City LightsCity Lights's Journal
Big rigs with bombs are secretly cruising the interstate near you. But how safe are they from terrorists or accidents?
By Adam Weinstein
Wed Feb. 15, 2012 3:00 AM PST
Nuclear trucking routes in the US Jeff Berlin
"Is that it?" My wife leans forward in the passenger seat of our sensible hatchback and points ahead to an 18-wheeler that's hauling ass toward us on a low-country stretch of South Carolina's Highway 125. We've been heading west from I-95 toward the Savannah River Site nuclear facility on the Georgia-South Carolina border, in search of nuke truckers. At first the mysterious big rig resembles a commercial gas tanker, but the cab is pristine-looking and there's a simple blue-on-white license plate: US GOVERNMENT. It blows by too quickly to determine whether it's part of the little-known US fleet tasked with transporting some of the most sensitive cargo in existence.
As you weave through interstate traffic, you're unlikely to notice another plain-looking Peterbilt tractor-trailer rolling along in the right-hand lane. The government plates and array of antennas jutting from the cab's roof would hardly register. You'd have no idea that inside the cab an armed federal agent operates a host of electronic countermeasures to keep outsiders from accessing his heavily armored cargo: a nuclear warhead with enough destructive power to level downtown San Francisco.
That's the way the Office of Secure Transportation wants it. At a cost of $250 million a year, nearly 600 couriers employed by this secretive agency within the US Department of Energy use some of the nation's busiest roads to move America's radioactive material wherever it needs to gofrom a variety of labs, reactors and military bases, to the nation's Pantex bomb-assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas, to the Savannah River facility. Most of the shipments are bombs or weapon components; some are radioactive metals for research or fuel for Navy ships and submarines. The shipments are on the move about once a week.
The OST's operations are an open secret, and much about them can be gleaned from unclassified sources in the public domain. Yet hiding nukes in plain sight, and rolling them through major metropolises like Atlanta, Denver, and L.A., raises a slew of security and environmental concerns, from theft to terrorist attack to radioactive spills. "Any time you put nuclear weapons and materials on the highway, you create security risks," says Tom Clements, a nuclear security watchdog for the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Earth. "The shipments are part of the threat to all of us by the nuclear complex." To highlight those risks, his and another group, the Georgia-based Nuclear Watch South, have made a pastime of pursuing and photographing OST convoys.
Read the entire piece at MotherJones.com
By Reid Cramer
Mon Feb. 13, 2012 3:00 AM PST
When Mitt Romney bowed to political pressure and released his 2010 tax return, it showed, to no one's great surprise, that the Romneys are rich. Really, really rich. They reported income of more than $21 million, itemized deductions of over $4.5 million, and a total tax bill of just over $3 million. They made charitable contributions of almost $3 million, although more than half of that went to their church.
But what really stood out in the tax returnbeyond the presidential candidate's 13.9 percent tax rateis not that Mitt makes a lot of money, it's that he has a lot of money. Romney's finances are illustrative of the growing gulf between haves and have-nots. It's not about income equality; it's about the widening wealth gap.
In recent years, the fortunes of the Romneys and others in their cohort have continued to grow, notably diverging from the majority of Americans still struggling to deal with a slow economic recovery. The Occupy Wall Street protestors stole the media spotlight this past fall by creatively highlighting these discrepancies. President Obama has taken notice and, as reflected in his State of the Union address, is teeing up inequality as a major a campaign theme for the fall. But it is not enough to highlight the gap between incomes of the top 1 percent and the bottom 99. Whats more alarmingand consequential over the long haulis the growing concentration of wealth.
Recent estimates indicate that the while the top 1 percent earn 21 percent of the nation's income, they possess 36 percent of total wealth. This is especially troubling because while income dictates how well youre doing today, it is access to wealth (the stock of resources) that creates opportunities down the line. Wealth is the bundle of assets, investments, and savings that can be tapped at will and strategically deployed. Or it can be used to generate passive income, as it does for the likes of Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney. There certainly is an issue of fairness to consider. As long as we tax capital gains and dividends well below the tax rate on earnings gained through work, the rich will have much lower marginal tax rates than the rest of us.
Read the entire piece at MotherJones.com
February 7, 2012, 5:40 AM
Its shaping up to be spring 2011 redux. Just under a year ago, Republicans euphoric after a midterm election landslide, and overzealous in their interpretation of their mandate passed a budget that called for phasing out Medicare over the coming years and replacing it with a subsidized private insurance system for newly eligible seniors.
The backlash was ugly. But Republicans seem to have forgotten how poisonous that vote really was, and remains because theyre poised to do it again. This time theyre signaling theyll move ahead, with a modified plan one that, though less radical, would still fundamentally remake and roll back one of the countrys most popular and enduring safety net programs.
Were not backing off any of our ideas, any of our solutions, GOP budget chairman Paul Ryan said last week in an interview with Fox.
Why on earth would Republicans put the whole party back on the line? Particularly after a year of serial brinkmanship and overreach that has dragged their popularity down to record lows?
Read the entire piece at TPM.com
February 3, 2012, 5:57 AM
Republican leaders in Congress have all but reneged on a key agreement they reached with the White House last summer rather than reconsider their unwavering stance against new tax revenue.
Relations between the Obama administration and the congressional GOP were already just about as bad as can be. But even so, this sets a precedent future Congresses and White Houses will remember when partisan mismatches force them to strike deals and govern.
Ive got concerns about the sequester, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday. Ive made that pretty clear. And replacing the sequester certainly has value. The defense portion of the sequester, in my view, would clearly hollow our military. The Secretary of Defense has said that, members of Congress have said it. But the question I would pose is, wheres the White House? Wheres the leadership that should be there to ensure that this sequester does not go into effect.
Sequester is budget-speak for across-the-board cuts. But the cuts hes talking about were part of a deal he recently claimed hed honor. Heres what hes talking about.
Read the entire piece at TPM.com