Archive for March, 2012

When Bankers Rule the World

March 31, 2012
 David Korten
Yes!Magazine/Op-ed
Published: Saturday 31 March 2012
How we can call out the myths, restructure the banking system, shut down the con game, and take back America.

The tell-all defection of Greg Smith, a former Goldman Sachs executive, provided an insider’s view of the moral corruption of the Wall Street banks that control of much of America’s economy and politics. Smith confirms what insightful observers have known for years: the business purpose of Wall Street bankers is to maximize their personal financial take without regard to the consequences for others.

Wall Street’s World of Illusion

Why has the public for so long tolerated Wall Street’s reckless abuses of power and accepted the resulting devastation? The answer lies in a cultural trance induced by deceptive language and misleading indicators backed by flawed economic theory and accounting sleight-of-hand. To shatter the trance we need to recognize that the deception that Wall Street promotes through its well-funded PR machine rests on three false premises.

  1. We best fulfill our individual moral obligation to society by maximizing our personal financial gain.
  2. Money is wealth and making money increases the wealth of the society.
  3. Making money is the proper purpose of the individual enterprise and is the proper measure of prosperity and economic performance.

Wall Street aggressively promotes these fallacies as guiding moral principles. Their embrace by Wall Street insiders helps to explain how they are able to reward themselves with obscene bonuses for their successful use of deception, fraud, speculation, and usury to steal wealth they have had no part in creating and yet still believe, as Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein famously proclaimed, that they are “doing God’s work.”

The devastation created by Wall Street’s failure affirms three truths that are the foundation on which millions of people are at work building a New Economy:

  1. Our individual and collective well-being depends on acting with concern for the well-being of others. We all do better when we look out for one another.
  2. Money is not wealth. It is just numbers. Sacrificing the health and happiness of billions of people to grow numbers on computer hard drives to improve one’s score on the Forbes Magazine list of the world’s richest people is immoral. Managing a society’s economy to facilitate this immoral competition at the expense of people and nature is an act of collective insanity.
  3. The proper purpose of the economy and the enterprises that comprise it is to provide good jobs and quality goods and services beneficial to the health and happiness of people, community and nature. A modest financial profit is essential to a firm’s viability, but is not its proper purpose.

The critical distinction between making money and creating wealth is the key to seeing through Wall Street’s illusions.

Ends/Means Confusion

 

Real wealth includes healthful food; fertile land; pure water; clean air; caring relationships; healthy, happy children; quality education and health care; fulfilling opportunities for service; peace; and time for meditation and spiritual reflection. These are among the many forms of real wealth to which we properly expect a sound economy to contribute. 

Wall Street has so corrupted our language, however, that it is difficult even to express the crucial distinction between money (a facilitator of economic activity), and real wealth (the purpose of economic activity).

Financial commentators routinely use terms like wealth, capital, resources, and assets when referring to phantom wealth financial assets, which makes them sound like something real and substantial—whether or not they are backed by anything of real value. Similarly, they identify folks engaged in market speculation and manipulation as investors, thus glossing over the distinction between those who game the system to expropriate wealth and those who contribute to its creation.

 

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The same confusion plays out in the use of financial indicators, particularly stock price indices, to evaluate economic performance. The daily rise and fall of stock prices tells us only how fast the current stock bubble is inflating or deflating and thus how Wall Street speculators are doing relative to the rest of us. 

Once we are conditioned to embrace measures of Wall Street success as measures of our own well-being, we are easily recruited as foot soldiers in Wall Street’s relentless campaign to advance policies that support its control of money and thus its hold on nearly every aspect of our lives.

Modern Enslavement

In a modern society in which our access to most essential of life from food and water to shelter and health care depends on money, control of money is the ultimate instrument of social control.

Fortunately, with the help of Occupy Wall Street, Americans are waking up to an important truth. It is a very, very bad idea to yield control of the issuance and allocation of credit (money) to Wall Street banks run by con artists who operate beyond the reach of public accountability and who Greg Smith tells us in his New York Times op-ed view the rest of us as simple-minded marks ripe for the exploiting.

By going along with its deceptions, we the people empowered Wall Street to convert America from a middle class society of entrepreneurs, investors, and skilled workers into a nation of debt slaves. Buying into Wall Street lies and illusions, Americans have been lured into accepting,  even aggressively promoting, “tax relief” for the very rich and the “regulatory relief” and “free trade” agreements for corporations that allowed Wall Street to suppress wages and benefits for working people through union busting, automation, and outsourcing jobs to foreign sweatshops.

Once working people were unable to make ends meet with current income, Wall Street lured them into making up the difference by taking on credit card and mortgage debt they had no means to repay. They were soon borrowing to pay not only for current consumption, but as well to pay the interest on prior unpaid debt.

This is the classic downward spiral of debt slavery that assures an ever-growing divide between the power and luxury of a creditor class and the powerless desperation of a debtor class.

Bust the Trusts, Liberate America

Before Wall Street dismantled it, America had a system of transparent, well-regulated, community-based, locally owned, Main Street financial institutions empowered to put local savings to work investing in building real community wealth through the creation and allocation of credit to finance local home buyers and entrepreneurs.

