Weekly Pulse: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Deepens

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A second reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan may have ruptured, authorities announced on Wednesday. This is on top of their earlier revelation that the containment vessel of a separate reactor unit had cracked.

As of Tuesday, four nuclear reactors in Japan seem to be in partial meltdown in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami, according to Christian Parenti of the Nation:

One of them, reactor No. 2, seems to have ruptured. The situation is spinning out of control as radiation levels spike. The US Navy has pulled back its aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, after seventeen of its crew were exposed to radiation while flying sixty miles off the Japanese coast.

But despite three major explosions—at reactor No. 1, then No. 3, then No. 2—the Fukushima containment vessels seem to be holding. (Chernobyl lacked that precaution, having only a flimsy cement containment shell that collapsed, allowing the massive release of radioactive material.)

So, the good news is that only one out of four of the reactors is teetering on the brink of a full meltdown, and engineers might still be able to stave off disaster. The bad news, Parenti explains, is that spent fuel rods on the reactor sites could pose grave health hazards even if the threat of meltdown is averted. Even so-called “spent” rods remain highly radioactive.

The big question is whether the facilities that house this waste survived the earthquake, the tsunami, and any subsequent massive explosions at the nearby reactor. Given the magnitude of the destruction, and the relatively flimsy facilities used to house the spent rods, it seems unlikely that all the containment pools emerged unscathed. Parenti explains:

Unlike the reactors, spent fuel pools are not—repeat not—housed in any sort of hardened or sealed containment structures. Rather, the fuel rods are packed tightly together in pools of water that are often several stories above ground.

A pond at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is overheating, but radiation levels were so high that the Japanese military has postponed a helicopter mission to douse the pond with water.

Journalist and environmental activist Harvey Wasserman tells the Real News Network that the housing the spent rods (a.k.a. nuclear waste) is a chronic problem for the global nuclear industry.

Wasserman told GRITtv that the west coast of the United States has reactors that could suffer a similar fate in the event of a sufficiently large earthquake.

“If I were in Japan, I would at least get the children away from the reactor, because their bodies are growing faster and their cells are more susceptible to radiation damage. I would go out to 50 kilometers and at least get the children away from those reactors,” nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen told DemocracyNow! on Tuesday. At the time he said this, 70,000 residents had already been forced to evacuate their homes, and another 140,000 were ordered to stay indoors.

Mainstreaming anti-contraception

Kirsten Powers, Fox News’ resident self-proclaimed liberal, took to the pages of the Daily Beast recently to make the bizarre case that Planned Parenthood should be de-funded because the 100-year-old organization doesn’t really prevent the half-million abortions that it claims to prevent by supplying millions of clients with reliable birth control. (Powers was forced to concede that a gross statistical error rendered her entire piece invalid.) At RH Reality Check, Amanda Marcotte describes how Powers attempted to repackage fringe anti-contraception arguments for a mainstream audience. At TAPPED, I explain why Planned Parenthood’s abortion-prevention claim is rock solid.

Diet quackery

Unscrupulous doctors are cashing in on the latest diet fad: hormone injections derived from the urine of pregnant women, Kristina Chew notes for Care2.com. Patients pay $1,000 for consultations, a supply human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and a 500-calorie-a-day diet plan. There is no evidence that hCG increases weight loss more than a starvation diet alone. But paying $1,000 to inject yourself in the butt every day does evidently work up a hell of a placebo effect.

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

 

 

Weekly Audit: The Real Legacy of Reaganomics

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of B-movie actor-turned-conservative president, Ronald Wilson Reagan. On the eve of the centennial, economist Yves Smith talked Reaganomics on the Real News Network. Smith argues that Reagan’s real legacy is the deregulation of the U.S. economy that set the stage for the economic meltdown of the late 2000s:

But [with] financial services, you have companies that have state guarantees. That’s the bottom line with the banking system. Ever since the 1930s, we in advanced economies have made the decision we’re not going to let the banking system fail. So if you don’t regulate banks, you have set up the situation that we have now, which is that you have socialized losses and privatized gains. And what have we seen come out of that? Financial crises. When we had a heavily regulated financial system, we had nearly 40 years of hardly any financial crises. When we started deregulating the banks, you saw increasing in frequency and increasing in significance financial crises directly resulting from that.

Spot of Tea?

Ordinary Britons are rallying to the defense of the welfare state. Faced with the deepest public spending cuts in living memory, citizens are taking to the streets to force deadbeat companies to pay their taxes, Johann Hari reports in The Nation. Their federal government has pledged to slash £7 billion in public spending. Cuts to subsidized housing alone will force 200,000 people out of their homes.

A group of friends in a local pub were galvanized by the news that Vodafone, one of the UK’s leading mobile phone companies, owed an astonishing £6 billion in back taxes. Calling themselves UK Uncut, the friends staged a protest outside Vodafone headquarters in London. The meme went viral. In the following days, several Vodafone stores were temporarily paralyzed by peaceful sit-ins.

