Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake rattles nuclear reactor

North Anna Power Station

Among the scariest elements of yesterday's East Coast earthquake, which was felt from Durham, NC to Boston, Mass., was how closely it occurred to the North Anna Power Station, a nuclear reactor complex, located about 10 miles from the quake's epicenter. As yet, the facility's reactors show no signs of cracks in their concrete containment centers. The nuclear facility is located 92 miles southwest of downtown Washington, D.C. An estimated 1.9 million people live within 50 miles of the plant's nuclear reactors.

The quake knocked out the plant's off-site power source. One of the four back-up diesel generators powering the auxiliary safety systems died within hours of the quake. Sound like Japan anyone?

The North Anna Power Station is designed to withstand quakes of a maximum of 5.9 to 6.1 on the infamous Richter Scale. Yesterday's quake was a 5.9. The North Anna power plant is notorious already. It has accumulated one of the largest concentrations of radioactivity in the United States. The L.A. Times reports that Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a former assistant Energy secretary during the Clinton administration noted, the plant’s spent fuel pools contain four to five times more radioactive material than their original designs intended. The plant's reactors are thirty-one and thirty-three years old respectively.

Ahhh, nuclear power. What a country!

A bad wobble

Is Bank of America, one of the two or three largest banks in the country, wobbling? By all accounts, we may have another too big to fail institution that needs bailing out by the federal government, lest it drag the banking system and the Western world down with it.

The bank is facing cash shortfalls of at least $50 billion related to mortgage lending disasters of recent years. The bank has petitioned regulators to give it until 2019 to straighten itself and its balance sheet out, so that it might come into compliance with new capital requirements rules. The bank is now said to be as much as $100 or $200 billion in the hole.

Bank of America's stock has fallen by 50% this year. Fresh sources of capital are drying up. The bank may have to be temporarily nationalized to survive. It took $50 billion in federal TARP loans to get Bank of America through the Lehman Brothers--AIG collapse. This looks worse.

A bad wobble indeed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stark reminder


Those of you who poo-poo the dangers of electing moral authoritarians to office would do well to read and remember this story. The State of North Carolina involuntarily, against their will and without their consent, sterilized more than 7,500 people, the last one as recently as 1974. This was done under the auspices of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, one of many such state authorities across the country. The state sterilized the mentally handicapped and epileptics, along with those judged too promiscuous or hard to control.

So be careful before you say, nothing like that could ever happen in America.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oil rig colonies

Silicon Valley billionaire and PayPal founder, Peter Thiel, has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create oil rig emulating, floating, libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details magazine.

The idea is to create floating independent quasi-states beyond the reach of any one country's jurisdiction because they are in international waters. There is no information on how these colonies would cope with the growing movement toward international maritime law. This has been a hot button issue as the Empire has continued to have to combat marauding and piracy.

The prospective colonists hope to get around building codes, minimum wage laws and weapons restrictions according to Yahoo. No word on if they will be trying to circumvent tax codes, too, a racket perfected in island countries like Bermuda, the Caymans and Switzerland.1

Stay tuned.

Read more here.

1Also no word on how they would repel marauding bands of buccaneers should they appear over the horizon.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Start of a groundswell?

Numbers cruncher extraordinaire, Nate Silver, made quite the statement on his blog, the 538, today, "Anti-incumbent sentiment is probably stronger now than at any point since polling began. We don’t know exactly how that is going to play out, and to some extent we are in uncharted territory."

We had not read anyone saying that this electoral season. We agree. What comes next?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cops convicted


In a case out of the stuff of nightmare, five New Orleans cops were convicted in the killing of unarmed civilians in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One of the most amazing parts of the story is that the shooting spree, that left two unarmed victims dead and four others wounded (one of whom ultimate lost her arm), took place six days after city flooded. Six days! What does that say about the conditions in the area and the authorities? Law and order were clearly on the run, the cops were told that they were responding to a radio call of officers down and under fire at the Danziger Bridge.

