Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Ecuador Expels US Ambassador. The government of Ecuador has declared Susan Hodges, the U.S. ambassador to the small Andean country, a "persona non grata," demanding the envoy leave over disparaging remarks made by her about the country's police chief, Jaime Hurtado Vaco. The remarks were revealed in the leaked Wikileaks cables. The full story in the Los Angeles Times.

Germany's Free Democrats Select a New Leader. The pro-business Free Democrat Party (FDP) have selected Philipp Rösler to replace outgoing party leader Guido Westerwelle. Rösler, 38, was born in Ba Xuyen Province in 1973 in what was then South Vietnam and adopted by a German couple at the age of nine months. Rösler, a physician, currently serves as the Health Minister in Chancellor Merkel's cabinet. He is expected to retain that post and not assume the post of Foreign Minister that Mr Westerwelle held. The FDP has been in a free fall ever since Westerwelle led the FDP to its best-ever general election results in September 2009 when it garnered 14.6 percent of the vote. Since then however, the FDP has had disastrous losses in three major state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Under Westerwelle, the FDP came to be seen as a party predominantly focused on getting tax breaks for its core corporate constituency. More from Der Spiegel.

Inflation Pressures in Emergent Asian Economies. Asia's emerging economies, a diverse group of economies that includes China, India, Azerbaijan, Thailand and Fiji among others, are expected to grow 7.8 percent in 2011 and 7.7 percent in 2012, robust rates albeit slower than the 9 percent seen in 2010, the Asian Development Bank said in its latest Asian Development Outlook report. At the same time, inflation is expected to quicken to an average 5.3 percent this year from 4.4 percent in 2010, before easing to 4.6 percent in 2012, the ADB said. Some countries such as Vietnam and Pakistan could see inflation rates climb well into the double digits. More from Reuters India.

In related news, China's central bank increased interest rates on Tuesday for the fourth time since October, raising suspicions that data next week may show inflation rose more than expected in March. China is due to report the March consumer price index on April 15. Economists expect the data to show that consumer inflation rose to 5.1 percent in March, matching a 28-month high seen in November. China has set a 4.0 percent target for inflation in 2011.

India Bans Japanese Food Imports. India has imposed a three-month ban on imports of food articles from the whole of Japan on fears that radiation from an earthquake-hit nuclear plant was spreading to other parts of the country, becoming the first country to introduce a blanket ban.

Negotiations Ongoing in the Côte d'Ivoire. France and the United Nations forces continue to prepare the framework for strongman Laurent Gbagbo's departure after air strikes prove decisive in battle with opposition. The crisis has sent 130,000 refugees across the border into Liberia, displaced up to a million people internally and set a toll which is expected to rise sharply from the 1,300 deaths reported so far. More from All Africa.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Ecuador Expels US Ambassador. The government of Ecuador has declared Susan Hodges, the U.S. ambassador to the small Andean country, a "persona non grata," demanding the envoy leave over disparaging remarks made by her about the country's police chief, Jaime Hurtado Vaco. The remarks were revealed in the leaked Wikileaks cables. The full story in the Los Angeles Times.

Germany's Free Democrats Select a New Leader. The pro-business Free Democrat Party (FDP) have selected Philipp Rösler to replace outgoing party leader Guido Westerwelle. Rösler, 38, was born in Ba Xuyen Province in 1973 in what was then South Vietnam and adopted by a German couple at the age of nine months. Rösler, a physician, currently serves as the Health Minister in Chancellor Merkel's cabinet. He is expected to retain that post and not assume the post of Foreign Minister that Mr Westerwelle held. The FDP has been in a free fall ever since Westerwelle led the FDP to its best-ever general election results in September 2009 when it garnered 14.6 percent of the vote. Since then however, the FDP has had disastrous losses in three major state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Under Westerwelle, the FDP came to be seen as a party predominantly focused on getting tax breaks for its core corporate constituency. More from Der Spiegel.

Inflation Pressures in Emergent Asian Economies. Asia's emerging economies, a diverse group of economies that includes China, India, Azerbaijan, Thailand and Fiji among others, are expected to grow 7.8 percent in 2011 and 7.7 percent in 2012, robust rates albeit slower than the 9 percent seen in 2010, the Asian Development Bank said in its latest Asian Development Outlook report. At the same time, inflation is expected to quicken to an average 5.3 percent this year from 4.4 percent in 2010, before easing to 4.6 percent in 2012, the ADB said. Some countries such as Vietnam and Pakistan could see inflation rates climb well into the double digits. More from Reuters India.

