February 13, 2012 archive

Feb 13

Today on The Stars Hollow Gazette

Our regular featured content-

These featured articles-

We’ll also be live blogging the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show- Day 1 starting at 7:30.  BruceMcF will go up at 8 pm.  DocuDharma will have it’s own dog oriented feature by pfiore8 at 8.  Everyone welcome.

Write more and often.

This is an Open Thread

The Stars Hollow Gazette

Feb 13

Cartnoon

Pettin’ in the Park

Feb 13

Obama a Shoe-in for 2012 Re-election!

Well. The horse race is over and the 2012 presidential election is a lock.

This should lift a great deal of stress from anyone worried that Barack Obama might not win the November election, and save a lot of heartache and soul searching for all those people who would much rather support Obama than support real progressive change.

Losing to win will be such a minor unimportant price to pay to have their guy in the oval office, after all. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Think of it! No one will have to spend 4 years pretending all over again to be opposed to most of what Obama has been doing the past three years while getting 4 years of the policies they’ve been cheering for the past three years, and cognitive dissonance could probably be treated with proper medication anyway.

Or booze. At least booze and pills are still manufactured in America.

Not only that, the economic “recovery” will thankfully continue. Why, if you’ve been wanting to launch a new business Obama soon will have the business climate improved to the point where you’ll be able to hire an American workforce for your new venture for no more than the cost of labor in China! Thanks to the first trade agreement entirely negotiated by Obama.

Obama must be doing something “right” – no wonder he grins like that all the time.

Apparently if Romney wasn’t so “moderate” Obama would never have had a chance.

20% of Republicans leaning to Obama!

Feb 13

The Mortgage Settlement: Not Settled Yet

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

So one has yet seen the final agreement between the banks and the state attorneys general and it may be awhile before we do. And as Yves Smith at naked capitalism stated “You know it’s bad when banks are the most truthful guys in the room“:

Remember that historical mortgage settlement deal that was the lead news story on Thursday? It has been widely depicted as a done deal. The various AGs who had been holdouts said their concerns had been satisfied.

But in fact, Bank of America’s press release said that the deal was “agreements in principle” as opposed to a final agreement. The Charlotte bank had to be more precise than politicians because it is subject to SEC regulations about the accuracy of its disclosures. And if you read the template for the AG press release carefully, you can see how it finesses where the pact stands. And today, American Banker confirmed that the settlement pact is far from done, and the details will be kept from the public as long as possible, until it is filed in Federal court (because it includes injunctive relief, a judge must bless the agreement).

This may not sound all that important to laypeople, but most negotiators and attorneys will react viscerally to how negligent the behavior of the AGs has been. The most common reaction among lawyers I know who been with white shoe firms (including former partners) is “shocking”.

In fact as the American Banker points out the document does not exist:

More than a day after the announcement of a mammoth national mortgage servicing settlement, the actual terms of the deal still aren’t public. The website created for the national settlement lists the document as “coming soon.”

That’s because a fully authorized, legally binding deal has not been inked yet.

The implication of this is hard to say. Spokespersons for both the Iowa attorney general’s office and the Department of Justice both told American Banker that the actual settlement will not be made public until it is submitted to a court. A representative for the North Carolina attorney general downplayed the significance of the document’s non-final status, saying that the terms were already fixed. [..]

Other sources who spoke with American Banker raised doubts that everything is yet in place. A person familiar with the mortgage servicing pact says that a settlement term sheet does not yet exist. Instead, there are a series of nearly-complete documents that will be attached to a consent judgment eventually filed with the court. That truly final version will include things such as servicing standards, consumer relief options, legal releases, and enforcement terms. There will likely be separate state and a federal versions of the release.

Some who talked to American Banker said that the political pressure to announce the settlement drove the timing, in effect putting the press release cart in front of the settlement horse.

Whatever the reason for the document’s continued non-appearance, the lack of a public final settlement is already the cause for disgruntlement among those who closely follow the banking industry. Quite simply, the actual terms of a settlement matter. [..]

“The devil’s in the details,” says Ron Glancz, chairman of law firm Venable LLP’s Financial Services Group. “Until you see the document you’re never quite sure what your rights are.”

“It’s frustrating,” agrees Stern Agee analyst John Nadel. “But it’s not unlike anything else that’s been going on in financial reform generally, is it?” [..]

