The National Catholic Review
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Retirement at 40

According to Japanese law, nuclear reactors have a 40-year lifespan, though it can be extended. The recent news that the lifespan of the 40-year-old reactor currently spewing radioactive steam at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been extended in February, just one month before the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, is sobering. Reportedly, the inspectors’ highly complex assessments of the earthquake-readiness of Reactor No. 1 were made hastily, but the repairs they called for were not.

What if the cracks in the backup generators that regulators reported in February had been repaired? Would the reactor’s cooling system have worked and contained the radiation when the tsunami hit? Perhaps. The cooling systems of younger reactors at the plant held for days, once the electricity was restored. What if the government had decided to shut down the aged reactor instead of extending its life? That dismantling process takes time to accomplish, so the effects of the tsunami might still have caused radioactive leakage. Who knows? These questions merit public reflection, because every country with a nuclear reactor must now reconsider the engineering design, maintenance and lifespan of its nuclear power plants.

The unfolding catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi makes clear the importance of tough government regulations, frequent and thorough inspections, independent nuclear watchdogs and high standards of maintenance. Until safer energy alternatives are developed and widely used, every precaution must be taken to ensure public safety. The disaster that struck Japan should also compel nations to invest without delay in safe energy alternatives.

'Take Him Out!'

The United Nations and the United States intervened in Libya to protect innocent life, fearing a triumphant Muammar el-Qaddafi would slaughter his opposition. Though the coalition bombed his personal compound and President Obama said Qaddafi must go, U.S. officials also say the coalition can achieve its goal even if he stays. Inevitably the pundits and policy makers discuss a simpler solution: Kill him.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told “Meet the Press” that killing the Libyan leader is “potentially an outcome.” But later Vice Admiral William Gortney said that Qaddafi “at this particular point” is “not on the target list.” The New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica retorted, “If we are not in Libya to take him out, we should get out.”

Assassination is ruled out by international law for moral and political reasons. Nevertheless, the U.S. government has tried several times to solve problems by killing enemy heads of state. In Vietnam the United States backed a coup in 1963 to remove President Diem. In the first weeks of the Iraq War the United States bombed a city block to kill Saddam Hussein; he wasn’t there, and the attack killed innocent people. Twenty-five years ago President Reagan bombed Tripoli to teach Qaddafi a lesson and killed 100 civilians, including Qaddafi’s adopted daughter.

Somehow the tabloid mind likes to apply the morals of crime shows to international affairs. Got a problem? “Take him out.” The law of the street becomes national policy. And America ends up with blood on its hands and a wound in its soul.

Unkind Cuts

With a new Congress purportedly devoted to austerity, President Obama may have calculated that the only way he was going to shoehorn some form of stimulus into the still shaky U.S. economy in 2011 and 2012 was by back room dealmaking to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. But that decision merely continues a dangerous practice of combining tax-cutting and debt-juggling with continued epic spending on defense. The nation long ago lost momentum toward reducing the national debt begun by the Clinton administration. Washington continues disingenuous feints toward austerity focused almost exclusively on the small portion of federal discretionary spending that is committed to social services, ignoring the vast tax wealth diverted to defense, agricultural subsidies and other miscellaneous props and assists to private enterprise.

Owing to Wall Street’s rapid recovery, the number of millionaires in the United States has begun to reset near 2007 levels even as the nation achieves new highs in poverty. Almost 44 million people now live below the official poverty line. Business cannot go on as usual in Washing-ton, or that divergence will continue. The nation needs to face up to both civic and fiscal realities. It needs both to raise taxes and to deal with its debt problem responsibly. It also needs to accept the legitimate cost of social services and short-term relief for an increasingly impoverished populace. That includes finally providing health care to all. These need not be hopelessly conflicting goals in a nation that keeps the common good at the forefront of its commitments. The question is: Can the United States still be that kind of nation?

Comments

Juan Lion | 4/4/2011 - 11:57am
I would submit to us all to look at how the USA handled the close of the Civil War (wherein the federal government's expenses and employees - soldiers- dropped from over 1 million in 1865 to just over 100,000 in 1866), and the post WW1 and 1920 recessions which both involved massive cuts in federal employment and expenses... but ushered in boom times in the private sector.

The reason: to look at real world data of what happens when the Federal government cuts massively its expenses and lets hundreds of thousands of employees go... what happens in the private (the real) economy where all wealth originates. It's not a mathematical or economic law that cutting federal expenses and programs automatically results in starvation, zero enterprise, soup lines, etc. Indeed, the data shows the opposite.

