Saturday, October 22, 2011

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 42

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster continues to define 2011 in Japan, and six months after the tsunami hit, tens of thousands are still homeless and demanding answers.

Shouts fill a room at a temporary housing complex where seven officials, kneeling in their dark suits, face 70 or so tenants who were forced to abandon their homes near the Fukushima nuclear plant after some of its reactors went into meltdown after the March 11 quake struck.

"We don't know who we can trust!" one man yelled in the cramped room where the officials were trying to explain the hugely complex procedures to claim compensation.

"Can we actually go back home? And if not, can you guarantee our livelihoods?"

About 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes by the nuclear crisis.

While the owner of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co, has made temporary payments to some victims, it was only last month that it finally began accepting applications for compensation.

But the procedure is so complicated that it seems to just make things worse.

After claimants have read a 160-page instruction manual, they then have to fill in a 60-page form and attach receipts for lodging, transportation and medical costs.

"It's too difficult. I'm going to see how it goes. I don't want to rush and mess up," said Toshiyuki Owada, 65, an evacuee from Namie town, about 20 km (12 miles) away from the plant.

One hundred sixty pages just for the instructions to fill out the compensation form.  You'd think TEPCO and the Japanese government were making it as difficult as possible in order for the hundreds of thousands of people affected by this mess to get compensation, especially since they could be on the hook for a trillion or so.

We're seeing the method to this madness, and it's saddening to see Japan take a page from the Bush playbook.

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend

Google is playing a strange game with Yahoo, but in the long run it makes sense, depending on conditions.

Google Inc. (GOOG) is considering providing financing for an acquisition of Yahoo! Inc. by another company or a group of bidders, according to a person who has been briefed on the matter.
The company may opt not to take part in any offer and hasn’t engaged in serious discussions with would-be partners, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

Yahoo is weighing strategic options after firing former Chief Executive Officer Carol Bartz, in part for her failure to keep pace with Google in the market for online advertising. Google, which has $42.6 billion in cash and short-term investments, is considering helping finance other bidders, rather than trying to acquire Yahoo outright, the person said.

Representatives of Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo and Mountain View, California-based Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment outside regular business hours. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that Google is considering financing a bid by private equity firms for Yahoo. 

Helping a third party buy Yahoo! means they stay in the search engine game...and it takes pressure off Google and the growing antitrust sentiments against them without giving Microsoft and Bing a leg up.  Yeah, it's enlightened corporate self-interest with an eye on placating Congress, but it's a smart move that may pay off down the road.  How ethical it is is debatable, but it's not an overt measure at least.

I happen to believe it's a pretty solid move if that's Google's goal.

Real Life Superheroes... Or Not?

When Seattle-based masked crusader Phoenix Jones was arrested last week for pepper spraying a group of people he claims were fighting, he piqued the curiosity of thousands across the nation. A real-life superhero? Stopping crime in the dark of night? Suit, boots, mask and all?

It turns out Jones isn’t the only ordinary guy whose nighttime is filled with crime-fighting, caped adventures. The Web site boasts 720 members. Posts on the site suggest there are dozens, if not hundreds, of real-life superheroes currently in action in St. Petersburg, Fla., New York City and Milwaukee, among other cities.
For those who have not watched Mystery Men, this may not sound familiar.  Unlike the movie, where lovable talented men stop evil, the reality is likely to end up like Batman, where those who try to stop crime find themselves victims of the criminals.

These folks aren't above the law, but I can't say I don't admire their attempt to make the world a safer place.  We need more heroes and we need more people to take a stand and refuse to allow crime to shape our lives.  However, it's imperative those who want to help follow the law and act responsibly.  And yes, I'm going to go on record and say men wearing tights is not in the interest of the public.

The Danger Of Indifference

This is heartbreaking. I held off on writing about it, hoping for a miracle that was not to be.
A 2-year-old Chinese girl who was struck twice by hit-and-run drivers while more than a dozen bystanders ignored her plight has died, Chinese media report.

The incident, caught on surveillance video, quickly spread on the Internet in China and triggered national soul-searching over the callous indifference.

The Xinhua news agency says Wang Yue, known as "Yue Yue," died of brain failure at a hospital in Guangdong Province.

Xinhua says the video shows that 18 people, either walking on or bicycles, passed the girl on the pavement in a well-lighted market area without stopping.
I have read many comments about this tragedy, one of them being "well, that wouldn't happen here in the States."  Allow me to correct that misconception:

There was the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, killed outside her apartment.  It took her several minutes to die, but neighbors didn't want to get involved.  Her murderer ran away, then came back to finish when he saw he would not be interrupted.

