Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Last Call

At this point the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant situation has devolved into US vs. Japan nuclear expert finger-pointing, the Americans are saying that the Japanese are seriously underplaying the level of true disaster here and the Japanese are kindly telling the US to piss off.  Yes, the situation is that bad, folks.

The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of the threat posed by Japan’s nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than the perimeter established by Japan.

The announcement marked a new and ominous chapter in the five-day long effort by Japanese engineers to bring four side-by-side reactors under control after their cooling systems were knocked out by an earthquake and tsunami last Friday. It also suggested a serious  split between Washington and Tokyo, after American officials concluded that the Japanese warnings were insufficient, and that, deliberately or not, they had understated the potential threat of what is taking place inside the nuclear facility.

Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the commission, said in Congressional testimony that the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had boiled dry, leaving fuel rods stored there exposed and bleeding radiation. As a result, he said, “We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”

On Thursday morning a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power, the Daiichi plant operator, and a spokesman for Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency, denied Mr. Jaczko’s account, saying the situation at reactor No. 4 had not changed and that water remained in the spent fuel storage pool. But both officials said the situation was changing and that the reactor had not been inspected in recent hours.

"We can’t get inside to check, but we’ve been carefully watching the building’s environs, and there has not been any particular problem," said Hajime Motojuku, the spokesman for Tokyo Electric.

Takumi Koyamada, the spokesman at Japan’s nuclear regulator, said that as of 12 hours ago water remained and the temperature reading was 84 degrees Celsius and that no change had been reported since then. "We cannot confirm that there has been a loss in water," he said. "But we face a very unpredictable situation." If the American analysis is accurate and Japanese workers have been unable to keep the spent fuel at that inoperative reactor properly cooled — it needs to remain covered with water at all times — radiation levels could make it difficult not only to fix the problem at reactor No. 4, but to keep workers at the Daiichi complex from servicing any of the other problem reactors at the plant. 

The problem is the panic over the leaks is taking away from the very real and present danger of millions of Japanese citizens with no power, light, or heat, facing dwindling food and water supplies in a snowy March spring, with nights getting down to below freezing.   The humanitarian crisis is very real right now, radiation or no radiation.

All the nuclear plant issues are doing is making it impossible to get help to people who badly, badly need it.

And Rick Snyder Is Now Dictator Of Michigan

Rachel Maddow explains while the world was worried about Japan and Bahrain and even Wisconsin, the real story is that today Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a measure that basically makes him dictator of Michigan.

Here's what Snyder can now do:

The Michigan bill allows a governor-appointed emergency manager to modify or end collective bargaining agreements. With the governor's approval, the emergency manager also could dissolve a city government or recommend consolidation.

Democrats called the bill an attack on public sector unions similar to legislation signed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker last week and said the changes would add to pressure on cities and school districts.

Republican Rep. Al Pscholka, the bill's sponsor, said on Tuesday that the changes would give emergency managers more tools to turn around failing schools and cities.

"For years we have allowed cities and schools to be on the verge of bankruptcy without any intervention," Pscholka said. "When the state finally does arrive, in many cases we find the financial records in disarray and leave emergency managers with very few good options to balance the books."

The bill expands the powers for the state to name emergency overseers and gives them powers over academics and finances in the case of school districts. The emergency manager also could close schools and buildings.

So at this point, Gov. Snyder can appoint an "emergency manager" over a local government who has the power to remove any local or county government he wants to, eliminate all local government contracts, close schools and offices, disband state employee unions, layoff any government workers, and do all this with basically no oversight.

The best part?  Governor Snyder can pro-actively appoint an emergency manager "long before a city gets into trouble".  What's the criteria for appointing this manager and throwing out the elected city or country government?

Well, nobody seems to know, actually.  But Snyder can do it starting now.  And this is on top of Synder's idea of a budget where he actually adds $1.7 billion to the state budget facing a $1.4 billion shortfall, and makes up for it by cutting $1 billion on state corporate taxes, cutting hundreds of millions in education, and eliminating tax breaks for senior citizens on fixed income.

