Saturday, April 2, 2011

Last Call

Contracting note:  concrete does not set very well when you're trying to use it say, plug a radioactive water leak.

A first attempt to plug a cracked concrete shaft that is leaking highly radioactive water into the ocean off Japan failed Saturday, so officials are now exploring alternatives, spokesmen for Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

Power plant workers had been trying to fill the shaft with fresh concrete, but that did not change the amount of water coming out of the crack, the spokesmen said at a news conference that ran late into the night Saturday.

Their "plan B" is to use polymers to stop the leak, the spokesmen said. A Tokyo Electric expert will visit the site Sunday morning and decide what polymer to use before the work begins.

Workers will then break the shaft's ceiling and insert the polymer in a different spot from where they tried to place the concrete, they said.

Yeah, I could have told you that might have been a problem, guys.  I really am hoping the polymer trick works (then maybe a lot of concrete over it) but the bigger problem is all this radioactive water still means the Fukushima Daiichi plant is going to be dangerous for years.

Nullification And Void, Part 2

TPM's Jillian Rayfield has an excellent article on the nullification movement -- the notion that individual states can simply ignore federal laws they don't agree with -- considered clearly unconstitutional, silly, and pigheadedly fringe.

Until we got a black President, that is.

For most of the last century, talk of secession, nullification and the rest of the extreme states-rights lexicon were relegated to the fringiest parts of the political fringe. But since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, mainstream Republican rhetoric and proposed legislation at the state level have both warmed to the hoary idea that state governments can take their relationship with the federal government on what amounts to an a la carte basis or perhaps abandon it altogether.

Take the concept of Nullification -- the notion that individual states can unilaterally refuse to follow or enforce federal law they don't agree with. For the most part, it's been laughed off since the Civil War. It was brought up again by segregationists during the Civil Rights Era but more out of desperation and political theater than as a serious approach to the constitution.

But the rise of the Tea Party and its amorphous anti-federal government platform has brought these ideas closer to the mainstream than they've been in decades. So, while nullification advocates, Tenthers, secessionists, "constitutional tender" proponents, and the rest don't necessarily share the same theoretical rationales, together they've brought hostility to the federal government back into the realm of respectable political discourse.

And it's that last sentence that is the key.  There's a definite move by the Republican party in this country to consider anything the federal government does, particularly anything the federal government does proposed by Barack Obama, as inherently evil and un-American.  Anyone who is a government employee serves this evil overlord (except for brave elected Republicans, natch).

But what makes this different is the size and the scope of this hatred of government.  It's feeding into distrust and rancor towards government institutions as well.  Public education of any kind is increasingly seen as "indoctrination" and teachers, professors and educators are not respected by Republicans, but hated as government apparatchiks.  Police, firefighters and other safety officials are seen as thugs and jackbooted enforcers.  Local and state government employees are seen as leeches and moochers who should all be put out on the street.

The core of this nonsense is the increasing view from Republicans that America needs as little government as possible, and as such as few government employees as possible.  As much infrastructure, public safety, education and governance itself should be turned over to private industry, with the goal of running these services in a manner to make a profit, not to provide them to those who need them.

The most basic services, in other words, should be privatized so that the businesses who operate them can use them to make money...and if that means those who need services aren't getting them, well, you're on your own.

Increasingly, the Republicans are playing to this fringe notion that government itself is illegitimate (but only if run by Democrats.)  Taxes are illegitimate if you don't 100% agree with what they are being used for, as are laws, regulations, and codes.  It's a dangerous notion that if the minority doesn't agree with the majority, they aren't subject to the majority rule.  There are times when that should be true...but not as a result of the lawful, constitutional process of representative democracy.

These folks simply say it's not lawful or constitutional in their view.  And the fact that this view is freely being adopted by people who would be President of the United States, and in fact by a number of local, state, and national Republican candidates for office, should be extraordinarily troubling to all Americans.

Even worse, when the basic response from these Republicans is the unlawful nullification of accepted law, the solutions presented by some are quite violent as a result.  It is to these extremes that the Republican party is willing to go to in order to maintain political power, the demonize any government that isn't wholly controlled by them as illegitimate.

It's Not All About Numbers Of Jobs

It's also how we are able to work.  A recent study shows that although we may be returning to the workforce and balancing the economy, it is very likely that a single job will no longer suffice.

The study, commissioned by the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women, looks at how much income it takes to support a basic standard of living for an American family--and finds that many of the jobs of the future won't pay enough to provide that.

To calculate this "economic security" income, the study's authors certainly didn't assume a lavish lifestyle. They considered basic needs--housing, food, utilities, health care, child-care, and transportation--plus the cost of modest saving for retirement and a small surplus for emergencies. (At at a time when economic "shocks" are increasingly common, that's an essential part of financial security.) They don't factor in some things many of us take for granted, like entertainment or eating out.

The result? To achieve economic security, a single parent with two children needs an income of just over $30,000 a year--nearly twice the federal minimum wage--while a two-income household needs almost $68,000.
Where is this going?  Part of it is going to CEO raises, like I've already pointed out.  The rest is paying to start our economy again.  Businesses had to raise costs to stay open, while the economy forced people to spend as little as possible.  Something has to give, and it's us.  This isn't necessarily bad, as consumers drive the market.  However, it does mean that we will be paying more than we should for a while to come, and that means we may have to work more than before.

This is what happens when greed overrides the common good.  We were able to keep an unsustainable lifestyle as a country.  Our cleverness and power let us keep it going longer, which only made for a bigger fall when it caught up to us.  These lean times aren't fun, but keep in mind that it's going to teach financial responsibility and give a reality check to several people who need it.

Don't Forget Your Place, Peasants

The heads of the nation’s top companies got the biggest raises in recent memory last year after taking a hiatus during the recession.

At a time most employees can barely remember their last substantial raise, median CEO pay jumped 27% in 2010 as the executives’ compensation started working its way back to prerecession levels, a USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found. Workers in private industry, meanwhile, saw their compensation grow just 2.1% in the 12 months ended December 2010, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The article goes on to explain that the raises come from the cuts and layoffs, not recovering from the economic downturn.  So yeah, it doesn't look like big business has learned anything.  It's still all about maximizing profit on the backs of workers.  The needs of the few outweigh the pain of the many, and the fat cats have the audacity to look puzzled when the common folk are outraged.

Minnesota Republicans In Need Of Remedial History Class

Some fifty years after the civil rights movement in this country, and we still have idiots like Minnesota Republican state Sen. Dan Hall making decisions for kid's education.

As Minnesota's state senate debates a public school funding bill that would remove funding from integration programs in the major cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth and shift it to a statewide literacy drive, one freshman Republican has been particularly blunt in his opinions.

I watched Minneapolis get destroyed,” Sen. Dan Hall stated on Thursday, "so I not only didn’t want my kids in the school system, I took them out of Minneapolis because they ruined our neighborhoods with integration and [de]segregation."

"My best friends are minority, they think integration in foolish," Hall insisted. "It’s a ploy to get more money. ... It’s disrespectful to tell my friends, my minority friends that they can’t make it without extra special help.”

Hall's statements appeared to confirm the worst fears of Democratic supporters of the integration program. “I fear what we see here the is the politics of envy and division and protecting our own,” Sen. Scott Dibblef (DFL-Minneapolis) stated, “not the ‘one Minnesota’ we hearken back to.”

"We have been doing integration aid for decades, and to say that within one year we should dismantle that for a brand-new process seems to me short-sighted," said Sen. John Harrington (DFL-St. Paul). "Have we really made the decision that desegregation and integration isn't a laudable goal for our schools?"

Sen. Hall, however, attempted to cast his position as arising out of his deep concern for literacy, "I am a product of the Minneapolis school system," he explained, "completing all of my years, all the different schools. I graduated with a 6th grade reading ability. I struggled my whole life. We need to teach kids how to read.”

At least the guy is being honest when he says he believes black and brown people are destroying his white state and doesn't want his kids or grandkids to be anywhere near them, blaming them for "destroying" Minneapolis.  I used to live in the Twin Cities area.  I can tell you that people there are very nice and most of them are not like Dan Hall at all.

But the ones that are have no intention of getting over their racism and bigotry.  Ever.  It's not just integrated schools this guy hates, it's the idea of minority people being anywhere near his lily-white ass.  It really is refreshing to see an ignorant asshole like this guy freely admit that's what his goal is, to rid the state of any minority that's not self-loathing enough to agree with him.

And yes, Republicans are more than happy to push a 50-state Southern Strategy of "White people are awesome, screw everyone else" if it keeps them in political power.  When you see Minnesota Republicans making the same kind of arguments that Republicans in states like Alabama and Mississippi made in the 60's and 70's about integration, you know there's something deeply poisonous about the party.  The election of a black President has made millions of white people lose their damn minds.

And I don't think there's a cure other than time.  Sadly, it's time that we do not have.

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