In related news, China's central bank increased interest rates on Tuesday for the fourth time since October, raising suspicions that data next week may show inflation rose more than expected in March. China is due to report the March consumer price index on April 15. Economists expect the data to show that consumer inflation rose to 5.1 percent in March, matching a 28-month high seen in November. China has set a 4.0 percent target for inflation in 2011.

India Bans Japanese Food Imports. India has imposed a three-month ban on imports of food articles from the whole of Japan on fears that radiation from an earthquake-hit nuclear plant was spreading to other parts of the country, becoming the first country to introduce a blanket ban.

Negotiations Ongoing in the Côte d'Ivoire. France and the United Nations forces continue to prepare the framework for strongman Laurent Gbagbo's departure after air strikes prove decisive in battle with opposition. The crisis has sent 130,000 refugees across the border into Liberia, displaced up to a million people internally and set a toll which is expected to rise sharply from the 1,300 deaths reported so far. More from All Africa.

Japanese Anti-Nuclear Groups Need Your Help

I’m inserting portions of an email I received from <a href="http://adifferentkindofluxury.blogspot.com/">Andy Couturier</a>.

<em>I spoke with Atsuko Watanabe, from Chapter 3 of my book (A Different Kind of Luxury).  She recommended two groups, both of which, she says, would be helped *tremendously* by a donation of $1000.

After getting two suggestions from Atsuko, I spoke later with my old colleague and friend Koichi Honda, who speaks excellent English and uses email.  His email is: hondak@mb.pikara.ne.jp .  I have copied him in this email.  His phone number is: 011-81-88-665-0758 Be sure to check the time difference before calling. I usually call between 4 PM and 11 PM California time.  He’s the best person to be in contact with.

Here are two groups.  One is a national group which, among other things, provides crucial factual information about nuclear power.  Honda-san says “we check with them every day to see what’s happening.”

</em>

<em>The second group is a local Shikoku group (the island I lived on for 4 years, and where five people I profiled live.  Please see the map in the book.).  They are fighting to close down the nuclear reactor in Matsuyama city, and their leader is Ms. Kyoko Ono.  They will be protesting at a shareholders meeting in May, and they need money to fund their campaign and get the word out.  They are definitely “scrappy” as you asked for.  So here’s the information.

The first group:

Based in Tokyo, we are the Citizen`s Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). With a network of scientists, activists, and common citizens, we work to create a nuclear free world.

Their website in English is: http://www.cnic.jp/english/
Here’s how to support them: http://www.cnic.jp/english/cnic/support.html
People outside Japan should send an international postal money order made out to Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center. Please specify the purpose of the money order as ‘Donation’. Alternatively, you can ask us to send you details regarding bank transfers.
Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center
3F Kotobuki Bldg., 1-58-15 Higashi-nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164 Japan
Tel: 81-3-5330-9520; Fax: 81-3-5330-9530

The second group:

Nuclear Power “Sayonara” Shikoku Network.  This group is fighting to close down the nuclear power station in Shikoku.  Please contact Mr. Honda about them and their work.  He’s an active local member.  The webpage I found for them, only in Japanese, is here:

http://genpatsu-sayonara.net/?p=25

I would imagine they don’t have the resources or the time to translate their website into English.  Also, I think using an international postal money order is the way to donate to them.

Lastly, Oizumi (Chapter 1) has faxed me a list of nuclear power companies/ plant administrators, and he asks us (fervently) that we CALL them up and say, in Englsih: “Shut down the nuclear power plants.”  I think this could actually be effective, for us to call from the US.  I will get you that list when I receive it (it was faxed to my friend Matt).  For more information on Oizumi and his activities, please look at my recent blog posts at http://differentkindofluxury.com Cynthia has gotten together to buy him geiger counters.

My other friend, Kai Sawyer, may be able to help out with groups doing anti nuclear work.  I’ve also cc’d him.  He’s bilingual, and has just fled from Tokyo.  He’s a young permaculture / engaged Buddhism activist, and a fantastic person.  His excellent blog is here, with info about the post-tsunami and earthquake and nuclear situation: http://livingpermaculture.blogspot.com/

Before I got off the phone, Honda san said to me “We Japanese are very strong, and helping each other we can overcome this.”

Best,
Andy
</em>

 

Charlie and the CBS Factory (and other news)

 

by Walter Brasch

 

          There has been a lot in the news this past week.

          Most important, if measured by getting most of the ink and air time, is the continuing soap opera, “Charlie and the CBS Factory.”

