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WILL VERMONT YANKEE CLOSE IN 2012?
If you believe the struggle over the Vermont Yankee nuke plant closing in two years has ended, think again. Just because the legislature voted, that doesn’t mean that the nuclear industry is ready to walk away.
The day after the mid-term elections Entergy announced that it wants to sell the 38 year-old nuke. The idea seems to be to present a better PR image, even better rates, so that the plant’s license can be extended – by just a few years. At first.
Not likely? Perhaps, with new voices like Anthony Pollina and Phillip Baruth in the state legislature. But the strategy is to muddy the waters, to somehow get people to forget that it’s been one bizarre incident after another at the plant, compounded by lying about leaks. However, unless the legislature actually does something – like setting up a high level waste fund and generally making Entergy or any company that wants to buy the plant responsible – the industry will fight to keep that piece of Vermont available as a site, if not now then sometime in the future, and hope they can change public opinion.
So, the question for this week – really the question for the next session of Vermont’s legislature – is this: Will Vermont Yankee actually close in 2012?
GETTING PHYSICAL AT THE AIRPORT
Just in time for the holidays, traveling by plane has become a bit more titillating. Would you prefer a virtual strip search or a public stroking?
The T& A – sorry TSA, or the Transportation Security Administration – recently announced a proposal to use full-body X-ray machines to check out air travelers at some airports. The problem is that the machines show detailed images of naked bodies and provide a dose of low level radiation. That’s the virtual strip search option.
The other choice is a very up-close-and-personal pat down. It’s the kind of frisking that used to be reserved for serious suspects of crimes. Now anyone who wants to board a plane is a suspect. That’s apparently the new definition of reasonable suspicion. And anyone who objects to both options? Well, they’re not going anywhere for Thanksgiving, at least on an airplane.
One person recently made headlines by threatening to have a screener arrested if his “junk” was touched. Fat chance. Many more people are angry. But look at it this way: if you’re looking for a short not-so-sensual massage in a public place, now you know where to go.
FORWARD TO THE PAST
Part One: Unemployment. In less than two weeks, on November 30, the federally funded program that provides emergency unemployment insurance benefits will expire. At the moment it gives additional weeks of benefits to people whose 26 weeks of state-funded unemployment run out before they can find work. But unless Congress steps in all federal unemployment insurance benefits will end in 40 states. The number of weeks available in the other states will also shrink. The result? Several hundred thousand people who exhaust their state benefits every month will receive no more help, and many of the 5 million workers now getting federal emergency benefits will lose their remaining weeks. Welcome back to the 19th Century.
Part Two: Income. It’s Banana Republic time. The richest one percent of people in this country now take home almost 24 percent of the income. That’s up from around 9 percent in 1976. The US now has a more unequal distribution of wealth than many traditional Banana Republics, including places like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.
In 1980 – 30 years ago – the CEOs of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker. By 2001 they were getting 531 times as much. But the most astounding statistic could be this one: From 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of the total increase in US incomes went to the richest one percent.
ARIZONA GETTING HIGHER
One of the strangest political twists this season is that Arizona, ground zero in the fight over immigration and home for millions of aging sun worshippers, has approved a medical-marijuana program. State health officials expect people to be getting relief by next summer.
What bothers me is that I left Arizona before this happened. On the other hand, what I like is that this version of medical-marijuana includes a provision to set up dispensaries.
So far no one has challenged Prop. 203. But every sheriff and county attorney across the state, plus several top state officials, came out against it. If nothing changes, Arizona will be the 15th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, though they don’t know where the money to fund the program – about $800,000 – will come from. Ongoing costs will be covered by fees charged to dispensaries and patients.
During the campaign, one of the main arguments was about whether patients could get marijuana for "chronic pain." The proposition talked about "a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces . . . severe and chronic pain." Opponents see this as a loophole.
Once patients receive a doctor's recommendation, under the new regime they will be able to register for ID cards and then receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every 14 days from non-profit dispensaries. If they live at least 25 miles from a dispensary, they can grow up to 12 marijuana plants of their own. Up to 124 dispensaries will be allowed, but local communities will get to decide what kind – cultivating facilities, retail stores or infusion facilities like marijuana bakeries.
Now, if we can just get enough people in Arizona stoned, we may be able to settle the immigration debate.
GRASS IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS
Vermont also has a medical marijuana law. But here you can only have two ounces at a time, or two mature plants and seven immature ones. It’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle while high, by the way. You know who you are. But more important, no provision for dispensaries was included in the law. So, right now people have no legal way to fill their prescriptions.
How can you qualify for a medical prescription? Step one: you have to suffer from a serious or terminal illness whose symptoms or effects have been treated. Step Two: You have to see a doctor for at least six months before he can recommend, in writing, that you get medicinal marijuana. Step Three: You have to become a registered patient. That means completing a Registered Patient Application Form, having your physician complete a Department of Public Safety medical verification form, paying a $50 application fee, and waiting up to 30 days to be notified.
About the dispensary problem, something Arizona and other states are managing to handle, Governor-elect Shumlim is on record in favor.
Considering Vermont’s reputation, its other marijuana laws are pretty harsh. Get caught with less than two ounces and you can receive up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. First-time offenders can get their sentences deferred. But get caught twice and you could be sentenced to two years in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Same goes for being caught with more than two ounces or cultivating more than three plants. The more weight, the bigger the penalty. More than a pound equals up to five years. More than 10 pounds could get you 15 years in the slammer.
