Sunday, April 17, 2011

Last Call

Back home in North Carolina, the state got walloped by a series of tornadoes this weekend that left 22 dead and dozens injured from Raleigh to the Albamarle Sound.

Half of the North Carolina fatalities were in Bertie County, a rural county about 120 miles northeast of Raleigh that has just 21,000 residents.

Two suspected tornadoes cut a wide swath across the county, flattening houses and tossing around farm equipment and vehicles, said Zee Lamb, Bertie’s county manager.

“There are homes that are just totally leveled,” he said. “Anybody who was in those homes could not have survived.”

Among the dead were several elderly residents of an assisted-living facility that was caught in the path of the storm, Lamb said.

Similar scenes of destruction could be found in elsewhere in the state, notable in Wake County, Sanford and Dunn.

In Northeast Raleigh, three children were killed when the mobile home they lived in was crushed by a falling tree. A fourth child, a six-month old girl, is in critical condition.

The scene left neighbors of the victims screaming in vain to help them get their babies out from under the tree.

In the neighborhoods just east and south of downtown Raleigh, there was substantial wind damage, but remarkably no one was killed. Shaw University, founded in 1865 as the first historically black college in the South, announced Saturday it would remain closed for the remainder of the semester because of the damage.

The city of Raleigh had roughly 30 teams out working to clear away debris.

I have friends out that way who so far have checked in and say they are alright, but they all tell me that this is the worse storm damage since Hugo in 1989.  We just don't get tornadoes in the eastern part of NC.  And yet when we do get them, they are devastating.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 3

For once, I actually have to grudgingly praise Tim Geithner for not being a fool.  He's saying on TV what needs to be said about it:  Congress will raise the debt ceiling.

Appearing on This Week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said: "Well, I want to make it perfectly clear that Congress will raise the debt ceiling." When asked by Christiane Amanpour whether he was sure about that, Geithner responded: "Absolutely. And they recognize it, and they told the president that on Wednesday in the White House. And I sat there with them, and they said, we recognize we have to do this. And we're not going to play around with it. Because we know -- we know that the risk would be catastrophic."

If the debt ceiling is not raised, we go into a depression, period.

Also during his appearance on This Week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned of what would happen if the debt ceiling were not raised. "What will happen is that we'd have to stop making payments to our seniors -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We'd have to stop paying veterans' benefits," said Geithner. "We'd have to stop paying all the other payments on all the other things the government does. And then we would risk default on our interest payments. If we did that, we'd tip the U.S. economy and the world economy back into recession, depression."

Are Republicans really this stupid?  Somebody might want to clue in Rep. Paul Ryan.

Appearing on Face The Nation, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that Republicans would not agree to an increase in the debt ceiling without concessions on spending. "Nobody wants to play around with the country's credit rating. Nobody wants to see defaults happening - but we also think it's important to get a handle on future borrowing as we deal with raising the debt limit," said Ryan. He also added: "We shouldn't accept the premise that we have to rubber stamp a debt increase without any spending controls."

But that's exactly what Republicans have done in the past.  The difference is this particular game of chicken risks harming the real people in charge of the Republican party:  Wall Street.  The banksters like having near zero-cost loans.  It's one thing screwing with senior citizens, minorities, and the poor.  But the Republicans will not be allowed to pull the plug on the debt ceiling.  The second the market gets truly spooked that the GOP will let the country miss payments, it all comes crashing down, and the fat cats know it.

Do you really think the Republicans will seriously be allowed to threaten the Fed's gravy train for the banksters?  Do you really think the Republicans will be allowed to blow up the bond market for the next decade?  Not me.

Ryan and the Tea Party kids will get smacked down again soon enough.  The real people in charge aren't going to let these idiots wreck their Big Casino games.

And With A Loud Jangle, My BS Detector Went Off... Again

It's too bad soap operas are coming to a close.  Perhaps already missing the drama, it seems actors are out drumming up their own madness.

First, we have Charlie Sheen.  There's just too much to link to.  But seriously, he's either going to be found in a bathtub dead of an overdose with a few hookers, or this has been an attempt to drum up some publicity.  Whether on the part of Sheen or the network it's hard to guess.