Although dismissed by Wall Street players as small, quaint, provincial, and inefficient, this locally rooted financial system created the credit that financed our victory in World War II, the Main Street economies that unleashed America’s entrepreneurial talents, the investments that made us the world leader in manufacturing and technology, and the family-wage jobs that built the American middle class. It is a proven model with important lessons relevant for current efforts to restore financial integrity and build an economy that serves all Americans.

Two recent reports from the New Economy Working Group—How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule and Jobs: A Main Street Fix for Wall Street’s Failure—draw on these lessons to outline a practical program to shift power from Wall Street to Main Street, focus economic policy on real wealth creation, create a true ownership society, unleash Main Street’s entrepreneurial potential, bring ourselves into balance with the biosphere, meet the needs of all, and strengthen democracy in the process.

For far too long, we have allowed Wall Street to play us as marks in a confidence scam of audacious proportion. Then we wonder at our seeming powerlessness to deal with job loss, depressed wages, mortgage foreclosures, political corruption and the plight of our children as they graduate into debt bondage.

Let us be clear. We will no longer play the sucker for Wall Street con artists and we will no longer tolerate public bailouts to save failed Wall Street banks.

Henceforth, when a Wall Street financial institution fails to maintain adequate equity reserves to withstand a major financial shock or is found guilty of systematic violation of the law and/or defrauding the public, we must demand that federal authorities take it over and break it up into strictly regulated, community-accountable, cooperative member-owned financial services institutions.

Occupy Wall Street has focused national and global attention on the source of the problem. Now it’s time for action to bust the Wall Street banking trusts, replace the current Wall Street banking system with a Main Street banking system, and take back America from rule by Wall Street bankers.

Extreme Weather Threatens Rich Ecosystems

March 31, 2012

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2012) — Extreme weather such as hurricanes, torrential downpours and droughts will become more frequent in pace with global warming. Consequently, this increases the risk for species extinction, especially in bio diverse ecosystems such as coral reefs and tropical rainforests.

Human impact means that flora and fauna become extinct at a rate 100–1000 times higher than normal. Climate change has been deemed as one of the main causes of species depletion.

A research team in theoretical biology at Linköping University has, through the use of mathematical modelling and simulation, studied how the dynamics of different types of ecosystems may be affected by significant environment fluctuations.

Linda Kaneryd, doctoral student and lead author of a study recently published in the journal, Ecology and Evolution, says the results were surprising.

“Several previous studies of food web structures have suggested that species-rich ecosystems are often more robust than species-poor ecosystems. However at the onset of increased environmental fluctuations, such as extreme weather, we see that extreme species-rich ecosystems are the most vulnerable and this entails a greater risk for a so-called cascading extinction.”

In a rainforest or on coral reef there are a wide variety of species of primary producers such as green plants and algae. Since they are competitors, relatively few individuals of the same species exist, subjecting them to a greater risk of extinction should external conditions change. This could result in a depletion of food sources for a species of herbivores that, in turn, affects a predator at the top of the food chain. Biologists call this transformation a cascading extinction.

The opposite would apply to an ecosystem whereby few species exist in large numbers and animal species are adaptable generalists.

The researchers create their model food webs following on from their experiences with real ecosystems; what eats what, the composition of the species’ life cycles, and how they interact with others. In this study, external conditions are represented as an increasing and unpredictable variation.

“The model we worked with is quite typical. The next step is to introduce actual, detailed climatic data,” informs Bo Ebenman, Professor of Theoretical Biology who supervised Linda Kaneryds thesis.

The present global crisis is not at its core an economic depression but rather a systemic failure

March 31, 2012

March 30, 2012


By Richard Clark

In the wake of the current crisis, more people are questioning the primacy of growth-at-all-costs. President Sarkozy, the Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, and elements of the Financial Times’s commentariat are among those now arguing that prosperity is possible without GNP growth, and indeed that prosperity will soon become impossible because of GNP growth. In fact, a new movement seems to be emerging.

::::::::

We tend to forget that the larger system within which we live is changing and is, with our help, reaching certain limits.   Most of us don’t understand that, just because . .

a) many of us came to feel we achieved very good living standards and

b) we in the developed world came to feel pretty good about the world and ourselves before 2008,

. . does not mean that the evolution and transformation of the larger system within which we live has stopped.

Humans are not above the vast natural system we exist within;   yes we are the dominant species within it, yet just one single species within it, so the continuing change of the system around us continuously and inevitably affects us, just as we effect it.   Example:   The recent, large and ever worsening natural catastrophes (e.g. hurricanes, floods & tornadoes) remind us of how helpless we are in the face of those forces that most of us cannot fully comprehend (i.e. most of us do not yet understand that ever more damaging weather systems stem from the ever rising percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that results in the greenhouse effect and global warming — which inevitably comes from the ever increasing amounts of manufacture, production and consumption which produces that carbon dioxide).

So if we want to solve our present problems we have to understand a few important points:

1.   We do not and cannot have historical perspective on the present crisis.   Why not?   Because we are in a situation humanity has never before faced.

2.   We are not in a crisis that could be corrected by known economic, financial or political means;   rather, we are in a system failure.   Why?   Because our constant growth, overproduction/over-consumption system has become unsustainable, and has even began to self-destruct because of this.   Paradoxically, the same drive that gave us all our achievements throughout history has become a cancer that is now destroying the entire system, and none of the basic principles of a constant-growth, expansive system any longer exist.   To wit:

free markets are rapidly disappearing as corporate monopolies and oligopolies take over,

because of falling wages and rising unemployment (as ever more income and wealth is cleverly siphoned away by the top 1%), there is no longer a strong and confident consumer base, and it is not going to return!

* the mass hypnotic media and marketing system that have always brainwashed people to keep buying products they do not need, for money they do not have (but must borrow) . . is falling apart,

* an ever larger percentage of the public is becoming aware of the fraudulent and completely unsustainable system we are now living in,

* we are fast depleting all our natural resources.

3.   Stuck in their present attitudes and behavior, corporate-dominated culture and society remain in complete opposition to the vast natural system around us.   With global capitalism and population growth, we have achieved a certain saturation of economic possibilities that has finally put us into a direct conflict with Mother Nature, who is, as a result, beginning to turn against us.   While the whole system (i.e. “Mother Nature”) strives for overall balance and homeostasis, most corporations (with their fragmented, competitive, exploitative attitude and organization) are inadvertently working in opposition to that.

Therefore our next moves need to be based on the realization just described.   We need to update and educate the whole population about the key factors now influencing and impinging upon our lives.   We need to educate people as to what it means to live in a closed, integral, and completely interdependent world.   By this means we can prepare people for the inevitable transition to the limited, natural-resource-based life that will be required for the survival and health of our civilization.

Only a factual, transparent and scientific global education program can create a situation where people willingly join this new movement and system.   Such an education program can prevent global-scale rioting and revolutions due to the continually worsening living conditions that will surely result if we fail in this task.   By this means we can show people that human society has an unlimited potential and a bright sustainable future — as long as we keep mindful of the natural laws governing and limiting the larger political-economic-environmental system in which we live.

Author and economist Tim Jackson states the challenge starkly:

“Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries.   But question it we must.”

And that is the core mission of his perfectly timed book, Prosperity Without Growth:   Economics for a Finite Planet.   Had he published it before the financial crisis, he would probably have been dismissed as another green idealist, at best.   But in the wake of the crisis, more people are questioning the primacy of growth-at-all-costs.   President Sarkozy, the Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, and elements of the Financial Times’s commentariat are among those now arguing that prosperity is possible without GNP growth, and indeed that prosperity will soon become impossible because of GNP growth.   A new movement seems to be emerging, and this superbly written book   should be the first stop for anyone wanting a manifesto.

Submitters Website: http://www.TechEditingServices.com

Submitters Bio:

Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I’ve always been more interested in political economics and what’s going on behind the scenes in politics, than in mechanical engineering, and because of that I’ve rarely worked more than 8 months a year, devoting much of the rest of the year to reading and writing about that which interests me most.

Your Soul Has Been Sold for Gold – Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio Interviewed

March 31, 2012
Your Soul Has Been Sold for Gold – Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio Interviewed

90 Degrees in Winter: This Is What Climate Change Looks Like

March 31, 2012

 Bill  McKibben, The Nation/News Report
Published: Sunday 25 March 2012
“It’s extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day”
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The National Weather Service is kind of the anti–Mike Daisey, a just-the-facts operation that grinds on hour after hour, day after day.  It’s collected billions of records (I’ve seen the vast vaults where early handwritten weather reports from observers across the country are stored in endless rows of ledgers and files) on countless rainstorms, blizzards, and pleasant summer days.  So the odds that you could shock the NWS are pretty slim.

Beginning in mid-March, however, its various offices began issuing bulletins that sounded slightly shaken.  “There’s extremes in weather, but seeing something like this is impressive and unprecedented,” Chicago NWS meteorologist Richard Castro told the Daily Herald.  “It’s extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day,” the office added in an official statement.

It wasn’t just Chicago, of course.  A huge swath of the nation simmered under bizarre heat.  International Falls, Minnesota, the “icebox of the nation,” broke its old temperature records—by twenty-two degrees, which according to weather historians may be the largest margin ever for any station with a century’s worth of records.  Winner, South Dakota, reached 94 degrees on the second-to-last day of winter.  That’s in the Dakotas, two days before the close of winter.  Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground, the web’s go-to site for meteorological information, watched an eerie early morning outside his Michigan home and wrote, “This is not the atmosphere I grew up with,” a fact confirmed later that day when the state recorded the earliest F-3 strength tornado in its history.  Other weathermen were more… weather Manish.  Veteran Minneapolis broadcaster Paul Douglas, after noting that Sunday’s low temperature in Rochester broke the previous record high, blogged “this is OFF THE SCALE WEIRD even for Minnesota.”

It’s hard to overstate how impossible this weather is—when you have nearly a century and a half of records, they should be hard to break, much less smash.  But this is like Barry Bonds on steroids if his steroids were on steroids, an early season outbreak of heat completely without precedent in its scale and spread.  I live in Vermont, where we should be starting to slowly thaw out—but as the heat moved steadily east, ski areas shut down and golf courses opened.

 

And truth be told, it felt pretty good.  Most people caught in the torrid zones probably reacted pretty much like President Obama: “It gets you a little nervous about what is happening to global temperatures,” he told the audience assembled at a fundraiser at Tyler Perry’s Atlanta mansion (records were falling in Georgia too).  “On the other hand I have really enjoyed the nice weather.” 

Anyone thinking about the seasons ahead was at least as ambivalent, and most were scared.  Here are a few of the things that could happen with staggering warmth like this early in the year:

The plants that have budded out prematurely (there’s fruit budding across the nation’s Apple Belt) can be easily killed by the freezes that will come if temperatures revert to anything like normal.  (Frost is common here, for instance, late into May).

The soils left exposed by the early retreat of snow will dry out much earlier in the growing season, raising dramatically the risk of drought.

Forests dry out too.  In recent years three-quarters of the big fires across the West have come in years when snow melted well ahead of schedule.  Across the East the next six or eight weeks, before trees are fully leafed out, will be scary for forest rangers unless we get heavy rains.

One could go on: mild winters and early springs allow ticks to spread into new places, carrying disease.  Reservoirs can start evaporating early.  We see wickedly strong storms along the frontal boundaries of these record-setting zones.  But the real fears are the things we can’t anticipate, simply because we are moving into uncharted territory.  We know that we can make a normal seasonal cycle, with variations within a typical range, work—we know, because we’ve done it as long as we’ve been here.  But we’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing this week.

Except, of course, in the models that the climatologists have been printing out on their supercomputers for the last two decades.  This is what climate change looks like, just like last year’s new record for multibillion-dollar weather disasters is what climate change looks like.  As Masters put it in a recent blog post, notable for its understatement, “it is very unlikely that the intensity of the heat would have been so great unless we were in a warming climate.”

One could make some sad jokes about the coincidence of Chicago’s record heat with the Illinois primary, or with the president’s tour this week of drilling rigs to convince Americans that he’s a great champion of fossil fuel (with a visit to a solar production facility thrown in for good measure).  But the power of our politics seems puny this week compared to the power of the carbon we’ve unleashed for a century.

Still, one’s compelled to make a witness and put up a fight.  On May 5, all around the world, 350.org is organizing a day for people to testify to the impacts of climate change.  There will be Pakistanis forced from their homes in the worst flooding the country’s ever seen, and Somalia’s dealing with a drought horrible even by the standards of the Horn of Africa.  Thais, who watched floods do damage last fall equal to 18 percent of the country’s GDP, and El Salvadorans who watched fifteen years’ worth of development wash away in a week of record rains.  Lots of Americans were already planning to join in—Texans who watched drought kill half a billion trees there last year, Vermonters who saw the state dam near wash away in the wake of Irene.  But now they’ll have more company.

The Video ExxonMobil Doesn’t Want You to See

March 31, 2012

Families in  Pennsylvania  can't drink their water and are concerned about their homes blowing up because of gas drilling. (photo: Water Defense.org)
Families in Pennsylvania can’t drink their water and are concerned about their homes blowing up because of gas drilling. (photo: Water Defense.org)

By Tara Lohan, AlterNet

30 March 12

 

ctor Mark Ruffalo sparred last night with Stephen Colbert over fracking. Colbert of course opined that we’re a fossil-fuel country to the core, “We burn things better than anyone’s ever burned things – America was built on burning things.”

But Ruffalo made the case for clean, sustainable energy and talked about families in Pennsylvania who can’t drink their water and are concerned about their homes blowing up because of gas drilling. Ruffalo’s organization Water Defense has just launched a new campaign called Natural Gas Exxposed, which is seeking to share the stories of people all over the US who have been devastated by the industry.

The organization explains, “All across the country, gas companies are poisoning water, tearing apart communities and destroying the American dream for thousands of families who can’t protect their children from what comes out of the tap.”

Here’s a look at one of their videos from the project.

 

 

 

As Fukushima Worsens, US Approves New Nukes

March 30, 2012

Nuclear Regulatory Commission OKs New Nuclear Plants in South Carolina

- Common Dreams staff

Despite reports this week that the Fukushima nuclear situation may be even worse than previously thought, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has given approval today for two combined licenses for two nuclear reactors in South Carolina, only the second time in the last three decades that new nuclear plants have been approved in the nation.

The Vogtle nuclear power plant, which was given the first license since the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., a unit of SCANA Corp., and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility, will begin construction on the reactors in Fairfield County, S.C. at the Summer nuclear power site.

The NRC’s decision to approve the license passed by a 4-1 vote, with the lone dissent vote coming from NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko due to safety measures raised by the Fukushima disaster. Jaczko wrote in his dissent, “I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating.”