What’s the result? According to a report by Doctor John Gettman, the arrest rate for marijuana offenses in Vermont went up over 4 percent annually from 2003 to 2007. But rather than reducing use, it rose. Basically, penalties and enforcement have little impact.
Last year, two bills that would have reduced the penalty for an ounce or less, from up to six months jail time to a $100 civil fine, failed after House Judiciary Chairman Bill Lippert neglected to schedule a hearing. Obvious question: Was he high? A bill proposed by Sen. Jeanette White to establish dispensaries also stalled. But the new governor was a sponsor of that bill, so things look a bit better for next year. Now, focus everyone…
IS SANDIA THE CAMEL’S NOSE?
Like any other member of congress, Bernie Sanders likes to bring home the bacon in the form of new business and jobs. That’s apparently why he was pleased last week to announce progress in bringing a satellite operation of Sandia National Labs to Vermont. According to his website, he’s “spearheading” the effort to “transform our state into a real-world lab for the entire nation.” The promises include “increased energy efficiency, utility bill savings, a state-of-the-art ‘smart grid,’ and an engineering resource for Vermont companies to help them create jobs.”
“We're at the beginning of something that could be of extraordinary significance to Vermont and the rest of the country," said Bernie.
One problem: Sandia is part of the mega military contractor Lockheed Martin, and its top national security mission is “nuclear weapons to ensure a safe, reliable nuclear deterrent.” Once upon a time it was a player in the development of the Atomic bomb. Today its primary job is to develop, engineer, and test the components of nuclear weapons, although it also conducts research and development in energy and environmental programs, as well as the safety of critical national infrastructures.
Peace activists like Joe Gainza don’t think this is the type of business the state needs, or that Sanders should be crowing about. In a recent e-mail, Gainza asks: “Is this the kind of business we want in Vermont? Do we want the nuclear camel’s nose inside our tent?”
If you want to check out Sandia, it has a website at www.sandia.gov. Or you can leave Bernie a question or message on his site. Is it just more jobs improving energy efficiency and developing clean technologies, or is the leader of the Vermont left inviting a central player in the military-industrial complex to set up shop in Vermont?
ARTS = BIG MONEY
As I reported recently, Vermont businesses bring in at least half a billion dollars a year in defense contracts. But guess what part of the Vermont economy is almost as large? The arts. A new study commissioned by Main Street Landing in Burlington concludes that the economic impact from the arts is around $443.5 million annually.
The study was done by Doug Hoffer, who just lost a race for State Auditor. He used Census information and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average wages in the arts aren’t great, he admits. But “people work in the field because they love it,” he says. “It gives them something more than a paycheck.”
He also says he was surprised by the size of the number. And that doesn’t include the impact of restaurants and bars. “Unfortunately, meals, rooms, alcohol and sales taxes are only reported monthly, so it’s not possible to analyze food and beverage sales on days with and without performing arts events,” Hoffer writes. “However, it is obvious that food and beverage sales increase significantly on nights with arts events.”
Decriminalize pot and that figure will be even higher. Just a thought.
RUMOR OR THE WEEK:
CHINA HIJACKED THE INTERNET
We considered several candidates. For example, Donald Trump may run for President. But that rumor came from Trump, which violates “rumor of the week" rules on conflict of interest. How about the rumor that movie star Ryan Reynolds is the sexiest man alive? First question, who’s Ryan Reynolds? But that one was disqualified because it came from People Magazine. So my research team at the Center for Perception Regulation (CPR) settled on this:
China may have hijacked 15 percent of all Internet traffic for 18 minutes last April. The score supposedly included confidential emails from NASA and the army. This rumor comes from a security report delivered to the US Congress on Wednesday. Of course China denied it. But if true, this would be one of the biggest hijacks of sensitive information in the history of the Internet.
What do we know? Well, earlier this year Google said it would stop censoring results on its Chinese search engine after a sophisticated cyber attack, supposedly sponsored by the Chinese government, was directed at the company. Google also claims that it has evidence of at least 20 companies that have been infiltrated from China.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that some group in China may be the culprit in cyber attacks on at least three US oil companies The incidents, kept secret after they occurred 2008, involved Marathon, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips. The companies didn’t realize how serious their problem was until the FBI alerted them. The Feds said that proprietary information had been flowing out to computers overseas. According to former cyber-czar Richard Clark, corporations think that the “millions of dollars they have spent on computer security systems means they have successfully protected their company’s secrets.” They’re wrong. Intrusion detection and prevention systems sometimes fail.
The report to Congress said that about 15 percent of global internet traffic was routed through Chinese servers earlier this year. Information was allegedly rerouted at a small Chinese ISP called IDC China, then passed to China Telecom. This included encrypted mail from the US Senate and Defense Department. Dmitri Alperovitch, a threat analyst at McAfee, called it "one of the biggest – if not the biggest hijacks – we have ever seen." No one except China Telecom knows what happened, he said. "The possibilities are numerous and troubling, but definitive answers are unknown."
But hey, don’t worry. Enjoy the upcoming holidays and, if you need a thrill, go to an airport and get screened.