Thursday, March 31, 2016

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Plutonium

The already failed and contaminated nuclear storage facility in Carlsbad, NM (WIPP, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant), which was recently closed when it started spewing radiation contaminated air into the surrounding communities from its ventilation system, is set to start receiving plutonium from the contaminated Savannah River nuclear storage facility in South Carolina, the local paper reports today.

Could that be because, at the same time, plutonium is being loaded onto ships in Japan for transport to Savannah River? Some of that plutonium headed our way is being collected up by Japan from France and other places.

The question probably should be, Does it even matter if all the plutonium in the world is headed for Carlsbad?

There's only one earth and we're dispersing plutonium throughout it pretty rapidly. Radioactive water from the melted down reactors in Fukishima, Japan is seeping into the Pacific Ocean from contaminated groundwater at the rate of several tons per day. That place could still blow up. They have so far only been removing spent fuel rods from the damaged storage pools. The robots they've sent into the contaminated core areas have been melting. They are now saying it will probably take 100 years to clean that place up.

A couple of the reactors actually melted down, and they haven't even begun the task of getting the masses of molten nuclear material out yet. One of them is burrowing itself into the ground and is out of reach of their cameras. Hopefully they will still be able to get cooling water to it. To keep the molten masses from exploding they have to constantly pump sea water onto them and some of it is getting into the ocean. The rest of it is being pumped into big storage tanks being built out of steel panels as fast as they can make them. To save time they aren't welding the seams, only bolting the panels together. Some of those leak.

You see old rusty water towers all over the USA, but how long does one last before it starts leaking, and collapses when the walls rust out? Plutonium will last hundreds of thousands of years, many time longer than the longest lived civilizations have lasted. Long, long after anything we build today has weathered away and returned to dust, the plutonium in those tanks will still be cooking away.

Plutonium -- what's being shipped to WIPP and coming from Japan in ships, besides causing tumors and various kinds of cancers and lukemias, spontaneously ignites when it gets damp. It "expands up to 70% in volume as it oxidizes and thus may break its container," says Wikipedia.

That's why, in the 2,000 foot deep caverns of the Carlsbad WIPP, it's packed in -- I'm not kidding -- kitty litter. If you've ever had a cat, you know that after a little while the kitty litter has absorbed all the moisture it can and your house starts to smell.  If you've even been in a basement you know it stays damp down there all year around.

What will happen if there's another Fukishima? Then another? Chernobyl was finally solved by simply burying it under a huge dome of concrete. Who knows what's going on under there. They will never let out complete information, there or here. What about earthquakes? Will we be able to clean the disasters up fast enough? And where do we put what we clean up? Down underground in damp caves, along fault lines?

Plutonium has a half life that varies with its form, ranging from 88 years to millions of years. The half life of the most common form is 366,000 years. That means that in 366,000 years it will only be half as deadly. Or you could say, if you can get a tumor from standing 100 feet from it now, in 366,000 years you'll have to be 50 feet from it. In other words, for all practical purposes, it's never going to stop causing tumors, even if there's anything left alive for a tumor to grow in.

God Bless Hypocricy

The richest country in the history of the world -- the United States of America -- can't provide health care to all its people, can't provide a college education to all its people, can't feed all its people and can't house all its people. It can't even teach all its people to read and write. But it wants to tell a country that can do all these things -- Cuba -- how to run its own country.

That's the goal of a new State Department grant, the reasoning for which is:

“Cuban civil society is not formed into well-established organizations that would typically be found in a society with a strong democratic tradition. Through participation in the program, participants will develop a set of leadership tools and skills to manage and grow civil society organizations that will actively support democratic principles in Cuba."

This grant was announced three days after Hypocrite In Chief went down there to deliver a sermon to those people.

People in the US can't stop repeating that their country is "the greatest country on the face of the earth." It's not even close. The sooner we realize that the quicker we can start soberly assessing what's wrong with us and start down the long road toward fixing it.