          The latest in a seemingly never-ending story is that after Charlie Sheen melted down, was fired, and spread himself to every known television talk show, declaring himself to be a winner and announcing a $100 million forthcoming law suit against CBS for breech of contract, the president of CBS announced he wanted Sheen back in “Two and a Half Men.”

          Details are to be worked out. CBS said it would work with creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre and producing studio Warner Brothers, The relationship among Sheen, Warner Bros., Lorre, and most of the cast and crew may be a bit more difficult since Sheen’s warm-and-friendly on-air persona didn’t match his vitriolic attacks upon his co-stars and anti-Semitic remarks about Lorre.

          CBS probably wouldn’t be as eager to bring Sheen back if the show wasn’t the best-rated comedy on the schedule. The SitCom brings in about $2.89 million in advertising revenue per show, about $63 million per season. A ninth and possibly final season also makes it even more lucrative for all the parties when the show goes into full syndication.

          The boozing, possibly drug-induced self-destructive Sheen earns about $1.8 million an episode. In contrast, Mark Harmon, star of “NCIS,” the top-rated scripted show on TV, and also broadcast by CBS, is paid about $400,000 per episode, the same as any of the “Desperate Housewives,” according to TV Guide. In contrast to Sheen, Harmon is happily married, and his professional and personal lives have been devoid of scandal.

          Also devoid of scandal, except for an adulterous affair and subsequent marriage to Richard Burton, was Elizabeth Taylor, one of the greatest film actresses, who died at 79 from congestive heart failure. Unlike Sheen and dozens of sub-par actresses, Taylor set the standard for both acting and a social conscience, being one of the first major celebrities to support not only AIDS education but the victims of the disease at a time when it could have been career-damaging to do so. She won numerous awards, including two Oscars for her acting. But, her most important honor may have been a special Oscar for her humanitarian work, proving her beauty was far more than skin deep.

          But, there were still other stories this past week.

          ● Barry Bonds is in trial, charged with lying about taking steroids. He acknowledges taking steroids but was never told what they were by his trainers. Don’t Congress and the federal judiciary system have far more important things to worry about than baseball players who do or don’t take steroids? How much money has already been spent by Congressional investigations and the subsequent trial that could very well, according to several impartial legal experts, result in a minimal sentence or no sentence at all?

          ● Because of the disaster in Japan, a few hundred million Americans are now concerned about problems of nuclear energy. When America’s nukes were being planted throughout the country in the ’70s and ’80s, these were the same Americans who bought into all the propaganda about how “clean” and how “safe” nuclear power is. More important, these were some of the same people who not only disregarded but mocked those who, with facts, disputed the claims of the power companies.

          ● Two passenger jetliners landed at Reagan National Airport without air traffic controller assistance. The lone controller may have been asleep. That, alone, is bad enough, but there are greater issues not being discussed in the media. In one of the busiest airports, one located in the nation’s capital, and with the government well aware that air traffic control is one of the most stressful jobs, why was there only one controller on duty?

          ● The U.S. launched about $175 million worth of Tomahawk missiles into Lybia this past week. Perhaps another $100–$300 million was spent on tactical operations. President Obama told us the reason for the attack, supported by the UN, was because dictator Muammar Khadafi was attacking civilians in his country. If that’s the reason for the attack, why has the U.S. military been silent on the ethnic slaughter in Darfur/the Sudan? Why have there been no attacks on Iran, North Korea, or other dictatorships that suppress the rights of people? Is it because Libya has more strategic importance, and oil, for the U.S. than Darfur? A more important question is why are we attacking a country in a civil war? Khadafi’s attacks upon rebels may be harsh, but he’s protecting his country. Apparently we learned nothing from the war in Viet Nam. What if England invaded the U.S. on behalf of the Confederates or France provided military assistance to President Lincoln during our own Civil War?

          ● Finally, labor has come under intense attacks the past couple of months. Wisconsin has eliminated collective bargaining, against the largest protests since the Viet Nam war. Other Republican-controlled states are in full battle gear. And, in Maine, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has proven that he cares nothing about the working class when he ordered murals of workers taken down from the halls of the Department of Labor. He claimed, without providing any proof, that some businessmen said the panels, which have no political theme, just depictions of workers, was anti-business. But, no matter what radical conservatives believe, about two-thirds of Americans still believe in collective bargaining, even if they aren’t in unions, according to several recent national polls.

