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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Take on the Debate

posted by on October 8 at 12:09 PM

Well, of course I was disappointed that none of the questions I suggested yesterday came up. But since access to reproductive health care, the prevalence of sexual violence in the military, paid family leave and maternal mortality rates are mere “women’s issues,” I can’t say I’m surprised. What I took away from last night’s debate:

1. John McCain, whatever you think of his politics, is the first Republican in many years (except, perhaps, H.W. Bush) who doesn’t sound like a blithering, lowest-common-denominator, Mickey-Mouse idiot when asked a question about policy. (Unlike his running mate, he also pronounces “nuclear” correctly). That’s one reason these debates have felt more evenly matched than Kerry/Bush, Gore/Bush, Clinton/Dole, etc.

2. On the other hand, McCain certainly did dodder on occasion, His tics—from the constant repetition of his irritating “my friends” mantra, to his weird reference to the CEO of eBay in response to a question about the Treasury Secretary, to his off-putting non sequiturs about hair transplants—highlighted the difference in age between the candidates. Yes, you may have been on a Navy ship with a nuclear plant on board, Senator—but do we really need to be looking for energy solutions in the technology of 40 years ago?

3. Obama’s responses to some class questions struck me as a little out of touch. For example, describing the effect the economic crisis has had on Americans, he told a voter, “Maybe you don’t go out to dinner as much; maybe you put off buying a new car.” I don’t think most middle Americans are going out to dinner much now, if at all; and people who are struggling in this economy certainly have bigger problems than merely having to wait a few months to drop a $20,000 on a new car. On the other hand, his response to the question about what he would cut—$400 billion in tax breaks for corporations—was brilliant: A specific answer that cut directly at the heart of Republican policy and made a mockery of McCain talking points like “earmarks” or “inefficiencies.”

4. One moment that made my head explode: When McCain dodged the question about how he would order three priorities—energy, health care, and education—by responding, “We can attack energy and health care at the same time.” Coming from a guy who couldn’t “fix the financial crisis” and run his campaign at the same time, that’s pretty unbelievable.

5. I’m getting pretty damn sick of hearing about “clean coal” and hybrid cars as “solutions” to climate change. It was nice to hear Obama at least mention efficiency and conservation—“each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save energy in our homes”—but it’s disappointing to see even the Democratic candidate still portraying the problem of climate change as primarily a problem of individual choice and better technology—as if “American ingenuity” could solve the problem in the absence of radically different government policy. Fundamentally, it ignores the fact that climate change is a global emergency that requires systemic solutions, not a nice little incentive to put on a sweater. More along those lines here.

6. Obama handled McCain’s accusation that he would “raise taxes” with aplomb. One of Obama’s rhetorical weaknesses is that he can be verbose; but his answer last night—”If you make $200,000 or less, your taxes will go down“—nailed it in a single sentence. McCain’s response—an uncomfortable, feeble, awkward laugh, followed by a dodgy statement about how “our best days are ahead of us”—showed exactly how effective Obama’s statement was.

7. However, Obama did miss an opportunity on an audience question about whether health care should be considered “a commodity.” What he should have said: “No, it should be considered a right.” (And not just for kids!) And his statement about his mother—“for my mother to die of cancer at 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital wondering worrying over whether this was a preexisting condition”—came across as oddly canned and stiff, as if he’d been waiting for a way to work it into his speaking points. Finally, he failed to fully take on McCain’s ridiculous claim that his proposal to give a $5,000 tax credit and promote “competition among states” will benefit anyone—noting only that “all the banks go to Delaware,” where regulation is minimal. That’s a good point, but he should have added, “And $5,000 isn’t enough to pay for a week’s hospital stay. We’re talking basic health care for ordinary Americans, not vanity surgeries for people in the top one percent.”

8. Good on Obama for sticking by his initial position on Iraq. Backpedaling now would look like weakness—his concise response (“Getting into Iraq was the wrong judgment”) was exactly what he needed to say.

9. Unfortunately, he failed to adequately explain his overall policy on intervention during a follow-up, talking vaguely of Rwanda and the need to intervene in other countries “when we can do good.” (In a subsequent question about Russia, Obama was similarly vague, asserting that “we have to anticipate things around the corners.”) Military leaders must make decisions with incomplete information and without the benefit of hindsight, and Obama’s failure to acknowledge that made him look a little ill-informed .

