Daily Archive: 03/11/2014

Mar 11 2014

Fukushima, 3 Years After

Transcript

Transcript

Deadly Fukushima Crisis Further Corrodes Viability of Nuclear Energy

By H Patricia Hynes, Truthout

Tuesday, 11 March 2014 09:08

More than 35 percent of some 38,000 Fukushima children examined have cysts or nodules on their thyroids, as compared with 1 percent of a control group of Japanese children. In a callous move to keep schools open in Fukushima, the Japanese government raised the “permissible” level of radiation for children. Japanese children now can be exposed to 20 times more radiation than was previously allowed, a level comparable to the yearly limit for German workers.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive water from the site have emptied and continue to leak via groundwater into the Pacific Ocean at the rate of 400 tons per day. Radioactive cesium, a carcinogen that bioaccumulates in animal, fish and human tissue, has been found throughout mainland Japan, in fish off the coast of Fukushima (thus closing that industry) and in large migratory fish such as Bluefin tuna off the coast of California. A plume of radioactive water from Fukushima is expected to reach the West Coast of the United States in early 2014. Tragically, there is no solution in sight to trapping and treating the cesium-, tritium- and strontium-contaminated groundwater before it reaches the Pacific Ocean. “The situation at the reactor site is progressively deteriorating, not stabilizing,” stated an international group of experts in their urgent appeal for international action to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.



Radioactive waste is the nuclear industry’s nightmare, most currently so in Fukushima Dai’ichi, where intensely radioactive spent fuel rods lie in a warped and sinking structure and at risk of a catastrophic fire if another (and potentially likely) earthquake strikes the region. For this reason, the US State Department advised Americans soon after March 11 to evacuate to at least 50 miles from the plant.

Study: Nuclear Reactors Are Toxic to Surrounding Areas, Especially With Age

By Candice Bernd, Truthout

Tuesday, 11 March 2014 09:06

The United States currently has 100 operating nuclear reactors in 31 states. The last nuclear plant to be constructed was finished in 1996, and the oldest was built in 1969. The average age of all operating nuclear plants in the United States is about 30 years.



Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is at a major risk of a Fukushima-style disaster because it sits atop an active fault line, and the plant’s age is a factor in its vulnerability to seismic activity.



But (David) Lochbaum (Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists), who authored a report for UCS called, “Seismic Shift: Diablo Canyon Literally and Figuratively on Shaky Ground,” maintains the earthquake hazard in the 1970s, when the Diablo Canyon plant was proposed and constructed, led its designers to protect against seismic activity no greater than 0.4 g-forces. That was before two other major active fault lines in the region were discovered and estimated to cause a ground motion of around 0.75 g-forces. PG&E has not made any structural adjustments or modifications to account for this discrepancy.

Mar 11 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: The Democrats Stand Up to the Kochs

Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.

Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal – no party should – but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.

Dean Baker: Would you delay buying a $30 shirt for months to save 8 cents? Me neither

Hyperinflation and runaway deflation are extremely rare. The eurozone’s panic is simply an absurd excuse for inaction

The collapse of the housing bubble and the subsequent devastation to the economy caught almost the entire economics profession by surprise. Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, along with other people in top policy positions, were left dumbfounded. They didn’t think a prolonged downturn was possible. They were wrong in a really big way.

The current group of central bank chairs and other top policymakers would like us to believe that they’ve learned their lesson and now everything is under control. They want us to think they actually have a clue about how the economy operates. There is good reason to believe otherwise. The European Central Bank (ECB) recognizes that inflation has been running below its 2% inflation target and is likely to stay below that target for several years to come. But the ECB has reassured the public that’s prepared to act, making sure that the eurozone doesn’t see deflation. That the bank cares about the inflation rate crossing zero and turning negative is a sign that it has no clue about how the economy works.