Yeah, on top of all that, he plans to cut taxes on businesses and make schools and the elderly pay for it.  But this is what you elected, Michigan.

Enjoy your new dictatorship.

To The Shores Of Tripoli, Part 3

It wouldn't be a Village march to unending war without Max Boot.  He opens with this:

I have not been one of those castigating President Obama for decreasing American power—either deliberately or inadvertently. His muscular policy in Afghanistan, for example, belies this charge. But there is no question that his weak, vacillating response to the slaughter now unfolding in Libya will reduce American power and prestige in ways that will do us incalculable long-term harm.

You know, unlike a nine-year quagmire in Afghanistan or an eight-year one in Iraq.   It gets worse.

As the enforcement of no-fly zones over Bosnia and Iraq should have proved, the risks of such an operation are minimal—especially if we first neutralize Gadhafi's air defenses.
By itself, a no-fly zone might not be enough to topple Gadhafi. At the very least, however, it would dishearten Gadhafi's supporters and buy time for the rebels. We could further tilt the balance in their favor by bombing Gadhafi's installations and troops.
It may also be necessary to send arms and Special Forces trainers to support the rebels. Without committing any combat troops of our own, we could deliver the same kind of potent combined-arms punch that drove the Serbs out of Kosovo when NATO aircraft supported ground operations by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

A no-fly zone would be really easy...except for the fact we'd have to put US troops on the ground to "deliver a combined-arms punch" and stuff.  At least he admits that a no-fly zone might not work and we'd have to escalate into a full-fledged invasion of Libya.  But gosh darnint, that's a risk we have to take or people might think we're pussies or something, so some Libyans have to get the crap bombed out of them.

Insert "we'll be greeted as liberators" recycled Iraq run-up phrases here, circa 2002.

Oh, and over at State, Hillary's had enough, apparently.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 8

Tyler Durden with the latest on Fukushima Daiichi:

More on the earlier news that Steven Chu "thought" a partial meltdown may have occurred, the just released news escalates the verbiage, which is now a definitive: "US Energy Chief says 'partial meltdown' occurred at the Fukushima Plant." The next step is his urgent recommendation for all US citizens who live within 80 kilometers of Fukushima to evacuate or take shelter indoors.

Meanwhile here in the states, the US dollar is melting down as investors are fleeing towards the Japanese yen.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled and the Japanese Yen broke to fresh 16-year highs against the US Dollar on fresh fears over risks at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant.
European Energy Commissioner Oettinger fanned fears as he told a European Parliament committee that “the [nuclear] site is effectively out of control,” and the situation is somewhere between “a disaster and a major disaster.” Frayed market nerves meant that the comments instantly sparked sharp sell-offs in ‘risk’; the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearly 200 points in the 20 minutes following the commentary. 

At one point after Oettinger's comments, the dollar was under 80 yen.  And as far as the plant is concerned, we're seeing things get worse by the hour.

Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified on Wednesday after the authorities announced that a second reactor unit at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam. 

The break, at the No. 3 reactor unit, worsened the already perilous conditions at the plant, a day after officials said the containment vessel in the No. 2 reactor had also cracked.

The possibility of high radiation levels above the plant prompted the Japanese military to put off a highly unusual plan to dump water from helicopters — a tactic normally used to combat forest fires — to lower temperatures in a pool containing spent fuel rods that was dangerously overheating at the No. 4 reactor. The operation would have meant flying a helicopter into the steam rising from the plant.

But in one of a series of rapid and at times confusing pronouncements on the crisis, the authorities insisted that damage to the containment vessel at the No. 3 reactor — the main focus of concern earlier on Wednesday — was unlikely to be severe.

Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, said the possibility that the No. 3 reactor had “suffered severe damage to its containment vessel is low.” Earlier he said only that the vessel might have been damaged; columns of steam were seen rising from it in live television coverage.

