Gregg Easterbrook

Why Western meddling in “Deathistan” needs to end

Mar 23, 2011 15:24 UTC


Once again, Western bombs are falling on the sand-blown weapons testing range that is north Africa, the Middle East and the landscape of the old Great Game. The area stretching roughly from Morocco to Afghanistan west to east, and Syria to the Persian Gulf north to south — let’s call this region Deathistan — long has been contested. But in the last century, the region has been treated as a plaything by Western capitals.

The United States and United Kingdom, which boast of enlightenment, cause harm when they please in the Deathistan region. Less than a generation ago it amused the United States to encourage Saddam Hussein to slaughter Iranians; then conditions changed, so the United States started killing in Iraq. Right now the United States and NATO are taking lives in Libya and Afghanistan. In these places, U.S. and other Western armed forces in the main behave with high ethics. But their missions are to slay and destroy, and here’s the bottom line: Western meddling in north Africa, the Arab world and the Great Game territories has not worked.

Israel exists: that is the West’s principal achievement in the region, though for a comparatively small number of people. Cheap oil flows. Moscow quit Afghanistan. Otherwise, the last century of attempts by the United States and European powers to manipulate the Deathistan region rarely has come to good.

We’ve sure blown a lot of stuff up. When innocents were killed inside the United States on 9-11, America claimed, with justification, a right of outrage. When innocents are killed by Western action elsewhere — hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. retaliation for the 3,000 dead of 2001 — the West washes its hands, or issues a press release.

Muammar Gaddafi is an awful dictator. But no one in the Washington or London establishments seemed to care about that even a short time ago. Libyan oil money was moving freely; in 2009, Gaddafi was presented to the world by the New York Times as an op-ed columnist, as a “leader” and sage. Now the West is bombing Libya, without debate in Congress or European parliaments — and over the objections of Turkey, which understands much of the region better than does the West. Though aimed at Gaddafi’s arms, some of the bombs are killing civilians: others, killing military conscripts who have little choice about their fates.

The danger of spent-fuel rods and the Yucca Mountain project

Mar 18, 2011 20:09 UTC

JAPAN-QUAKE/At the malfunctioning Japanese atomic reactor, attention has shifted from the cores to the spent-fuel pools as the real radiation threat — the spent-fuel pools contain far more uranium than the reactor cores. Guess where most spent-fuel rods are stored in the United States? In pools at atomic power stations: exactly the situation at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.

There are much safer alternatives. One is “dry cask” storage of atomic waste, which does not require constant circulation of cooling water. Failure of cooling water circulation caused both the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents.

Hardly any of the spent fuel at Fukushima has been transferred to dry casks — only about five percent. That’s why the current emergency is extreme. Some atomic waste in the United States has been transferred to dry casks — your columnist once visited such an installation. Most has not, because dry casks are more expensive than wet pools and incredibly, U.S regulations do not mandate this safety step.

Japan’s real disaster

Mar 15, 2011 19:45 UTC


The situation in Japan is horrific — but because of the earthquake and tsunami, not because of the malfunctioning atomic reactor station. The earthquake and its awful aftermath killed at least thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands. That is an unspeakable tragedy. The damaged reactors at Fukushima haven’t killed anyone, and while posing a clear danger, especially to workers heroically fighting the malfunction, the odds are that any harm to public health will be minor, if public health is harmed at all.

Yet in the United States and European Union, what’s happening at the power plant is receiving more attention, and generating more anxiety, than thousands of innocents crushed or drowned.

Japan is the sole place nuclear weapons have been used: to see the Japanese suffer, again, from fear of the atom is heartrending. But the reaction to the power plant in Japan shows lack of perspective. Today’s Washington Post front page proclaims, in large type, a “FULL- BLOWN NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE.” The earthquake and tsunami were catastrophes; the power plant leaks may cause little harm, let alone represent a “catastrophe.”

The federal spending controversy

Mar 9, 2011 20:00 UTC


With another federal spending controversy brewing on Capitol Hill, recall that in his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said, “We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year.” Now it’s next year — so what happened to the $20 billion in savings? Let’s follow the bouncing budget cut.

The “$20 billion” promise was not the sort of empty verbiage that dominates the federal spending debate. How many times have you heard a politician thunder about cutting spending but not cite even one specific reduction he or she supports? A year ago, the Office of Management and Budget laid out Obama’s proposed cuts in specific detail.

Some highlights: End production of the C-17 cargo plane, $2.5 billion saved. End federal funding for local hospital construction, $338 million saved. End the Save America’s Treasures program, $30 million saved. (The new book “Triumph of the City” by Edward Glaeser of Harvard argues that programs such as this actively backfire by slowing urban rebirth.)

Why unions are out of touch with reality

Mar 1, 2011 18:25 UTC


The public-sector union showdowns in Wisconsin and Ohio are proceeding as if it was the 1950s. Democrats and liberals call labor oppressed, and want the unions to win; Republicans and conservatives call labor a threat, and want unions broken. That’s the wrong way to think about the entire situation.

Labor unions and collective bargaining are important tools. There are good reasons to form unions. But unions must be reasonable. If the customer is not happy with a union’s performance, or if the cost of doing business becomes too high — whether the customer is the state of Wisconsin or otherwise — then unions must make reasonable compromises.

Collective bargaining is, after all, about negotiation.

Half a century ago, when most members of unions worked in dangerous conditions for low pay in factories or mines, it was fair for labor to demand justice. It is still fair for unions representing the mistreated, such as those who work as hotel maids or clean offices, to demand justice.