The North Korean nuclear test explosion on Feb. 12 is a serious threat to international security and reemphasizes the need for the U.S. to lead in working with other nuclear-armed states to decrease the risk posed by the existence of nuclear weapons.
As long as the U.S. and other nuclear powers attempt to maintain their monopoly on these weapons, other countries will seek to build them too. We must work cooperatively with other nations to pursue meaningful reductions of nuclear arsenals, a ban on nuclear weapons testing, and other common-sense approaches to mitigating the risk posed by the existence of these deadly weapons.
National security and military leaders in both political parties support the case for the elimination of nuclear weapons. They know, as we all do, that one of the biggest risks to U.S. security is the continued proliferation of these weapons around the world. The humanitarian consequences of getting this issue wrong are daunting. We must act in our time to protect our common future.
We must also refrain from letting the actions of North Korea become a distraction from working toward a nuclear weapons free world.
Tuesday, the United States Senate failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in a 61-38 vote where two thirds majority was required. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa voted against ratification of the treaty, saying if the United States joined the treaty, it would infringe upon our sovereignty. Said Grassley,
“… becoming a party to the Convention would subject the United States to the eighteen-member Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This Committee is created to monitor the implementation of the Convention and provide conclusions and recommendations with regard to State Party’s treaty reports. I have serious concerns about the infringement upon U.S. sovereignty by a committee tasked with providing criticisms and recommendations for the United States on our disability laws.”
The treaty was first negotiated under President George W. Bush and the crux of it is the rest of the world would emulate the United States in its treatment of disabled persons. Senator John Kerry said, “(the treaty) just says that you can’t discriminate against the disabled. It says that other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Kerry said of the vote, “this is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate. It needs to be a wake up call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people. We need to fix this place.”
The senate Republicans were organized to block any treaties in the lame duck session, and like Horton the elephant, they indicated, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent.”
As someone who lives in rural Iowa, I’m not surprised to see the treaty fail to be ratified. During the 2012 political campaign I ran into a number of United Nations haters living in our district, and Iowa is not unique in that regard.
However, the idea of the United Nations infringing on American sovereignty is ridiculous when we have the military might to bomb any square inch of the globe into oblivion with conventional weapons. That’s not to mention our nuclear arsenal, something the country is expected to spend $600 billion on over the next ten years. Of course, nuclear weapons are part of the reason the United Nations was created, and maybe that goes to the real reason the Republican hawks voted against the U.N. treaty yesterday.
On Monday, President Obama spoke at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Symposium. He congratulated people associated with the 20 year old initiative, but he did more than that. President Obama said,
“Nunn-Lugar is the foundation for the vision that I laid out, once I was elected President, in travel to Prague— where nations come together to secure nuclear materials, as we’re doing with our Nuclear Security Summits, where we build on New START and continue to work to reduce our arsenals; where we strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and prevent the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons; where, over time, we come closer to our ultimate vision— a world without nuclear weapons.”
And maybe that is the reason 38 senators squashed a treaty that could do nothing but enhance the reputation of the United States in the world. They didn’t want to give one iota of credence to the United Nations, an institution that may have even the slightest control or input about U.S. nuclear weapons, something they cling to like Gollum clung to the One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the victim of equating American exceptionalism with military might.
Remember that when these same senators quote Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” These people are no disciples of a loving God, nor of John Winthrop, nor of Ronald Reagan and the light that is America was darkened by their votes.
Thank you for contacting me about U.S. relations with Iran. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and concerns on these important matters.
I am deeply concerned about the possibility that Iran may obtain nuclear weapons, which would pose a serious threat to the United States and to the peace and stability of the Middle East. In November 2011, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that Iran had not fully disclosed its nuclear activities and that while many of the identified capabilities developed by Iran “have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons.”
The point of the current U.S. policy towards Iran, which I support, is not to goad the Iranian regime into conflict, but to bring it back to the negotiating table. On December 1, 2011, I voted for an amendment to S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act, that imposed sanctions on the financial sector of Iran and gave the President waiver authority to decide not to deploy such sanctions in certain instances. This amendment was agreed to in a unanimous 100-0 vote. I ultimately voted against S. 1867 because of my concerns regarding the bill’s impact on civil liberties. However, this legislation still passed the Senate and similar legislation, including the sanctions against Iran, passed both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on December 31, 2011.