10. Overall, I think Obama won. But I don’t think it was as overwhelming a sweep as some of my colleagues (and most liberal pundits) seem to believe. McCain held his own, and Obama—never the strongest debater to begin with—flailed a bit in the town-hall format and lost his stamina in the final 30 minutes or so of the debate.

RSS icon Comments


Great analysis, ECB.

Posted by kid icarus | October 8, 2008 12:22 PM

The absence of sexism is sexism, apparently.

Posted by whatevernevermind | October 8, 2008 12:22 PM

Not even a shout out for Obama's mention of mammograms and maternity leave?

Posted by leek | October 8, 2008 12:24 PM

no, the absence of women as the majority of people whose lives are effected by everything a presidential candidate does, is sexist.

Posted by cranky | October 8, 2008 12:24 PM

RE: #7 in the post

I could be totally wrong here, but I thought that he (Obama) did say that he believed health care should be a "right."

Posted by Preston | October 8, 2008 12:27 PM

Never send the guy with four incidents of skin cancer to tell everyone that nuclear power is "clean and safe".

Posted by Tiktok | October 8, 2008 12:30 PM

He did say health care should be a right, he just didn't open with it, he stuck it on at the end of his statement.

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 12:31 PM

re: #7: as stated @5, Obama very clearly stated that health care should be a right as the intro to his well-placed tale about his mom.

And, Erica, re: #5: it's a bit dramatic to state that "most middle Americans are going out to dinner much now, if at all."

Good christ, woman. The economy has not come to a crashing halt. All you gotta do is walk around the Stranger neighborhood, and you'll see plenty of thriving businesses. Including restaurants.

Posted by kerri harrop | October 8, 2008 12:35 PM
Posted by kerri harrop | October 8, 2008 12:37 PM

Ahh yes.... the debate.

This is the take.... Swedish Hospital notes trump The Seattle Weekly and the shirt of record will be The BUNNY HEADS DEMISE as this is the warning to

WEBMASTER STRANGER my slogs aren't going up posted as reported today from the frony page of library interface here in Ballard.....

Check your numbers... and I don't mean lotto or foodbank numbers.....

as for the rest of the Weekly Rivals... don't listen to Tim EYEMAN...

as he has yet to here it in front of the budget commission on "parking sineage"

( hint: the added cost of replacement signs in bedroom communities and out of the way curb-side iovernight parking spaces)


Posted by danielbennettkieneker | October 8, 2008 12:37 PM

I disagree about the Navy nuclear comment. I thought it was very interesting, and I think the excellent record of the Navy nuclear program is usually missing from mentions about nuclear power.

Of course, I would have liked to see McCain challenged on the logical followup to the assertion that we're able to use nuclear power safely because the Navy has demonstrated this. Naval nuclear power is done in fundamentally different ways than civilian nuclear power, from plant design (different design standards and priorities here, and the reactors work in some fundamentally different ways from what I understand) to regulation (Naval Reactors is a VERY different organization from the NRC) to the contrast between a program where costs are almost irrelevant to one where the primary goal is making a profit.

Is McCain saying that new civilian plants should be more like the nuclear navy? And if so, how? I am an environmentalist, I have studied "alternative energy" in some depth, and I think nuclear energy might be a useful and necessary source of power. I think some of our plants are becoming dangerously outdated with nothing to replace them and I think Carter was on to something when he tried to make it illegal to build more natural gas electricity plants, preferring nuclear. (and unlike my understanding of McCain's career, as a submariner Carter was actually trained in the nuclear Navy) However, I have a lot of concerns with how American civilian plants are operating and I would like to see some of these questions asked before building more of them.

Posted by gember | October 8, 2008 12:38 PM

Kerri -

You're right, he did say it up front.

Well, I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills -- for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that.

Here's the transcript of the debate FYI -

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 12:42 PM

McCain probably said that he'd take all three on at the same time precisely because Obama criticized him for not being able to do more than one thing at a time during the bailout proceedings (& his campaign 'suspension'). It was defensive and understandable, but he still came out sounding stupid.

