Sunday, March 13, 2011

Last Call

The death toll from the Sendai earthquake and tsunami in Japan is now expected to reach well over 10,000.  Three reactors now are facing meltdowns.  The Nikkei is down 7% at the open.  Japan is reeling from a devastating blow that may take decades to recover from and the world economy is in no shape to help them out.

A badly wounded nation has seen whole villages and towns wiped off the map by a wall of water, leaving in its wake an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.

"The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War Two," a grim-faced Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference on Sunday.

"We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."

Officials confirmed three nuclear reactors north of Tokyo were at risk of overheating, raising fears of an uncontrolled radiation leak.

As Kan spoke, engineers worked desperately to cool the fuel rods in the damaged reactors. If they fail, the containers that house the core could melt, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Kan also said the world's third biggest economy faced rolling power blackouts when it reopens for business on Monday.

Japan will need to go short term to more coal and natural gas power plant production as well as diesel for generators as many of the country's nuclear plants will be taken offline for safety inspections.  That's leaving millions without power and water and facing sub-freezing nights.  It's an epic disaster.  My heart goes out to all of those affected.

I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to be there right now.

What's Good For The Goose...

President Obama wisely used his weekly address yesterday to talk about jobs, specifically women wage earners and to press for Congress to take up and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed last year thanks to Republicans.

Obama, in his weekly address, said he was disappointed when the Senate fell just short of approving the Paycheck Fairness Act last year. He urged Congress to take another crack at it and vowed, "I'm going to keep up the fight to pass the reforms in that bill."

The legislation would treat gender discrimination involving wages in the same manner as discrimination related to race, age or disability -- effectively opening up another avenue for court challenges. Many business interests oppose it because they fear a flood of litigation.

"At a time when folks across this country are struggling to make ends meet -- and many families are just trying to get by on one paycheck after a job loss -- it's a reminder that achieving equal pay for equal work isn't just a women's issue. It's a family issue," Obama said. "It is something I care deeply about as the father of two daughters who wants to see his girls grow up in a world where there are no limits to what they can achieve," he said.

Women have made great strides, he said. For instance, they are now more likely to attend college than men. Yet American women are also more likely to live in poverty and still earn only 75 cents for every dollar made by male workers, the president said.

Bon's mentioned this before, giving the advice that women have no choice but to accept it, try to get around it, and to deal with it.  Women earning only three-quarters of what men are isn't exactly fair, and gosh, businesses would only have to fear litigation if somehow there was a systemic effort by companies to pay women less than what their male counterparts earned in the same position.

The screaming of both businesses and the Republicans they own that this bill needs to die, die, die should tell you if that's true or not.  As a male African-American in a technology-oriented field, I can tell you that are plenty of women in the tech workplace and in management positions as well, but it's nowhere near 50-50 parity, especially at upper management levels.  That's true for a number of business sectors.

The fact that both men and women accept gender pay disparity as a given in 2011 should bother more people, I think.  Remember, every single GOP senator voted against this in the lame duck session last November, including three female GOP senators, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (and Lisa Murkowski wasn't present for the vote).

There's no way the Republican-controlled House will even bother to bring up a vote on this, either.  Interestingly enough, when Bill Clinton proposed the Paycheck Fairness Act in 1998, women earned 77 cents on the dollar for what men did.  That only got worse over the last decade as it's now 74 cents for all women, and for African-American women and Latinas it's far worse:  61 cents and 52 cents on the dollar, respectively.

But we can't pass a law to make this fair because of the class action lawsuits.  Republicans freely admit that there is massive disparity in gender pay, but it's just too much of a bother to blame our most precious national resource, the business owner.  Sorry, someone might sue!

Besides, Republicans think you should be in kitchen making pie and wiping snotty noses anyway, girls.  Only bad girls have to work, because they haven't found a man to submit to, or something.

Going After The Real Bad Guys

Hacker group Anonymous is apparently shifting gears and shifting targets, moving to go after the banksters and their government enabler, Helicopter Ben Bernanke.