Let me be clear that I strongly feel that sanctions are the alternative to military action, not a prelude to it. Many American and international security experts believe that a military strike against Iran would be ill-advised. Such a strike would not likely disable Iran’s nuclear program, and it could also have other severe consequences, such as possibly igniting a broader regional war. Because of this, I still believe the ultimate resolution of these issues can and should come from diplomatic action. This is the course of action that has been pursued by the Obama Administration, which, with its partners in the United Nations, European Union, and Iran’s own neighbors in the Persian Gulf, has directly attempted to engage the Iranian regime since it took office in 2009.
It is my hope that effective, multi-lateral sanctions can tip the balance and that Iran will allow open access to the IAEA and honestly engage with the U.S. and international community over its efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities.
Again, thank you for reaching out to me on these important matters. I will be sure to keep your views in mind as developments in Iran and the Middle East continue. Please do not hesitate to keep in contact with me or my staff on this issue or any other that concerns you.
United States Senator
~ Tom Harkin is the junior Senator from Iowa. Check out his website here.
A Call to Action
by David Hart
“Mankind invented the atomic bomb, but no mouse would ever construct a mousetrap.” ~Albert Einstein
Many years from now when the history of our time is written, some may reflect that a small but meaningful step that preserved our world was taken this week. In the US, the event passed with little notice. There was Black Friday shopping to do. Meanwhile, a powerful and respected group acted to avert global disaster. The question for us now is whether we will heed their clarion call and act in unison to shape our policies so that a future – any future – can exist.
In a historic decision, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies adopted a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and urging all of their affiliates to conduct educational campaigns about the unique, catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.
This globally respected body’s action comes at a critical time in the history of our world. All over the earth, people are waking up to the sad reality that the path we are on is dangerously unsustainable. Activists, organizers, and everyday people are finding that by taking steps together we can, in fact, change the world.
During this moment of awakening, there is an opportunity to focus new and renewed energy on the enormous destructive potential of nuclear weapons. In recent years, many people have been lulled into a dangerous and false sense of security. Some have come to believe that after the end of the cold war, we need not be concerned about these horrific weapons. In reality, this technology is spreading and remains a grave threat to our health and to our very survival.
Today an organization that is among the most highly esteemed in the world is boldly speaking out on behalf of all who care about the future of our planet and our species. One delegate reminded the gathering of Albert Einstein’s quotation, “Mankind invented the atomic bomb, but no mouse would ever construct a mousetrap.”
We had the intellectual capacity to construct the tools of our own destruction. Will we now demonstrate the wisdom to step back from the brink and choose a different path?
This resolution provides a rare opportunity to do just that. They remind us that this issue should be beyond national borders and partisan politics and instead should be a rallying cry for all citizens of this planet to act together to ensure our very survival. These health care and relief workers, who do so much to help those most in need in times of crisis, realize that they will not be able to adequately respond in the aftermath of a nuclear detonation. No one can. In this case, the only treatment is prevention.
The enormity of this reality is hard to face. Understandably, even when we catch a glimpse of this truth, most of us turn away and try to get on with our lives. But, if we are to avert this looming disaster, we must face the painful reality and act together. And, we must do so now before it is too late.
Let us join together as one people and declare these weapons what they truly are – an affront to all we hold dear, to all the beauty of the past, and to all the potential of our future.
We cannot know, at this moment, what the future may hold, but we can come to understand that our very future is slipping away. Over our long history humans have created enormous beauty. Who knows what we might accomplish if we find a sustainable path and continue our journey for many years to come?
The preeminent international emergency response organization has sent us a clear wake up call. Will we hit the snooze button and go back to Holiday Shopping or will we realize the enormity of the danger we face and find a way to act together to preserve all that our future might hold?
To take action to prevent nuclear war visit 1 More 4 Zero.org . A brief video highlights the diverse and international movement building to eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide. You can learn more and sign up to join the campaign.
~ David Hart is Director of Security Programs for Physicians for Social Responsibility and lives in Washington, D.C.