But now, now we have Nicholas Cage arrested.  If you piece it together from TMZ, he got in a dispute with his wife over the address of a place they rent.  Then the cops show up and see him grab her, and he's in the slammer.  Nic's a nutty fellow, so this isn't too much of a surprise.  But bailed out by Dog the Bounty Hunter?  I smell some major BS.

Epic Fail: Deja Vu Edition

The Federal Aviation Administration said the unnamed controller slept for five hours intentionally during the midnight shift on Feb. 19 in Knoxville, Tenn.

It's the second incident in as many months that an FAA controller fell asleep during a midnight shift. A supervisor working alone at Washington's Reagan National Airport fell asleep for at least 24 minutes shortly after midnight on March 23.
The difference is the first guy dozed in his chair, while the second fellow apparently made a makeshift bed.  At least one emergency situation was delayed while he slept.   I have worked night shifts, some lonely and quiet.  I know how tiring it can be, and how tempting a tiny little nap can seem when there is nobody around to know the difference.  But perhaps it's time to review some policies for changes and up the bar a little, what do you say?

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 27

It looks like Operation Concrete Coffin is now on in Japan, and it may take years to finish it.

Engineers will need up to nine months to fully shut down the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the scene of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, its owners announced Sunday.

It would take three months to bring down radiation levels and restore normal cooling systems at the plant, Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., told reporters.
An additional three to six months would be needed before the reactors reach their cold shutdown point, he said.

The plan announced Sunday is the first timetable that Tokyo Electric has disclosed for reining in the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, which was swamped by the tsunami that followed Japan's March 11 earthquake.

It comes five days after Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called for Tokyo Electric to develop a timeline for bringing the disaster to an end.

The ultimate plan for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant involves the construction of a giant concrete box around all damaged reactors, according to the timeline. Design for the box should begin within nine months.

So if everything goes to plan, Fukushima Daiichi will be spewing out radioactive mess for several months, be wound down over the second half of the year...and then the concrete box project will extend well into 2012 or longer.

This is the best case scenario.  Another three months of radioactivity.  How much damage will that do to the people, the environment, and the economy?  And it's not like the best case scenario is happening, as new problems continue to spring up.

Workers stopped a severe leak of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean on April 6, but elevated levels of the short-lived nuclear waste iodine-131 recorded over the weekend could indicate a new problem, a Japanese safety official announced Saturday.

Iodine-131 has a radioactive half-life of eight days, and a more than fivefold increase in iodine concentrations in seawater behind the intake for the No. 2 reactor could be either from a fresh leak or from sediment stirred up while placing steel panels around the intakes, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, the top spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

"They will continue to monitor this carefully," Nishiyama said. "At this point, they have not visually found any leakage of any water into the ocean, and it is hard to check the conditions around No. 2 due to high radiation levels."

And on and on it goes.

Musical Chairs

The Philadelphia Orchestra survived the entire 20th century, two world wars, the Great Depression and Hooked on Bach.  It did not survive Goldman Sachs.

The Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy protection after 111 years of operation to restructure leases, contracts and agreements.

The company listed both assets and debt of as much as $50 million in a Chapter 11 petition filed yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia.

“Revenues and going concern value have steadily declined over the past several years, like countless other performing arts enterprises,” attorneys for the orchestra said in court papers.

The orchestra, founded in 1900, said its board voted to seek bankruptcy. Affiliates including the Academy of Music and Encore Series, also sought protection.

The orchestra operates at a loss because of declining ticket revenues, decreased donations, eroding endowment income, pension obligations, contractual agreements, and increased operational costs, it said in a press release. Last night’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 went on as scheduled, and no performances have been canceled. 

For now, anyway.  That will change, I'm betting.  But more and more art, musical, and cultural venues like this are going by the wayside.  Cities, counties, and states are saying "we can't afford this" and saying "let's cut taxes!" instead.

So what are the people who can afford it doing?

Bon, who is an orchestra geek herself, will cover more of this tomorrow.
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