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      The Most Dangerous Time

      For immediate analysis of the Japan crisis, go to Fukushima Update and Beyond Nuclear.

      It feels like the most dangerous crisis of my lifetime.

      We are fighting a trillion-dollar Long War in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and a dozen other secret battlegrounds, including Saudi Arabia. Our government claims we are fighting terrorism, but the wars are breeding more terrorists. Our most questionable allies in the war on terrorism – Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, etc – are going down or faltering fast. Now we lurch into intervention in Libya, and we back the theocratic Saudi dictators as they invade Bahrain with our Apache helicopters.

      The underlying deal is that we buy their oil, they spend the petrodollars on our weapons, we look the other way, and the lobbyists get rich. All that real-politick is as solid as the sand.

      Our smart young president formulates platforms to please us all: withdraw from Iraq [still in question], double-down in Afghanistan, keep the killing there and in Pakistan secret, promise the peace voters a four-year withdrawal instead of permanent war. Pass on the cost to future taxpayers. The madness concealed beneath the surface was made obvious this week as outgoing Defense Secretary Gates told West Point cadets that anyone advising the American president to invade countries like Iraq and Afghanistan had to “have his head examined”, but then lectured NATO on heading to the exits without a military victory. 

      On energy, the please-us-all platform has been: offshore oil drilling, mountaintop coal mining, billions for new and improved nuclear power plants, and some green jobs thrown in.  The national groups have gone along with the deal, and some have become ardent nuke advocates. But, like the Long War promises, Obama’s energy promises have all evaporated this year, in a mining disaster in West Virginia, a deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and now the worst nuclear meltdown our world has ever known. 

      Isn’t it time to rebel? Rebel against the thinking that got us here, rebel against the institutions that take us faster on the treadmill to hell.

      Our clear message should be to end these infernal wars and to reinvest in energy conservation and renewable resources—now, not later—and not as a gesture to placate environmentalists, but as the cornerstone of economic recovery, a cleaner planet and global security.

      Al Gore and Ralph Nader should be tasked to articulate the vision. The battle must be against the conventional thinking of all those, like the New York Times, who reported this week that these disasters are inevitable because “the world has no workable alternatives able to operate as sufficient scale.” That’s insane. No one has tried to put conservation first, and adopt a crash program of renewables like the war production days of World War II, when the tanks and jeeps rolled out of Detroit.

      Some will ask, reasonably, whether conservation and renewables are enough to meet our projected energy needs. Nothing is simple or objective. The fundamental need is to summon the political will to cut wasteful consumption. The case for nukes and oil rests on the dangerous assumption of unlimited access to world supply in order to meet unlimited gluttony. That’s a deep issue. In the meantime, our energy policy should be based on conservation and renewables first, not the other way around. Every other option is expensive, unhealthy and lethal. If a new energy policy proves insufficient to meet our legitimate needs, then and only then should fossil fuels or nukes be considered – which would result on a vastly reduced dependency for future generations.

      According to a comprehensive study thirty years ago, California could have achieved a self-sustaining energy future by now. At the time, Californians were being told we needed a nuclear plant every five miles along our coast. Along came the No Nukes crusade and Jerry Brown, and in the end California created 1.5 million clean energy jobs and $50 billion in consumer savings, leaving only two nukes cooking on our coastline. In that moment, all things seemed possible. Then Brown was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” and was defeated on the national scene. His ideas were taken up a decade later by candidate Al Gore, and it took a stolen election to stop Gore. Then came the Bush-Cheney-Big Oil administration and the Iraq War. We’re still stuck in the tar sand, so to speak. But it’s important to remember how quickly progressive moments and progress coalitions can rise, fall and rise again.

      The time is at hand when many Americans will feel compelled to rebel against the threat to everyday life from these clueless powers that be, ranging from terrorism to radiation to the death of species. All the campaign contributions and media manipulation of the corporations – General Electric still owns 49 percent of NBC - cannot reverse the growing public perception that the world is out of control.

      The Long War must be ended. We cannot afford it, cannot win it. The president and congressional Democrats must wake up and follow the recent admonition of the Democratic National Committee to begin significant withdrawals this year, or face a serious erosion of voter support in 2012.

      At the same time the peace movement must join with environmentalists and domestic reformers to take the vital steps toward energy conservation, which can liberate us from the oil-coal-nuclear addiction.

