Weekly Roundup 1/3/2012

The most important losers in American politics
Scott Farris, The Washington Post, Jan. 1, 2012

Synopsis: Every presidential candidate wants victory, but even losers can have a huge impact, according to journalist Scott Farris. But from his book Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation, Farris highlights some of the defeated presidential candidates who helped change U.S. history – from William Jennings Bryan, who transformed the Democratic Party from a conservative, southern-based party to a progressive coalition of workers, farmers and crusaders; to Barry Goldwater, who helped turn the Republican Party decisively in a conservative direction. Some others: Al Smith, the first major-party Catholic nominee whose defeat made John Kennedy’s election possible; and Thomas Dewey, the GOP’s first post-FDR nominee who told the Republican Party not to campaign on a platform of undoing the New Deal.

Takeaway: “[W]inning an election is a narrow definition of success,” Farris writes. “A triumphant candidate may be stuck in the policies of the past and become no more than a footnote in history; a losing candidate can be prophetic and end up transforming our politics.”

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Nuclear Power Play: Ambition, Betrayal and the 'Ugly Underbelly' of Energy Regulation
Ryan Grimm, Huffington Post, Dec. 29, 2011

Scuffle at NRC Has Stench of Industry Influence Behind It
J. Patrick Coolican, Las Vegas Sun, Dec. 12, 2011

Fight Among Nation's Top Nuclear Regulators Get Airing Before Congress
Mark Clayton, The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 14, 2011

Synopsis: In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, some members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are accusing Chairman Gregory Jaczko of tyrannical behavior in pushing for safety upgrades at U.S. plants. Where some see an overzealous Jaczko bullying colleagues and the power industry to ram through expensive and possibly unnecessary changes, others see an understandably concerned chairman whose safety-improvement efforts have run into an industry-inspired roadblock, as nuclear-industry skeptics say has happened in the past.

Takeaway: In the state that's the site for the federal government's long-proposed nuclear-waste-disposal site, Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, many, understandably, seem to be on Jaczko's side. "People I talked to say this row is really about the strong record of Jaczko on nuclear safety and public health issues, including on Yucca Mountain," writes a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun. "The nuclear industry knows he won’t carry its water, so industry allies" on the Commission "are trying to force him out. According to one NRC observer, Jaczko is pushing hard for policies that will prevent blackouts at nuclear plants; much of the catastrophe at Fukushima can be pegged to power failures after the earthquake and tsunami there"

For more, see my June 10 report on Nuclear Power and Jennifer Weeks' Jan. 28 report on Managing Nuclear Waste.

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Pay Up Now
Joe Nocera, The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 1, 2012

Synopsis: You don’t have to be a fan of big-time college sports to be mesmerized – and taken aback -- by this fascinating look at the big money involved in college sports. For example, did you know that Mack Brown’s 2011 salary as University of Texas football coach was $5.1 million, while the combined value of the 2011 athletic scholarships for the UT football team was just $3.1 million. As writer Joe Nocera essentially says in this compelling report, Hmmm, what’s wrong with this picture?

Takeaway: Nocera proposes to end the inequity and false sentimentality of college athletics and pay college players for playing. He writes: “College sports will become more honest once players are paid and more honorable. Fans will be able to enjoy football and men’s basketball without having to avert their eyes from the scandals and hypocrisy. Yes, it’s true; paying players will change college sports. They will be better, too.”

For background, see Kenneth Jost’s “College Football,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 18, 2011.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor