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The Right's New Patriotic PC - From Lapel Pins to Nuclear Waste

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For a generation, the right has wailed over "political correctness," which Jonah Goldberg labels as "liberal fascism" since it "seeks to impose uniformity in thought and action throughout the entire society."  It appears that the right now embraces the "F" word as they dictate what patriotic Americans should wear (flag lapel pin mandatory, "jihadist" scarves forbidden) and even believe.  Under the right's Patriotic PC, true Americans must love their country, their flag, torture and . . .  even nuclear waste. 

Nuclear waste?  Under Jonah Goldberg's latest loyalty test, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nuclear power and the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump are good simply because he says so and, as a result, those that oppose any of them are feckless elites who lack a real commitment to addressing terrorism and global warming.  In doing so, Goldberg adopts the same "facts be damned" mentality that has defined both messes from the beginning.

The Guantanamo Bay naval base (often referred to as Gitmo), is a geographic oddity - located on Cuban soil but leased indefinitely to the United States since 1903.  It has been used as a detention center by prior presidents, including Bush's father who used the base to detain Haitian refugees who qualified for asylum (and therefore could not be returned to Haiti) but were barred from entering the U.S. since they were HIV-positive.  At that time, U.S. courts refused to address the Haitian's legal limbo because Gitmo was on Cuban soil.  

There is no doubt that Gitmo was selected by the current  Bush Administration precisely because it was perceived as outside U.S. jurisdiction, just as it concocted the "enemy combatant" classification to escape the Geneva Convention and monitoring from the Red Cross.  This enabled the Bush administration to maintain the position spouted by Goldberg, that the detainees are "terrorists" who were battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan and are now captive in the Ritz Carlton of detention facilities.

Eventually, however, the Supreme Court determined U.S. courts did have jurisdiction over Gitmo, the Red Cross gained access to the camp and stories began to leak revealing the true story.  While the detainees do include members of Al Qaeda, over half of them were neither members of Al Qaeda nor were they ever combatants.  Goldberg's assertion that Gitmo is "among the most humane" detention facilities is contradicted by Vice President Cheney's admission that detainees were subjected to water-boarding, as well as an FBI report that detainees were chained in a fetal position without food or water for as much as twenty four hours and subjected to strangulation, beatings and having burning cigarettes placed into their ears. 

Goldberg clearly is afflicted with Yucca-fiction Syndrome, a malady in which one selects a predetermined conclusion and then either declares it to be the right decision or limits his analysis (if any) to finding evidence to support that conclusion.  This is precisely what occurred with the selection of Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a repository for high level nuclear waste that will remain hazardous for 240,000 years and is a mere 90 miles outside America's fastest growing metropolitan area - Las Vegas. 

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Department of Energy (DOE) was to evaluate and recommend three sites "for the construction . . .  of a deep geologic test and evaluation facility" for potential storage of this waste.  When DOE named Yucca Mountain along with sites in Washington and Texas as the three test sites, Congress responded by quickly passing what was known as the "Screw Nevada bill" to eliminate all that messy evaluation stuff and give Nevada the pleasure of hosting nuclear waste for centuries to come.  Today, the Bush administration applied for a permit to begin constructing the repository despite great concern over Yucca Mountain's suitability.      

Goldberg's acute Yucca-fiction is evident when he claims that if we really are serious about addressing global warming then we must love nuclear power and Yucca Mountain.  By simply declaring this to be the truth, Goldberg avoids addressing facts like a British government study that found that nuclear power was one of the least cost-effective ways to cut CO2 emissions; a Government Accountability Office study finding that Yucca Mountain, which is crisscrossed by 33 fault lines and has had past volcanic activity, has a "long history of quality assurance problems" that include falsified test results; and that the DOE has yet to construct a nuclear facility that did not leak.  More significantly, Goldberg ignores the health and security dangers posed by 22,000 truck and rail shipments of high level nuclear waste through 43 states over a 40-year period (with one in six Americans living within a half-mile of the proposed routes).  While transportation experts predict hundreds of such accidents, a single serious accident could cause thousands of cancer deaths and billions in clean up costs. 

Goldberg concludes this tour de farce by vilifying opponents of his Yucca-fied logic as feckless elites for failing to offer alternatives.  The reality (surprise, surprise) is that opponents have offered alternatives. Yucca Mountain opponents have proposed intermediate on-site storage solutions until an adequate technological solution can be found. 

With respect to Gitmo, the alternative is 220 years old - the Constitution.  As Sandra Day O'Connor explained in rebuking the Bush administration's use of indefinite detentions, "[i]t is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to principles for which we fight abroad."  

Goldberg is willing to compromise not only the health and well-being of millions of Americans but also the very core of our national identity without any basis other than his desire to maintain uniformity with current right-wing dogma.  But who cares about such trivialities as long as the nation is safe from naked lapels and jihadist scarves? 

Bennet Kelley worked for the lobbying firm representing the State of Nevada on nuclear waste issues from 1985-1988 and also was part of a team that challenged the detention and treatment of HIV-positive Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Bay before the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

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Bennet Kelley is an award-winning columnist, a political commentator, radio host and the former Co-Founder and National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee's Saxophone Club (its young professional fundraising and outreach arm during (more...)

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