The point here is incredibly simple – apparently too simple for the ECB to understand. The inflation rate in the eurozone is too low right now. If it falls below zero and turns negative, this problem becomes more serious, but there is no qualitative difference between a drop from 1.5% inflation to 0.5% inflation and the drop from a 0.5% inflation rate to a -0.5% inflation rate.

Steve Patrick Ercolani: Why the GOP cares about poverty now: poor people are looking more white

Republicans say they’ll fight income inequality. That’s good. It’s just a shame they had to make it about race.

The face of poverty doesn’t look the same anymore. And Republicans here in Washington seem to be taking note. They even seem to be caring. What, Paul Ryan, worry about the takers and not the makers? Maybe the war-on-the-war-on-poverty message has less to do with faulty data and midterm chances than something a lot simpler: the GOP’s favorite all-purpose boogeyman – the Welfare Queen – has been replaced with a poor population that looks a lot more, well, white.

According to a recent report from the Census Bureau (pdf), one in three Americans can be expected to fall below the poverty line for at least six months, and more than 50% of all Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 have experienced at least a year of poverty. What’s different, now, is that two-thirds of those who fall below the poverty line now self-identify as white.

Robert A Ferguso: America’s punishment addiction: how to put our broken jails back together

Eric Holder and Barack Obama can hope for change all they want. But US prisons have become a big-money war zone

In the United States, people can land in prison for life over minor offenses. They can be locked up forever for siphoning gasoline from a truck, shoplifting small items from a department store or attempting to cash a stolen check. Sentences across the United States in the last 30 years have doubled. Roy Lee Clay, for example, received in 2013 a sentence of mandatory punishment of life without parole for refusing to accept a plea bargain of 10 years for trafficking 1kg of heroin. Even the sentencing judge found this “extremely severe and harsh”. The bigger picture: a recent Human Rights Watch report found that the threat of harsh sentences leads 97% of drug defendants to plead guilty rather than exercise their right to a public trial.

Most citizens are shocked when they hear such reports. Federal judge John Gleeson of New York said that the way prosecutors use plea bargaining “coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away”. Federal judge Mark Bennett of Iowa has described the “shocking, jaw-dropping disparity” of prior-conviction enhancements to force a plea bargain in a case.

But these and other shocks mean nothing without a larger shock of recognition: Americans like to punish.

Eugene Robinson: Ukraine’s Test From Within

When the new Ukrainian prime minister visits the White House this week, President Obama should offer continued support-but also ask pointedly why several far-right ultra-nationalists have such prominent roles in Ukraine’s new government.

I don’t know of any reason to doubt Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s commitment to democracy and pluralism. The same cannot be said for some other members of the provisional regime that is trying to reverse Russia’s grab of the Crimean Peninsula. [..]

Obama should anticipate that if far-right figures begin to shape the policies of the new government, tensions between the eastern and western parts of the country will get worse, not better. Public opinion in cities such as Kharkov and Donetsk, where people are nervous but don’t want to become Russians again, may begin to shift Putin’s way.

The upheaval in Ukraine, I’m afraid, is anything but simple-and anything but over.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The Right’s New Clothes

Are conservatives interested in new ideas, or are they merely infatuated with the idea of new ideas? Are they really reappraising their approach, or are they trying to adjust their image just enough to win elections?

One way to look at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference is as a face-off between the “No Surrender” cries of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and the “Let’s Try to Win” rhetoric of such politicians as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Seen in this light, Republicans truly are having the internal debate that Ryan called “messy,” “noisy,” and “a little bit uncomfortable.”

But Ryan may have revealed more than he intended when he downplayed conservative divisions. “For the most part,” Ryan insisted, “these disagreements have not been over principles or even policies. They’ve been over tactics.”

In which case, this is not an argument over ideas at all, but a discussion of packaging.

Mar 11 2014

Son, we live in a world that has thieves. And those thieves are Banks.

