Friday, March 25, 2011

Cherry Blossoms on the graves

On the hundredth anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire (the fourth worst industrial accident in the US), we stand poised to see the end of every advance to have come from that tragedy. Strong unions came from the deaths of those 146 workers that day, the US Dept of Labor came two years later. Child labor laws became the norm as the majority of those killed were teenage girls.

The International Ladies Garment Union that came to prominence after the fire has ceased to exist as the production has all been outsourced. In Bagladesh alone there have been 414 garment workers killed in factory fires in recent years, almost all were young girls.

Republicans chant that “we must do away with all the burdensome regulations that send our jobs overseas“. Child labor laws, government inspectors, labor unions, all regulation of business soon to become a thing of history. Of course there won’t be any history as the first thing Republicans do when coming to office is flush history down the memory hole. The removal of art work from the Labor Department in Maine, the re-writing of school books to the absolute control of news media, the assault on knowledge by Republicans is unrelenting.  

Not that Republicans don’t create jobs, besides making blouses in Bangladesh (that’s what a shirtwaist is) they have they been creating them in the US. Now for every three conventional workers in the US there is one protecting the wealth of the top one percent. This includes police, prison guards and private security from the mall cop to the armed response team protecting the gated community. We aren’t quite the police state of East Germany, they employed 40% of their workers guarding the rest but it is a growth industry here.

Increasingly it’s not the security state but it is private industry, Republicans can’t privatize the prisons fast enough. Police are one of the first things they cut from the budget and the new austerity requires that they don’t spend much time protecting the common citizen. Security is something you have only if you can pay for it.

Feeling insecure? Don’t worry, the Alaska Bill is making the rounds in the state legislatures. The Alaska Bill? It might be called the Arizona Bill except for that unpleasantness involving a member of Congress outside a strip mall there, not long ago. It’s also called the “Constitutional” carry law for handguns or really no law for handguns. A Republican was inadvertently recorded on the floor of the Iowa House explaining it to a colleague, [Alaska bill?] “it’s the give a gun to a schizophrenic law” .

Well at least we don’t live in Japan. The government there has admitted that there must be some leakage from the number three reactor that has the plutonium fuel and they have expanded the evacuation zone. Now they are trying to walk back that information saying the workers may have been burned from some other source.

This is the 99th anniversary of the Mayor of Tokyo giving the cherry trees to Washington DC. The world has changed so much but yet it hasn’t.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Useful information is nice when you can get it

Brent crude closed today at 115.87 approaching that magic $120.00 a barrel that the Wall Street bankers have predicted will be the collapse point of the world economy. Will that really happen? Well not in the real world, at least not right away but there is the possibility that a few hundred trillion in derivatives could be triggered since this was established by their public pronouncements as the point of no return.

Unfortunately we learned in 2008 that what happens in the paper world does translate into pain on main street. Funny how politicians and pundits still refer to “main street” as something real as if thirty years of Reaganomics hadn’t completely done away with “main street”. Try to find a town that actually has anything you could call “main street”, it’s just that boarded up section of town you have to drive through to get to Wall Mart.

The USD keeps flirting with all time highs against the Euro, if you can’t keep that straight, “high” sounds good but it’s not. It makes stuff we buy more expensive and in theory it means we can sell stuff to them at lower prices which would be good for jobs here but we don’t make anything. The majority of US nonfood exports to Europe are “pass through” goods from other countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the Eurozone.

You can buy more Yen with a USD than you used to be able to, it’s not clear how that’s going to work out but it makes the radioactive imports cheaper. The Governor of Prefecture that includes Tokyo has lifted the ban on babies drinking the local tap water. Magically the radioactivity is all gone. The Governor even drank a glass on TV, it must have been real tap water as he couldn’t completely mask the fear in his eyes or maybe it was just shame.

Three Japanese workers laying power lines have been hospitalized with radiation burns to their feet and legs after walking through water draining from the reactor site. This is every bit as bad as it sounds and then some.

After weeks of pumping sea water into the reactors another problem is looming, besides the contaminated water that leaks away, millions of gallons are boiled into steam leaving tons of salt behind.  This salt is coating the fuel rods and filling in the gaps where the water should flow. At some point the temperature will start to rise and another meltdown crisis will take place and this time pumping more water won’t help.