My work on nuclear abolition took me to Bellevue, Nebraska and Offutt Air Force Base which is the home of the U. S. Strategic Command. It is known as STRATCOM, whose mission is to “detect, deter, and prevent attacks against the United States and our allies and join with the other combatant commands to defend the nation should deterrence fail.” Primary among its missions is to “deter nuclear attack with a safe, secure, effective nuclear deterrent force.” It is a command and control center where a nuclear war may be monitored and acted upon. It is often a target of demonstrations.
In its simplest terms, the Franciscan Order of Dubuque, Iowa organized a gathering of people in the Midwest to assemble at the entrance to Offutt in a “public prayer and peace action.” A member of the order, Sister Marian Klosterman OSF, was prepared to commit an act of civil disobedience by crossing the line into the base and getting arrested. Two others, Gil Landolt, President of Veterans for Peace Chapter 163 and Marilyn Ryan, a retired teacher, were prepared to do likewise. There was public prayer, speaking, singing and dancing. After a talk by Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day, and others, the three assembled, rehearsed their speeches and prepared to approach the entrance.
There was an aspect of theatrical performance to the events, and despite the large group of demonstrators and presence of civilian and military law enforcement officials, the events were preordained. The three approached the gate, Captain Williams warned them of the consequences for trespassing, Sister Klosterman left a statue of Saint Francis at the line and the three crossed and were arrested.
One of the priority missions of the United States Strategic Command is to “prepare for uncertainty.” There was no uncertainty that day among any of the participants, about what would happen, that the three would be arrested, or about the future of a nuclear deterrence in the United States.
Our demonstration did not bring the nuclear complex to its knees, but without a small group of people gathered to wage peace from time to time, we may forget places like STRATCOM and their mission. Places that in a post-Cold War era could be dedicated to purposes other than nuclear deterrence if society had the will.
~ Paul Deaton lives in rural Iowa.
My work has me seeking people with whom to network, constantly. Always looking for someone new to take up the cause of mitigating the existential threats to humanity in the form of nuclear weapons and climate change. By existential threats, I mean we could be wiped out by them, and yes, it’s too scary to think about. On Friday I went to the county seat and attended three events in pursuit of like minded people.
The first event was organized by the Alliance for Retired Americans at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center in Iowa City. An afternoon event, it was not well publicized with few people attending.Moderator Norm Sterzenbach promoted the organization as developing “the ultimate source for knowledge” about congressional voting records related to retirees. We had mostly come to hear our Congressman Dave Loebsack speak.
Loebsack delivered prepared remarks covering the deficit, Social Security, Medicare and education in a 14 minute speech. There were no surprises here and no real news.
To wrap up the speakers, Chris Schwartz of Working Families Win, Iowa spoke, with a list of grievances about the government. He touched on the South Korea, Columbia and Panama free trade agreements and on building an “infrastructure bank.” He opined that GMAC, a major employer in Waterloo, “is a corrupt company,” and that the electrical grid “can’t handle new technologies.” He asserted many opinions, the most evident of which was that “government should put people back to work.” Not once did he mention private companies in a favorable light. Some in the audience believe that government should not be the primary driver in putting people back to work. Schwartz had a different opinion.
The post-speeches networking was actually the best part of the event and I made some new contacts.Next, I walked over to the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa where I joined two others in the Friday vigil calling for an end to our wars. The half hour went quickly, and we had a chance to discuss nuclear disarmament… an audience of friends.
We also talked about AFL CIO President Richard Trumka’s formation of a super PAC and about Teamsters Union President James Hoffa’s statements earlier in the day about holding politicians accountable. We recalled the unsuccessful attempt of former SEIU President Andy Stern to do likewise in Iowa. While labor unions have funds and an organization, their numbers are diminished, as is their influence. Emblematic of this is the Employee Free Choice Act, or “Card Check” which would have made it easier for unions to organize new members. It was dead in the water in the 111th Congress, despite their great hope and the support of politicians like Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. It is easy to share the frustration of union big wigs about getting things done in Congress.
From the Pentacrest, it was to Morrison Park in Coralville where State Senator Bob Dvorsky’s birthday fundraiser was in progress when I arrived. There were some familiar faces from the Alliance for Retired Americans event, with spouse Terry Loebsack joining the Congressman. In attendance were people I have known since re-entering political life during the 2004 precinct caucus and some easy converts to the nuclear disarmament campaign.