Posted by Judith | October 8, 2008 12:45 PM

no mention of the "bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb iran" line? that was the best part of the whole debate! he took mccain's one and only convincing argument against obama and beat the old fool over the head with it.

Posted by brandon | October 8, 2008 12:48 PM

"Obama did miss an opportunity on an audience question about whether health care should be considered “a commodity.” What he should have said: “No, it should be considered a right.”"

Brokaw's follow-up to the 'health care as commodity' question was whether each candidate considered health care "a privilege, a responsibility, or a right." McCain said "responsibility", where Obama emphatically stated "a right". That's the point where he won the evening, and possibly the election. Not sure how you missed that.

Posted by levide | October 8, 2008 12:50 PM

ECB: I don't think most middle Americans are going out to dinner much now, if at all

To middle America, "going out to dinner" doesn't mean spending $20/person at some hip restaurant (like it does here). It means taking the family out to KFC or a slightly nicer place.

Posted by stinkbug | October 8, 2008 12:51 PM

And to belabor one point about nuclear energy a bit more, dismissing it as "the technology of 40 years ago" is kind of silly. Using wind energy is hundreds of years old (perhaps thousands?), and the basic principles at work in a photovoltaic cell have been happening with chlorophyll in plants for what, hundreds of millions of years now? Advances in safety and efficiency have certainly continued since the last domestic nuclear power plant was built, and I believe the technology will continue to improve.

Posted by gember | October 8, 2008 12:52 PM

Regardless of what you think of nuclear power, and I know a lot of environmentalists who have come around on the issue, it's a non-starter in the US because of public fears.

The fact that nuclear plant design has come a long way in 30 years is irrelevant, you're not going to get the scientifically illiterate US public to have a rational discussion on the topic. So we should stop wasting our time on that and focus on alternative fuels and increased conservation.

There was an article in the New Yorker (I believe) several months back about the amount of energy wasted in industrial processes and it's insane, there's a huge potential savings there. Also President Obama needs to tell the US auto makers - "I'm going to raise the CAFE standards significantly regardless of what you want and you'll either evolve or go out of business"

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 12:52 PM

What's odd about ECB's comment about going out to eat is that the Stranger staffers talk *all the time* about going out for dinner and drinks. Are they not middle class?

Posted by hillster | October 8, 2008 12:56 PM

I am in agreement with Gember. Well said!

Posted by Original Monique | October 8, 2008 1:01 PM

Erica, your seat-of-the-pants opinion on where people cut back in tough times is what is out of touch. Look it up. New cars, vacations, entertainment, luxury grocery items, and eating out.

The idea that all that coal isn't going to be burned is pure wishful thinking. Some day we will be glad that Obama wanted to invest in burning it more cleanly instead of shutting our yes to the reality.

Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 1:02 PM

hillster @19: We're totally middle class. We only make $195,000 a year apiece, and I've only got two houses.

Posted by Paul Constant | October 8, 2008 1:04 PM

Save your money. Don't go out. Eat Campbell's soup. Eat Kraft dinner. Stock up on Ramen. Drink at home, if at all.

Posted by stopclubbing | October 8, 2008 1:04 PM


Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 1:07 PM

@11 -

Nuclear is not a 'clean', efficient, or long term solution. And using the Naval experience is bogus since there is no way to effectively determine their safety record.

If nuclear was clean, safe, and predictable there would be no need for indemification for the entire industry via the Price-Anderson act. That is the nut of the entire issue with the technology - the taxpayers underwrite all of the risk & disposal costs.

McCain throws out nuclear as an option to rile up an anti-enviromental backlash, not because fission is a viable long term commercial solution.

Posted by Steve Leonard | October 8, 2008 1:09 PM

I think people are cooking less at home and eating out more than ever. Whether it's at a sit-down restaurant or a Taco del Mar, people are blowing their money eating out.

Posted by Slash | October 8, 2008 1:23 PM

Steve -

First of all, no conventional fuels (oil, natural gas, nuclear, coal) are clean. Nuclear is expensive, but then so are solar and wind, compared to oil and coal.

As for a long-term solution, you might want to ask the French about that. They generate more than 80% of their electricity with nuclear and are building more plants.

The problem with nuclear energy is cultural rather than technological.

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 1:26 PM

Can we also wonder why France seems to have such an interest in exporting nuclear technology?

Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 1:31 PM

You seem to be totally hooked into style over substance, Erica. McCain can pronounce nuclear correctly, and speak in sentences. Bully for him. But if you listen to the CONTENT of those sentences, and pay attention over a longer period of time than just a single sentence, you'll see some alarming gaps in logic and clear thinking.

Case in point: McCain is going to "freeze spending", but he's also going to buy back ALL of those defaulting home loans, a program that he says is "expensive, but worth it".

Posted by Fnarf | October 8, 2008 1:38 PM

@29: And Palin mentioned the need to "ramp up" spending on education during her debate, in spite of the fact that McCain's spending freeze did not mention an exception for education -- just military, veteran's benefits and entitlements.

Which means it was bullshit, as far as I can tell.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 8, 2008 1:45 PM

Environmental concerns about nuclear power are valid, but in no way compare to the environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels. Instead of giving up on nuclear power we should have invested our resources in finding environmentally responsible ways of dealing with it decades ago.

Those who opposed nuclear power then are as responsible for climate change as those who filled the need for energy that nuclear could have filled with fossil fuel burning plants. Ironically, this was a mistake by environmentalists that has cost our planet dearly. They may have spent the last few decades making personal choices that minimized their impact on the environment, but their fear and suppression of a viable energy source means their is more CO2 in the atmosphere today than there would have been with a nuclear powered US energy infrastructure. This is indisputable.

If we were primarily powered by non-emitting power sources today then plug-in electric cars could provide a real alternative to combustion engines. They are not a solution today because it just means that the power to run your electric car is coming from something burned miles away from you instead of under your hood (albiet more efficiently than an internal combustion engine and with less reliance on foreign energy).

France was right on nuclear power and we were wrong.

Posted by Ryan | October 8, 2008 1:57 PM

@31: One word: Chernobyl.

Painting nuclear power opponents as a bunch of irresponsible Cassandras is bullshit because: Chernobyl.

I'm not saying we shouldn't explore modern improvements on nuclear power that address safety issues and waste issues, as well as generating power more efficiently than current plants (which have notoriously low net yields.) But let's not kid ourselves that concerns about nuclear power's safety is just tree-hugging resistance to Progress. A huge portion of Eastern Europe is radioactive. People were finding elevated radiation levels in milk from cows half a world away in Washington after Chernobyl.

The public has every right to have these very legitimate fears addressed in an honest fashion. There is such a long history of lying about these dangers that people are entirely justified in their skepticism of official hand-waving assurances. As one of those skeptics I'm unimpressed at the latest wave of "don't you worry your pretty little hippie head about it" from our benevolent, non-scientist leaders.

The bottom half of the Republican ticket doesn't believe in evolution, for chrissakes. I'm supposed to believe they know all about fission reactors now?

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 8, 2008 2:29 PM

Chernobyl is not a relevant issue in any discussion of American or French nuclear power, pro or con.

Posted by Fnarf | October 8, 2008 2:32 PM

@27 & 31 -

What is France's long term storage solution for waste production? They don't have one. And this from a country committed to nuclear since the mid-70's. (And no, exporting their waste products to Russia does not count.) Long term waste storage and cost is THE technical problem.

Proponents of nuclear and more drilling have one thing in common: They focus on production. Nuclear fission has a huge downside on the back end. Nuclear's additional problem is the cost impact of the waste product is easier to calculate relative to coal/oil production.

Posted by Steve Leonard | October 8, 2008 2:45 PM

Not so fast. Before you think France is right on nuclear power you should read this first:
The following quote is from Wikipedia, and it refers to an article written about a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant of AREVA in La Hague. "Greenpeace has been campaigning since 1997 for the shutdown of the site, which they claim dumps "one million litres of liquid radioactive waste per day" into the ocean; "the equivalent of 50 nuclear waste barrels."
Additionally, Although the amount of radiation released is in dispute, the facility acknowledges that it does deliberately release radioactive waste into the environment.
That's not to say that nuclear energy is not an option, but the problem of disposing of the waste has not been resolved.

Posted by crazycatguy | October 8, 2008 2:51 PM

"...but do we really need to be looking for energy solutions in the technology of 40 years ago?"