We're the world's leading warmonger. We start a new war every two or three years and then never stop them. We've slaughtered millions in the past decade and destroyed one country after another. We spend more on military than the rest of the world combined.

We have the most people in prison, by far, even though countries like India and China have four times as many people, and the percentage of US citizens in prisons surpasses everyone else by far.

And no, I'm not leaving. You leave. That might start the healing process. You people with your "love it or leave it" attitude are one of the problems with this country, a minor one but one nonetheless. The main problem, obviously, is Capitalism.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Article by Fidel: Brother Obama

"I suppose all of us were at risk of a heart attack upon hearing these words from the President of the United States."

Fidel has responded to President Obama's visit. The above irony refers to Obama's speech to the Cubans in which he talks about a new era of cooperation and unity even as the Cold War era blockade remains in place.

Fidel's long article released today validates the assumptions of many Cuba watchers, that if the US thinks it can recolonize Cuba by stealth with McDonald's restaurants and Wal Marts it has another thing coming, that the Cuban Revolution is simply too deep, Cubans are too smart, and they just won't allow it. They know what they have.

One the ways the Revolution is part of every Cuban is talked about in a book I'm reading by Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, "To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture," in which she traces how the artistic and cultural and educational development of every Cuban citizen was made a conscious part of the revolution from the very beginning. In other words, the exact opposite of the United States, where we can't even bear the thought of of a poor child eating let alone being educated, or becoming an artist as every Cuban does.

Cubans have long been observing how their relatively uneducated American neighbors are led around by the nose by politicians, Republican and Democrat, and now by people like Donald Trump, and may well have thought Obama's words probably sounded pretty nice to the average American listening back home.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Why Not Hillary?

If you want another take on my recurring theme about what's wrong with the Democratic Party, investigative reporter Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone magazine's top gun reporter right now, lays out in a brief article how Bill Clinton and other Democrats, after the 1972 "landslide" defeat of George McGovern, began steering the party to the right. Taibbi supplies the context for my contention that Democrats have become fiscal conservatives who are liberal on a few social issues. Barak Obama himself has admitted that he has governed like a "moderate Republican."

That's fine if you don't see the arc of that history or if you consider yourself a moderate. But meanwhile, Democrats have been full participants in the evisceration of the New Deal policies that had brought the American working class to have the highest standard of living in the history of working classes, to the point that a new subcategory called "Middle Class" had to be invented to quantify the phenomena. The result of Democrats' acquiescence to prevailing Reaganomics economic policies is that wages have remained virtually flat, inflation adjusted, since the late 1970s, living standards for most Americans are now in decline, and two people, despite working an average 47 hours per week and being deep in debt, can't maintain the living standard that one person working in a family used to. College is out of reach for most kids, and they'll never see life long good jobs with pensions.

Bernie Sanders wants us to return to that New Deal America. Not me. I want to make sure this bullshit never happens again. That the power to do this to a nation is taken out of the hands of the politicians and their Capitalist masters.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A World War has Begun

(From an address by the Australian filmmaker John Pilger:)

"In the circus known as the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump is being presented as a lunatic, a fascist. He is certainly odious; but he is also a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our scepticism.

Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than those of David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.

According to one prodigious liberal commentator, Trump is “unleashing the dark forces of violence” in the United States. Unleashing them?

This is the country where toddlers shoot their mothers and the police wage a murderous war against black Americans. This is the country that has attacked and sought to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed from Asia to the Middle East, causing the deaths and dispossession of millions of people.

No country can equal this systemic record of violence. Most of America’s wars (almost all of them against defenceless countries) have been launched not by Republican presidents but by liberal Democrats: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

In 1947, a series of National Security Council directives described the paramount aim of American foreign policy as “a world substantially made over in [America’s] own image”. The ideology was messianic Americanism. We were all Americans. Or else. Heretics would be converted, subverted, bribed, smeared or crushed.

Donald Trump is a symptom of this, but he is also a maverick. He says the invasion of Iraq was a crime; he doesn’t want to go to war with Russia and China. The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted “exceptionalism” is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face."