Another detail that tells one just how far off of the civic rails things were at that moment in Louisiana, the 5-0 was rolling to the call in a Budget Rental truck. Literally. One of the officers was riding in the back of the box truck carrying his personal AK-47.1 They jumped from the truck firing. According to reports, a family walking in search of food and supplies, the Bartholomews, ended up on the bridge that September day heading to a supermarket on the other side of the Industrial Canal that bifurcates the 9th Ward. The hail of New Orleans Police Department bullets killed seventeen year-old family friend James Brissette and wounded four other family members.2

Moments later, the cops open fire on two brothers, Lance and Ronald Madison, according to a Justice Department summary, one officer shot the mentally disabled Ronald Madison in the back as he ran away, another cop stomped and kicked him as he was lying on the ground before he died.

This is the small "c" conservative's nightmare, the state, who has its constituent citizens massively outgunned with its governmental arsenal, incidentally, paid for with tax dollars, turns its guns on the people in a climate of fear. This is the case for repealing the Patriot Act and eliminating the Department of Homeland Security. Guns in the hands of the state, while scary, is likely inevitable in a globalized society. Impunity to open fire on the citizenry, the presumption of guilt, is what must be fought at all costs.

In this federal courtroom, the officers ultimately lost when their fellow cops started to go state's evidence on them. As is so often the case, it was the cover-up that got them. Initially, it was not at all clear that the policemen were going to pay for this heinous incident. State of Louisiana murder and attempted murder charges were thrown out against the cops when the Criminal District Court ruled that the state had misused grand jury testimony. In a racially charged case and city, they were greeted by a cheering throng of supporters when they beat the rap.

The Clarion Content does not have enough information to make a definitive stand on one side or the other of this case on the basis of the facts. In a federal court, in front of juror of their peers these men were found guilty. We can only say that we are heartened that justice did not automatically pardon the powerful and armed against the dispossessed and unarmed. The presumption so often goes the other way.

1Brady Bill anyone?

2After an initial cover-up, in later testimony it was revealed that the officers kept firing at the unarmed family as they cowered behind a bridge abutment. "The police just kept shooting and I just kept feeling myself being hit," testified Susan Bartholomew who lost her right arm.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How do they feel?

How do the Democrats feel about the debt deal and President Obama? These quotes are from Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times...
Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already “neutered” the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

As one Democratic senator complained: “The president veers between talking like a peevish professor and a scolding parent.” (Not to mention a jilted lover.) Another moaned: “We are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Temporary end game: Debt

What, me, worry?

The Clarion Content could not disagree more with the assertion of the New York Times editorial page this morning that President Obama should have used the 14th Amendment to make an end run around Congressional obstructionists and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. It is a suggestion straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook. It advocates that when checked by a legitimate institutional disagreement, presidential power should be expanded so that the executive can still get his or her way. It is the methodology of Empire and dictatorship, the road to ruin.1

We are glad President Obama did not pursue this course.

We do not think that he made a great deal on the compromise to raise the debt ceiling. We disagree with kicking the problem further on down the road, by appointing a bogus, super-committee to make the hard decisions Congress has been putting off for a generation.2 President Obama already ignored the recommendations of his own deficit committee.

We are in no way impressed by President Obama's facetious claim that the Bush II tax cuts for the uber-rich will go away in 2013. Firstly, Obama would have to get re-elected, his prospects look pretty dismal right now. Secondly, he would have to keep his promise to let the tax cuts end, something he has not managed to do in his first term.

Bottomline on the debt deal, typical Washington, an ugly boiler room compromise that solves nothing and only delays the reckoning. It highlights the desperate need for a third party to break the political gridlock.

Obama was right about one thing change is coming, the only question left is the agent. If not Obama...this month has highlighted some of the more extreme alternatives.

1President Obama has already showed his willingness to follow the Bush II-Cheney guide to concentrating power in the Executive Branch. Signing statements, extraordinary Presidential Czars, Afghan policy, etc.

2Nothing stops progress from happening like a committee.

NY Times kills Obama

The New York Times killed President Obama for his compromise on raising the debt ceiling. While we do not view it in the apocalyptic terms of the NY Times editorialists, we do think it was a bad deal, typical Washington, a messy compromise that solves nothing and postpones addressing the real issues and root causes.

The NY Times sees it even more harshly than that, "
...the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status. ...It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.

In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t."