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March, 2012

  1. Remembering Three Mile Island

    March 28, 2012 by Holly Thomas

    I was only twelve when Three Mile Island nuclear power plant broke down thirty-three years ago today, after a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor failed to close, sparking the worst accident in U.S. nuclear power history. Radiation-contaminated cooling water then drained from this “open valve into adjoining buildings, and the core began to dangerously overheat,” according to one source. The reactor came within less than an hour of a complete meltdown.

    Pennsylvania was a world away from my hometown, Portland, Oregon, and I had never heard of nuclear energy. I did know about the atomic bomb, but mostly from pop culture references (the mushroom cloud), and did not put the two together. I do remember that the incident felt as frightening, incomprehensible – and remote – as the Iranian Hostage Crisis that same year.
    Then (during the 1970s energy crisis) as now (during the current and ongoing energy crisis), nuclear energy was heralded by its advocates as inexpensive, non-polluting (versus coal), and affordable. But just one year after the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, where nuclear plant workers also risked their lives to cool exposed fuel rods that would otherwise leek life-threatening radiation, people are mostly nervous and remain unconvinced that nuclear power should even be an option.
    Still, today there are some 435 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries; in 2010, they provided about fourteen percent of the world’s electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. And right now, sixty reactors are under construction in fourteen countries. Moreover, in spite of Three Mile Island and the stop the crisis put to building nuclear plants here for decades, the U.S. accounts for thirty percent of nuclear generation worldwide, more than any other country. We have one hundred and four nuclear plants across the country.
    Today, on the anniversary of Three Mile Island, it was announced in the Wall Street Journal (Market Watch) that: “Analysis of 251 Reactors Built or Cancelled in the U.S. Finds that Intractable Safety Issues Have Steadily Escalated Nuclear Costs and Fukushima Makes It Likely That Future Reactors Will Suffer the Same Fate, Driving Final Nail in Coffin of [what’s been called a] Nuclear Renaissance,” in an article that asks: “Are affordable new nuclear power and safe nuclear power fundamentally incompatible?”

    That critical question has yet to be answered with satisfaction.

    An oral history project on Three Mile Island is here:

    Also, see this:



  2. For Abe Lincoln, Before Emancipation there was ‘Black Colonization’

    March 21, 2012 by Holly Thomas

    Today, the idea of deporting people based on race is unambiguously repugnant. However, in the nineteenth century the movement comprised white people from across the political spectrum, including slave owners who did not want free blacks nearby to foment rebellion, and abolitionists who believed equality could never exist between the races on American soil, and that black people would be better off elsewhere. (The American Colonization Society was formed as early as 1817.) The black colonization movement even attracted some of the leading black minds of antebellum America, including Martin R. Delany, perhaps the most vociferous black nationalist of his time. (See Delany, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States.) During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln also considered various colonization efforts as a potential solution to “the Negro question”. Although by that time efforts in Liberia had failed, emigration boosters focused on the Americas, and white adventurers submitted proposals to the federal government, including to “swampy and barren” Florida, some undetermined territory “Our West” (where the Negro would live apart but have representation in Congress), and Guadalope. (Central American governments also protested against incursions to their sovereignty.)

    While a “significant minority” of American black people yearned for a place of their own, for a place where “Negro potential for government would have full sway,” this sentiment was not felt by the majority, some of whom asked, “Shall banishment be a condition of the slaves?” and, “Why drive us from North America… after having sucked our life-blood for more than two hundred years?” Black leader Frederick Douglass articulated the notion that the federal government could not simultaneously allow – indeed ask – black men to fight for their country (because it needed them to win its war), and deny they belonged to it.

    Some historians have proposed that Lincoln may have felt that proposing emancipation without promoting colonization was too radical. Even at its peak, with as many as two thousand people emigrating to Haiti, and another several hundred signed up to go to Chiriqui, Panama, emigration in actuality attracted an insignificant percentage of the nearly five million black Americans then living. Whatever the case about Lincoln’s frame of mind, it is certain that the federal government under him bungled these efforts. An editorial from the Chicago Tribune from 1862 sums up: “Deportation, in principle, is but a change of masters, and in practice will never solve the problem of the negro question as growing out of this war.”

  3. Santorum’s Appeal to Evangelicals Doesn’t Shock

    March 14, 2012 by Holly Thomas

    Today we awoke to the unsurprising news that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum won over Mitt Romney in the GOP Primary in Mississippi and Alabama, two of the most conservative states in the union. But I wonder if people realize how surprising, historically speaking, this non-surprise is. Most will remember that John F. Kennedy was the first (and only) Catholic to become president of the United States in 1960, but how many Americans can say they know anything about the presidential election of 1928 when Herbert Hoover beat…who? Oh yes, Al Smith, a Catholic city kid from New York.

    Imagine this is Rick Santorum today

    “The nomination of a Catholic by one of the nation’s two major political parties rekindled religious strife in the United States,” according to historian Allan J. Lichtman’s Prejudice and the Old Politics: The Presidential Election of 1928. Lutheran, Baptist, and Fundamentalist ministers all came out against Al Smith.

    When people think of the 1920s, they often think of the images they have seen of what looks like a damned good party: flappers, cocktails (in spite of Prohibition), the new Hollywood glamor, the ballooning stock market, the Charleston. But the 1920s was an era fraught with domestic strife. The new Ku Klux Klan (not the original post-Civil War KKK, but the newly awakened post World War I variety) reached its zenith in 1924 when millions of Americans claimed membership. This was the same year the federal government essentially closed Ellis Island to immigration. These events are not unrelated.

    As I write here, the KKK sought to defend white Protestant America against perceived “un-American” threats, ranging from “undesirable” immigrants (Catholics and Jews) to Communism. The values and beliefs that millions of Americans possessed in the 1920s included a fear of internal subversion, a sense of Protestant righteousness, and a belief in individualism and God. The last of these underlay both a bias against secular reform as well as an opposition to progressive thinking. An example is the Red Scare of 1919-1920, which established critical precedence for anti-Communism in the United States, particularly among the political right, as a theme that would last seven decades and even become institutionalized in the American government. From the time the first Brits landed here, many Americans have believed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy, that Catholics owed allegiance to a foreign sovereign. In 1928, some even believed the Pope sought to control Washington through Al Smith.

    Although as recently as 2006, a Gallup Poll declared that 30 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Catholics, Rick Santorum’s great appeal to evangelical Christians in this country displays an historic alignment that began over the issue of anti-Communism during the Cold War, and has continued to grow during the culture wars of the past forty-odd years, in particular over the issue of abortion.

    This alignment should be reason to celebrate as it seems to show an open-mindedness that would have been historically impossible among white Anglo-Saxon Protestants towards the Catholics they did so much to exclude in this country. How ironic, then, that the man they voted for yesterday should prove to be so reactionary himself.