Monday, March 14, 2011

Last Call

Wisconsin Republicans spent three weeks complaining that the 14 Democratic state senators that left were "destroying democracy" in the state.  Now that the Democrats are back, Republicans have responded.

By promptly removing the Dems' right to vote in committee.

As WisPolitics reports, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) sent a letter to his fellow Republicans, reminding them that they had previously found the Democrats to be in contempt of the chamber -- and as such, they are not to be allowed to vote on committees:
Please note that all 14 Democrat senators are still in contempt of the Senate. Therefore, when taking roll call votes on amendments and bills during executive sessions, Senate Democrats' votes will not be reflected in the Records of Committee Proceedings or the Senate Journal. They are free to attend hearings, listen to testimony, debate legislation, introduce amendments, and cast votes to signal their support/opposition, but those votes will not count, and will not be recorded.
Old Wisconsin GOP excuse:  Why won't you come back and vote?  We'll ignore you and do whatever we want!

New Wisconsin GOP excuse: Now you can't vote.  We'll ignore you and do whatever we want!

Democracy in action, Republican style.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 4

And we're now three for three on damaged reactor explosions.

A fresh explosion rocked a damaged Japanese nuclear power plant on Tuesday where engineers have been pumping sea water into a reactor to prevent a catastrophic meltdown in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Japan's nuclear safety agency said Tuesday's explosion at the plant's No.2 reactor was caused by hydrogen. There was no immediate word on damage, but Jiji news agency quoted the trade ministry as saying radiation levels remained low after the blast, the third at the plant since Saturday.

Japan has asked the United States for more equipment to help cool reactors at the Fukushima nuclear complex, which was hit on Monday by a dangerous drop in cooling water levels that exposed fuel rods in the No. 2 reactor.

It gets worse.  No. 2 was the big reactor, and the source of the explosion is almost assuredly an indication of a containment vessel breach.

An explosion early Tuesday morning may have damaged the inner steel containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, leading to the wide release of radioactive materials there and forcing the evacuation of some emergency workers, the plant’s operator said.

The blast appeared to be different — and more severe — than those that at two other troubled reactor at the same nuclear complex because this one, reported to have occurred at 6:14 a.m., happened in the “pressure suppression room” in the cooling area of the reactor, raising the possibility to damage to the reactor’s containment vessel. 

All three reactors have now exploded.  Damage to at least one of the reactor containment vessels is pretty much guaranteed at this point.   The prognosis is grim.

Yukio Edano, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, said he could not rule out the possibility of a meltdown at all three troubled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan.

While sea water was being pumped into the reactors in an effort to prevent further damage, "It cannot necessarily be called a stable situation," Edano said early Tuesday.

Kenneth Bergeron, a physicist who used to work at the U.S. Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, said that "the release of hydrogen and the fission products (suggests) these reactors have probably had fuel rods exposed for significant periods of time."

Edano's comments come amid news about an "explosive impact" that happened Tuesday morning at the No. 2 reactor.

Cooling has been a problem for days at reactors No. 1 and 3, because the earthquake and the tsunami damaged those reactors' cooling systems. But cooling problems at No. 2 began Monday, when a blast at the building that contains No. 3 - said to be caused by a buildup of hydrogen - damaged No. 2's cooling system.

The seawater option is simply not working.  The multiple explosions -- large enough to shatter buildings, mind you -- almost certainly have damaged one or more of the containment vessels in one, two, or possibly all three reactors.  At this point it's only a matter of time.  And just to make the situation worse, the wind is blowing inland from Fukushima Daiichi southward...towards Tokyo.

The Japanese government has lost nearly all credibility in this situation.  You can't expect people to believe three explosions at three reactors are all "just hydrogen" and that everything is fine.  The death toll from the quake and tsunami alone will far, far exceed 10,000.  And when the truth comes out about the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex, the real toll may be massive.

This one isn't going away, folks.  Not in my lifetime.

[UPDATE]  Reactor Number 4 is now on fire from hydrogen burnoff.  That's four reactors of the six at the plant that are now damaged.  PM Naoto Kan is saying that the likelihood of a leak is increasing, particularly the worry is about Number 2.  Asking people from 20km - 30 km to stay indoors and keep the windows shut.  750 of the 800 staff have been evacuated from the plant.