Whether the Democrats can get beyond talking the talk about winning the 2012 election and walk the walk is uncertain. We understand what Republicans are trying to do in Iowa through Governor Branstad. It remains an open question whether the Republicans can be stopped, despite Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky’s report about the gatherings of Democrats ready to work on the election throughout the state.
Friday night was full of promise in Iowa City and Coralville. What I noticed is people are talking about big issues, issues that matter. This in a city better known for its dilettantes and its drinking. One has to love Friday nights in the county seat.
~ Paul Deaton is a native Iowan who lives in rural Johnson County, Iowa.
In Colorado last week, we bought a Sunday newspaper at a grocery store. The cashier commented, “I don’t read them anymore, they’re all politics.” Whether it is good for cashiers to comment on items patrons take through the checkout station is one thing, but the exchange we had points to a significant American attitude: almost anything said by anyone in any media is suspect for its “political” content. As we commemorate the 66th anniversary of the United States bombing of Hiroshima, Japan today, this American attitude is troubling.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a threat to the United States; it is hard to deny that. Prominent people, like former Secretary of State George Schultz, say it is the only existential threat to our country and a risk we can mitigate by leading in nuclear disarmament toward a goal of zero nuclear weapons.
The fact that North Korea and Israel have nuclear weapons and might use them is a constant source of media fodder. The worry of a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan is real and escalates as Pakistani society becomes increasingly unstable. The idea that Iran intends to use its centrifuges to produce weapons grade nuclear material is a constant talking point in the media punditocracy. The more states and groups that possess nuclear weapons, the more likely it becomes that one will be detonated and if that happened, it would have consequences for the United States.
A retired military officer writes regularly to our local paper and has suggested in a couple of letters that the United States use “tactical nuclear weapons” to quell countries, like Iran, that are out of compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I never met the man, but he seems a fool. When people like former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell have indicated the futility of using tactical nuclear weapons and how their use can lead to a broader escalation of nuclear warfare, the rants of a retired marine seem hollow and vapid. But there I go, into the morass of politics.
When we consider the consequences of a nuclear explosion, like the one that killed more than 90,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945, it should be reason enough to ban nuclear weapons. After the Hiroshima bombing, such an outcry arose from people in the world that there was consideration of a unified world government to prevent such devastation from happening again. Instead we got an ineffective United Nations and nuclear proliferation, with nine nations currently in the nuclear club and more wanting in.
The good news, if there is any, about dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 is it was the last time they were used in warfare. As we commemorate the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing today, it is hard to believe the devastation the United States caused 66 years ago. What is harder is the understanding that people without living memory of Hiroshima, or access to solid information about it, could risk repeating it.
~ Paul Deaton is a native Iowan and lives in rural Johnson County.
Nuclear Power Industry 0-6 in 2011
First Major State Legislative Defeat for “Small Modular Reactors” in Iowa;
Dismal Industry Showing in 2011 Follows Dismal 0-14 Combined Record for 2009 and 2010.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 6, 2011 – Deep-pocketed nuclear power lobbyists may pack a big punch in Washington, D.C., but they are getting knocked out altogether at the state legislative level. So far in 2011, the nuclear power industry has a record of zero wins and six losses in Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
The nuclear power industry’s dismal track record is in keeping with its history of state legislative failures in 2010 (when it went 0-8) and 2009 (0-6).
Sara Barczak, High Risk Energy Choices program director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said: “Though many utilities, lawmakers and regulatory commissioners in the Southeastern U.S. continue to blindly support building new nuclear reactors that put ratepayers at risk, the public is growing ever more skeptical of nuclear power. Given the victories to stop these anti-consumer agendas nationally, including the temporary pull back in North Carolina, the tide may be turning. The fallout from Fukushima is yet to be fully known and likely will further erode the public’s acceptance of this high cost, high risk energy option.”
Ed Smith, safe energy coordinator, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said: “Even before the ongoing Fukushima catastrophe, the nuclear power industry was failing in state legislatures across America. The reason is simple: Sensible people do not want to pay upfront for multi-billion dollar nuclear projects that will leave ratepayers and taxpayers as captive investors for an industry where construction delays and cost overruns are the norm.”