      Since the Congress is hopeless in terms on conservation spending for now, activists can start in places like California with a campaign to bring back Jerry Brown the First, and shut down the pressurized water reactors at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. Many other regions like Vermont, Ohio and New York can join the fight against the nukes in their backyards. 

      It is estimated that 20 percent of electrical energy nationwide comes from 104 nukes, 31 of them having the same design as the Fukushima reactor. Instead, Congressmen like Ed Markey (D-MA) and Henry Waxman (D- CA) should hold hearings to draft and advocate a plan for achieving that 20 percent with conservation and renewables, region by region until the federal government is forced to follow.

      Our environmental leaders should learn from this disaster, abandon their expedient flirtation with nuclear power, and provide no further respectable cover for the nuclear industry’s attempted revival. Just this week, President Obama was poised to discuss joint nuclear development with the Latin American countries he is visiting. Those plans have been scrubbed. But the U.S. has lobbied successfully for nuclear plants with India, with little public opposition. If nuclear power in Iran makes some Americans nervous, wait until the public learns the nuclear ambitions of the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia. 

      The same goes for deepwater drilling and coal. From bay to bay and mine to mine, local efforts by groups like the Sierra Club can raise the cost of the reckless fossil fuel path, and pressure for tougher conservation standards for residential and commercial development. Organized labor should back the Steelworkers and the Apollo Alliance in framing the “green jobs” debate, arguing for a new generation of energy-efficient infrastructure as well.

      The movements will only come together – locally and in broader networking – if the need comes from below, from the rank and file activists already longing for greater unity.

      Without knowing or naming it, millions of Americans have been building a Long Movement for justice, peace and environmental sanity for a long time. Through ups and downs, victories and defeats and near misses, this vast movement can be a source of rich experience, creativity, accomplishments and memory. We must hope now for another Movement Time in response to the dangerous default of our institutions.

       If You Don’t Believe Them, Get Your Potassium Iodide

      In times of nuclear crisis, the public needs more than platitudes about minimal risk from industry and regulators with conflicts-of-interest.

      The alternative is not to freak out on worst-case scenarios, but to live by the precautionary principle.

      The public should be able to trust the government’s information and monitoring, without worries about official negligence. Funny thing though, yesterday the detectors at O’Hare International Airport were reporting radiation all over passengers on a flight from Tokyo.

      The prudent and skeptical might want to stock up on potassium iodide. Of course, the local supply of 135 milligram tablets, recommended in a radiation zone, are sold out. To have a healthier thyroid, and receive an unknown level of protection against the winds, you can buy a multi-vitamin containing 150 micrograms of potassium iodide. It’s not likely to do much good, but consumer demand needs to be heard.

      Air currents carrying radioactive iodine, cesium, and even plutonium will reach California this Friday, striking our frail elderly, infants, pregnant women and nursing mothers. When similar winds hit Ireland and Scotland after Chernobyl in 1986, cattle were poisoned and a brief ban on milk was imposed.

      One example of why real information is sketchy: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ranks nuclear disasters on a numerical chart, with Chernobyl a 7 and Three Mile Island a 5. The Japanese catastrophe is ranked only as a 4 because the ranking is based on how the Japanese government defines the evacuation zone. The smaller the zone, the lower the ranking. But the Japanese government has been minimizing the scale and risk of the disaster all week.

      Obama nuclear adviser Jason Grumet has been all over the mainstream media this week performing damage control. “The world is fundamentally a set of relative risks,” he told the New York Times (March 14). Grumet’s Bipartisan Policy Center, while including environmental voices, is vested in promoting what he calls “a growing impetus in the environmental community to support nuclear power as part of a broad bargain on energy and climate policy.” A leader of the Bipartisan Policy Center is John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, a huge Chicago-based utility holding company promoting nuclear power, and longtime player in Chicago politics. Another board member is retired General Charles Wald, who has argued that a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is “technically-feasible and credible,” and who authored a report on using renewable resources in the military, including portable nuclear power plants.

      No one really knows the short- or long-term effects of simultaneous reactor meltdowns, including one reactor where the fuel rods include plutonium, considered the world’s most dangerous element. The nuclear regulatory establishment has been compromised in its capacity for truth-telling. Thirty years ago, an Atomic Energy Commission official, Stephen Hanauer, proposed shutting down the so-called Mark 1 system, and nothing happened; in the 1980s, another NRC official claimed there was a 90 percent probability of a disaster, and nothing happened again. Now the threat is back, and the innocents are on their own.