Last stand, folks.  The 50 or so guys remaining at this plant are Big Damn Heroes(tm).  Radiation levels up at least four-fold now, at 8k microsieverts.  About a million or so is widespread radiation sickness level.

This is Japan preparing for the worst as far as the damage to Reactor 2.

Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and much larger emissions of radioactive materials appeared immiment, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments. 

The men trying to prevent the worst, trying to buy time for people to evacuate, should never be forgotten.

[UPDATE 2]  The press conference was...surreal.  Bottom line is that the radiation has gotten to the point where it's now 400k microsieverts, or 400 milisieverts (so we're at 40% of oh crap levels). 1 sievert is the measure of "enough radiation to cause radiation sickness."  This is a major spike in radiation levels due to the fire at reactor 4.

This is mind-numbing.  I cannot fathom what it's like.

The Next War

Looks like our next war is happening pretty much on schedule.

The United States has thrown its weight behind the Arab League's call for a United Nations no-fly zone over Libya, where government troops backed by fighter jets are battling rebels seeking to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power.

Washington, which would play a leading role in enforcing any no-fly zone, called the declaration an "important step", but it stopped short of commitment to any military action and made no proposal for a swift meeting of the UN Security Council.

The Arab League's call for a no-fly zone was announced on Saturday by Oman's foreign minister, Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, at a press conference which followed a meeting of the bloc's ministers in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Amr Moussa, the bloc's secretary-general, said the League had decided that "serious crimes and great violations" committed by Gaddafi's government against his people had stripped him of legitimacy.

But it was not clear if the League's call for a no-fly zone would provide the unequivocal regional endorsement that NATO required for military action to curb Gaddafi.

The US is downplaying the Al Jazeera article, but France is busy trying to make the no fly zone over Libya happen.

France and Britain have led calls to impose a no-fly zone and a French diplomatic source said on Monday that Paris was pushing the issue with foreign ministers arriving for the G8 talks. The meeting formally begins with a dinner on Monday and ends with a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Both Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon were to meet Libyan opposition figures this week, either in Paris or in north Africa.

With violence worsening, "no option can be ruled out," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told an electronic press briefing as Gaddafi's troops battled rebel fighters for control of the oil town of Brega.

"The conclusions from the March 11 European summit and the Arab League's March 12 resolution clearly demonstrate the international community's firm commitment to protecting Libyan civilians," Valero said.

It's entirely possible we could have US planes over Libya by the end of the month, which of course will necessitate ground forces to stop Qaddafi from sabotaging oil terminals, which will necessitate years of intervention in the country at tremendous cost in money and blood...

And nobody bats an eye.  Michael Barone complains that Obama isn't doing enough to cut the budget and isn't doing enough to declare war on Libya, and he complains about both at the same damn time.  We have enough to give tax cuts to the rich.  We have enough to bomb Libya.  Screw our schools, roads, seniors, unemployed and everyone else.

The Badger Awakens, Part 2

Some 85,000-100,000 people showed up in Madison this weekend, but apparently nobody in the Village cared to notice, because that would spoil the Tea Party narrative.

Police estimated up to 100,000 people turned out in Madison, WI yesterday to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) assault on unions, making it bigger than any protests the city has witnessed, even those during the Vietnam War. The Madison rally is part of a much larger Main Street Movement of average Americans demanding fairness in labor laws, social spending, and taxation that has emerged in Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere. But yesterday’s rally in Madison is noteworthy because at 85,000-100,000, it was bigger than the biggest tea party protest, the September 12, 2009 rally in Washington, D.C., which turned out only an estimated 60,000-70,000.

But the Republicans still "won" despite "we the people" and all.

What happened in Wisconsin has broad implications. The state is only one of many that face massive deficits following years of irresponsible spending—in Wisconsin, $3.6 billion over the next two years. Walker ran for governor last fall on reducing that spending and balancing the budget. He won with more than 52 percent of the vote. So he proposed a budget repair bill to begin that process.

Democrats, who lost not only the governor’s mansion but also both chambers of the state legislature, were powerless to stop Walker from implementing his agenda. Encouraged by the interest groups that help elect them, particularly the unions, these Democrats did the one thing they could to slow him down. It didn’t work. The failure of their effort and the enactment of the reforms will have profound policy and political consequences, not only for Wisconsin but also for the country. 

As far as the Village is concerned, this fight ended on Wednesday morning with total victory for the Republicans.