Credit Suisse Documents Point to Mortgage Lapses

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON, The New York Times

MARCH 9, 2014

The documents are noteworthy because Credit Suisse, unlike many other major banks, has refused to settle large lawsuits stemming from the mortgage crisis. The bank has long maintained that its operations were held to a high standard and that the mortgage investments it sold lost value largely because of the broad housing collapse, rather than its practices.



During the housing boom, Credit Suisse was a fairly big player, bundling $203 billion worth of mortgages into securities that it sold to private investors between 2005 and 2007. By comparison, Countrywide Financial, a more prominent mortgage lender, sold $277 billion of those securities during that period.



But the Swiss bank has come under the microscope in recent months. In late February, four of its top executives, including Mr. Dougan, testified before Congress about the bank’s involvement in helping United States citizens hide money overseas and avoid taxes. Mr. Dougan contended that only a handful of bank employees were involved in the questionable activities and that Credit Suisse had improved its compliance. And last year Kareem Serageldin, a former mortgage trader at Credit Suisse, was found guilty of hiding more than $100 million in mortgage bond losses at the bank by inflating the bonds’ value as the housing market collapsed. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.



Also included in the legal filing was a script circulated via email among executives at the Credit Suisse mortgage unit in June 2006. The script, describing mortgage lending, is based on the “You can’t handle the truth” courtroom scene between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in the film “A Few Good Men.”

In the script, the role played by Mr. Nicholson is changed to that of a loan officer challenging an underwriter who is questioning the quality of his loans.

“You scoff at sales divisions and you curse our lucrative incentives, commissions and bonus plans,” the script reads. “You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what we know: that while the cost of business results are excessive, it drives in the loans. And my very existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, drives REVENUE! You don’t want to know the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at staff meetings … you want me on that sales call. You NEED me on that sales call.”

Mar 11 2014

On This Day In History March 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 11 is the 70th day of the year (71st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 295 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1851, The first performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi takes place in Venice.

Rigoletto is an opera in three acts  with the Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo. It is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi’s middle-to-late career.

Composition history

Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well-known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He then asked Piave (with whom he had already created Ernani, I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il Corsaro and Stiffelio) to examine the play Kean by Alexandre Dumas, père, but he felt he needed a more energetic subject to work on.

Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse. He later explained that “It contains extremely powerful positions … The subject is great, immense, and has a character that is one of the most important creations of the theatre of all countries and all Ages”. It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already had trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier (and would continue to ban it for another thirty years). As Austria at that time directly controlled much of Northern Italy, it came before the Austrian Board of Censors. Hugo’s play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.

From the beginning, Verdi was aware of the risks, as was Piave. In a letter which Verdi wrote to Piave: “Use four legs, run through the town and find me an influential person who can obtain the permission for making Le Roi s’amuse.” Correspondence between a prudent Piave and an already committed Verdi followed, and the two remained at risk and underestimated the power and the intentions of Austrians. Even the friendly Guglielmo Brenna, secretary of La Fenice, who had promised them that they would not have problems with the censors, was wrong.

At the beginning of the summer of 1850, rumors started to spread that Austrian censorship was going to forbid the production. They considered the Hugo work to verge on lèse majesté, and would never permit such a scandalous work to be performed in Venice. In August, Verdi and Piave prudently retired to Busseto, Verdi’s hometown, to continue the composition and prepare a defensive scheme. They wrote to the theatre, assuring them that the censor’s doubts about the morality of the work were not justified but since very little time was left, very little could be done. The work was secretly called by the composers The Malediction (or The Curse), and this unofficial title was used by Austrian censor De Gorzkowski (who evidently had known of it from spies) to enforce, if needed, the violent letter by which he definitively denied consent to its production.

In order not to waste all their work, Piave tried to revise the libretto and was even able to pull from it another opera Il Duca di Vendome, in which the sovereign was substituted with a duke and both the hunchback and the curse disappeared. Verdi was completely against this proposed solution and preferred instead to have direct negotiations with censors, arguing over each and every point of the work.

