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The Thing That Couldn’t Die: Yucca Battle Continues in Congress and in the Courts

7:15 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

(low resolution movie poster reproduction via wikipedia)

In the 1958 cult horror classic The Thing That Couldn’t Die, a young lass out water-witching (of all things) discovers a curious and ancient box–one that, whether you follow the conventions of the genre or the entreaties of the film’s internal expert, should obviously remain closed.

But, as these things are wont to go, greed and ambition get the better of a few mere mortals, and the box is breached, revealing the intact–and living!–head of a sorcerer executed hundreds of years earlier. The wayward wizard then uses his telepathic powers to manipulate some of the more foolish, godless humans to unearth the rest of his body so that it might be reunited with the head and realize the full force of its destructive powers.

It is hard not to think of this black and white bubbe meise while reviewing the most recent chapters in the battle over the future of the partially excavated, purportedly moribund Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in southwestern Nevada.

As noted here last month, the life and death of the Yucca project was at the center of a public face off between President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who just happens to hail from–and represent–the Silver State. Although the administration has sided with Reid on cancelling work on Yucca Mountain, Obama’s move to re-appoint Kristine Svinicki to another term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission–over the vocal objections of the Majority Leader–registered with Yucca watchers like stirrings from the grave. Svinicki, after all, has been a staunch proponent of the Yucca project since she worked at the Department of Energy. . . writing the support documents for the Yucca nuclear waste repository. This week’s official re-nomination of Svinicki by the White House seems to say that rumors of Yucca’s demise are somewhat exaggerated.

Or at least that is what the nuclear industry and its army of lobbyists, captured regulators, and purchased politicians would have you believe.

As Republican members of Congress try to exert pressure on Reid and Senator Barbara Boxer (whose committee has jurisdiction over the NRC) to quickly confirm Svinicki, two states with heaping helpings of nuclear waste have gone to court to make sure that the Yucca repository is kept, if not on track, at least on life support.

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Occupy Innovation

11:45 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Actress Anne Hathaway marches with demonstrators on the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. (Photo: Elana Levin)

Two days after thousands of police broke up the around-the-clock occupation of New York’s Zuccotti Park, tens of thousands of demonstrators converged downtown to celebrate the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and stress that with or without Zuccotti, the protest and its message remained strong and relevant.

One of those in the march, the actress Anne Hathaway, carried a sign that read “Blackboards not Bullets,” and though much attention was predictably paid to the 29-year-old star’s presence, the message she carried that day shouldn’t be ignored.

A month earlier, shortly after a company called Boston Dynamics unveiled a prototype of its “Legged Squad Support System” AlphaDog, a walking robot financed by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Rachel Maddow featured the technological marvel in a segment contrasting current advances in military hardware with what is currently on offer for consumers.

Her featured guest in that segment was US Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). Holt had, a month earlier still, gone on record in the midst of Washington’s deficit hysteria arguing that the government should actually spend more on scientific research, writing that the framing of the budget debate set up a false choice between basic science and elementary education.

Nothing demonstrates the effectiveness of the young Occupy movement more than the rapid shift in frames. The “cut, cut, cut” of the manufactured deficit crisis that Holt had to fight against has been largely drowned out by the chant of “banks got bailed out; we got sold out” and the reevaluation of spending priorities that came with nationwide demands for an accountable government acting in the service of the 99 percent.

But, to state the obvious, four months of Occupy has not been enough to really transform the way the federal government prioritizes spending, nor has the movement yet transformed the way the country evaluates real progress.

For instance, with December’s formal end of US military operations in Iraq, and a promised drawdown coming in Afghanistan, as well, has anyone in official Washington (or in the commentariat, for that matter) started talking about what America will do with its “peace dividend?” Read the rest of this entry →

The Party Line – July 29, 2011: Those Who Can’t Teach, “Compromise”

8:31 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

I seriously cannot believe I am again writing a post with one eye on the wire, still waiting for a conclusion to the debt-ceiling debacle, looking for real news to read, instead of just thrice re-boiled tea leaves. But here I am—here we are—sweating out a crisis that is as malicious as it is manufactured, knowing that when a “resolution” comes, no matter which version/option/compromise we get, it will be both terrible and impermanent.

That’s not easy to think about, but it is quite easy to say. There are no smart options on the table. There are not even smart planks left to use as bargaining chips. America, with its economy gasping for air, is left having to choose from a trio of plans that are all (as best as we are allowed to glimpse them) comprised of draconian cuts to so-called discretionary spending, no serious attempts at increases in revenue, and seismic blows to the bedrock programs of our social safety net—and none of which do a single, solitary thing to stimulate job creation. The only resemblance to a life preserver here is that all the plans look like a big, fat zero.

That the federal budget deficit is not even our real problem is a message completely absent from the national “debate.” That there is a difference between the debt ceiling and the deficit has been lazily obscured or purposefully ignored. And, again, the interests and desires of vast majorities of the American people—that jobs are more important than deficits, that a higher percentage of taxes should be paid by the very wealthy, and that the military should be cut before Social Security and Medicare—are marginalized as “extreme,” “not serious,” “unreasonable,” or (horror of horrors) “not adult.” Read the rest of this entry →

The Party Line – June 10, 2011
Hope Floats

8:19 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Watch this episode on YouTube

The Obama administration has a problem. As much Republican good will or corporate campaign cash as they expect to gain from their reinforcing of the deficit hysteria meme (which, let’s face it, will not be very much at all), even the most cynical of the president’s economic team realizes that all this budget cutting isn’t going to do squat for the current economy. Without something directly stimulative, the recovery likely stalls. Without some sort of jobs program, the unemployment picture continues to look grim. There is no “car” to worry about putting in reverse—it has been spinning its wheels for some time now, and, as most Americans see it, it never did drive out of that ditch.