Christina Mills, staff scientist and policy analyst, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said: “By working with our coalition partners both in and out of the legislature, we again successfully defended Minnesota's 17 year old moratorium on new nuclear reactors. This law was originally enacted to protect Minnesotans from the high costs of building new reactors and the lack of a solution for radioactive waste – both issues which continue to persist today. We are also thankful to have a Governor who is standing firm with Minnesotans who want to preserve the nuclear moratorium and get on with building a renewable, efficient energy system in the state.”
The nuclear power industry’s many 2011 state legislative failures included:
• Minnesota – A heavily lobbied bill to overturn the state’s moratorium on additional reactors died in conference committee.
• Wisconsin – A push to reintroduce a bill to overturn the Badger State’s moratorium on new reactors failed.
• Kentucky – A bill to overturn the state’s moratorium on new reactors died in the House.
• Missouri – Despite a major industry push, a bill to charge utility customers in advance to pay for an “Early Site Permit” for the proposed new Callaway reactor died.
• North Carolina – A “Super Construction Work in Progress (CWIP)” bill to eliminate prudence review of CWIP expenses was proposed but never introduced due to strong on-the-ground opposition.
• Iowa – A bill pushed by MidAmerican to charge utility customers in advance for “small modular reactors” as well as potentially larger reactors stalled in the state Senate and cannot be taken up again until 2012.
In 2010, nuclear power lobbyists failed in legislative pushes in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia and Wisconsin. In 2009, the industry enjoyed no success whatsoever in its lobbying efforts in Kentucky, Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
~ Email Leslie Anderson for more information about this news release.
by Paul Deaton
While living in Germany in the late 1970s, we saw cars with a bumper sticker that said “Atomkraft? – Nein Danke” throughout the country. The phrase means “Nuclear Power? – No Thanks” and it was a tagline for Germany’s anti-nuclear movement.
More than 40 years later, in the wake of the ongoing catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan, Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Party has been losing political support over their pro-nuclear power stance. Christian Democrats lost some key elections to the Social Democrats and the Green Party over the issue, notably in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. A majority of the German people oppose nuclear power and Merkel bowed to the will of the people when she set, in early June, “the end of 2022 as an irreversible final date for the switch-off of the last nuclear power station” in Germany. The decision is subject to ratification by the German Bundestag (parliament).
In Iowa, there does not seem to be a “will of the people” regarding nuclear power. Earlier this year the commerce committees in both chambers of the Iowa legislature began to move bills (HF 561/SF 390) relating to the permitting, licensing, construction, and operation of nuclear generation facilities. Few people were aware that clearing the financial obstacles for companies to apply to the Iowa Utilities Board to construct a new nuclear power plant in Iowa was in the works.
What most Iowans care about is that there is adequate electricity to power cooking stoves, washers and dryers, air conditioners, communications equipment, lights and other modern conveniences. Iowans also care that businesses have enough electricity to stay in production, operating farms, processing agricultural products, lighting offices and so on. Nuclear power and electricity were off the radar screen as an issue for most of my Iowa friends and neighbors.
Now, flood waters from the Missouri River surround the Fort Calhoun, Nebraska nuclear power generating station. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a directive shutting down air space over the plant, the Omaha Public Power District has declared a Notification of Unusual Event and the national news media is beginning to cover the story. There is speculation that Fort Calhoun may become another Fukushima if the electrical power to the spent nuclear fuel cooling pools is lost. We are hopeful that a disaster will be averted as the flooding is bad enough.
Iowans are pragmatic when it comes to natural disasters. Maybe the practical nature of our collective agrarian background makes us this way. We understand that any man-made thing is built to specifications. Specifications consider and accommodate certain risks through engineering. If the specifications are exceeded in the actual conditions in which something exists or operates, there will be a failure. This is logical.
So Iowans are not in a panic over the Fort Calhoun flooding. We are trying to do something about it to minimize the impact of the natural disaster and avert catastrophe. It is often how we react to natural disaster and this behavior defines us as Iowans.
At the same time, how can Iowans continue to support nuclear power in the state when there are cost-effective alternatives to how we generate electricity? We could preserve our lifestyle and avoid the risk of a massive release of toxins associated with the failure of a nuclear power generating station.
Iowans should join Germany in saying, “Nuclear Power? – No Thanks.”
~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa.