Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 28

Time for a two-month mark check on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.  First, the plant itself continues to remain in crisis with fully exposed fuel rods and the reactors are still out of control as the coolant systems are still damaged and the radiation is making it nearly impossible to repair.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said fuel rods are fully exposed in the No. 1 reactor at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis.

The water level is 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said. The company doesn’t know how long the rods have been exposed, he said.

Tepco is trying to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after a quake and tsunami two months ago knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima station. The utility planned to flood the No. 1 containment chamber, which surrounds the reactor vessel, in a procedure known as water entombment to prevent fuel from overheating.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning the water tomb plan won’t work,” said Tadashi Narabayashi, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hokkaido University. “Tepco must work on a water circulation cooling system as soon as possible. They’ve been going round and round in circles and now realize this is what they need to do.”

It’s unlikely the situation has worsened with the discovery the rods are exposed because they’ve probably been out of the water since shortly after the crisis started, Narabayashi said. 

In other words, the fuel rods in Reactor 1 have been exposed and in a slow meltdown cycle for close to two months.  TEPCO's plan to flood the reactors with water to cool them is failing because of the quake and explosion damaged containment vessels, which are clearly full of leaks and unable to keep the water in the reactor core.  Reactor 1 has been in meltdown for dozens of days now.  TEPCO is simply hoping nobody notices.

So the environmental and human nightmare in Japan still continues.   Meanwhile, Japan's politics are getting distinctly ugly.  TEPCO quietly agreed to a de facto government takeover Wednesday.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Wednesday accepted six government conditions to ensure state support for the payment of massive compensation over the damage caused by the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The conditions included confirmation that no ceiling would be set on compensation and that the utility would comply with a third-party investigation into its financial situation.

The latter condition means that TEPCO in effect will be put under public management.

TEPCO's acceptance of the six conditions laid the foundation for a compensation scheme calling for the establishment of a new entity to deal with damages payments.

And oh, are those damage payments going to be massive.  I think the total damage in cleanup and compensation costs will be in the trillion range, and that's dollars, not yen.  Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan is desperately trying to keep his government in one piece, and he's having to give in on nuclear plants in Japan completely.

Japan is reassessing how it produces electricity after March's earthquake and tsunami sparked a crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan this week persuaded the operators of another nuclear plant west of Tokyo to temporarily close it to make safety improvements. And he is canceling a plan to build more nuclear facilities.

Kan's decisions to back away from nuclear power came after an unusual number of public demonstrations. The protests have been more frequent because many Japanese have grown impatient with the government, says Koichi Nakano, who teaches political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

"Skeptics argue that, in fact, Japan has enough energy already as of now without nuclear power plants, using fossil fuels and hydro-electronic power generation, and so I think people are now becoming gradually exposed to those new facts," Nakano says.

We're looking a sea change in Japanese culture, folks.  The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is going to do for Japan what 9/11 did for us...only there's no "bad guy" to get...except maybe TEPCO itself.

The Ryan Unicorn Plan Would Destroy Medicaid, Too

A lot of attention has been given to the Ryan Unicorn Plan's privatization of Medicare.  But the plan also includes turning Medicaid into a block grant program, and that would end up cutting trillions just from Medicaid over the years, all but destroying the program.  Jon Cohn calls it what it is:  Couponcare.

The Affordable Care Act will guarantee access to a level of benefits and, for the poor and most of the middle class, it will limit what individuals can spend on premiums and out of pocket expenses. The Dutch system already does the same thing for the people who live in the Netherlands, only it does so (much) more generously.

Compare this to the Republican proposal for Medicare, which critics have rightfully started calling "Couponcare." The government's contribution towards insurance would rise far more slowly than the cost of health care. It would not guarantee a fixed set of benefits or protection from individual expenses. Only the very poor would get extra financial assistance and, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation briefing paper, even that assistance would likely be inadequate for many (possibly most) of the people receiving it.

This distinction is entirely intentional. It’s why the Republican budget, on paper, seems to save so much taxpayer money in the long run. But the effects on individuals would be devastating, as the Congressional Budget Office noted in its assessment. By 2030, the average senior would be individually responsible for about two-thirds of his or her medical costs. Even with heroic assumptions about the ability of consumers to reduce prices through active shopping, it’s impossible to imagine that scheme not leaving many seniors with punishing health care costs.

Saying the Republican Medicare proposal is a variation on the Affordable Care Act or Dutch national health insurance is a bit like saying that a bicycle is a variation on the 747. Sure, you can get across the country on either one. But opt for the former and you will struggle mightily. You might even die on the way.

And that Kaiser Family Foundation report is grim:

Projected federal spending on Medicaid for the 10-year period 2012 to 2021 would fall by $1.4 trillion, a 34 percent decline. By 2021, states would receive $243 billion less annually in federal Medicaid money than they would under current law, a 44 percent reduction.

The effect on enrollment in state Medicaid programs could vary widely. By 2021, between 31 million and 44 million fewer people nationally would have Medicaid coverage under the House Budget Plan relative to expected enrollment under current law, the analysis finds, examining three possible scenarios using different assumptions about how states might respond to lower federal funding. Most of those people, given their low incomes and few options for other coverage, would end up uninsured.

That's right:  under the Ryan Unicorn Plan, the cost savings would come directly from kicking tens of millions of people off of Medicaid and hoping they can magically afford their own private insurance.  And nearly every single House Republican voted for this.

Any wonder then that Democrats have come roaring back in the generic congressional ballot race?

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday, the Democrats have a four-point margin over the Republicans in the battle for control of Congress. The poll indicates that 50 percent registered voters say if the election for Congress was held today, they would vote for the Democrat in their district, with 46 percent saying they would cast a ballot for the Republican in their district. The Democrats' four-point margin is within the poll's sampling error.

The GOP won 63 seats in last year's midterm elections, taking back control of the House for the first time in four years. CNN's last poll conducted before the midterms indicated the Republicans had a six-point advantage over the Democrats.

That's a ten-point swing in less than eight months.  The Republicans have already blown their "mandate" and the Ryan Unicorn Plan is a big, big reason why.  Americans were certainly turned off by "Obamacare" and voted for the Republicans.  Then they saw what the Republican alternative is, tens of millions of people losing their Medicaid insurance, seniors having to pay tens of thousands to make up the difference in GOP's privatized Medicare scheme, and all to pay for even more tax cuts for the top 1%.

Gosh, Americans don't like that.  And the more they find out, the more they don't like.

Facebook Epic Fail... And I Mean Eh-PICK

Symantec has published a report claiming that for several years nearly 100,000 Facebook apps have been leaking access codes belonging to millions of users' profiles.
Symantec's report says that an app security flaw may have given advertisers and other third parties access to Facebook users' profiles, though a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that there is "no evidence" of this occurring.
Writes Symantec:
We estimate that as of April 2011, close to 100,000 applications were enabling this leakage. We estimate that over the years, hundreds of thousands of applications may have inadvertently leaked millions of access tokens to third parties.

There is no evidence that this happened, but you can bet it has.  Facebook has to get the privacy issue under control or this could lead to the end of their growth.  People love their Facebook chat, but the line of stupidity has been crossed a while back.  This has the potential to be one of the worst leaks ever, in the history of information leaks.  Partly because of the length of time, partly because of the depth of the information that can be harvested from our Facebook profiles.

Why Bon's Soul Is Dying Slowly

Street slang including thang, innit and grrl along with words from the internet such as Wiki and Myspace have been added to an "official" reference for Scrabble players.

Robert Groves, editor of Collins English Dictionaries and editor of the latest wordlist for Scrabble users, said: "The latest edition adds nearly 3,000 new words to the existing quarter of a million available to Scrabble players.

"These additions are an eclectic mix of new technological jargon, overseas English, recent colloquialisms, street slang and a few fairly well-established phrases that had not made it on to the list until now.

"It is the essential reference for all Scrabble players, from tournament enthusiasts to families battling it out in their front rooms.
I admit it, I'm a word snob.  I am not necessarily against the additions (at least, not all of them) but I admit that I'm a bit bothered by grrl and innit.  A few websites have had discussion about the additions, including some who point to how the words are used, and that they are not intentionally dumbing down our language.  I suppose I will have to be content with the fact that our dumbing is purely accidental.


From The Bwahahaha Files

The suspect, later identified as 54-year-old Richard J. McCandles, demanded that the driver hand over his keys, police said.

But investigators said McCandles made one critical mistake — he selected a target who was bigger than him.

After beating McCandles up, the driver got into his car and drove off, Alvarez said. Officers said they arrived to find the McCandles lying on the ground.

I've been mugged.  I know how suddenly you can find yourself threatened.  With crime on the rise, it's good to know some folks can take care of themselves.  And the giggle was nice, too.

Pass On El Paso

Reactions to President Obama's speech in El Paso yesterday on immigration reform?  Not so good.

One Latino advocacy group -- -- released a statement before Obama's speech criticizing the president for failing to issue an executive order stopping the deportation of young undocumented immigrants until legislation such as the DREAM Act is passed.

"All we have heard from President Obama are empty speeches," the statement said.

Republican opponents equate the measure to amnesty, and have said it would signal to the world that the United States is not serious about enforcing its laws or its borders. They have also called the bill unfair to immigrants who, in many cases, waited years to come to the country legally.