 

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist and editor for 40 years, covering everything from PTA meetings to the White House and federal court system. His forthcoming book, Before the First Snow, looks at the problems of the nuclear power industry. The book is available for pre-order at amazon.com ]

 

 

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Saying No to the Nuclear Option

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Faced with the nuclear crisis in Japan, governments around the world are confronting the vulnerabilities of their nuclear energy programs. Some European countries, such as Germany and France, are considering more stringent safety measures or backing off of nuclear development altogether, but in the United States, the Obama administration is pushing forward with plans for increased nuclear energy production.

Ultimately, these questions are the same that the country faced after last summer’s Gulf Coast oil spill. As we search for more and more clever ways to fill our energy needs, can we write off the risk of disaster? Or are these large-scale catastrophes so inevitable that the only option is to stop pursuing the policies that lead to them?

The risks of nuclear

As Inter Press Service’s Andrea Lund reports, anti-nuclear groups are using the Japanese disaster as just one example of the disadvantages of nuclear power. Linda Gunter, of the group Beyond Nuclear, told Lund:

Even if you get away from the safety issue, which is obviously front and centre right now because of what’s happening in Japan, and you look at solutions to climate change, then nuclear energy takes way too long to build, reactors take years to come online, they’re wildly expensive. Most of the burden of the cost will fall on the U.S. taxpayer in this country, so why go there?…The possibility of it going radically wrong, the outcome is so awful that morally you can’t justify it. The reliability of nuclear power is practically zero in an emergency when you have this confluence of natural disasters.

And, as Maureen Nandini Mitra writes at Earth Island Journal, there are plenty of nuclear plants that are at risk. “More than 100 of the world’s reactors are already sited in areas of high seismic activity,” she reports. “And what’s happening in Japan makes one thing clear – we have absolutely no idea if any of these plants are actually capable of withstanding unprecedented natural disasters.”

Build up

The irony of nuclear energy is that the world started relying on it in part to mitigate the perceived threat of nuclear weapons. Jonathan Schell writes in The Nation about nuclear power’s transition from warheads to reactors:

A key turning point was President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal in 1953, which required nuclear-armed nations to sell nuclear power technology to other nations in exchange for following certain nonproliferation rules. This bargain is now enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which promotes nuclear power even as it discourages nuclear weapons….

Eisenhower needed some proposal to temper his growing reputation as a reckless nuclear hawk. Atoms for Peace met this need. The solution to nuclear danger, he said, was “to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers” and put it “into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace”—chiefly, those who would use it to build nuclear power plants.

While the threat of nuclear war still looms, since World War II, the nuclear materials that have caused the most damage have been those in the energy industry. And, as Schell reminds us, soldiers still have nuclear weapons in hand, as well.

The nuclear era

The Obama administration has always been gung-ho about nuclear energy: The president is from Illinois, after all, where Exelon Corp., one of the countries’ biggest nuclear providers, is based. Even in the face of Japan’s disaster, the administration is not backing off of its push for nuclear, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones:

Nuclear power is part of the “clean energy standard” that Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech in January. And in the 2011 budget, the administration called for a three-fold increase in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, from the $18.5 billion that Congress has already approved to $54.5 billion. “We are aggressively pursuing nuclear energy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in February 2010 as he unveiled the budget….In Monday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said that nuclear energy “remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan.”

The state of safety in the U.S. nuclear industry isn’t particularly reassuring, though. As Arnie Gunderson told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, almost a quarter of American nuclear plants rely on the same design as the one currently faltering in Japan. Even worse, experts have known for decades that the design of this reactor is not safe. Gunderson explained:

This reactor design, this containment design, has been questioned since 1972. The NRC in 1972 said we never should have licensed this containment. And in 1985, the NRC said they thought it was about a 90 percent chance that in a severe accident this containment would fail. So, that we’re seeing it at Fukushima is an indication that this is a weak link. It’s this Mark I, General Electric Mark I, containment. And we have—essentially one-quarter of all of the nuclear reactors in the United States, 23 out of 104, are of this identical design.

It’d be reassuring if the U.S. government could promise that our superior safety standards would overcome these dangers. But, as Mother Jones‘ Sheppard writes, the day before the earthquake in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the life a Vermont plant using this very design, over the objections of the state’s legislature.

Stumbling with stellar fire

Whatever the attractions of nuclear energy, it’s a dangerous business. The Nation’s Schell puts it best when he argues that the fallibility of humankind is the biggest risk factor. He writes:

The problem is not that another backup generator is needed, or that the safety rules aren’t tight enough, or that the pit for the nuclear waste is in the wrong geological location, or that controls on proliferation are lax. It is that a stumbling, imperfect, probably imperfectable creature like ourselves is unfit to wield the stellar fire released by the split or fused atom.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

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