The nuclear reactors will use Westinghouse’s AP1000 design. But in November nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen warned of several unreviewed safety concerns with this design and said that Westinghouse’s assumption of zero probability of reactor and/or spent fuel cooling failure “is a blatant manipulation of a safety code designed to protect public health and safety.”

In February the NRC also voted to extend licenses to build two nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.

Earlier this month, Amy Goodman noted that “Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: they’re going to force nuclear power on the public, despite the astronomically high risks, both financial and environmental.”

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U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: NRC Concludes Hearing on Summer New Reactors, Combined Licenses to Be Issued (pdf)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded its mandatory hearing on the South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) and Santee Cooper application for two Combined Licenses (COL) at the Summer site in South Carolina. In a 4-1 vote the Commission found the NRC staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors (NRO) to issue the COLs.

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The Hill: Regulators approve construction of nuclear reactors in South Carolina

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4-1 to approve a license allowing construction and conditional operation of two new reactors at Scana Corp.’s Virgil C. Summer nuclear power plant in Fairfield County, S.C. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was the lone vote against approving the license. [...]

Friday’s decision is a major victory for the nuclear power industry, which has struggled for years to receive the necessary regulatory approvals to build new reactors.

In his dissent, Jaczko reiterated his long-standing call for the commission to include in the license a requirement that the plant operator – in this case Scana subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas – comply with all post-Fukushima safety standards. [...]

“I fully support the decision by my colleagues to include this license condition and I consider this important progress in incorporating the lessons from Fukushima,” he wrote in his dissent. “However, I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating.”

Jaczko was also the lone dissenting voice in February when the commission approved the Vogtle license. At the time, he raised similar concerns about incorporating the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster into the license.

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POWERGRID International: NRC approves COLs for SCE&G, Santee Cooper Nuclear Units

About 1,000 workers are currently engaged in early-site preparation work at the V.C. Summer construction site. The project will peak at about 3,000 construction craft workers over the course of three to four years. The two units, each with a capacity of 1,117 MW, will then add 600 to 800 permanent jobs when they start generating electricity. The two AP1000 nuclear reactors will be fabricated by Westinghouse.

V.C. Summer Station is about 20 miles northwest of Columbia, S.C., and includes the now-decommissioned Carolinas-Virginia Tube Reactor unit. The plant comprises one 1,000 MW Westinghouse 3-loop pressurized water reactor currently licensed to run through 2042.

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Common Dreams: Experts: Radiation at Fukushima Plant Far Worse Than Thought
Water at surprisingly low levels; damage “worse than expected”

Radiation levels inside Fukushima’s reactor 2 have reached fatally high levels, and levels of water are far lower than previously thought, experts say today.

The current radiation levels are so high that even robots cannot enter. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) says that new robots and equipment will need to be developed to deal with the lethal levels of radiation.

TEPCO spokesperson Junichi Matsumoto told the Associated Press, “We have to develop equipment that can tolerate high radiation” when locating and removing melted fuel during the decommissioning.

At ten times the lethal dose, the radiation levels are at their highest point yet.

At the current level of 73 sieverts, the data gathering robots can only stand two to three hours of exposure. But, Tsuyoshi Misawa, a reactor physics and engineering professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute, told The Japan Times, “Two or three hours would be too short. At least five or six hours would be necessary.” He added that “the shallowness of the water level is a surprise, and the radiation level is awfully high.”

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Amy Goodman: Big Nuclear’s Cozy Relationship with the Obama Administration

Super Tuesday demonstrated the rancor rife in Republican ranks, as the four remaining major candidates slug it out to see how far to the right of PresidentBarack Obama they can go. While attacking him daily for the high cost of gasoline, both sides are traveling down the same perilous road in their support of nuclear power.

This is mind-boggling, on the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission warning that lessons from Fukushima have not been implemented in this country. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: they’re going to force nuclear power on the public, despite the astronomically high risks, both financial and environmental.

One year ago, on 11 March 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, causing more than 15,000 deaths, with 3,000 more missing and thousands of injuries. Japan is still reeling from the devastation – environmentally, economically, socially and politically. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time, said last July;

“We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power.”

He resigned in August after shutting down production at several power plants. He said that another catastrophe could force the mass evacuation of Tokyo, and even threaten “Japan’s very existence”. Only two of the 54 Japanese power plants that were online at the time of the Fukushima disaster are currently producing power. Kan’s successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, supports nuclear power, but faces growing public opposition to it.

This stands in stark contrast to the United States. Just about a year before Fukushima, President Obama announced $8bn in loan guarantees to the Southern Company, the largest energy producer in the southeastern US, for the construction of two new nuclear power plants in Waynesboro, Georgia, at the Vogtle power plant, on the South Carolina border.

Since the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and then the catastrophe at Chernobyl in 1986, there have been no new nuclear power plants built in the US. The 104 existing nuclear plants are all increasing in age, many nearing their originally slated life expectancy of 40 years.

While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised that nuclear power would remain part of the US’s “energy mix”. His chief adviser, David Axelrod, had consulted in the past for Illinois energy company ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon, a major nuclear-energy producer. Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel played a key role in the formation of Exelon. In the past four years, Exelon employees have contributed more than $244,000 to the Obama campaign – and that is not counting any soft-money contributions to PACs, or direct, corporate contributions to the new Super Pacs. Lamented by many for breaking key campaign promises (like closing Guantánamo, or accepting Super Pac money), President Obama is fulfilling his promise to push nuclear power.

That is why several groups sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last month. The NRC granted approval to the Southern Company to build the new reactors at the Vogtle plant despite a no vote from the NRC chair, Gregory Jaczko. He objected to the licenses over the absence of guarantees to implement recommendations made following the Japanese disaster. Jaczko said, “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened.”

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the NRC, explained how advocates for nuclear power “distort market forces”, since private investors simply don’t want to touch nuclear:

“They’ve asked the federal government for loan guarantees to support the project, and they have not revealed the terms of that loan guarantee … it’s socializing the risk and privatizing the profits.”

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, noting the ongoing Republican attack on President Obama’s loan guarantee to the failed solar power company Solyndra, said:

“The potential for taxpayer losses that would dwarf the Solyndra debacle is extraordinarily high … this loan would be 15 times larger than the Solyndra loan, and is probably 50 times riskier.”

As long as our politicians dance to the tune of their donors, the threat of nuclear disaster will never be far off.

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Nuclear Expert Cites New Concerns about Westinghouse Reactor Design Based on Fukushima Disaster:

DURHAM, N.C. – November 10 – Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen has documented at least six areas of unreviewed safety concern involving the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant design based on the ongoing Fukushima disaster, and he says these problems require full technical review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before the plant design can be “certified.” Today public interest groups filed his report – which expands on problems identified by a federal task force – with NRC commissioners who are considering a final vote on the plant design without responding to a long list of problems raised earlier by experts within and outside the industry.

The report was commissioned by NC WARN and Friends of the Earth, who say the NRC staff has avoided resolving the earlier problems – along with others the NRC’s Fukushima Task Force said apply to new reactors – in order to meet the nuclear industry’s AP1000 construction schedule. In a legal motion accompanying today’s report, the groups say federal regulations require correction of the multiple problems during the design certification phase – not after full construction of the AP1000 begins in Georgia and South Carolina.

Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates, reports multiple “failure modes that the NRC and Westinghouse have not considered … impacting the ability of the Westinghouse passive design to cool” the reactor and spent fuel pools. The former nuclear industry senior vice-president says Westinghouse’s assumption of zero probability of reactor and/or spent fuel cooling failure “is a blatant manipulation of a safety code designed to protect public health and safety.”

“Fukushima Unit 4 released enormous amounts of radiation when its spent fuel pool cooling system was shut down during the tsunami – and the lessons learned from this disaster must be applied in the design phase of the AP1000,” Gundersen said during a press conference today. “This same sequence is possible on the AP1000, but the NRC and Westinghouse-Toshiba have factored a zero percent chance of such an accident occurring.”

Nuclear power to Tokyo, and Futenma Base to Mainland Japan (U.S.? Nowhere)

March 30, 2012

 Peace Philosophy Centre


Douglas Lummis: Nuclear power to Tokyo, and Futenma Base to Mainland Japan 原発は東京へ、普天間基地は本土へ:ダグラス・ラミス [더글러스 러미스 칼럼]원전을 도쿄로, 후텐마기지를 본토로

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 10:09 AM PDT

See below an article by Douglas Lummis that appeared in the March 19, 2012 edition of Kyunghyang Shinmun in Korea. Also see Hase Michiko’s report on the post-Fukushima “Nuke Power to Tokyo!” demonstration and Satoko Oka Norimatsu’s article on Fukushima and Okinawa.

韓国のキョンヒャン新聞に連載中の政治学者ダグラス・ラミス氏(沖縄在住)の2012年3月19日付の記事を紹介します(リンクはこちら)。ラミス氏と、原発の危険性を訴え続けてきた広瀬隆氏は、東京で同じ喫茶店の常連だったので親交を深めたといいます。「日米安保が大事なら、そう思う日本本土の人たちが米軍基地を引き受けるべき」と、「原発が安全なら東京に原発を」と、それぞれが、沖縄や過疎地に基地や原発を押し付けて平気でいる本土と大都市のエゴイズムを指摘します。「沖縄の場合は本土に基地を引き受けてくれというのは本気だが、広瀬さんが東京に原発をというのは風刺という意味で違うのではないか」というラミス氏の問いかけに、広瀬氏は、「私は風刺など言いません。本気です」と答えます。

安保と原発に賛成する人は、日比谷公園に海兵隊飛行場と東電の原発を作って、はじめて説得力を持つと言えるのでしょう。

英語誌『アジア太平洋ジャーナル:ジャパンフォーカス』掲載、長谷三知子氏による2011・9・25の「東京へ原発を」デモのレポート(YouTube ビデオ付)、乗松聡子の「福島と沖縄:『棄民』政策と市民の力」の記事もご覧ください。

この記事(下記に転載)は英語と韓国語で、日本語訳はないのですが、同様の内容が、ラミス氏と広瀬氏による昨年9月26日、那覇での講演と対談のビデオで見られます。

Kyunghyang Shimun, March 19, 2012
http://news.khan.co.kr/kh_news/khan_art_view.html?artid=201203192130215&code=990000

Douglas Lummis

Just over thirty years ago the anti-nuclear power activist Hirose Takashi (who I knew because we frequented the same coffee house in Tokyo) said to me, “I have converted to the other side. I am writing a book arguing that nuclear power is safe after all.” He smiled to see how startled I was, and then went on. “Nuclear power is perfectly safe, right? That means there is no reason to build nuclear power plants in such far-away places. Building all those towers and stringing all those long wires costs a lot of money, and then because of the resistance in the wires you lose much of the electricity in the form of heat. Tokyo’s power plants should be built in downtown Tokyo. The electricity would be cheaper, and instead of dumping all that hot water into the ocean as they do now, they could pipe it directly into people’s homes, for cooking, bathing and washing clothes and dishes. If it’s safe, why not?”

The resulting book Nuclear Power Plants to Tokyo! (東京に、原発を! 1981) was a best seller, got a lot of media attention, and made many people very angry. Hirose also made a leaflet, and passed it out to commuters outside Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. Men in business suits would shout at him, “What do you mean! That’s dangerous!” Hirose would say, “Oh, are you against nuclear power?” “No, of course not. But the plants should be put far away from big cities, where fewer people live.” “Oh, you mean somebody else should face the danger, and not you?”

The book was a great success at revealing big-city egotism. The people of Tokyo (and Osaka as well) want the electricity, but not the danger. The same is true today. Many people haven’t grasped the significance of the fact that the melted-down nuclear power plants at Fukushima are owned by the Tokyo Electric Company. The electricity they generated was sent to Tokyo. The people who live in Fukushima get their electricity from a different company.

There is a similar story behind the fact that 75% of the US military bases in Japan are located in tiny Okinawa. The great majority of the Japanese public wants the US military near to (as they imagine) protect them, but not too near. Opinion polls show that over 70% of the Japanese people support the Japan-US Security Treaty, which provides for locating US military bases in Japan. As I wrote last time, far fewer Okinawans support that treaty – in an opinion poll done a few years ago, just 7% responded that they thought the treaty “contributed to the security of East Asia.” Okinawans have no historical memory of a military presence making them safer. The 1945 Battle of Okinawa, in which between a quarter and a third of the Okinawan people were killed, took place because there were Japanese military bases there. And if war comes to Okinawa again, it will be because of the US bases on the islands.

A growing number of Okinawans are becoming sensitive to the fact that this unequal distribution of the bases is a form of discrimination, and that they are being treated as a colony. They are saying, The Yamato Japanese are the ones who want the US military to protect them, so isn’t it reasonable to locate the bases in Yamato Japan? In particular, shouldn’t the US Marine Air Base at Futenma be relocated to mainland Japan rather than to northern Okinawa? So far the Japanese Government absolutely refuses to consider this idea. It is a virtual taboo.

Thus, the anti-base movement in Okinawa is evolving from an anti-war movement to an anti-war/anti-colonial movement.

Last autumn Hirose came to Okinawa to give a talk on the Fukushima disaster, and we talked about the similarity between his “Nuclear power plants to Tokyo” idea, and Okinawa’s “Futenma Marine Base to Yamato Japan” movement. I suggested to him that one difference between them was that his idea was a satire, not meant seriously, whereas the Okinawan idea is meant seriously. But he strongly denied this, and said he was absolutely serious. “I don’t write satires,” he said. “Actually bringing nuclear power plants to Tokyo is the only way those people can be made to understand.”

After his talk in Naha I joined him on the stage for a conversation on just this subject. If you have a computer you can see this (in Japanese) on YouTube at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6eOAfF56_k

The Tree Reasons to Rally Around the Progressive Caucus of “Budget for All”

March 30, 2012
Isaiah J. Poole
Campaign for America’s Future/Op-ed
Published: Wednesday 28 March 2012
“The Budget for All stands for progressive taxation. The Republican budget cuts taxes for the 1 percent and shifts economic burdens to the 99 percent.”

Later this week on the floor of the House of Representatives, several federal budget proposals embodying different approaches to our country’s economic challenges will compete for attention. One of those, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s “Budget for All,” offers the most dramatic contrast between the effort by House Republicans to double down on the failed conservative policies of the past and a contrasting approach that is our only real hope for rebuilding the middle class and getting the nation out from under the specter of crushing debt.

We all should be rallying behind the Budget for All as a counter to the Budget for the 1 Percent that the House Republicans have put forward under the leadership of Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Here are three reasons why.

The Budget for All will create jobs. The Republican Budget for the 1 Percent will kill them.

The Budget for All contains a long list of initiatives, more than $2 trillion worth, designed to put people to work doing jobs that need to be done, such as repairing schools, upgrading and expanding our transportation network, protecting our communities, providing health care and other services to those in need. The Republican budget would slash discretionary spending by $38 billion below the president’s request in 2013, and by $352 billion over 10 years, reducing the money available for a broad range of job-creating initiatives.