I don't know, Erica. Should we be looking for transportation solutions in the technology of a hundred years ago (rail)? Or did you suddenly flip-flop on mass transit?

Posted by Dan | October 8, 2008 3:00 PM

Steve -

They don't have long-term solution, as you say. But storing depleted uranium on the grounds of the plants, as they do, is still better than the alternative of adding millions of tons of CO2, SO2, NOx, mercury, etc to the air via coal burning.

Eventually, they'll get their act together and do something with it. What's the plan to get all those greenhouse gases and pollutants out of the air?

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 3:01 PM

Crazycatguy -

If dumping nuclear waste into the environment is a non-starter than you're going to have to shut down the coal plants that produce much of the US's electricity. According to this Scientific American article coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 3:08 PM

@33: And that is precisely the kind of dismissive, hand-waving crap that does nothing to allay people's fears about nuclear regulation and safety. Guess what, Fnarf? I'm not a complete fucking idiot. I can read about the differences between modern reactors in France and the Chernobyl reactor.

My point is, we have seen what the consequences of being wrong with regards to nuclear power are, and we have seen them in particularly dramatic fashion. So I never again want to hear John McCain or anyone else using the words "perfectly safe" as though we were all living in the 1950's when people believed everything their government told them about these things.

Again, I am willing to listen to rational cases for using nuclear power, but I will continue to express extreme skepticism for any and all justifications for doing so absent a detailed explanation for how the many known risks are being addressed satisfactorily. And the next politician or tech geek armchair nuclear physicist who tells me, to paraphrase McCain, that I "just don't get it" by way of foregoing said detailed explanation can kiss my ass.

I imagine that's how a lot of people feel.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 8, 2008 3:15 PM

@39, it's not hand-waving; it's a simple statement of unassailable fact: Chernobyl isn't relevant. Completely different kind of reactor, for starters.

I'm not endorsing nuclear power. There are interesting arguments for and against it. But the "against" argument has nothing to do with the likelihood of a Chernobyl-style meltdown; it's been stated well here, in fact. It's a matter of what to do with the waste.

To bring up completely fallacious arguments does nothing for your side, you know.

Posted by Fnarf | October 8, 2008 3:33 PM
To bring up completely fallacious arguments does nothing for your side, you know.
Except I agree with you, so I'm on your side, you nitwit.

What I'm knocking down is this conservative meme that crazy, chicken-little liberals have prevented safe, inexpensive, non-polluting nuclear power from saving us all. Sort of like chicken-little liberals have stopped us from exploiting safe, non-polluting offshore drilling to fulfill our energy needs. (This coming from the governor of the state where the Exxon Valdez spill put an entire coastline worth of commercial fishermen out of business.)

Us crazy, chicken-little liberals have been right about an awful lot of shit to date, so I'm tired of hearing McCain and his non-scientifically-inclined ilk tell me his completely irrelevant stories about how he was on a nuclear boat once and that's why Chernobyl never happened.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 8, 2008 3:42 PM

You can paint it as a "conservative meme" if you wish but a lot of old-school liberal environmentalists are on board. Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greepeace and James 'Gaia' Lovelock are two big names.

Does that prove that it's correct, of course not, but it means it deserves to be examined as more than simply a "conservative meme."

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 3:59 PM

You can paint it as a "conservative meme" if you wish but a lot of old-school liberal environmentalists are on board. Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greepeace and James 'Gaia' Lovelock are two big names.

Does that prove that it's correct, of course not, but it means it deserves to be examined as more than simply a "conservative meme."

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 4:00 PM

If our space shuttle hadn't blown up in flight -- twice! -- or our vaunted air defense system bypassed like a modern Maginot Line by 19 half-literate goatherds, then I'd probably believe that Chernobyl has nothing to do with the US.

I guess I am a chicken little liberal, but having read the deeply flawed reasoning of a supposed smart guy like Jonothan Golob, and worked in quality assurance with some supposedly very clever people, I know something about how good systems run by good people can fail.

And I also think if you go nuclear as much as France, you end up deeply compromised on nonproliferation. The French are constantly trying to sell nuclear technology and material to bad guys, because they stand to profit so much. Or rather, stand to recoup so much of what they spent.

Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 4:03 PM

The most interesting thing is that the Obama's remained in the debate hall for twenty minutes after the McCains left, and won over every frickin' person in the room.

By the time it was over, the Obamas and undecideds were all posing for group pictures together.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | October 8, 2008 4:10 PM

Elenchos -

So what you're saying is that you'd rather stick with a technology that is steadily and surely poisoning and destroying our planet than than try a new technology that is scary?

Because the fact is that solar and wind are not going to make up the difference, even if the US closed every coal plant tomorrow China would build enough to more than make up for it. Fact is the majority of electricity for the near future will come from coal, natural gas and nuclear.

Let's look at one the big nuclear failure we have, Chernobyl, where according to the WHO approximately 4,000 will die from it eventually over decades. Sorry, but that doesn't even compare to how many people die each and every year from pollution-related causes and that doesn't even take into account how many will die from global warming.

It's like we're driving a car towards the edge of a cliff at 60 mph and when it's suggested we might want to jump out of this car, people respond with "but it's dangerous to jump out of the car, I could get hurt, I'll just sit it out!"

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 4:21 PM

regarding rwanda…of course we could have intervened. not only did we choose not to do so, we argued against the UN supporting intervention. and clintons secretary of state, refused to call it genocide despicable.

Posted by SeMe | October 8, 2008 4:37 PM

elenchos, you're paranoid and delusional.

facts are facts; if we have a truly black and white choice between coal and nuclear we have these outcomes

coal: higher greenhouse CO2 emissions, more pollution in everyday operation and circumstance, abundant in environment.

nuclear: Potential for concentrated catastrophe. Concentrated Waste.

take a look at what intellectual ventures is doing with nuclear design. My friend Rob works there on the nuke design team and it's pretty fascinating how far we've come in design. Most anti nuclear arguments are based on outdated information pertaining to design of reactor.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 8, 2008 4:42 PM

most arguments being "It's not safe enough to underwrite the risk of our current nuclear reactors in the private market"

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 8, 2008 4:44 PM
So what you're saying is that you'd rather stick with a technology that is steadily and surely poisoning and destroying our planet than than try a new technology that is scary?
No, I'm saying that we're going to burn that coal. Even if we spent everything we had on nuclear plants, which are horribly expensive, we'd still burn that coal.

So the opposite of sticking with our current coal technology would be investing in burning it more cleanly. It will get burned, and we need to deal with that.

And the way you minimize how bad Chernobyl was... well, that's laughable. Good luck polishing that turd.

Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 4:47 PM

Are there any optimists out there who believe the US and the world will actually deal with rising CO2 omissions?

Because most people I know believe that no matter who we elect, we're going to get fairly minor tinkering and that the US and the world will simply continue down the same path and deal with the disastrous consequences as they come, much like we did with the real estate bubble.

Posted by same | October 8, 2008 4:48 PM

Elenchos -

The problem is that people make decisions based on emotion rather than facts. Yes, I think 4,000 people dying from Chernobyl is unfortunate, but not a reason to destroy our planet. Do you not believe the number, it's not as if the WHO is a pro-nuclear group.

Something like 2.5 million people die each year globally from air-pollution related disease, so yes, relative to that 4,000 people is a drop. But for some reason people believe that 4,000 deaths (over decades) from an extraordinary event are far worse than 2.5 million deaths/year from ordinary event.

Sure, we can scrub coal-burning a bit cleaner, but it's not really clean unless you're talking about CO2 sequestration, and it's becoming more and more clear that the costs of any CO2 sequestration would make coal so expensive that it wouldn't be burned.

So what we'll do is pretend that we're going to make coal a lot cleaner, fund some research projects, and continue to destroy our planet by doing the same, building a few solar and wind projects here and there. But at least we won't have to worry about that evil nuclear waste!

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 4:58 PM

No nuclear advocate is even imagining in their wildest dreams building enough nuclear plants to save the lives of the 2.5 million a year who die from coal related disease. They will still die, plus however many die from all the extra nuclear accidents. Plus god knows what happens in 500 or 1000 years to all the nuclear waste.

So the idea that a handful, at best, of nuclear plants will address coal pollution in any way is nonsense. As if nuclear plants will prevent China from burning all their coal. Having better technology will help China pollute less, however.

Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 5:06 PM


There may be only 4,000 estimated deaths from direct exposure, but Chernobyl's fallout spread over Eastern and Western Europe. It's entirely possible that over a million people were affected by it.

And, quite frankly, given the choice between breathing in regular air pollution or particles from a nuclear accident, I'll choose the former.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 8, 2008 5:09 PM

Elenchos -

Right, because people have been dying left and right in France from their 30 years of nuclear plants.

The fact is, the US *already* generates 20% of our electricity from nuclear, and where are all the dead bodies from our 40 years of nuclear power?

Anyway, if nuclear is so dangerous do you think we should shut down the existing plants we have in the US and Europe and move them to "safer" coal and natural gas?

The only people who believe in clean coal are coal executives and politicians (like Biden and Obama and McCain) that are trying to win votes in coal-mining areas.

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 5:13 PM

Keshmeshi -

The 4,000 is the best estimate of long-term effects including cancer caused decades later by the fallout. People think it's higher because they remember the fear and they haven't researched it. If you ask people in 20 years how many died in 9/11 I'm willing to bet the numbers will be 10 or 20x the reality.

You act as if the only issue was pollution. How about global warming? Or would you rather continue down the path of destroying the planet rather than taking a risk on some scary technology? Or if not what's your solution?

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 5:26 PM

It's good to start to recognize the political power of the coal mining states. Every state gets two Senators, and at least one Representative. It only takes one Senator to filibuster, and you need 270 electoral votes to become President. That's reality.

Which is to say we are no more going to stop mining coal than stop growing corn.

One systems failure in a nuclear plant comparable to the shuttle disasters or the failures of 9/11, and we will shut down those nuclear plants. Odds are it will happen in 10 or 20 years. Might as well start shutting them all down now in an orderly fashion.

Posted by elenchos | October 8, 2008 5:27 PM

Elenchos -

If "odds are" that it will happen in 10 or 20 years how has France gotten away with running so many plants over 30 years without any catastrophic failures?

The issue isn't whether or not we burn coal, it's whether we continue to build more and more coal plants. The fact is that the prototype "clean coal" plant, Futuregen, was just stopped a few months ago when they realized the cost had nearly doubled to $2 billion before they even started building it. Back to the drawing board.

By the way, what's the environmental consequence of CO2 sequestration if it fails? Because no one knows if that CO2 is going to stay underground or under the oceans long-term. We could end up with a Lake Nyos of our own.

"Clean coal" is simply a game that we're playing to avoid admitting that we will continue to burn coal in an extremely dirty fashion for decades to come.

Posted by bob | October 8, 2008 5:41 PM

The best read in months - WOW.

Think fission.

Think waste into the sun, might need a worm hole.

World wide engineering skills and processing have NEVER been better. If the Western World including Russia and China turn to the best tech and engineering people to get into the new ear of nukes - well, I believe some fantastic advances would show in short order.(call Bectel)

The French are on the leading edge of nukes, that is absolute. America blinked and the Euro nuke scientists are still amused.

Japan has many nukes as well.

In sum, WWPSS was a good idea, bad timing. Let's recreate it. Hanford has the land and the best power grid in the world is right there... say Bonneville Power, BPA

Palin needs some credit if indeed the 20 billion natural gas pipeline is built .... 30 fucking years of blathering talk. The political system is a form of insanity we all tolerate far too much.

Obama has giant gaps - many of his answers were not studied and accurate ... but he is bright and I trust him over Mc Cain.

Some version of the Mc Cain direct project dealing with now inflated debt and all that might keep hundreds of thousands of middle class families their homes. If the debt exceeds the value by 200,000. common sense says walk away, not good right now. It is the new crises coming from the employed and much more savy middle class who view homes as dwelling and investments toward old age.

Should have started something like that a year ago.

Posted by Jim | October 8, 2008 8:25 PM

Why did McCain take notes? Tom Brokaw is repeating the question for him so that he can write it down before he answers it. wtf?

Posted by 4f...sake | October 8, 2008 8:57 PM

We're middle class and we go out to dinner at least twice a week. Not always someplace fancy, but we go out. I don't think the economy problem is affecting my every day life yet. Not to say it won't in the future...

Posted by Middle american | October 8, 2008 9:45 PM

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