The rest is here...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Oh Winthrop

I almost reconsidered the title of yesterday's blog but then today the University of New Mexico regents made it a little harder for a kid in New Mexico to attend college, by voting to increase tuition and raising some fees.

When adjusted for inflation it costs twice as much to attend college as it did at the advent of the Reagan era, which we are still in. Democrats have bought into it too, mainly under banners like centrism and bipartisanship.

The primary reason colleges and universities are sticking it to students is that the tax burden on the wealthy and corporations has been all but eliminated, and working people are expected to pay for everything in this country. Out of lower wages. This is why state and local governments are always in "crises," too.

They always say they lower taxes on the rich so they'll create jobs. They don't. The money goes into their pockets. Wealth and income inequality is at record levels. For minorities it's even worse. Get your head out of your rear end, Quigley.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Winthrop Quigley: Misinformed, Idiot, Or Both?

I don't campaign for Bernie Sanders. He's better by far than anyone else who stands a chance of becoming US president and I'll probably vote for him, but I don't believe endorsing the current political system by my participation in it is a valuable way to spend my time. Change always comes from outside the system. It's forced onto the system by mass movements -- the Labor Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, the Anti Vietnam War Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, the Counterculture of the 1970s -- and by massive changes in public attitude that result in good measure from what those movements do. The political system is designed to co-opt mass movements and render them powerless, and to find ways to profit from the changes they cause. My focus is on bringing about change from outside the system and on changing the system, not on electing politicians who are part of it, so I'm not actively campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

But I'm posting a video someone made from the very end of one of Sanders' stump speeches to make the point that to settle for anything less than what Sanders is talking about here is a grave mistake. Sanders might not be the vehicle for obtaining it, but he's saying what it is.

I read a column in the Albuquerque Journal yesterday by a guy named Winthrop Quigley in which he bemoans the loss of the US political "center," which he associates with politicians like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and complains that we've become divided between the extremes of right and left as represented by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Quigley is 65. I looked it up. So he grew up in this country when one person working in a family could support the whole family, buy a house, a car, maybe two cars, when all the kids who wanted to could attend college and graduate debt free or at the most with a couple thousand dollar student loan debt, and a world in which that person could retire in dignity, and security, with Social Security and probably a pension, too.

These centrists he talks about, particularly politicians like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, are responsible for replacing the world of Quigley's childhood with the current world, where both partners have to work, and work on average 47 hours per week, the most in the industrialized world, and who in most cases have gone deep into debt if they are maintaining anything like the lifestyle they grew up under. Their children, if they are among the decreasing percentage of kids who can attend college, will graduate with an average student loan debt of more than $35,000, and are entering a world of increasingly "casual" and "precarious" work -- which are economics jargon for part time, and non permanent, employment. Pensions in Quigley's centrist world are almost all gone, and his centrist heroes, who have constantly shifted the center to the right during his adulthood, are forever rhetorically undermining, and looking for ways to privatize, Social Security, which is perfectly solvent and could pay out a lot more if high income people paid in more -- they only pay Social Security tax on the first $113,700 of their incomes. For decades we've been warned that there won't be enough younger people working to pay all those retiring Baby Boomers' benefits. Guess what? Millennials now officially outnumber Baby Boomers.

Most of the details about this current, centrist world, go unmentioned by people like Quigley, and so do what they signify on the whole; which is the huge difference between this world and the one people like Quigley and I grew up in. Instead, people like Quigley spew forth idiocy that emanates not from any facts -- there are none in his column -- but from the emotions. His is an emotional outburst, a manifestation of the anxiety he feels over he doesn't know what -- perhaps the loss of his growing up world -- and he expresses it with words and cliches that arise out of the claptrap floating around in his brain that's the natural result of consuming mainstream media day and night for decades, and is the result of refusing to think critically about the current, centrist system, if at all.