Or if you prefer a more modern example, a pregnant woman was beaten to death outside of a court house and nobody lifted a finger to help.  One witness was outraged, but in no way realized they could have helped as well.

As as we reported yesterday, a five-year-old child crossed a busy four lane highway and no calls reported.

It doesn't matter where you live, it matters how you live.  We are responsible for our actions and our refusal to act as well.  A little girl died, and she might have died anyway.  But by refusing to stop and help, her death was guaranteed.  There is no such thing as too busy to help with circumstances that dire.  Our convenience in not getting involved pales when compared to the safety of another.  We must be better than this.

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 27

The Obama administration will reveal this week their newest effort to try to fix the housing depression, focusing on homeowners underwater on their mortgages.

Homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth will get new help to refinance in a government plan to be unveiled as early as Monday to support the battered housing sector, sources familiar with the effort said.

The Obama administration has been working with the regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to find ways to make it easier for borrowers to switch to cheaper loans even if they have little to no equity in their homes.

The regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, intends to loosen the terms of the two-year-old Home Affordable Refinance Program, which helps borrowers who have been making mortgage payments on time but who have not been able to refinance as their home values have dropped.

Officials have been frustrated that attempts to bolster housing -- the epicenter of the deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression -- have borne little fruit. Some top Federal Reserve officials want the central bank to consider buying more mortgage-backed securities as a way to help.

And while it's a good idea, allowing underwater homeowners access to better mortgage terms isn't going to fix the problem.  The real issue has been and remains the massive number of foreclosures clogging the market and driving housing prices down.  Somebody needs to buy those mortgages, but the banks are broke and so is the American consumer.  The government should step in with another Depression-era style program to buy up these homes, but of course Republicans continue to block any efforts to fix the economy unless the effort only improves the top one percent's balance sheet.

Oh, and let's not forget the greedy banks that put those millions of new foreclosures on the market with robosigning shenanigans too.  The right continues to want to blame House Democrats and "government loans given to minorities that couldn't repay" but the simple fact of the matter is government subprime loans had much stricter standards than the ones issued by banks.  Private lenders who were not subject to these lending standards made the bad loans, not Fannie Mae, not Freddie Mac, and not the lenders who made Community Reinvestment Act loans.

Republicans are trying to do everything they can to pin the financial crisis on Fannie and Freddie and not Wall Street, but gosh, nobody's buying that garbage.  Just look outside.

B-I-N-G-Oh Hell No

Attention Alabama Republican Party:  You have officially lost the "But we're not racists!" contest.

A federal judge accused two state Republicans, called by federal prosecutors in a massive Alabama corruption case, of cooperating with the feds because of their “ulterior motives rooted in naked political ambition and pure racial bias.”
State Sen. Scott Beason and former Rep. Benjamin Lewis, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote, “lack credibility for two reasons.”
First, their motive for cooperating with F.B.I. investigators was not to clean up corruption but to increase Republican political fortunes by reducing African-American voter turnout. Second, they lack credibility because the record establishes their purposeful, racist intent,” Thompson wrote.

Oh but ladies and gentlemen, it gets even more awesome.

Beason, Lewis, and their political allies sought to defeat SB380 partly because they believed the absence of the referendum on the ballot would lower African-American voter turnout during the 2010 elections. One of the government’s recordings captured Beason and Lewis discussing political strategy with other influential Republican legislative allies. A confederate warned: “Just keep in mind if [a pro-gambling] bill passes and we have a referendum in November, every black in this state will be bused to the polls. And that ain’t gonna help.

Now let's keep in mind a massive number of federal charges on this corruption case were tossed out by a federal jury over the summer. The DoJ went after the remaining charges that were deadlocked with a new trial scheduled for this month.  But I never honestly thought I would see this level of brutal honesty by any federal judge on the issue of the relentless GOP efforts to disenfranchise Democratic voters.  Even though the decision is just an order allowing the racial aspects of their testimony into the record of the new case (the DoJ argued that race was irrelevant to the actual corruption charges) for anyone to publicly admit like this that this is what the GOP is doing to people is so refreshing it's almost stunning.

And yes folks, Republicans understand that if they can keep minorities from voting, they win.  It always was that simple.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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