Another "Incident" at French Nuclear Plant

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 9:38 PM EDT

Eurodif.JPG A security incident has occurred at a French nuclear site already under scrutiny due to other scares this summer. Reuters reports that two fuel units became snagged in a reactor at Tricastin in southern France on Monday morning when site workers were removing them for maintenance. The reactor building was evacuated. The incident was still being dealt with on Monday evening.

The incident is the latest of several that have highlighted safety concerns in France's nuclear industry, the biggest in Europe, accounting for 80 percent of French power generation. In July, 8,000 gallons of liquid containing nonenriched uranium was accidentally poured onto the ground and into a river at Tricastin, prompting safety checks at all of France's 19 nuclear sites. Weeks later, around 100 staff at the site were contaminated with a low dose of radiation.

An apt reminder that nukes are one of the deadlier solutions to our energy troubles.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Pedestrian Friendly

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 8:45 PM EDT

PEDESTRIAN FRIENDLY....Atrios has a couple of links today to (a) a new suburban development somewhere in Indiana and (b) his own Philadelphia neighborhood. The Indiana burb was chosen specifically because it was fairly extreme in the sense of being completely isolated and therefore 100% car-centric, about which he says:

Suburban development is inevitably going to be automobile-centric....However, being automobile-centric and being designed in a way which almost entirely excludes the potential for other modes transportation are very different things. The car and the light rail can coexist. Sidewalks can run to areas with retail. One could even allow a corner store and a pub within a residential neighborhood! Maybe, just maybe, there can be small corridors of street level retail without giant parking lots, small town style. Places like this do exist, mostly but not just in older suburbs.

Developo-blogging is pretty far outside my wheelhouse, but I want to wade into this momentarily. Not because I have any huge point to make, but just to provide an illustration of how hard it can be to create genuinely non-car-centric spaces outside of small towns and urban cores.

I live in a subdivision of Irvine, California, called Woodbridge. It's actually fairly famous as one of the original master planned communities of the 60s, and believe you me, it's master planned to within an inch of its life. This has its drawbacks (lots and lots of beige houses), but there are also benefits. The main one is that it really was planned as an integrated community of sorts.

To get an idea of what I mean, here's a Google Earth picture of Woodbridge. It's the piece inside the yellow oval loop plus the strip just outside it, and the total population is about 30,000. There are houses and apartments on the north and south, with the central section reserved mostly for shopping, churches, schools, medical offices, parks, and so forth. There are sidewalks everywhere, of course, and also bike lanes.

The central section is actually pretty handy. There are six separate areas designed for shopping (outlined in red), and those areas include four supermarkets, a couple dozen restaurants, three department stores (though one is shutting down), a bookstore, two movie theaters, two drugstores (with one more about to open), several banks, a hardware store, two Blockbusters, and lots of other miscellaneous shops. Every single one of these places is safe, easily accessible, brightly lit, and a maximum of 1.5 miles from every single point within Woodbridge. Short of being downtown, this is about as walkable as it gets.

And walk it I do. All the time. (This isn't out of environmental altruism, it's because I shop for food daily as a way of forcing myself to get out of the house and get some minimal exercise.) And here's the thing: aside from occasional dog walkers, I have the place to myself. Despite the fact that it's about as pedestrian friendly as a suburb can be, nobody walks anywhere. They don't bike either — the only cyclists I see are biking for exercise. Woodbridge is, as near as I can tell, about 99.9% car-centric despite having a design that's about as pedestrian friendly as you'll find in a suburb.

Like I said, I don't have any big axe to grind here — except to say that as important as pedestrian-friendly design is, it's also possible to overstate that importance. Something more has to happen to reduce our dependence on cars. Maybe the price of gas just needs to double a couple more times. Maybe better mass transit is the key. Maybe something else. But here in Woodbridge, anyway, we built it and they did not come. Not on foot, anyway.

Mercury Music Prize won by... Elbow?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 6:30 PM EDT

Well, yes. mojo-photo-elbow.jpgUK rockers Elbow have won the Mercury Music Prize for their album The Seldom Seen Kid at a ceremony concluding just minutes ago in London. The annual award, judged by a committee of critics and industry types, is given to the best album by a UK artist that year. As I covered earlier, Radiohead's In Rainbows was the odds-on favorite to win, and by "odds-on" I mean actual odds, since this is England, after all. Elbow were tied for third-most-likely-to-win with dubstep mystery man Burial, whose Untrue brought that underground movement to the masses in a way similar to what Roni Size Reprazent did for drum 'n' bass with New Forms, which won the prize back in 1997. In any event, Elbow were apparently quite surprised, with lead singer Guy Garvey calling the award "the best thing that's ever happened to us." Better than, like, being born? Wow. The band have a middling level of fame in the UK but are barely known over here. So, what's the deal?

