because it’s so obvious why it’s needed, but now I’m wondering if Congress might truly be short-sighted enough to hurt our economy with this fight.

I wonder if some Republicans think they can blame Obama for any resulting economic crisis, so they think default is politically valuable and therefore worth risking. Is it possible that they actually believe this? Talk about cutting off your own nose to spite your face…

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Flooding, Part IV

Today’s Omaha World-Herald contains further evidence confirming that officials knew about a future flooding problem by early April, before the Fort Calhoun plant was shut down. News stories since April had maintained that the shutdown was solely for “refueling” and unrelated to the flood, but then on Jun. 28, the NRC’s blog mentioned flooding as another reason for the shutdown. In today’s paper, in response to criticism of the Corps of Engineers for not releasing water from upstream Missouri dams earlier in the spring or winter, the Corps said, “the full flood-control capacity of the Missouri dams was available by late January — and that it was unclear until early April this would be a year of higher-than-normal reservoir releases. By early May, the corps accelerated its releases of floodwater and said 2011 had the potential to be the second-highest runoff season in 113 years of recordkeeping.”

So, it sounds like they discovered the problem later than they should have, if they had been estimating snowpack accurately. Then, once they realized the impending problem, they waited until after the plant shutdown to start increasing the flow of floodwaters downstream. As recently as a few days ago, however, the COE denied that flood risk to the nuclear plant had anything to do with its dam release calculations, which prompted criticism from Nebraska Sen. Nelson. Shortly thereafter, the NRC asked for the COE’s 2009 and 2010 analyses of what would be expected in the event of a catastrophic dam failure.

For once, it would be nice to hear a straightforward, honest version of these events as they happen, rather than having to reconstruct things later based on changes in the official story, and little details that come out after the fact.

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Flooding, Part III

Flooding on the Missouri River in Omaha, NE.

The Des Moines Register published an opinion piece yesterday, “Nuclear plants need scrutiny, not hysteria“. Well, yes: it’s nice to avoid irrational concern and it’s crucial not to spread misinformation. However, people aren’t worried just because they have some knee-jerk hysteria over the words “nuclear plant” and “flooding” in the same sentence. Rather, one starts to worry when clear information and explanations aren’t provided, when the official story changes arbitrarily, and when the plant apparently had a close call this year, finishing flood preparations just in time for the rise of the river.

Earlier in June, Fort Calhoun completed additional flood preparations that secured the plant for a Missouri flood stage up to 1014 feet. Previously, the NRC inspectors had charged that the plant would lose offsite power and be unable to acheive a cold shutdown with normal operations, should floodwaters reach 1008 feet–where they are expected to peak in the current flood situation. However, given the contingencies of weather and decisions about upstream dam operations, it’s hard for the COE or anyone else to predict exactly how high the water level will be throughout the summer, until this flooding event is over.

OPPD, which runs the Fort Calhoun plant, protested the NRC’s findings about the flood risks before making necessary changes this year. I can understand why people worry, when serious concerns seem only to have been discovered and then resolved at the last minute. In addition, among the repairs made this year were a concrete barrier and water filled berm–the same ones that recently failed. The berm is no longer functional and the concrete barrier was patched, though no information has been given about the nature of the repairs done, what caused the patch to be needed, or how confident we can be of the barrier’s ongoing success in the current situation.

News stories about the breach of the berm have included assurances from OPPD and the NRC that these barriers were not necessary, as the plant had other adequate back-up measures for flood protection. However, on the NRC’s own blog on 6/22, before their failures, the berm and concrete barrier were specifically cited as important parts of the flood protection improvements. When the officials change their story like this, people can’t help but worry: what else aren’t they telling us accurately or in a timely manner?

Another example of a changing story that appears on the NRC’s own website (June 28) is the admission that Fort Calhoun went into a cold shutdown in April partly because of anticipation of future flooding on the Missouri. This the first I’ve seen any claim to that effect. Indeed, whenever I’ve seen a newspaper story mention the April plant shutdown–in reporting on this incident from the World-Herald to the New York Times–the cause always has been attributed to “refueling” and never to flooding. Now, however, it turns out that officials must have anticipated a problem with flooding for at least a few months, a situation serious enough to warrant shutting down the plant. The Cooper plant (the other nuclear plant in Nebraska, further downstream on the Missouri) remains fully operational, though, and thus would be harder to cool in an emergency.

Yes, Des Moines Register, it’s good to scrutinize plant safety. But I don’t see the Register asking any of these questions or even reporting this information. And yes, it’s good to avoid needless hysteria. I’m not popping any iodide pills over these stories. However, the media does not seem to be demanding information or accountability from officials for recent events, and the agencies in charge are certainly not inspiring confidence with their last-minute efforts and changing accounts of the situation. The more it’s left to random people like me to ask the obvious questions that occur to us, the more room is left for confusion and misinformation to spread.

Today in History, Part II

On June 24, 2011, New York state representatives vote to make gay marriage legal. This also happens to be Gay Pride weekend in NYC–what an event they are going to have now. Tomorrow is also the day of the gay pride parade and festival in Omaha, Nebraska, where gay marriage is unlikely to be legalized any time soon, but the events in New York still set an encouraging precedent for equal treatment of all under the law.

Raising the Debt Ceiling

I’m concerned that those in Congress who oppose raising the debt ceiling are pulling a political stunt with support from constituents who may not understand the difference between raising the debt limit and raising the national debt in general. A useful outline of the issues at stake can be found at the U.S. Treasury’s website, which counteracts several prevalent myths about this subject. It’s a little stunning that some of the same folks who oppose further debt-raising spending, on the grounds that it defies basic standards of fiscal responsibility, would then wish for the U.S. to default on it’s already-existing obligations. If that isn’t fiscal irresponsibility, I don’t know what is. However, these sentiments seem to be part of the now-entrenched change in Conservative politics, according to which facts may be glibly disregarded and prudence abandoned. My die-hard Republican granddad, who taught me the basics of fiscal conservativism at his knee, would be aghast.

Pro-Choice reinterpreted as Pro-Abortion

This is terribly sad: Jocelyn Peirce wrote this pro-abortion pledge, apparently as a response to anti-abortion pledges from the pro-life movement. It includes gems like:

“1. If I get pregnant before the age of 21, I will have an abortion.”
“2. If I know anyone who gets pregnant before the age of 21, I will strongly suggest that they have an abortion.”

Perhaps Peirce thinks that her #8, which says, “If I am in any of the aforementioned situations and opt not to have an abortion, I will remember that my choice would have been meaningless without the right to choose and will continue to defend that right.” makes up for the offensiveness of the other portions of her pledge. It does not. What a horrible suggestion, that everyone under 21 who becomes pregnant should abort or be pressured to abort! Even if one is pro-choice, the idea that abortion should be recommended rather than personally chosen is offensive and contrary to the entire point of preserving women’s autonomy. At the very least, one wonders why adoption is not even mentioned as an option, much less having the courage to raise children under less-than-ideal circumstances. Why abortion should be considered automatically preferable to these alternatives is beyond me, and I can’t see why anyone would sign such a horrible petition.