"The president will have to present a plan that takes amnesty off the table and focuses, instead, on making a real commitment to border and interior security," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday morning.

"If the president does these two things, he will find strong bipartisan support. If he doesn't, he won't."

Anything that does give a path to citizenship will be called "amnesty" by the Republicans and blocked.  Anything that doesn't will rightfully be rejected by Latino advocacy groups.  You would think people would figure out that the problem here, as the President keeps saying, is that nothing will be acceptable to the GOP short of rounding up and deporting millions.

But no, it's all Obama's fault.

The Trump Rang Out And The Walls Fell

Tom Jensen's outfit notes scientists have discovered a powerful imploding event horizon:  The Donald's poll numbers.

Donald Trump has had one of the quickest rises and falls in the history of Presidential politics. Last month we found him leading the Republican field with 26%. In the space of just four weeks he's dropped all the way down to 8%, putting him in a tie for fifth place with Ron Paul.

Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are at the top of the GOP race with 19% and 18% respectively. Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are further back at 13% and 12%, followed by Trump and Paul at 8%, Michele Bachmann at 7%, and Tim Pawlenty at 5%.

As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month Republicans didn't just decide they weren't interested in having him as their nominee- they also decided they flat don't like him. Only 34% of GOP voters now have a favorable opinion of Trump to 53% who view him in a negative light.

Trump really made hay out of the 'birther' issue and as the resonance of that has declined, so has his standing. In February we found that 51% of Republican primary voters thought Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Now with the release of his birth certificate only 34% of GOP partisans fall into that camp, and Trump's only in fifth place with that now smaller group of the electorate at 9%.

Beyond the Trump angle the other thing particularly notable in these numbers is that they confirm Romney and Huckabee starting to pull away from Gingrich and Palin. Most of our polling over the course of 2010 basically showed a four way tie at the top with that quartet of contenders but over the last few months a clearer divide has started to show up in both our state and national polling with Huckabee and Romney more consistently outpolling Gingrich and Palin.

Can't say I'm sad to see Trump disintegrate like this.  But if GOP regulars are flocking to Mittens and the Huckster, neither Huckabee nor Romney have a serious chance of winning the primary in such a way that would make them more palatable to middle of the road swing voters.  Romney is never going to be able to break out from under MassCare's shadow, and Huckabee has his own serious issues.

Both are going to have to tack deep into Bachmann/Sharron Angle territory to win the primaries, and doing so will doom them in the general.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 70

The Foreclosuregate fiasco continues as the banks have made a chump change settlement offer:  $5 billion.

The proposal made by banks yesterday during settlement talks in Washington came after state attorneys general and federal officials offered revised settlement terms and a proposal for banks to fund principal writedowns for homeowners.

The probe by all 50 states was triggered by claims of faulty foreclosure practices after the housing collapse, which state officials said may violate their laws. The original settlement proposal offered by states and federal agencies drew criticism from banks and Republican attorneys general opposed to a deal that would reduce principal amounts for borrowers.

In a new proposal, officials called for a fund, administered by state and federal officials, that would in part pay for principal writedowns, said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. Miller, a Democrat, is leading the negotiations for the states. Attorneys general haven’t made a proposal for a monetary payment by the banks, he said. 

Of course Republicans are rejecting the offer.  They don't want the banks to pay a dime.  On the other hand, $5 billion's not even a drop in the bucket for the kind of principal reduction needed to clear up the housing depression.  That's only enough money to help a small fraction of homeowners underwater...and Republican attorneys general involved in the case are objecting even to this pittance.

Republican attorneys general criticized the original settlement proposal, saying the plan for principal reductions would encourage borrowers to default on their loans to reduce their payments. Some of those attorneys general met yesterday in Atlanta to discuss the issue, said Adam Temple of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Bob Davis, an executive vice president with the American Bankers Association, spoke to the group in Atlanta, telling them principal reductions don’t work, he said in an interview. Loan balances must be reduced so much for borrowers struggling to make payments that it’s a better deal for lenders to foreclose instead, he said.

“Principal reductions don’t substantially improve the cash flow problem,” Davis said. “You can’t lower principal enough to make it an attractive tool.” 

News flash:  the bankers don't like it, and they are expecting the Republicans to scuttle the deal.  For their part, the Republicans are looking like they plan to do just that:

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican, said last month that he may negotiate an alternative accord with the banks if the national settlement turns out to be “inconsistent with our conviction.” 

In other words, expect Republican states to start dropping out of this settlement and negotiate their own "solution" as the whole national thing falls apart.  The banksters are going to walk completely.

Count on it.


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