Hari argues that the success of UK Uncut can teach American progressives a lot about how to build a grassroots counterpart to the Tea Party.

Persistent vegetative states

Big or small, liberal or conservative, state governments are screwed. That’s the upshot of Paul Starr’s latest essay in The American Prospect. Unemployment remains at recession levels and there is little political will to raise taxes. States can’t deficit spend like the feds do. So, the only option is public service cuts, which means firing teachers, doctors, firefighters, and other public workers.

Starr argues that the economic stimulus was a good start, but one that didn’t go far enough. As part of the stimulus, the federal government picked up a larger share of the states’ Medicaid costs. This was a good thing, in Starr’s view, because the extra federal dollars saved jobs while providing health care for the poor. Starr argues that state budget woes during recessions are so predictable, and the consequences so dire, that the Medicaid subsidy should kick in automatically whenever unemployment rises past a predetermined threshold.

Anti-union bill dead in CO

A bill to end collective bargaining for public employees in Colorado died in committee this week, according to Joseph Boven of the Colorado Independent. The bill would have abolished an executive order signed by former Gov. Bill Ritter, which gave state employees the right to organize. If the bill had been enacted, this kind of organizing would become illegal. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield), was just one of many attempts by Republicans to scapegoat public sector unions for what Mitchell calls the “financial Armageddon” facing state governments.

Smurfs rob Moms

“Smurfing” is money laundering slang for recruiting a lot of low-level accomplices to move money in untraceably small increments. But the word may soon have a new derogatory connotation.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones reports that a kids’ video game, Smurfs’ Village, is depleting parents’ bank accounts, one wagon of Smurfberries at a time. Capcom’s game offers kids the chance to build the village from scratch. Along the way, they can pay real money for in-game resources. One mother was shocked to receive a $1,400 bill from Apple because her daughter bought innumerable imaginary props, such as $19 “buckets of snowflakes,” and a $100 “wagon of Smufberries.” The purchases require a password, but critics say it’s too easy for clever kids to circumvent the security. As Drum says, if adults want to waste their real dollars on virtual Farmville paraphernalia, that’s fine, but such a racket has no place in kids’ games.

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

Weekly Audit: GOP Plays Chicken with the Debt Ceiling

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is calling for a “big showdown” over the upcoming vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion from $13.9 trillion. The debt ceiling is simply the maximum amount the government can borrow.

Congress routinely raises the debt ceiling every year. It’s common sense: Since the government has already pledged to increase spending, Congress must authorize additional borrowing. (Remember that the government is now forced to borrow billions of extra dollars to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, which Republicans insisted on.) If the ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will be forced to default on its debts, with catastrophic consequences.

Why would default be catastrophic? The principle is the same for countries and consumers alike: If you have a good track record of paying your bills, lenders will lend you money at lower interest rates. If you don’t pay your bills on time, or default on your obligations altogether, lenders will demand higher interest rates.

Congressional Republicans say they oppose raising the debt ceiling because they favor fiscal responsibility. This kind of rhetoric is the height of recklessness. The interest on our debts is a big part of government spending. Even idle talk about defaults could spook some creditors into raising interest rates on U.S. debt and cost taxpayers dearly.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly quotes Austan Goolsbee, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, who says that congressional GOP members are flirting with the “the first default in history caused purely by insanity.”

Making work pay (for real)

An astonishing 80% of full-time minimum wage workers can’t afford the necessities of life, according to new research by labor economist Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the Political Economy Research Institute, featured on the Real News Network.

Wicks-Lim argues for a two-part solution to the crisis of working poverty in America: i) raising the federal minimum wage to $12.30/hr from $7.50/hr; ii) Increasing the earned income tax credit to 40% of income. She estimates that these two policy changes would raise the income of a minimum wage worker from $15,000 to about $36,000 at a manageable cost to employers and taxpayers.

Her proposal is a revamp of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to “reform” welfare by cutting social service benefits and shifting government spending to tax credits. Currently, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a subsidy for the working poor that is designed to “make work pay”–i.e., if workers aren’t making enough in wages to secure a decent standard of living, the government provides an income subsidy to reward them for working.

However, if a decent standard of living remains out of reach for 80% of full-time minimum wage workers, Wicks-Lim argues that the minimum wage is too low and the subsidies are too modest to achieve the stated goal of making work pay.

Colorado minimum wage inches up

Speaking of minimum wage issues, Scot Kersgaard of the Colorado Independent reports that the minimum wage in the state ticked up from $7.25 an hour to $7.36 on January 1. The modest increase represents the annual adjustment for inflation. Every bit counts, but Colorado families are falling further behind. According to a new report by the Denver-based Bell Policy Center, 8.3% of working families in Colorado live below the federal poverty line, which is $22,050 for a family of four. Fully one-fourth of Colorado families do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, which requires an income approximately twice the FPL, according to the report.

Colorado is one of only 10 states that automatically adjust their minimum wages for inflation.