"Flat Out Lies, Alex?": Here We Go Again

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 6:25 PM EDT

A friend in the publishing world sent me this CNN excerpt today, subject line: "It's like beating your own head with a rock." The conversation, between Democratic CNN consultant Paul Begala, GOP strategist Alex Castellanos and CNN host John Roberts, concerns what it means that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin continues to cheerfully repeat in speeches around the country the lie that she told Congress "thanks but no thanks" to the "Bridge to Nowhere" when in fact she originally campaigned for it, and then kept the money after Congress canceled the project.

[CNN HOST JOHN] ROBERTS: That would appear, Paul, to end any argument over whether or not she supported the bridge initially. But why can't Barack Obama make that point stick?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Because the press won't do its job, John. I criticized Barack Obama when he hasn't been tough enough. Barack's job is to run against John McCain, right. Don't shoot the monkey when you can shoot for the organ grinder. His job is not to focus on number two but number one. But it is the media's job when a politician flat out lies like she's doing on this bridge to nowhere so call her on it. Or this matter of earmarks where she's attacking Barack Obama for having earmarks, when she was the mayor of little Wasilla, Alaska, 6,000 people, she hired a lobbyist who was connected to Jack Abramoff, who is a criminal and they brought home $27 million in earmarks. She carried so much pork home she got trichinosis. But we in the media are letting her tell lies about her record.
ROBERTS: Hey, OK. We got to let Alex respond to that. Flat out lies, Alex?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Let's be a little gentle. Look, every elected official in this country works under the system we have, which is you try to get a little bit of your tax money back. You just don't want to leave it all in Washington. The amazing thing about Sarah Palin is when she became governor she actually stood up and said no. And she made it -


| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 3:36 PM EDT

INTELLIGENCE....Juan Cole on the latest reports from Iraq:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Ali al-Lami, an Iraqi politician, protege of Ahmad Chalabi, and member of the Debaathification Committee, is being charged by a high unnamed American official with providing information on Iraqis to the "special groups" (Iranian-run cells within Iraqi Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army), which was useful to them in assassinating these individuals.

....So what is being alleged is essentially that the United States (Rumsfeld & Paul Bremer) installed on the Debaathification Commission a secret agent of Iran who was running Iran-backed death squads based on the information to which he became privy by virtue of being on the commission!

Well, points for efficiency, I guess. Of course, I imagine the odds are pretty good that Rumsfeld and Bremer had no idea this was going on, something that's always been our biggest problem in Iraq: we don't know what's going on nearly as well as all the various local actors. How could we, after all? And I'll bet we still don't.

How Disingenuous Can You Be Before You're Actually Lying?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 3:35 PM EDT

John McCain criticized Barack Obama for being soft on military matters on Monday, telling an audience in Lee's Summit, Missouri:

"Of course, now [Obama] wants to increase [the size of the military]. But during the primary he told a liberal advocacy group that he'd cut defense spending by tens of billions of dollars. He promised them he would, quote, 'slow our development of future combat systems.'"

Before I explain why that's stunningly disingenuous, let me point you to the Obama statement that gives rise to John McCain's opprobrium.

"I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of Future Combat Systems."

Here's the deal. The "future combat systems" that McCain says Obama will jeopardize is actually Future Combat Systems, a specific, controversial program within the DOD that John McCain himself has suggested eliminating. Here's McCain's top policy man explaining to the Washington Post what spending cuts McCain will use to balance the budget:

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Palin's Comments on Mining Measure Pushed the Limits of Executive Power

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 2:55 PM EDT


In Alaska, it's against the law for a governor to advocate for or against a ballot measure. But that didn't matter much to Sarah Palin. At an August 20th press conference a reporter asked Palin her opinion of Measure 4, known as the Clean Water Initiative, which would have imposed new restrictions on mining companies. Fishermen worried that a proposal to build one of the world's largest open-pit gold mines at the headwaters of one of the Alaska's most productive salmon streams could wreck the famed Bristol Bay (which is also the namesake of Palin's pregnant daughter). With the measure to restrict the mine coming down to a squeaker at the polls, this is what Palin said: "Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4 -- I vote no on that."