Yes, with 2012 shaping up to be another “it’s the economy, stupid” election year, O & Co. has a problem—but with the same deficit hawks and scorched-earth partisans controlling Congress, what is a president obsessed with bipartisan-like process to do?

A natural place to look would be the deal the White House cut last December with House Republicans—and indeed, Obama went to that well earlier this week. During an appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president floated the idea of extending a central part of that deal, the two-percent payroll tax cut for employees, for another year. Then, never failing to miss an opportunity to negotiate with itself, the White House later posited an employer-side payroll tax break (instead of the employee-side cut? in addition to? hard to say, but it is fairly easy to guess which would be favored by the GOP) as an incentive to business for some sort of job creation.

Payroll taxes, however, are not some sort of rainy-day fund the government puts aside when it can, there to use if it needs a new washing machine. . . or the economy is in a ditch. These payroll taxes—the ones Obama is offering to cut—go to fund Social Security and disability. The 2010 deal cost roughly $112 billion, and it figures extending the cut another year will cost the same. If the employer-side cut is comparable, and it is paired with an extension of the employee-side holiday, Social Security could be out close to $400 billion by the end of next year.
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The Party Line – May 27, 2011
Gates of Wrath

8:26 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

So, Bob Gates, still the Secretary of Defense for about another month, has been talking a lot about fruit of late:

When it comes to our military modernization accounts, the proverbial ‘low-hanging fruit’ — those weapons and other programs considered most questionable — have not only been plucked, they have been stomped on and crushed.

Gates has been vocally working the fields, trampling out his vintage whine, to let it be known that he has cut and cut, and he is done cutting. . . well, at least when it comes to military hardware.

“Understanding” the need to further trim the Pentagon budget, however, Gates does say there is a field that is now quite ripe for harvest. . . and stomping. . . and this would be so-called personnel costs—military pay, pensions, and health care.

To reiterate: big, expensive, new weapons systems–forbidden fruit. The people that pilot those weapons and fight our wars—crush ‘em.

Because when the government bestows its largess on a defense contractor, it is so much easier to harvest the return, be it in the form of campaign contributions or future pay for revolving-door jobs. When federal dollars are spread out over hundreds of thousands of service members, it might help a greater number of people, but it doesn’t help the guys who run the orchard—at least not as obviously or nearly as much.

And Sec. Gates–who does have his future to think about, after all–wants to make sure his successors (or at least his future employers) understand. No more defense contractors need get tossed into the terrible winepress of budget austerity–there are plenty of fighting folks, ready for trampling.

. . . .

Oh, one more thing. . .

As noted last week, Firedoglake is in the middle of a membership drive. If you want to know more (in video form) about the whats and whys, take a look here and here. But all you really need to know is that if you want to see more of FDL’s independent journalism and kick-ass activism in the future, we need your support today.

Please join. (Or, if you prefer to speak directly with one of us about the membership program, call us anytime at 202-506-3907.)

The Party Line – April 15, 2011
Three Men in a Room

6:17 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Congratulations, America, your federal budget process is now as efficient as New York State’s!

Here is what your grand vision of liberal government looks like–at least for the rest of FY 2011 (PDF). For example, part of Title X aid to family planning was what became shorthanded as the debate to defund Planned Parenthood. (A rider with language that specifically targeted Planned Parenthood was given an up-or-down vote yesterday–part of the Boehner-Obama pact on the continuing resolution. It failed, but Republicans have another vote to use in campaigns against Dems in conservative states come 2012.) As you can see (you can click images to enlarge), Title X wasn’t eliminated, but it was cut by $27 million compared to the original budget request–taking it $10 million below its FY 2010 line.

Bet you won’t find mention of that in Wednesday’s totally awesome speech.

[To watch the video in a separate window, click here.]

The Party Line – April 8, 2011:
Are You Ready for Some Shutdown?

8:52 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Feeling poleaxed by the audacious hopes it raised during the ‘08 campaign, Team Obama will attempt to lower expectations going into 2012–and nothing lowers expectations like proving yourself irrelevant.

(By the way, for those with questions, we have a government fact sheet with basic information on what will or will not be affected by the shutdown.)

Government Shutdown 411

8:14 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

With less than half a day to cut a budget deal to delay or prevent a government shutdown, now would probably be a good time to familiarize ourselves with some of the facts about what a shutdown of the federal government would mean.

Neither the White House nor the leadership of either party has taken much time at all to inform Americans about what would happen if the government should have to shutter. Word is, the Obama administration has been afraid to provide authoritative information for fear they would be labeled by the GOP as wishing for a shutdown. By this logic, we shouldn’t fund hurricane prevention for fear of being seen as hoping for another Katrina, but, whatever, we are not afraid of information here at FDL.

Embedded here is about the most straightforward and complete take on who and what will and won’t be affected by a federal government shutdown. Please share it with anyone you think might need the info, and if you have any additional news about a government agency, service, or venue, please let us hear about it in comments.


The Party Line – February 18, 2011

8:59 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Hey liberals, hey progressives, when President Obama says, “Social Security is not the huge contributor to the deficit,” he’s not backing you, he’s frontin’ you.

(In case that’s not enough for you, here’s an archive of previous editions of The Party Line.)