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Bulletin #178: In the steep time, seek real political discourse

November 13, 2013

But even you
I think feel the steep time build like a wave, towering to break,
Higher and higher; and they've trimmed the ship top-heavy.

Robinson Jeffers, “Thurso’s Landing”

Dear friends –

A great deal has happened since the bulletins of this past summer, on nuclear weapons issues in particular.  I want to update you but that must wait just a few more days.  Also, I also want to ask again for your help and participation.  The details of that request must wait too.

In the meantime I would like to offer a vignette that illustrates how nuclear weapons corporations co-opt politicians and corrupt political discourse.  This particular case involves a progressive Democratic Party politician and long-time friend, David Coss, now the Mayor of Santa Fe.

Mayor Coss, despite his initial reservations about participating, now finds himself chairing a coalition of local governments and Indian pueblos called the “Regional Coalition of LANL Communities,” (RCLC), created by Los Alamos County and the contractor that runs Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Los Alamos National Security (LANS).  LANS is a for-profit partnership of Bechtel, URS, B&W, and the University of California.

RCLC’s purpose is to get more money for LANS.  The City of Santa Fe, and all the other RCLC members, help pay for this.

Chairman Coss announced at the last RCLC meeting that in December he, wearing his mayoral hat, will introduce a draft City resolution that will request from Congress an additional $6 billion for LANS to remove nuclear waste from LANL’s largest disposal area, “Area G.”

What’s the problem?  There are a lot of problems; see our press backgrounder yesterday, “Santa Fe Mayor’s Los Alamos ‘cleanup’ proposal is empty posturing, greenwashing for renewed warhead production, charges New Mexico policy group.” 

As we said there, this resolution will have zero impact in Washington, DC, so we need to look at what such an empty proposal really does.  It’s not good.  For the Mayor himself, it confuses his two roles: chair of a public/private lobbying coalition, which harnesses the legitimacy of local government and Indian tribes in the service of Bechtel and the other corporate hogs at the LANL trough – which should not even be legal – and his role as Mayor of Santa Fe.

For the City, it helps greenwash the City’s new role in supporting weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which is being done in direct violation of past City resolutions and therefore also is legally murky.  City resolutions don’t bind Congress, obviously, but they ought to inform City actions and policies.

For citizens, the resolution in question placates and misdirects concerns about environmental and economic futures with an empty gesture that costs nothing, risks nothing, and means nothing while at the same time walking back from prior City commitments.

Summing this up, the Mayor – who like any politician is drawn toward wanting to get along with as many people as possible – is hoping to reconcile two diametrically opposing visions for Santa Fe, one that is supportive of WMD and the threats of annihilation that come from them – a dark and nihilistic vision of secrecy, inequality, and domination – and the other,  might be called “civilizational”, which is based on the protection of life.  Making a cost-free gesture of asking (somebody else to pay) for “cleanup” of (part of) the local WMD factory cannot unite these two visions.  Nothing can, and that needs to be made explicit.

LANL can’t be “cleaned up,” even if that huge sum of money were somehow made available, while it continues and expands its warhead mission and the waste that makes – expanding, that is, with help from the City and Mayor.

The resolution is conveniently silent about ongoing nuclear waste disposal at LANL, and the timing is interesting too.  The Mayor has proposed it just as LANL has filled Area G to capacity and is moving on to start fresh dump sites on The Hill, about which the resolution is silent.  Amazing how that works.

The resolution claims the cleanup would provide “hundreds” of jobs for decades.  It wouldn’t, but the more serious problem is that LANL’s overall budget, including the cleanup budget, is only likely to go up if overall defense spending goes up.

Given fierce opposition to new taxes by Republicans, it is likely that defense spending will go up only if there is a successful raid on the safety net that protects the poor and the elderly, and if all other government purposes are shortchanged.  President Obama has signaled his support for this.

So a vote for more LANL spending, of whatever kind, is basically a vote for less education spending, less renewable energy spending, lower Social Security payments, lower food stamp spending, and so on.  Non-LANL, non-defense federal programs vastly outweigh LANL and military spending in Santa Fe County.  The Mayor’s priorities in his RCLC role, should they be realized, would devastate the Santa Fe economy.  We’d get a dime and give up a dollar.

Meanwhile, LANL creates very few jobs with the funds it receives.  LANL cleanup spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) created only one job per $2 million (M) spent.  (See: “Nuclear and Military Maldistribution and Inefficient Use of Recovery Act Funds in New Mexico,” Dr. Darwin BondGraham).

And where will the cleanup workers really come from?  Here?  Not assured, by a long shot.  Pouring cleanup money into LANL is basically pouring it down the drain from the regional Keynesian perspective.

The youth of Santa Fe need jobs and they need hope.  Neither is on offer in this resolution.  Where’s the 20-year, $6 billion plan for Santa Fe?  Shouldn’t that be more like something we should expect from the City’s highest official?  The weeks the Mayor spends on RCLC business would be better spent on that.  Instead we get a resolution requesting an extra $6 billion for Los Alamos, the wealthiest town in the U.S.  What’s with that?

The RCLC is just one part of a much larger octopus of political domination by the nuclear enterprise and military establishment in New Mexico.  A full description of the octopus would need a big book.

In this vignette we have come down like a ton of bricks on our friend the Mayor.  In our view he deserves it, but is he is really any different than our two senators, or Congressman Lujan, who reliably vote for nuclear weapons?  Congressman Lujan votes against renewable energy again and again if the money has to come from the nuclear weapons part of the Energy and Water bill.  But where else could it come from?

And so New Mexico stays in the grip of the octopus.

In this “steep time” we just can’t afford affable gestures that take the place of real leadership.  Our liberal politicians, who are usually more simpatico to most of us than those on the right, cannot just keep on creating a vacuum where leadership and values should be.  It is politically dangerous, from the President on down to the Mayor.

More in a day or two,

Greg Mello, for the Study Group

The Curse of California

Cover of Wasp magazine, Aug. 19, 1882.


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