The world's most (in)famous hacker group - Anonymous - known for effectively shutting down their hacking nemesis security firm (with clients such as Morgan Stanley and, unfortunately for them, Bank of America)- HBGary, advocating the cause of Wikileaks, and the threat made by one of its members that evidence of fraud by Bank of America will be released on Monday, has just launched communication #1 in its Operation "Empire State Rebellion." The goal - engage in "a relentless campaign of non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience" until Ben Bernanke steps down and the "Primary Dealers within the Federal Reserve banking system be broken up and held accountable for rigging markets and destroying the global economy effective immediately."

Doesn't get any bigger than that.  We know the government won't touch the banksters, and that they most likely won't receive a day of jail time, or even be charged with anything at this point.    But if Anonymous is really going to go after the Fed and the big money at the top of the pyramid, then stay tuned.

Things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

F Is For Fail

The Douglas County sheriff is investigating the death of a man who accidentally shot himself while taking a class to obtain a permit to carry a concealed gun.The sheriff said the accident happened while an instructor was having the man manipulate the weapon with his non-dominant hand -- in this case, his left.

Students were working on an exercise in which they pull a concealed weapon with their non-dominant hand, take the safety off, aim and shoot.  Degase said that on the gun Seymour was using, the thumb of the right hand would normally manipulate the safety.

It appeared to him that during the exercise Seymour was manipulating the safety with his left index finger, which got the gun turned around facing Seymour. One round hit him in the chest, Degase said.

"Initially the call came in that the gun had been dropped and went off, but the trajectory of the bullet did not match up," said the sheriff.

 There's a whole lot of tragedy here and very little sense to glue the story together.  Classes aren't a guarantee of success, train slowly to ensure everyone is on the same page, and under no circumstances point a gun towards your chest.  Nuff said.

F Is For Facebook

Facebook is introducing a new measure to help prevent bullying online.  A child who was having problems can now reach out and let supporting adults know they are having a problem.  Obama has a video on the main page, and he gets right to the root of the problem, which is that kids who were bullied at school had a safe home to go to, or other ways to get away from the problem.  Now, in a world that is connected to the very second, there is less opportunity to get away from the stress, and harder to keep  the bullying in perspective.  Times are changing, and we're not talking about pulling on pigtails any longer.

"For a long time, bullying was treated as an unavoidable part of growing up," President Obama says in the video. "But more and more we're seeing how harmful it can be for our kids, especially when it follows them from their school to their phone to their computer screen."

Facebook said the "social reporting" feature is intended to get reports of bullying to the people with the best chance of stopping it.

Under the new system, a user could identify a photo, status update or other item as bullying them, then privately send a message to someone in their friend network about it.

"Safety and child psychology experts tell us that online issues are frequently a reflection of what is happening offline," Facebook wrote. "By encouraging people to seek help from friends, we hope that many of these situations can be resolved face to face."

The Badger Awakens

Meanwhile here in the states, 100,000 turned out in another major pro-union rally Saturday in response to Republican state senators and Gov. Scott Walker passing the "non-budgetary" version of his union-busting bill.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain estimated the crowd at 85,000 to 100,000 people, which would top the size of protests in Madison during the Vietnam War.

The demonstration, capping three weeks of public protests, came a day after Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill to eliminate most bargaining rights for many state government workers.

The state Legislature passed the measure this week after Republicans in the state Senate bypassed a Democratic boycott of the chamber.

The battle in Wisconsin has ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power.

Republicans say the measures are needed to gain control of deficit-ridden budgets. Democrats and their union backers say Republicans are ramming through union-busting proposals.

The confrontation with unions could be the biggest showdown with labor since President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers nearly 30 years ago.

The 100,000 were there to give a massive welcome to the returning Democratic state senators.

They are the unlikeliest of folk heroes.

But this group of once-obscure lawmakers -- a dairy farmer, a lawyer and a woman who is seven months pregnant, among others -- that fled this capital nearly a month ago, returned Saturday to the cheers of tens of thousands who once again packed the streets in protest.

Many in the crowd wore buttons or held signs bearing admiring nicknames for the group: the "Fighting 14," the "Fab 14" or, simply, "the Wisconsin 14." They chanted, "Thank you" and "Welcome home."

Republicans may have won the battle on busting the state's unions.  But it's looking like the victory was Pyrrhic at best.  Will this demonstration translate into political action over the next 19 months?  We'll see.  Wisconsin's state animal, the badger, is not exactly known for calm when riled in defense of its home.  The badger has been awakened, and now the real battle begins.
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