Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Nuclear Watchdog Report Highlights US "Near-Misses"

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

My colleague Kate Sheppard has a piece up today on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency tasked with overseeing America's nuclear power plants and processing facilities. Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a new report analyzing the NRC's response to 14 "near-misses" over the last year. Conclusion: We're not doing so well. Among the "near-misses":

Peach Bottom. Workers slowed down control rod testing to evade regulations that would have required a plant shutdown; NRC inspectors were aware of the problem but failed to address it adequately.

Indian Point. Inspectors documented that the liner of the refueling cavity had been leaking since 1993; NRC management chose to ignore the problem.

Vermont Yankee. The NRC ignored regulations requiring that all releases of radioactively contaminated air be via controlled and monitored pathways—regulations that had been grounds for shutting down a Baton Rouge plant two years previously.

There's more: At Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, "A roof known for years to leak when it rained allowed rainwater to short out electrical equipment." At Diablo Canyon in California, "The reactor operated for nearly 18 months with vital emergency systems disabled." At Braidwood, in Illinois, "the problems included a poor design that led to repeated floods in buildings with safety equipment, a poor design that allowed vented steam to rip metal siding off containment walls, and undersized electrical fuses for vital safety equipment."

It's not all bad news—the report (which was scheduled for release even before last week's earthquake in Japan) highlights a few "outstanding" cases in which NRC regulators discovered problems and followed up to ensure they were resolved effectively. And because the most serious threats were fairly basic in nature, it suggests that safety can be significantly improved without dramatically overhauling the system.

But more generally, the authors argue that the NRC currently focuses on the immediate problem (a busted valve, for instance, or a leaking roof) without following up on the larger question of how those problems came to be, and why they weren't addressed sooner. The report also raises concerns about a specific company, Progress Energy, which was involved in 5 of the 14 "near miss" incidents; UCS suggests investigating the corporate policies of any company that racks up more than one "near miss," to clarify whether the demand for profits are interfering with public safety.

The big takeaway: "The more owners sweep safety problems under the rug and the longer safety problems remain uncorrected, the higher the risk climbs."

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Donald Trump: Birther?

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 10:00 AM EDT

Here's Politico:

Trump seemed to throw his lot in with the discredited rumors that President Obama wasn't born in America, saying he's a "little" skeptical of Obama's citizenship and that every so-called birther who shares the view shouldn't be so quickly dismissed as an "idiot."

"Growing up no one knew him," Trump told ABC's "Good Morning America" during an interview aboard his private plane, Trump Force One. "The whole thing is very strange."

Very strange, indeed. He also explained that "Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich." So there you go.

The Return of the Terror Babies

| Wed Mar. 16, 2011 10:49 AM EDT
Flickr: bagaball

Last summer, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) introduced America to the idea of "terror babies," the chilling process in which pregnant terrorists come to the United States to have children, which then become American citizens, and, presumably, little terrorists themselves. Think of them as the reverse Brangelinas. It's a really convoluted and time-consuming way to wage jihad, to be sure, but when your goal is to destroy Western Civilization, you'll stop at nothing.

The whole terror baby scare has fizzled a bit in months since Gohmert made his announcement on the House floor, but as Adam Serwer notes, it's returned with a vengeance—and footnotes. The Center for Immigration Studies, a legit-sounding organization aimed at restricting both legal and illegal immigration, is out with a new report targeting the 14th Ammendment—and more specifically, the possibility babies that have been granted birthright citizenship could one day grow up to become terrorists:

Imagine a young man born in the United States of non-immigrant parents and taken away at a very early age, reared in Waziristan, educated in Islamist madrassas and trained in the fundamentals of terror at one of the many camps in Southwestern Asia; someone who has flown under the radar of U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies and is therefore unknown to them. He would be entitled to walk into any American embassy or consulate worldwide, bearing a certified copy of his birth certificate and apply for — indeed, demand — a U.S. passport. That passport would entitle him to enter and reside in the United States whenever and wherever he chose, secretly harboring his hatred, an unknown sleeper agent of al Qaeda or any of the other multitude of terrorist organizations with an anti-Western bias and a violent anti-American agenda, waiting for the call to arms.

Waiting. Watching. Stewing. Plotting. Action verb.

The full report is here. The author, "a retired government employee," writes under a pseudonym, which is also something of a trend. When Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper about the "critical issue" last summer, she cited information from former FBI agents, whom she also refused to name. "At this point, I'm not going to reveal that," Riddle explained. Gohmert, likewise, refused to give up his sources, choosing instead to compare Cooper to Neville Chamberlain.

So, is there anything to it? Well, no. In the spirit of bi-partisanship, I'll just direct you to this epic takedown of the anti-Birthright Citizenship crusade, from the folks at Reason.

Survivalist GOP Rep.: You Should Probably Avoid Cities

| Tue Mar. 15, 2011 3:35 PM EDT

Maryland GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is a child of the Great Depression, Nancy Pelosi's date to this year's State of the Union, and a member of the House Tea Party Caucus. As Alexander Carpenter points out, he's also something of a survivalist:

In a series of clips from a documentary called Urban Danger available on YouTube and 3AngelsTUBE, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)...shares his fear of impending threats to America and advocates that people move out of urban areas...

In the context of his surmising about the threat of living in urban areas, Bartlett states in the video that there are two strains of smallpox, one is the U.S. and one in the "Soviet Union".

You can watch the documentary online here. Urban Danger's official site takes pains to note that the film is not "survivalist," but rather a guide to "finding practical solutions to problems we face today."

Those problems, however, are dire: One speaker warns that American cities are about to experience something "a lot worse than what happened in New Orleans," suggesting that the situation could be Biblical in nature; the congressman, for his part, floats the possibility of of biological warfare, alleging that terrorists may have already obtained the aforementioned Soviet smallpox. "A storm is coming, relentless in its fury," the narrator explains. "Are we prepared to fight it?"

Bachmann: "This is Our Mice and Men Moment"

| Tue Mar. 15, 2011 10:51 AM EDT
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Update: The three-week CR passed, with Obamacare intact. Apparently we're mice.

Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann implored House GOPers to defund the Affordable Care Act at a forum at the Capitol on Wednesday evening, calling the upcoming vote on a three-week continuing resolution "our mice and men moment." Speaking to a small audience of about two dozen mostly junior staffers, interns, and reporters, Bachmann warned that the continuing resolution, along with an upcoming vote to raise the debt ceiling, represent House GOPers' last best chance to defund the law, nearly one year after it was signed into law.

"This is our mice or men moment. We need to show whether we are mice or men," Bachmann said. "It is not for us to wait for us to fight when it's easy... Now is our moment. What are we made of: Are we mice, or are we men?"

Well?

Bachmann wants her colleagues to vote against any continuing resolution that doesn't explicitly strip funding from health care reform—although as Alex Altman notes, a continuing resolution can't defund Obamacare.

"They wanted what they wanted, the people of the United States be damned," Bachmann said. "This was a fraud that was perpetrated on the people and on the Congress. We should be shouting from the rooftops, 'Give the money back!'"

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