JAPAN’S CATASTROPHE PUT WASHINGTON SQUABBLES IN PERSPECTIVE@<
^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
^By BOB FRANKEN@=
^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@=
WASHINGTON _ When we look to Japan and the scope of the tragedy inflicted there on our fellow human beings who have been betrayed by the planet we all call home, it puts into perspective the petty budget bickering in Washington. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., accurately calls it ``absurd political theater’'.
The debacle at Japan’s nuclear plants forces us to realize how much time our policy makers have wasted for generations, leaving us so far behind when it comes to coping with progress and technology that we court disaster from unpredictable forces, like a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. No matter what assurances we get, these facilities are not only vulnerable, but when they do fail, it can be catastrophic.
So thanks to decisions or the lack of them over decades, we are stuck, forced to rely on them as part of what Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman calls ``... a very important component to the overall portfolio we're trying to build for a clean-energy future.’’ He was merely expressing the widely accepted view that we must accept the well-known downsides of what is sometimes called atomic electricity, even with its inherent dangers and questions about how to safely dispose of the growing piles of radioactive waste and store it for centuries in its acutely toxic and volatile afterlife.
The reason wind and solar and other relatively clean energy sources have gotten mere lip service is because the corporations that peddle the dirty sources like oil and coal have seen to it that our pliant politicians remain short sighted, never looking beyond the next campaign contribution.
How ludicrous it is that nuclear power is called a ``clean’’ alternative fuel when, as we're seeing, it can literally endanger the world. We still don't know what the scale of the health and ecological ravages from the collapsed plants in Japan will be.
We do know that widespread damage from the 1986 accident at Chernobyl still lingers, decades after it happened.
Meanwhile, the U.S. budget foolishness continues here at home in all its pettiness. A new Washington-ABC News poll finds only 26 per cent of respondents were optimistic about ``our system of government and how well it works,’’ 23 per cent are outright pessimistic, 49 uncertain. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But it's hardly surprising.
Our leaders fritter away one of government's real purposes. By transcending the profit interests of the private sector, they are supposed to set and enforce a useful agenda for society's vital functions, like energy. That's the theory anyway. Instead, it is stymied by vitriol, from those who have their own selfish agendas.
The latest squabble was over how long to keep squabbling before a shutdown of government. The different parties go back and forth over spending, dithering over who gets what and who gets cut.
What's really incongruous in Congress is that some of the programs on the chopping block are vital to whatever weak defenses we humans can put up against nature's upheavals.
The current Republican proposal would slash spending for the National Weather Service, responsible for the Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii as well as the US Agency for International Development, which provides disaster relief. When questioned about that, the GOP 's House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor retorted ""I mean, essentially what you're saying is go borrow from the Japanese so we can go and spend it to help the Japanese,"
Such unthinking rhetoric in Washington is beyond ``absurd.’’ It's a display of the worst instincts while fellow citizens of our world are reduced to a survival instinct. At the very same time the international community joins Japan in rescue and mourning, there is a feverish scramble to prevent this unimaginable disaster from spreading.
Maybe this will inspire forward-thinking approaches to solving fundamental problems. That would be nice but given the cynicism of our leaders that's probably unimaginable too.