In the short term, the Budget for All would increase the deficit more than either President Obama’s proposed budget, and certainly more than the Republican budget. But it makes eminent sense to run a larger deficit now, when the economy is slack, borrowing costs are near zero, and unemployment is running well above 8 percent.

By contrast, the Republican budget starts by slashing and burning domestic spending, irrespective of the impact on the economy. The budget is based on two false premises: one, proven wrong during the Bush administration, is that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to job creation for the middle class. It did not; the Bush administration’s economic growth period was the most anemic in terms of job creation of any economic upturn since World War II, and of course what little job growth that did take place was more than erased by the Bush economic collapse. The second false premise, being proved wrong in Europe, is that government austerity causes the private sector to grow. In fact, as governments slash budgets, parts of the Euro Zone are sliding toward a double-dip recession.

 

The Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream program in the Budget for All alone would put 2 million Americans back to work. That is on top of the millions of jobs created or maintained by a $556 billion surface transportation program, plus investments in clean energy. The Republican budget would cost the economy “roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014,” economist Ethan Pollock of the Economic Policy Institute estimates

The Budget for All does the most for deficit reduction — the right way.

The charts below say it all. The Budget for All would bring the annual federal deficit down to less than 1 percent of gross domestic product in 10 years, compared to 1.2 percent projected by the Ryan Republican budget and the 5.3 percent of GDP the deficit would be if we maintained the status quo for the next 10 years. The cumulative debt would be reduced to 62.3 percent of GDP in 10 years.

 

Article image

 

The Budget for All offers deficit reduction of $6.8 trillion in 10 years. Some of that deficit reduction comes through cuts in defense spending, with a goal of “a leaner, more agile force” to combat 21st-century threats, rather than basing defense budgets on a long-over cold war.

But what is particularly important in how this budget deals with deficit reduction is how it deals with taxes.

The Budget for All stands for progressive taxation. The Republican budget cuts taxes for the 1 percent and shifts economic burdens to the 99 percent.

The Budget for All proposes to maintain today’s tax rates—including the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts—for the bottom 98 percent of taxpayers. But for people earning more than $1 million a year, the Budget for All would create new, higher tax brackets, up to 49 percent for those earning more than $1 billion. It would also enshrine into law the “Buffett rule,” taxing capital gains and other unearned income at the same rate as earned income.

The budget also includes “proposals to end manipulation of interest expenses of foreign subsidiaries, determine foreign tax credits on a pooling basis, crack down on transfers of intangible assets to tax havens, level the playing field between domestic and foreign insurers, and modify tax rules of dual capacity taxpayers, among others.”

The pillars of our economic success lie in such things as good schools, safe streets, clean water and air, an efficient transportation network—and people who have economic security. The Ryan Republican plan forfeits all of this in order to give the wealth and corporations a top tax rate of 25 percent, then cutting the economic supports out of the rest of the economy.

That is a path to ruin, not a path to prosperity. The Budget for All would still keep tax rates for the wealthiest Americans below what they were during much of the Reagan administration. But the budget priorities that would be funded by these taxes would support a growing economy with a broadening middle class. Wealth for everyone would increase, as it did during much of post-World War II America before conservative policies took hold.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, sums it up this way:

“The Budget for All is a common-sense blueprint for America. Its first priority is to invest in putting Americans back to work and helping the economy recover. Then, over the course of 10 years, it brings the budget more into balance than either the House Republican budget or the administration’s budget. Finally, it does this with sensible priorities: calling on millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share, cutting bloated Pentagon budgets, while protecting Social Security and Medicare. The Budget for All upholds the basic promises that Americans make to one another.

“The Budget for All exposes the folly of trying to achieve deficit reduction while offering the most affluent Americans trillions in top end tax cuts, as the Republican plan proposes. It exposes the lie that the country can’t afford to put people to work and still get our books in order. And it shows clearly that the nation can not only afford to protect Social Security and Medicare, but can’t afford not to.

“The Budget for All reflects the priorities of a majority of Americans in poll after poll. Those who oppose it trample both common sense and majority opinion. We urge its passage.”

The Budget for All is a platform for the kind of debate we must have in 2012, between the pathway to an economy that works for everyone and an economy that will only work for the Mitt Romney class. Call your member of Congress and ask them to vote for this budget. It does not matter whether it has a reasonable chance of being enacted. What matters is that its principles ought to dominate the debate over the future of the country.

Occupy the Military Industrial Complex

March 30, 2012

V. Noah Gimbel
Video Feature
In 2012, activists will organize many types of events, from protests at military bases to teach-ins.
 On April 17, thousands of people all over the world will occupy the military industrial complex as part of the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

This is the second Global Day. Last year’s event, held on April 12, 2011, was a big success, with nearly 100 actions in 37 countries. In 2012, activists will organize many types of events, from protests at military bases to teach-ins. Each location will devise its own approach. But all the events will highlight the latest figure for global military spending, which will likely approach $1.7 trillion.

GDAMS is coordinated by the  Institute for Policy Studies (Washington DC) and the International Peace Bureau (Geneva).


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