The reactor’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said it had been able to double the number of people battling the crisis at the plant to 100 from 50, but that was before the clouds of radioactive steam began billowing from the plant. On Tuesday, 750 workers were evacuated, leaving a skeleton crew of 50 struggling to reduce temperatures in the damaged facility. An increasing proportion of the people at the plant are soldiers, but the exact number is not known. 

At this point at least two reactors have suffered from containment breaches and partial meltdowns, and the other four reactors are all in various stages of problems, including the spent fuel rod pools continuing to be a massive potential issue.

"Duck and cover" is not a realistic response, guys.

Man Admits To 62-Year-Old Woman

A story like this usually only happens in Hollywood.  It's awful enough that it would feel over the top, maybe.  From a woman's perspective, it's about as bad as it gets from beginning to end.  The victim survived, which is a miracle.

DALLAS – A man accused of kidnapping a 62-year-old woman and sexually assaulting her over a two-week period confessed to an investigator that he "strung her up" in his garage on a rack used for skinning deer and tortured her, a sheriff's investigator said.

Jeffrey A. Maxwell, 58, told a Texas Ranger after his arrest Saturday that he abducted the woman at gunpoint from her home near Fort Worth, handcuffed her and drove her more than 100 miles to his home in Corsicana, 52 miles south of Dallas, a Parker County sheriff's investigator swore in a probable cause affidavit released Monday. Authorities also indicated that they're looking into whether Maxwell might have been behind the disappearance of two other women, including an ex-wife.

According to the sheriff's investigator, the Ranger said Maxwell told him that once he got the woman home, he "strung her up" on a homemade rack in his garage and sexually assaulted her. Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler said Tuesday that the rack was an electric device that enabled Maxwell to hoist the woman off the ground.

There was an established history of harassment between the offender and victim.  This poor woman lived a nightmare.  She had been chosen for torture until death.  It's a terrible story but a good reminder of what can happen, and how dangerous the world can be. 

Epic Fail: Bully Style

A viral video of a kid who has Had Enough took off, thanks to TMZ.  The bully was suspended for 21 days.  The kid who put an abrupt end to his torment was suspended for four days.  I was horrified from the beginning, but it was still worth watching, in that train wreck sort of way. Watching the poor boy take punches bothered me, and the utter lack of response from surrounding kids implies this happens far too often. 

Nothing But A Bunch Of Moose Gas

Sarah Palin has decided the country isn't paying enough attention to her this week, complaining that President Obama is fully to blame for gas prices and that he's doing it on purpose or something because he's a Dirty F'ckin Hippie.

"The evidence of the President's anti-drilling mentality and his culpability in the high gas prices hurting Americans is there for all to see," Palin said.

She contended that Obama's drilling moratorium — instated after the massive spill in the gulf — his proposed elimination of oil tax incentives in the 2012 budget and regulatory practices have caused increased prices at the pump.

Oil prices have actually stabilized in recent days after the price of light crude nearly hit $110-a-barrel amidst fears that violence in Libya would disrupt global supply. The price settled at $97-a-barrel at the end of trading Tuesday.

But Palin goes further than just asserting that Obama is responsible for high oil prices, seeming to argue that the president wants to see higher energy costs in order to benefit his agenda.

"This was no accident. Through a process of what candidate Obama once called 'gradual adjustment,' American consumers have seen prices at the pump rise 67 percent since he took office," Palin wrote.

"Let's not forget that in September 2008, candidate Obama's Energy Secretary in-waiting said: 'Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,'" she continued. "That's one campaign promise they're working hard to fulfill!"

Really.  It's all Obama's fault.  Libya's near civil war, Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant disaster, Bahrain's uprising, demand in China for more infrastructure, the weather, the rotation of the Earth and probably Charlie Sheen's latest project, all the singular fault of one Barack Obama and his crusade to get you to drive a Prius.