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      Reader Comments (13)

      Tom is right on target as usual. After the 2nd World War, Max Nomad said, "Three dogs are fighting over a bone -- USSR, China, and USA -- and they ask me which side I am on. I am the bone."

      March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Mandell

      Great work! You are right on target. Add Wisconsin and the attack on fundamental rights of association of labor to your concept of a worst moment. Proud to know ya.

      March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob Ross

      Is it really wise to be counseling people to run out and buy potassium iodide pills? The Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response warned that the drug may have serious side effects for people with certain allergies and kidney and thyroid problems.

      Furthermore, the folks who are suggesting that the US is in no danger from the Japan disaster are not just people in the industry. Here's a quote from Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground: “Whether it will be even detectable” when it arrives in the U.S. “is a question in my mind because of the amount of dispersion that goes on over at least a 5,000-mile track that that stuff had to take,” said Masters.

      I've read similar cautions from other sources. Make no mistake, this is a serious environmental issue; but let's be clear on the scope so that we're not doing more harm than good with our warnings.

      March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDon Bisdorf

      Thanks for continuing to voice concerns of the vast majority of Americans and the planet. But it is time to take the analysis one step further. This is a class war, launched by a super rich elite with the intent of destroying organized labor, impoverishing workers on a planet wide scale and extending absolute control over government. This is about moving the planet towards economic feudalism, and our "smart young president" is just another pretty cog in their machine - no more and no less.

      March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter McNamee

      Tom, thanks for this very reasonable article. Hope many people read it and
      reconsider our national direction both in warmaking and in the need to save our
      environment (at the last moment before planetary destruction from either
      nuclear pollution or green house gases).

      I'm wondering if Jerry Brown should be encouraged to run against
      Obama??? It would be great if someone who has a history of leadership,
      and who can call Obama on his many many weaknesses, could
      represent all of us people in this country who are now pulling
      out our hair in despair with the misgoverning we are experiencing,
      from trashing our civil liberties, to bank giveaways, to advocating
      for nuclear power-- even in the face of the potentially Worst
      nuclear accident ever unfolding in front of us.

      Would Jerry Brown be at all viable as a candidate?

      Amy in Boston

      March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Hendrickson

      I wish we could all get the price right for these wars. Stigilitz, a nobel prize winner in economics put the true cost as of 2008 @ 3 trillion not 1. The 1 trillion figure reflects the amount of funds actually voted while it leaves out the 2nd trillion for Repair/replacement of equipment worn out by their use over the 9plus years and the 3rd trillion easily needed for Veterans costs. The 3 trillion figure was only that small IF the war ended within a few months. They have gone on now for well into the 4th trillion!!!

      March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Horn

      thanks, Tom, once again for your cogent, passionate analysis and call to action. i am heartened by your thought that a coalition of the environmental, labor and peace movements (i'd add human rights) can create a fundamental shift in the way we consume and generate our 21st century energy needs. But i remain disheartened by how much money has come to control our political process especially after the Supreme Court 5's assault on the very heart of our democracy in the Citizen's (Koch Bros.) United ruling. Take for instance the NRC and very sound studies presenting he potential disaster of spent fuel rods in this country and its inaction because of the influence of the nuke energy lobby (reducing risk would cost billions of dollars). Add in the 24-7-365 brainwashing, fear-mongering and divide and conquer tactics of the American people by fox unNews, the extreme right-wing media along with the abdication of the mainstream media, i find it hard not to despair of the revival of environmental-energy sanity in this country.

      I have been a grass-roots activist for forty years and will keep plugging along. But can you give me some realistic hope for environmental sanity taking hold under these dominant forces in the good 'ol America?

      Thanks and blessings,


      March 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

      great text, thanks mr.hayden!

      March 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpaula serra

      A great article here overall -- I wish it could be a speech by Tom Hayden that would be heard and seen by masses of people.

      Just a few comments: Wouldn't it make more sense to organize humanitarian shipments of potassium iodide to Japan?

      By the way, sheep in Scotland are still being monitored for radiation from Chernobyl.

      I've seen the infamous news channel referred to as Faux News --

      March 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterS. Quinn

      Vermont is already leading the fight against nuclear power in general and
      against the re-licensing of Entergy Nuclear's Vermont Yankee power plant in particular.
      Citizen efforts helped convince the state legislature to deny Entergy an extension to their operating license. We know that sovereignty is in our hands if only we take the responsibility to excercise it.

      March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan DeWalt
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