dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson

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Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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Scientists in Charge of US Nuclear Weapons Are Sad

| Fri Oct. 25, 2013 8:01 AM PDT
Nuclear workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

There's been no shortage of scandals at US nuclear sites recently—two top nuclear military commanders were fired this month and a nuclear security chief was let go over the summer after his Montana base flunked a safety test—but now, there's evidence of another management problem. According to an internal government report obtained by Secrecy News last week, nuclear workers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California are depressed about their jobs. 

"There is a sense of increased stress and reduced morale among LLNL technical employees in the weapons program, stemming from a (perceived, at least) combination of reduced resources and increased work requirements," notes the August 2013 assessment of the lab. "We recommend attention to the potential danger that activities that are important for long-term stockpile stewardship may be dropped in favor of seemingly urgent near-term requirements."

There's always the chance that nuclear scientists might be sitting on warheads reading "The Hollow Men" and listening to Josh Ritter (below), depressed that they're babysitting aging weapons that could destroy humankind. But it's more likely that America's "great speedup" has managed to make its way to US nuclear labs. As Mother Jones reported back in 2011, while overall American productivity has skyrocketed since the 1970s, only the top one percent of earners are seeing the gains. For everyone else, wages have remained frustratingly stagnant. Naturally, the potential consequences of an administrative assistant at McDonalds feeling overworked are not quite the same as a guy in charge of the US nuclear stockpile.

"This reminded me of the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when there was some danger that engineers might be tempted to shop their expertise around and take it to other governments, which posed a proliferation hazard," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. He adds that "I wouldn't overstate its significance, but it's out of the ordinary and I don't recall seeing these concerns about morale before."

While this is only a brief evaluation of one nuclear site, it's hard to imagine that things have gotten much better since August. During the government shutdown, 6,000 employees at LLNL were forced to suspend their research and several other nuclear labs shut down. There has also been a series of cost overruns and a high-profile, embarrassing security breach at a different nuclear site last year, which involved an 82-year-old nun. LLNL did not respond to a request for comment.

"All the sites are having trouble," Aftergood adds. "This is a small window into a world that we don't normally see."

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It's Over: Congress Passes a Bill Ending the Shutdown and Giving Tea Partiers Almost Nothing

| Wed Oct. 16, 2013 9:20 AM PDT

Update: TPM reports that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has "no objections" to the Senate voting on the bill today, and will not attempt to block or delay it. He added, "There's nothing to be gained from delaying this vote one day or two days."

Update 2: Politico reports that the Senate will be voting first on the bill, sometime Wednesday afternoon or early evening.

Update 3: House Speaker John Boehner has released a statement about the agreement, promising to support the Senate's bill: "Blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the…Senate will not be a tactic for us."  Read the full text of the bill below

Update 4: The Senate passed the billed, 81-18. On to the House...

Update 5: The House of Representatives passed the bill late Wednesday night, 285-144. The bill now goes to President Obama who has promised to sign it immediately.

Update 6: President Obama signed the bill, officially making it into law. The government will open Thursday.

Senate leaders have forged an 11th-hour deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, and House Speaker John Boehner is expected to bring the bill up for a vote, Politico and other media outlets reported Wednesday morning. If the bill passes and arrives on President Obama's desk by the October 17 deadline, the US government will reopen until January 15, and the debt ceiling will be raised until February 7, delaying the budgetary and debt ceiling crises and leaving President Obama's signature health care bill largely intact.

Many concessions that tea partiers attempted to extract from the Obama administration in exchange for reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling are not expected to be included in the bill. Conservative Republicans had, over the course of the budget fight, demanded a one-year delay to Obamacare, a delay or repeal of the act's tax on medical-device manufacturers, and a "conscience clause," which would have allowed employers to block their employees from buying health insurance that covers birth control. None of those measures are expected to appear in the Senate's bill. The only concession Republicans seem to have won is a slightly stricter set of rules for verifying the incomes of Americans who are receiving subsidized health insurance under Obamacare.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the final bill won't include a GOP proposal that would stop the Treasury Department from using extraordinary measures to raise the debt ceiling. But it will include back pay for federal employees who missed paychecks during the shutdown and establish a committee tasked with working out a longer deal ahead of the new January 15 and February 7 deadlines. The bill also reportedly includes a provision that could make it harder to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip: At the next deadline, Congress would be required to pass a bill if it wants to block the ceiling from increasing. Otherwise, the ceiling would go up automatically.

The House is expected to vote on the proposed bill first, which would allow the Senate to skip some of its cumbersome procedures and quickly move to a final vote. Politico calls this "an extraordinarily risky play" because the majority of House Republicans are expected to oppose the bill. However, Robert Costa of the National Review reported that Boehner has agreed to pass the bill with mainly Democratic votes. There's still a chance that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) could go rogue and filibuster the bill in the Senate, dragging out the debate past the October 17 deadline, but his office has not said whether or not he will do so, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Here is the full text of the bill.

 
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