The Future of Medicine

Medicine is changing by leaps and bounds.  The methods and science is evolving rapidly, but so is medicine on the front lines.  Patients are more open to alternative methods, and so are insurance companies.  There are some possible shifts on the horizon that can change our lives for years to come.

One dramatic swing has been an increase in patients choosing to die at home.  Some of this is an advance in hospice care, some of it is due to the cost of hospital care.  There is a disagreement between two completely opposite and equally legitimate response to a medical death sentence: quality and quantity.  Some patients and doctors aggressively fight and explore every treatment possible.  Some patients choose to remain at home to enjoy their remaining time, and put less emphasis on progressive treatment.

Another movement gaining popularity is that of midwives and their increasing numbers.  Home births are on the rise, and families under financial strain are more willing to try less traditional paths.  Some families like the intimacy of a home birth, and there is a lively debate as to the safety of having a baby at home.  The greatest problem is that so far there is no regulation and therefore a significant risk in choosing the birth team.  My best friend and I have similar opinions on many things, but not this.  She has had three children at home and loves it.  I am a scientific person at heart, and I find tremendous comfort in being surrounded by the latest technology.  What she finds cold and impersonal is safe and reliable to me.  With proper certification and regulation, this could become a generation-impacting change on the medical community.  Families could have a choice, and as long as it is implemented with foresight this could be a good thing.

As things start to change on any health-related front, I'll be covering it here.  Our medical culture is going to turn upside down.  The current system is not sustainable, so the question of collapse and restructure isn't a matter of if, but when.

Preparing for Patrick

With St. Patrick's Day coming up, there will be beer everywhere.  This fun article has several recipes that include beer.  If you aren't 21 or just like green, you can click here for some recipes that are more traditional or just a clever way to work green into some food.

Me, I'll be playing my fiddle for the pub crawl.  Methinks if they are drunk enough they may not notice if I fudge a note or two.

You Can Bank On It

Folks are poring over the release of Bank of America emails today by hacker group Anonymous detailing what the group is claiming as mortgage fraud.  Forbes' Hayah Touryalai takes a look at the correspondence between mortgage subsidiary Balboa Insurance and BofA.

It seems like the actual internal emails in the Anonymous release are between Balboa Insurance employees and BofA employees, but tough to tell if there’s anything truly damning in the e-mails.

The informant tells Anonymous that he has emails revealing BofA’s order to mismatch loan numbers from their documents in order to foreclose on homeowners. Read the leaked Bank of America e-mails here.

The release from Anonymous (which is unrelated to WikiLeaks but is a supporter of the organization) comes about 4 months after WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange told Forbes he had troves of data that could take down Bank of America.

Last month it was revealed that Assange wasn’t sure about the negative impact of his BofA goods saying he isn’t sure the data he has on BofA contains any scandal, and that the material was not self-explanatory to the extent that he himself could not make any sense of it.

Bank of America has had months of warnings of about the possibility of a damaging leak, but so far the threats have yet to hurt its share price. Since late November when Forbes reported on the BofA megaleak from WikiLeaks, the bank’s shares have soared 27%.

We'll see how it goes.   Tyler Durden's take at Zero Hedge is a little less laconic:

The punchline is that this appears to be a concerted effort from the ground up to hide foreclosure data from auditors and the Fed in order to obtain select preferential treatment in a variety of housing related axes, in many instances to accelerate foreclosures.

As the whistleblower summarizes: "Balboa Insurance/Countrywide knowingly hiding foreclosure information from federal auditors during the federal takeovers of IndyMac Federal (a subsidiary of OneWest) and Aurora Loan Services (a subsidiary of Lehman Bros Holdings), falsifying loan documentation in order to proceed with foreclosures by fixing letter cycles in the system, reporting incorrect volumes to all of their lenders and to the federal auditors to avoid fines for falling behind on Loan Modifications, purposefully and knowingly adjusting premiums for REO insurance for their corporate clients while denying forebearances for individual borrowers, etc, etc, etc. In addition, if anyone can get me a copy of the image of the hard drive that Jullian Assange reportedly has from the BofA executive, it will not take a dozen financial analysis to decipher it like I've read in the news. I could find all the dirt on that hard drive within a week."

We'll see.  This could be nothing, or it could be the start of something large and ugly.  But will the federal government act upon it even if it is?  Doubtful at best.