Then look at 1945 to 1948: a huge, collosal cut in federal spending and programs as we de-mobilized from WW2 and all the huge war-time industries were cut off of federal spending at the same time millions of GIs came home. There was an economic boom not a collosal depression as many statists assumed would occur.

Since the 1960s however we've essentially been on an ever increasing war-time footing with ever greater federalization of the economy. The war on poverty and all the feel-good, well intentioned 'safety nets' to "help the poor" essentially result not in LESS POOR, but in MORE POVERTY. More regulation, more paperwork, more cost of doing business, helps the big corporations and kills the small and mid-size firms....thus fewer jobs. More dependents on government cheese. Less wealth because there's less opportunity.

We have the experience of Californina, New Jersey and New York - all liberal democratic bastions for decades - to show us what happens when the best of intentions, run by the 'best and brightest' progressives, rule to their hearts content without opposition: debt, deficits, social decay and corruption.

And now we have the USA as a whole teetering on the brink with $100 trillion in debt and unfunded liabilities.... $14 trillion actual debt plus $1.7 trillion annual budget deficits on a total budget of $3.7 trillion....

Those who hitch their religion and political ideology to the cart of endless government wealth transfers as the sole and only 'option for the poor' who are perpetually on life support.... are doomed. Those whose religion and politics envisions people being less and less DEPENDENT on forced wealth transfers both have a chance and the moral responsibility to reach out to their brothers whose retirement plan amounts to being grasshoppers, never ants.

In order to help the poor with either charity or tax monies you first need to have wealth creation and enterprise under a rule of law. And for that, the less monolithic and arbitrary the government, the better. Now which side is America Magazine or the Church on? Both. But the welfare state IS coming to an end. If we are to avoid civil strife we need to focus on independence (in education, healthcare, security, housing, retirement, etc.) and solidarity (voluntary, not forced or coerced).
C Walter Mattingly | 4/2/2011 - 5:37pm
Mike,
President Obama, to his credit, came out as a huge supporter of nuclear power, with 52 billion set aside to assist in the financing effort, well before the nuclear accident. And well he might have: aside from a Soviet Union that proved in so many ways it did not value human life a great deal and the Chernobly disaster there, civilian nuclear energy has been remarkably safe. Here in the US, the number of citizens who die annually from petroleum based, mostly coal fired utiliies shortened lives is 13,000, according to the American Lung Association, with many more suffering heart attacks and half a million from additional asthma attacks. That says nothing about the deaths and shortened lives of coal miners, etc. The number of deaths known to nuclear civilian power among our population? Zero that I could find. France, with almost 80% nuclear utility power, has the cleanest air and water of all industrial nations. In short, even taking this disaster into account, nuclear is a clean water and air source. We'll see how many perish Japanese from this terrible earthquake and tsunami, and we'll also see how many perish from the nuclear aspect of the tragedy. Then we will be able to make some decisions.
Ed,
There may be this poll and that poll, but the Wisconsin and many other governors were elected because they promised to cut spending and reign in the relatively unchecked power of union entitlements. And check out what Gov Andrew Cuomo has done in New York. Done away with tenure for public school teachers, instituted performance evaluations, and drastically restricted collective bargaining for almost all public workers, including police and firemen. Walker served one important function: by drawing the fire in Wisconsin, he allowed the governors of Ohio, New York, and even President Obama, who unilaterally froze government wages for 2 years, to succeed in accomplishing this goal, passing virtually unscathed under the radar.
And last I heard, President Obama has made absolutely no attempt to do away with the prohibition of CB powers under his control for federal public employees. And his complaints about Wisconsin, CB limitations while he himself possesses and exercizes greater restrictive powers, is like so many of his words compared to his actions, self-contradictory and even hypocritical.
ed gleason | 4/1/2011 - 2:06pm
CNN has a poll asking people what percent of the US budget is for NPR, Pensions, foreign aid etc.... people answer 5%, 30% and 10% when it's really less than 1%.. the big lie works and  what can we do about it?
Mike Evans | 4/1/2011 - 1:11pm
While the republicans are focused on making Obama fail, nothing will be done to either ameliorate the effects of these widespread cutbacks or even sit down together to talk about how to restimulate the economy and encourage job creation. The repub posture will simply not allow any sensible progress or discussions. My local republican representative (Wally Herger) now wants to attack AARP. Look out, who is next in their sniper scope?

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