And people wonder why I think Sarah Palin is a blithering idiot.   Meanwhile, oil companies continue to take taxpayer subsidies while they make tens of billions in yearly profit.  That's the fault of Republicans, who refuse to cut them.

The difference between Bush's $4 gallon gas and Obama's is still the same greedy energy companies making record profits and dumping lobbyist cash into both parties, but the majority of that is going to Republicans.  And to have the ex-Governor of Alaska conveniently omit the fact her state takes millions in taxpayer money from the rest of the country to give to those same oil companies in tax breaks and incentives means the absolute last person in politics who should be blaming anyone for high gas prices other than herself is Sarah Palin.

Go away.  We don't have time for you right now.

Heavy Bahrain Storm

Meanwhile in the Gulf island oil state of Bahrain, the capital Manama is under assault as the government of that country is leading a deadly crackdown on protesters with help from Saudi troops.

Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armoured vehicles on Wednesday to drive out hundreds of anti—government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain’s capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence—wracked Gulf kingdom. At least six people were killed, according to witnesses and officials. 

The full—scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the centre of uprising against Bahrain’s rulers since it began more than a month ago. Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square from the protesters’ tents set ablaze. 

Witnesses said at least two protesters were killed when the square was stormed. Officials at Ibn Nafees Hospital said a third protester later died from gunshot wounds in his back. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from authorities. 

Meanwhile, Bahrain state TV also reported that two policemen died when they were hit by a vehicle after anti—government protesters were driven out. The Interior Ministry also said at least one other policeman was killed, but did not give the cause. 

It was unclear whether the offensive included soldiers from other Gulf nations who were dispatched to help Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, which has been under relentless pressure from the country’s majority Shiite Muslims to give up its monopoly on power. 

And yes, just to make things worse, it's a Sunni vs. Shi'a fight too. Iran (Shi'a) is furious that Saudi Arabia (Sunni) is helping Bahrain's Sunni monarchy to oppress the country's Shi'a poor.  As such, many observers are seeing the events in Bahrain as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Then again, isn't every conflict on the Middle East basically the same?

And let's not forget the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.  That's the major factor that does differentiate this mess from other Middle East internal uprisings.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 7

Japanese officials are now down to using police water cannon to try to cool the reactor and spent fuel roof ponds in a desperate attempt to try to get things under control.

Japan's nuclear crisis appeared to be spinning out of control on Wednesday after workers withdrew briefly from a stricken power plant because of surging radiation levels and a helicopter failed to drop water on the most troubled reactor.

In a sign of desperation, the police will try to cool spent nuclear fuel at one of the facility's reactors with water cannon, which is normally used to quell riots.

Early in the day another fire broke out at the earthquake-crippled facility, which has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering fear in the capital and international alarm.

Japan's government said radiation levels outside the plant's gates were stable but, in a sign of being overwhelmed, appealed to private companies to help deliver supplies to tens of thousands of people evacuated from around the complex.

"People would not be in immediate danger if they went outside with these levels. I want people to understand this," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a televised news conference, referring to people living outside a 30 km (18 miles) exclusion zone. Some 140,000 people inside the zone have been told to stay indoors.

Workers were trying to clear debris to build a road so fire trucks could reach reactor No. 4 at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. Flames were no longer visible at the building housing the reactor.

High radiation levels prevented a helicopter from flying to the site to drop water into the No. 3 reactor -- whose roof was damaged by an earlier explosion and where steam was seen rising earlier in the day -- to try to cool its fuel rods.

The plant operator described No. 3 as the "priority." No more information was available, but that reactor is the only one at Daiichi which uses plutonium in its fuel mix.

"Last ditch effort" doesn't begin to describe using riot water cannon on a reactor.  The Japanese are literally throwing everything they have left at these reactors to keep them from melting.  Workers are back in the plant after a radiation spike from a second fire in reactor 4, but who knows how long they can hold out before they are forced to retreat again due to more radioactive material being released.

You have to admire the courage of these workers.  They are Big Damn Heroes making a last stand for their country.


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