Bud-Nipping 101

Saudi King Abdullah is not a stupid man.  He knows a bad situation in Bahrain when he sees it, and he will do what is necessary to remain in power next door.  That means settling the neighbor's problems with a baseball bat.

First King Abdullah stomped out the protests in Saudi Arabia. Now he has sent troops to Bahrain to keep protesters out of the Gulf, according to Bahrain State TV and Al-Watan.

UAE forces are also expected to arrive today.

Bahrain put the call out yesterday  after protesters blockaded the financial district in some of the largest unrest yet, according to the FT.

Saudi Arabia and UAE have far more oil money than Bahrain, and Saudia Arabia in particular has a powerful US-backed military.

With protests in Bahrain going where the money is, the financial district of capital Manama, the Saudis know that if these protests aren't stopped with considerable force, they are next.  No Mubarak/Qaddafi scenario in Riyadh will be allowed.  Any more protests on the Arabian Peninsula will be answered by the finest US military ordnance that Saudi oil can buy.

Oil is down this morning as a result as Abdullah restores "order".  Meanwhile, Manama is under martial law, and the martial part is coming from next door.

Gulf Cooperation Council security forces are in Bahrain, the strategically important kingdom's foreign minister said on Twitter Monday.
The announcement by Khalid al-Khalifa follows a day of clashes between protesters and security forces that resulted in more than 1,000 people hospitalized, human rights activists said.

The foreign minister gave no other details on Twitter, advising journalists to wait for an official announcement. The Cooperation Council is a group of six Gulf states -- Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, and Qatar -- that encourages cooperation among members in a number of areas including economic and security cooperation.

Also on Monday, a key part of the capital was taken over by protesters, a Human Rights Watch official told CNN.

About 100 demonstrators blocked access to the Bahrain Financial Harbour with barricades such as trash cans and cinder blocks, effectively shutting down the commercial district, Faraz Sanei said.

There was no police presence, he added.

Yeah, they don't want to be in the fire zone either.  Don't blame them. When the GCC security forces show up with the big toys that make the big noise, things are going to get extremely bad.  The US Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, which probably explains the very fast reaction by the six Gulf State nations to release the GCC boys.

Stay tuned.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 3

A second explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex, this time at Reactor #3, has signaled that Japan is losing the battle to contain the meltdown situation at the earthquake and tsunami damaged nuclear plant.

Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.

The detection of the highly radioactive elements heralds the beginning of an ecological and human tragedy. The two radioactive isotopes can mean only one thing: One or more of the reactor cores is badly damaged and at least partially melted down.

Japanese reactor operators now have little choice but to periodically release radioactive steam until the radioactive elements in the fuel of the stricken reactors stop generating intense heat, a process that can continue for a year or more even after fission has stopped.

This isn't a worst-case scenario...yet.  But it's pretty clear that the line from Japanese officials that the explosions at the complex are just "cooling system malfunctions" are clear lies.   The reality is that meltdowns are happening now, and it may take a very long time to deal with the broken containment vessel or vessels.  Radioactivity has been released and has contaminated Japan's countryside and ocean.

On Sunday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the prevailing winds at Daiichi are blowing to the northeast, out to sea, and should continue to do so for the next three days.

Such emissions would not endanger the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Sunday. Given the thousands of miles between the countries, the danger could simply dissipate over the Pacific.

It's impossible to know how a plume of radioactivity traveling over the ocean might affect sea life, said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which strongly opposes nuclear power. Lyman said that simulations he has run on possible nuclear disasters in the U.S. estimate "tens of thousands of cancer deaths" from a total meltdown.

A 2005 census counted 103 million people on Honshu, including the population of Tokyo, which lies 150 miles to the southwest of Fukushima Daiichi.

Lyman's simulations, which rely on NRC computer code, show unfavorable winds could spread radioactivity far beyond the 12.5-mile evacuation zone, much like Chernobyl in 1986.

As I have been saying for over 24 hours now, containment has failed.  The question now is how bad the eventual damage will be.  Japanese citizens who live near the plant may not be able to return to their homes for a very long time.   If there is a complete failure at one or all three damaged reactors, then the damage could be catastrophic.  As it is, we're looking at partial meltdown failures at two of the three reactors.

It's not worst-case scenario yet, but it is getting progressively worse.


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