Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The nuclear issue & security

I've been very disappointed, though not at all surprised over the hyperventilating over nuclear energy in the aftermath of the disaster in Japan. I noticed even as early as Friday night, the day of the earthquake and tsunami, that some voices on the left, eager not to let a crisis go to waste, had started building the case against the use of nuclear energy.

Without question this has been an extremely serious situation which could still have catastrophic consequences, so it's understandable to want to have a knee-jerk reaction to this, but we need to stay focused and rational as we take a deeper look into the issue of the use and security of nuclear energy.

I think we all should be assessing the risks of nuclear power and how to make it safer. In the case of the Fukushima plant in Japan there was much that went right {the plant apparently withstood the earthquake well} and many things that went wrong {backup systems apparently failed due to the tsunami}. But to me this is no reason to now take a hard stand against the use of nuclear plants in the U.S. nor prohibiting the addition of more of them.

Nuclear power clearly isn't the panacea to our ever-growing energy problems, nothing yet designed is or could be, but I do think it is one of many sources that we're going to have to rely on for many decades to come. In fact, I believe we will need to rely on it more as we move away from coal — a move which most environmentalists demand and I agree with. This in concert with hydro-electric, limited use of coal & natural gas, along with more wind, solar and perhaps tidal generation, while continuing in energy conservation should easily meet our energy needs into the 22nd century. We'll also still be cutting carbon emissions as we do.

From what I've read over the years, nuclear facilities are much safer now than they were decades ago. That said, in the U.S., are standards are reportedly well below that of the Japanese, and their standards are clearly not adequate for the conditions they are likely to deal with in the region. We need to take a very serious look at that. What safety regulations are we going to need to match conditions which we have to meet with tsunamis along the coasts, hurricanes in the Gulf, earthquakes in places like California, Missouri and New York, and tornadoes throughout the mid-west.

Of course this isn't all.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some thoughts on the union issue

All the legal wrangling and protests going on in Wisconsin over collective-bargaining, pay cuts, benefit reductions, etc. has had me to thinking about unions lately. I'm honestly not a big fan of unions. I used to be in one and wasn't very impressed by it. It didn't keep mine, nor any of the 800 jobs at the plant I worked at from being shipped to Mexico. I'm not in a union now, but some jobs where I work are.

I agree that unions can gain too much leverage over employers. "Rights" {protections} can be stacked so much in favor of employees, especially in the education sector, that getting rid of a bad employee can be nearly impossible. It creates an expensive, inefficient system, one that in some ways can even be a risk to the public when severely incompetent people get to continue doing work they shouldn't be doing.

I can also see where some of the national unions have consolidated too much power, and seem to exist only as a means for generating money for party bosses and gaining votes for the Democratic party.

That said, I do believe in the concept of unions, and of collective-bargaining. I'm aware of many of the much needed improvements in pay, benefits, and safety which we all take for granted now that wouldn't have happened were it not for the efforts of organized workers.

And this is not just a thing of the past. Most businesses are ever trying to find new ways to increase productivity, cut benefits, and minimize pay all at the expense of employees.

Employers today have a great deal of leverage over employees. More than they probably have in several decades. And they are amassing more of it as unions dwindle, technology, outsourcing and a bad economy causes domestic jobs to become more scarce, unemployment rates high, and the cost of living is continually rising.

I can see where there needs to be some union and labor reforms. There is going to have to be more compromises from laborers, especially in the public sector. And certainly some limitations in the 'rights' of public sector workers.

But this union-busting is detrimental to working-class people, and it doesn't help from a tax burden standpoint either because it has the potential to depress wages & benefits. What good is lower deficits if wages & benefits stay stagnant?

The new surge in assaults on unions is part ideological, but mostly political — meant to tip the scales of fund raising and voter organizing away from Democrats and toward Republicans.

It's probably long overdue for a shake up, but what has taken place in Wisconsin and is beginning in Indiana and Ohio is more like a war. It isn't a war on public sector unions, it's a war on the middle-class, working-class people nationwide.