Like some B-movie space alien, “The Thing” is back, and it’s coming at us with an insatiable appetite. It is the return of the nuclear power industry.
After the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, nuke power finally seemed to be dying in America. The fission plants were too expensive to build, the multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies were ridiculous, the potential for atomic catastrophe was chilling, and the unresolved question of where to put tons of radioactive waste was damning.
Like a grotesque phoenix, here it comes again. The big utilities, along with such powerhouse nuclear equipment-makers as General Electric Co., were generous funders of George W’s run for the White House, and their payback was the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which resuscitated the beast by pumping it full of new government subsidies.
This bloated law offers $125 million in tax breaks for each new nuclear plant and provides loan guarantees for 80 percent of a plant’s cost-including overruns. Utilities also get exemptions from legal liability in case of catastrophic incidents such as meltdowns. Meanwhile, these profitable corporations are not made responsible for the disposal of the nuclear waste their reactors generate.
All the industry’s old problems remain, but government money has revived The Thing. As one candid utility executive says, the new subsidies are “the whole reason we started down this path. If it were not for the nuclear provisions in [the bill], we would not have even started developing this plan.”
Instead of subsidizing a future disaster just to fatten the profits of the nuclear industry, our tax dollars should be invested in safe, clean, renewable energy and conservation.
Bill Clinton was impeached for a sexual encounter that he tried to dismiss by quibbling over what the meaning of “is” is. Now we have a president engaged in a far more damning constitutional encounter that he is trying to dismiss by quibbling over what the meaning of “torture” is. Why isn’t he facing an impeachment inquiry?
From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to extraordinary renditions, Bush and Gang have violated our laws and international treaties that flatly prohibit torture of war prisoners. Bush and company keep trying to excuse their abhorrent behavior by writing secret memos to themselves redefining torture as not-torture.
Two more of these self-excusing memos recently surfaced from Bush’s misnamed Justice Department. Responding in 2005 to a law passed by Congress, and to Supreme Court decisions prohibiting “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of prisoners, Bush-appointed lawyers wrote a clandestine memo merrily defining CIA torture techniques as not being cruel, inhumane, and degrading. The revelation of this crude attempt to circumvent the law was so explosive that George himself had to be trotted out in a hastily arranged press appearance to declare with a straight face: “This government does not torture people.”
Why believe him? Because I say so, says the prevaricator-in-chief. Of course, Bush refused to show us the memos, and his staff has attacked the media for revealing that they exist. No one believes him, because he’s unbelievable.
Clinton tried to mince words about a sexcapade. Bush is mincing words about running his own secret legal system in defiance of our Constitution. Which offense do you think does the most harm and is the most impeachable?
BLOOD RED RUBIES
The brutal military dictatorship that controls Burma showed the world just how thuggish it is when it attacked and imprisoned Buddhist monks who had dared protest peacefully against the regime. To see the military cracking heads and hauling off so many monks was appalling, but what can we do?
You can strike a financial blow against the Burmese oppressors by not doing something: Don’t buy gems mined in that country.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is rich in precious gems, producing 95 percent of the world’s rubies and 99 percent of the world’s jadeite, known as “imperial jade.” The military regime there pockets more than a quarter-billion dollars a year from gem exports-money that helps fund its bloody repression.
It is illegal to import Burmese products into the U.S., sort of. The raw gems can be imported indirectly. China, for example, buys raw Burmese rubies and jade, cuts and polishes them, and sells the jewels to U.S. retailers. Bloody Burmese bling is sold by American jewelers ranging from Wal-Mart to Neiman Marcus.
A watchdog group called U.S. Campaign for Burma has launched a national effort to persuade retailers and importers not to buy or sell jewelry containing Burmese gems. Tiffany & Co. is the first retailer to agree. The campaign is now calling on consumers, shareholders, churches, students, and the public to write letters and e-mails, make calls and visits, and join local protests to convince jewelry retailers to stop being a conduit for blood money to Burma’s dictators.
For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.