Wage theft epidemic

Unscrupulous employers are stealing untold millions of dollars from hardworking Americans, Dick Meister reports in AlterNet:

The cheating bosses don’t take the money directly from their employees. No, nothing as obvious as that. The employers practice their thievery by underpaying workers, sometimes by paying them less than the legal minimum wage. Or they fail to pay employees extra for overtime work, or even force them to work for nothing before or after their regular work shifts or at other times. Some employers make illegal deductions from employee wages. And some withhold the final paycheck due employees who quit.

In New York City alone, an estimated $18 million worth of wages is stolen every week. Workers in the restaurant, construction, and retail sectors are at increased risk of wage theft. Wage thieves disproportionately target undocumented workers because they assume that these employees will be less likely to report the crime.

Debt collection from beyond the grave

The dead don’t tell tales, but they have been known to sign debt collection papers, Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones. Martha Kunkle died in 1995, but her printed name and signature appear on paperwork filed by the debt collection agency Portfolio Recovery Associates as late as 2006 and 2007. The ruse was discovered and PRA, facing a fraud lawsuit, agreed in 2008 that the “Kunkle’s” documents couldn’t be used in court. That didn’t stop the agency from trying to use them again in 2009.

The attorney general of Missouri has announced that he will investigate whether any of Kunkle’s handiwork was used to support debt collection in his state. The attorney general of Minnesota is already investigating whether debt collectors have used fraudulent paperwork in court.

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

 

Weekly Diaspora: Zero Hour Approaching for Federal Immigration Reform

by Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

The countdown is on. Half a million supporters of comprehensive immigration reform rallied across the country on May 1 to protest SB 1070, Arizona’s prohibitive new anti-immigration law and ratchet up pressure for a federal reform bill this year. In Washington, DC, police arrested a dozen demonstrators, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), after they engaged in non-violent civil disobedience, as Esther Gentile reports for New America Media.

So far, legislators in the Senate have not introduced a proposal, and the longer they wait, the less likely it is that a bill will be debated in 2010, especially with an election on the horizon. The stakes are incredibly high because a lack of federal action leaves a wide opening for states to draft their own, increasingly restrictive versions of immigration reform.

Rally round the country

Feministing also reports on the Washington May Day rally, which was led by “the Trail of Dreams trekkers, Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, Carlos Roa, and Juan Rodriguez, who walked 1500 miles from Florida to DC in support of the DREAM Act, which would make a college education possible and create a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.”

Los Angeles had the largest rally attendance of about 60,000 according to Hatty Lee at RaceWire, but there were also significant numbers in other states. “The nationwide May Day rallies drew tens of thousands of protesters—the largest turnouts since 2006,” Lee writes, remembering the millions who marched in cities for immigration reform just four years ago.

Workers Independent News sheds some light on to the labor history involved with May Day, writing that May 1, also known as International Workers’ Day, has created a strong alliance between union members and immigration reform boosters.

Arizona on my mind

SB 1070, Arizona’s new immigration law which forces local police to check the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, has only energized the reform movement.

“It has mobilized the entire pro-immigration community and triggered a large, visible, highly vocal and well-publicized backlash that some polling suggests is beginning to turn fence-sitters into advocates,” William Fisher reports at the Inter Press Service.

Jesse Freeston with the Real News found that “While the demands of immigration reform, fair education, and an end to deportations have been around for years, the recent developments in Arizona were on everybody’s mind.”

In the wake of Arizona, Democratic lawmakers released a rough draft of an immigration proposal for the Senate last week. Jessica Pieklo at Care2 reports that “the proposals suggested by the Democrats include enhanced border security, the creation of a new fraud-resistant Social Security card, and for those already in the country illegally, a series of penalties, taxes, and fees, in addition to passing a criminal background check would have to be satisfied before they would qualify for legal residency, ”

Despite the draft—one of two, the other co-authored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and released weeks ago—a bill has yet to be officially introduced in the Senate, and it’s unknown when it will be given a chance.

SB 1070 disproportionately affects children and victims of Domestic Violence

SB 1070 will likely have a great affect on undocumented victims of domestic violence, according to Laura Tillman at the Women’s Media Center. Tillman notes that domestic abuse could become worse in the state, now that the police are full-time immigration agents.

Tillman writes that the “new immigration law is set to give [domestic abuse] victims a heightened fear of deportation if they come forward to report crimes, and criminals the confidence to perpetrate crimes without fear of retribution.”

AlterNet also reports on a new study from the advocacy group First Focus, which finds that “Children are the hidden casualties of America’s war on immigrants, and the passage of Arizona’s new racial profiling legislation could open up countless opportunities for local law enforcement to break up families by putting undocumented parents on the fast-track to deportation.”

Today, with strong grassroots organizing, and after the countless injustices endured by immigrants on both the state and national level, the immigration battle of 2010 is nearing its most critical hour. And now, all eyes are on Congress to produce a bill.

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

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