Her nod-and-wink endorsement was immediately seized by mining companies to create this ad, which ran in papers around the state as part of an $8 million media campaign--one of the most expensive ballot measure ad blitzes in Alaska history. Six days later, the Clean Water Initiative was voted down.

Clearly, Palin's comments violated the spirit of Alaska's law. And this wasn't the only way she pushed legal boundaries to support her friends in the mining industry. Palin's Department of Natural Resources had published a primer on Measure 4 on its website that environmentalists complained was entirely negative and improperly echoed the mining industry's concerns. On August 24th, just three days before voters weighed in on the initiative, the state's Public Offices Commission finally ruled that the enviros were right and ordered the website to undergo changes.

There are weird echoes of the Bush/Cheney war over executive power here.

Arnie and the Guards

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 2:09 PM EDT

ARNIE AND THE GUARDS....You may be wondering what I think of yesterday's announcement by the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. (i.e., the prison guards union) that it plans to launch a recall effort against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Answer: I laughed. Yes, Arnold's approval rating has been steadily shrinking because of our ongoing budget crisis, but there's still one group in California that has him beat on every possible metric of unpopularity: the prison guards union. They may have a lot of money, but the idea that the public will follow their lead on much of anything is risible.

Or so it seems to me, anyway — but I've been wrong before. And maybe I am again. Still, this seems more like a negotiating stunt than a serious recall effort. Schwarzenegger deserves eternal opprobrium for his cynical (and vastly underappreciated) role in causing the exact budget crisis he's now trying to dig himself out of, but I still won't take the guards seriously on this until I see platoons of signature gatherers deployed to every supermarket within a ten mile radius. I'll let you know when that happens.

Can Palin Comment on Abstinence-Only Education?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

I won't wade into the debate we're having about whether or not it's sexist to discuss Sarah Palin's family (It's not! It kinda is.), but I will say that her daughter's pregnancy does raise an interesting public policy question. Palin is a hardcore advocate of one of the religious right's favorite hobbyhorses: abstinence-only education. Can she legitimately travel the country touting the idea of starving America's teens of information about safe sex when she has an example of abstinence-only education's failure living under her roof?

In this Newsweek video, McCain campaign chief Steve Schmidt struggles to answer that very question, thus giving us some sense of the correct answer.

Reporter: Will she be able to make speeches on abstinence? And will she be able to make speeches on premarital sex? I mean, this is an issue that comes up continually in the Republican Party. Will she be able to do that with her daughter pregnant and having had this situation?
Schmidt: I think that, um, she's going to be a very compelling figure out on the campaign trail. She's going to do a great job. She's going to deliver a great message and, um, the reality is that, um, she's gonna, you know, talk about her life and her experiences, and she's proud of her family and she loves her daughter.

Isn't spin grand?

Troop Shift From Iraq to Afghanistan: Just Window Dressing?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:41 PM EDT


We've known for a while now that President Bush has every intention of leaving the Iraq mess for his successor to clean up, but today he made it official. At a speech this morning at the National Defense University in Washington, Bush announced the withdrawal of 8,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by January 2009, leaving 138,000 troops still in-country. Specifically, 3,400 combat support personnel will leave Iraq after their tours conclude over the next couple months; a Marine battalion will return to the States in November; and an Army brigade will come home in January. The reductions, says Bush, have been made possible by the success of the "surge."

The troop reduction in Iraq will occur amidst a build-up of forces in Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban has gained continued strength in recent years. According to Bush's plan, an additional 4,500 troops will head for Afghanistan in the next few months, including some units that had been scheduled for Iraq deployments. The war in Afghanistan is more popular among Americans than the Iraq conflict, and Bush stands to gain from focusing more of his efforts there in the twilight of his presidency. But since U.S. commanders have said that a "surge" in Afghanistan would likely require at least 12,000 more boots on the ground, Bush's offering seems as slim as it does late.

So agrees the National Security Network, which observed today in a press release that "the redeployment is so modest and will take so long to arrive that, effectively, the President remains fixated on Iraq—regardless of the larger implications for U.S. national security." Military expert Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress called Bush's announcement "much ado about nothing," adding that the Iraq surge that Bush hailed this morning "has produced an oil revenue-fueled, Shia-dominated central government with close ties to Iran, and these ruling parties in Iraq have shown few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other Iraqis."