At this point Brenna, La Fenice’s secretary, showed the Austrians some letters and articles depicting the bad character but the great value of the artist, helping to mediate the dispute. In the end the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera had to be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy, as well as a renaming of the characters. In the Italian version the Duke reigns over Mantova and belongs to the Gonzaga family: the Gonzaga had long been extinct by the mid-19th Century, and the Dukedom of Mantova did not exist anymore, so nobody could be offended. The scene in which the sovereign retires in Gilda’s bedroom would be deleted and the visit of the Duke to the Taverna (inn) was not intentional anymore, but provoked by a trick. The hunchback (originally Triboulet) became Rigoletto (from French rigolo = funny). The name of the work too was changed.

For the première, Verdi had Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, the young tenor Raffaele Mirate as the Duke, and Teresina Brambilla as Gilda (though Verdi would have preferred Teresa De Giuli Borsi). Teresina Brambilla was a well-known soprano coming from a family of singers and musicians; one of her nieces, Teresa Brambilla, was the wife of Amilcare Ponchielli.

The opening was a complete triumph, especially the scena drammatica, and the Duke’s cynical aria, “La donna è mobile”, was sung in the streets the next morning.

Mar 11 2014

CIA Creates New Scandal to Cover Up The Old Scandal

It was revealed last week that the Central Intelligence Agency may have been spying on Senate Select Committee on Intelligence members as they investigated the agency’s involvement and cover up of torture, rendition, and black op prisons. A second inquiry has now been referred to the FBI regarding the possibility that the SSCI members may have accessed a document that the CIA didn’t want them to see. It was apparently a review of the same documents that was ordered by then director of the CIA, Leon Panetta.

It was early December when the Central Intelligence Agency began to suspect it had suffered what it regarded as an embarrassing computer breach.

Investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee, working in the basement of a C.I.A. facility in Northern Virginia, had obtained an internal agency review summarizing thousands of documents related to the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Parts of the C.I.A. report cast a particularly harsh light on the program, the same program the agency was in the midst of defending in a prolonged dispute with the intelligence committee.

What the C.I.A. did next opened a new and even more rancorous chapter in the struggle over how the history of the interrogation program will be written. Agency officials began scouring the digital logs of the computer network used by the Senate staff members to try to learn how and where they got the report. Their search not only raised constitutional questions about the propriety of an intelligence agency investigating its congressional overseers, but has also resulted in two parallel inquiries by the Justice Department – one into the C.I.A. and one into the committee. [..]

t is unclear how or when committee investigators obtained parts of the Panetta review. One official said that they had penetrated a firewall inside the C.I.A. computer system that had been set up to separate the committee’s work area from other agency digital files, but exactly what happened will not be known until the Justice Department completes its inquiry.

Several officials said that the C.I.A. never intended to give the internal memos to the Senate, partly under the justification that they were draft documents intended for the C.I.A. director and therefore protected under executive privilege authorities.

Another justification was that the Panetta Review began in 2009, three years after the agreed upon 2006 end date for the document transfer.

But by late last year, Democrats on the committee increased pressure on the C.I.A. to formally hand over the internal review. Senator Feinstein wrote a letter to Mr. Brennan, and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado disclosed the existence of the review during an open hearing on Dec. 17.

In retaliation for the Inspector General’s request that that the Justice Department look into criminal violations by the CIA for spying on the Senate committee members, the legal council for the CIA has opened a second investigation accusing the committee members of having accessed and remove the document they didn’t want them to see, “The Panetta Report.”

The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti joined MSNBC’s Now host Alex Wagner on the [standoff between the CIA and congress ] over a potentially explosive intelligence report the Senate Intelligence Committee prepared on the CIA’s former program of rendition, detention and interrogation.

How interesting that Obama and the Senate made Brennan the head of the CIA. Now the man who was complicit for the authorization for torture and detention policies of the Bush regime is able to cover up his own war crimes.