The company that owns the reactors say the radiation levels are down but they don’t give out any useful information like the temperature of the water in the storage pools. They didn’t tell the electricians laying cable any useful information either.

We're broke?

We have to screw the teachers and the snowplow drivers because State Government is broke, right? That doesn't apply to everybody of course. The people who bear the burden of governing shouldn't need to suffer, should they? The state senator in question is being recalled, even his maid has signed the petition as well as his soon to be ex-wife. Read more at the link:,_36_raise/#paragraph4

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bzzzz, thud

The latest chapter of the never ending war is continuing to play out in North Africa and the main island of Japan is rapidly becoming uninhabitable but the first third of the TV news was… the death of a Hollywood icon or for most Americans nothing more than a tabloid icon.

They did get around to mentioning that a city of 30 million now has twice the “acceptable” level of radioactive iodine in their drinking water, but only for babies. They didn’t mention that this is more than 2/3 of the “acceptable” level for adults. They also didn’t mention the other radioactive particles in the water that are far more dangerous or point out that the reactors are still spewing radioactive smoke and the contamination will only get worse on a daily basis.

Workers at the site are rotated after 30 minutes since 60 minutes results in immediate radiation sickness, some people don‘t last that long. The full hour dose is considered the maximum exposure spread over a year. It’s the difference between talking on a cell phone and being a housefly caught in a microwave oven, spread the microwaves over a year the fly would be fine, unless those cancer scares about cell phones are true. The fly should have used a land line.

This all assumes that the numbers coming from Japan are accurate. They probably aren’t. So far there hasn’t been a “real” meltdown and there is an ever increasing likelihood that there will be one or rather somewhere between 4 and 6 of them. This depends on whether the radiation halo around the plants remains at a level where men who are willing to die can continue to work.

If it gets much higher than it doesn’t matter. At a certain level of radiation even robots can’t operate, if robots were available to do tasks of such complexity and they aren‘t. But you can catch Elizabeth Taylor on the old movies channel so why worry, that‘s probably what Col. Kaddafi is doing tonight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Remember the Double Dip?

Oil is up again driven by Wall Street speculators able to sell derivatives to large energy consumers spooked by the turmoil in the Middle East. This trend is being somewhat muted by the widespread economic chaos in Japan. The stock markets have been more or less up on reassurances that “everything is fine in Japan”. This was put out by the Wall Street Journal (a Rupert Murdock rag). The ink on this epistle of wisdom wasn’t yet dry when smoke began roiling from the plutonium fueled number three reactor and workers were forced to flee the sight.

Reports are that they are again pumping water onto the ruins of the reactors but its not clear how accurate these reports are. Journalists traveling far downwind of the exclusion zone have had their Geiger counters peg the needle.

The USN has withdrawn the USS George Washington aircraft carrier from its berth 50 miles south of Tokyo out of fear of nuclear contamination. This wasn’t something done lightly as the ship was undergoing reactor maintenance and went to sea under half power. Tokyo however can’t move but her people can and continue to stream south. Reassurances of “complete safety” are offset by measurable radiation in the city’s drinking water.

US credit card debt was down 67 billion last year but that was only because banks wrote off 75 billion meaning total consumer credit card debt was really up 8 billion. This contradicts the constant chant coming from bankers and conservative economists that Americans have become debt adverse and because of this lack of borrowing the economy is not recovering.

Housing prices fell again last month to the lowest level in eight years wiping a significant amount of middle class wealth. We now have 25% of homeowners underwater meaning they’ve lost all their home equity and then some.

The corporate spokesmen blame their companies failure to create jobs on a lack of educated Americans to do these jobs, but unemployment among recent US college graduates continues to rise as wages fall. If there really was a shortage of qualified workers, wages would rise sharply for those that are qualified, instead they are going down.

Energy prices are rising rapidly despite record supplies on hand. Critical parts for manufactured goods that are made in Japan will begin running out in a few weeks and there have been several shut downs in the US already. Wages continue falling for educated workers. A Republican agenda to slash public sector wages continues to gain traction.

The phrase “Double Dip Recession” hasn’t been heard in the media lately but what is coming will require a stronger word to describe it. I think the Japanese word for this is “Godzilla”.