Quigley is a perfect example of how our entire sense of what's possible has been downgraded and how our confidence in being able to do what we can image has been downsized. Sanders, if you listen to him, will say that he's running for president to restore that sense of possibility, but most of his supports, who grew up in the same world Quigley did, don't really hear that part. They think he'll change things. He won't. Only we can make this a more just, less violent, more fair, less racist, more friendly, better world.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sign This Petition

There's a thing, Slacktivism. People sign online petitions or forward things on social media and they may feel good for a moment, thinking they've done something. Nothing gets done and the possibility for things getting done gets further away because the things required to get things done -- attending meetings, marching, handing out leaflets, developing personal relationships with like minded people -- don't get done.

If you're on a politician's email list you probably receive, besides emails asking for money, emails that ask you to sign a petition. I get a lot of these from Michelle Grisham and Martin Heinrich and occasionally from Tom Udall. I've never gotten anything that says what they intend to do with the petitions. I've never read anything about the petitions being delivered to anyone, let alone if they had any affect. I suspected that at some point the "signatures" of anyone who signs the petitions are deleted with the click of a mouse.

I found this article from Minnesota Public Radio that explains why they send you those petitions. They want data on you. They want to know what kind of donor you might be, whether they can hit you up in the future, etc. The petitions are for their own internal purposes. Candidates who are full time politicians now hire out some of their fundraising and they have fundraising staff, so the candidate may be vaguely aware of the petitions, or of the cynicism things like that breed, or of how they prevent change from taking place. Or maybe they are.

Click on the image to make it larger.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The War On Workers

Why do the police in the US now dress in military gear? Can someone explain this to me? What's the rationale?

Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal

Imagine sitting at home, watching TV, doing the dishes, minding your own business, as many Albuquerque residents were this week, when what look like heavily armed military soldiers bang on your door and start shouting orders.

Imagine your little kid, sitting on the floor watching cartoons, when heavily armed soldiers order everyone in the family to get face down on the floor. How does this improve police work? Why didn't they do it before? Why hasn't it been explained?

Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal

Why has the federal government given millions of dollars in military hardware to local police departments around the country, from battlefield weaponry to army tanks? Why has this arming of the police been increased under a Democratic administration?

Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal

What effect does this recent conversion of the police into a domestic army, an occupying force, have on people? What is its intended purpose? Why have New Mexico politicians not asked any of these questions?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Albuquerque's Progressive Teachers

You may recall the news reports awhile back when some Albuquerque teachers burned their teacher evaluations in front of the school district headquarters. A couple of the organizers of that protest have written about it in a journal for progressive teachers called Rethinking Schools. (Click here -- my blog isn't highlighting links for some reason.)

 The article talks about why testing mania is bad -- testing teachers and testing students -- and goes into what they do instead to enrich and enlighten the poor students they teach.

Governor Susana Martinez has made testing the centerpiece of her administration in some ways. To many people who, like her, know little about educating students, testing may sound like a good idea.

Testing also has to be seen in the context of the overall attack on public schools and on teachers unions, which Republicans and Democrats alike have been involved in one way or another. It, and the charter school movement, a backdoor privatization scheme, are all of the same piece.

My ex is a teacher. I helped her study for all her tests and wrote all her papers when she was getting a masters, and wrote her proposal for getting into a PhD program. She was accepted to the two she applied to, including Ohio State which has the top program for her specialty, special ed. I'm not saying that I knew as much as her about education -- it may be true but I'm not saying that. A lot of it was just that I was a better writer and she's kind of lazy. I'm just saying I know something about education, and I can say that politicians have no business getting involved in that subject unless they are following the advice of real educators. If you read this article you can see that, from the approach these teachers take to educating. there's a lot to educating that isn't immediately obvious.

Our public schools are in large part citizen run. I attended many different kinds of school board meetings as a newspaper reporter. That's a little different because school board members tend to be regular citizens whose only interest is serving children. They don't grandstand too much and aren't aiming for higher office, and they rely heavily on their administration, i.e. the superintendent and her or his staff -- which is made up of people with degrees in education and who in most cases are former teachers -- and usually take their advice.