“It is hard for me to believe that they would have gone public in the way that they did if they didn’t have it all worked out. But it is unusual that we don’t have a copy of the settlement yet,” says Diane Thompson, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

A spokesperson from the South Carolina AG’s office told American Banker that when the agreement is finalized it would be posted to this website “nationalmortgagesettlement.com,” which raised some eyebrows. David Dayen at FDL News Desk questioned why .com and not .org? Dayen also pointed out that by not having all the details ironed out is “just a shocking abdication of responsibility”:

This is incredible. The Administration, the AGs, everyone involved in this made a big show of an agreement reached on foreclosure fraud. But there is no piece of paper with the agreement on it. There’s no term sheet. There are just agreements in principle.

There’s a HUGE difference between an agreement in principle and the actual terms. I mean night and day. The Dodd-Frank bill was for all intents and purposes an agreement in principle. It left to the federal regulators to write hundreds of rules. And we have seen how that process of implementation has faltered on several key points. But the Administration wanted to announce a “big deal,” the details be damned. And they got buy-in from the AGs. Everyone else stayed silent.

Yves Smith appeared with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now to discuss just how bad this deal is.

The U.S. Justice Department has unveiled a record mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest banks to resolve claims over faulty foreclosures and mortgage practices that have indebted and displaced homeowners and sunk the nation’s economy. While the deal is being described as a $25 billion settlement, the banks will only have to pay out a total of $5 billion in cash between them. We speak to one of the settlement’s most prominent critics, Yves Smith, a longtime financial analyst who runs the popular finance website, “Naked Capitalism.” “The settlement, on the surface, does look like it is helping homeowners,” Smith says. “But in fact, the bigger part that most people don’t recognize is the way it actually helps the banks with mortgages on their own books. … The real problem is that this deal is just not going to give that much relief.”

Yes, this could be a lot worse and won’t address the needs of the underwater homeowners or those who lost their homes through fraud.

Feb 13

Fukushima in Georgia

Crossposted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

I won’t defend them, this is what they say they want.  I do feel kind of bad for their neighbors and the rest of us.

First of all, what do we know about Fukushima that we didn’t know a month ago?

New Containment Flaw Identified in the BWR Mark 1

Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Associates

Feb. 6, 2012

(W)e know that right before the explosion, the containment vent was working. Now the Japanese are saying that the containment vent was working, but the pipes were somehow or other leaking hydrogen into the plant as well and that is what caused the explosion.

To my way of thinking, the data does not support the interpretation of the nuclear industry and the Japanese. What the data does support is the Brunswick test from 40 years ago. It seems to me that for 8 hours or more, the containment at Fukushima was basically ruptured, that the top had popped up, and gasses were sliding out, so that it could not go over 100 pounds per square inch.

And hydrogen gasses were leaking out of the containment and into the reactor building for a long period of time. After that, it only took a spark to blow the reactor building up. This is a really important distinction. The nuclear industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Japanese are saying that we can make the vent stronger so that this accident cannot happen. But if the nuclear head is lifting up, the vent is irrelevant. The containment on the Mark I design has a design flaw that the containment vent cannot solve.

Cancer Risk To Young Children Near Fukushima Daiichi Underestimated

Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Associates

January 17, 2012

(Y)oung girls in the Fukushima Prefecture are going to get 5 times the exposure they would get from 2 rem. That means that about one in 100 young girls is going to get cancer as a result of the exposure in Fukushima Prefecture. And that is for every year they are in that radiation zone. If you are in there for 5 years, it is 5 out of 100 young girls will get cancer.

Oh, and there’s a serious possibility that Daiichi #2 could go re-critical-

Tepco Injects Boric Acid Into Reactor as Temperatures Rise

By Tsuyoshi Inajima, Bloomberg News

Feb 6, 2012 10:18 PM ET

The temperature of the No. 2 reactor was 70.1 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) as of 6 a.m. today, according to preliminary data, Akitsuka Kobayashi, a spokesman for the utility, said by phone. The reading fell from 72.2 degrees at 5 a.m. this morning, and is below the 93 degrees that’s used to define a cold shutdown, or safe state, of the reactor.

Since Feb. 1, temperatures at the bottom of the No. 2 reactor vessel have risen by more than 20 degrees Celsius, according to the company’s data. Tepco, as the utility is known, and the government announced that the Fukushima plant reached a cold shutdown on Dec. 16, nine months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wrecked the nuclear station, and caused three reactors to meltdown and release radiation.



About 95,000 cubic meters, which is enough to fill 38 Olympic-sized swimming pools, of highly radioactive water may still be in the basements, even after the company has processed more than 220,000 cubic meters of contaminated water, according to Tepco’s latest estimate on Feb. 1.

That would be 93 Celcius in case you’re as confused as I was.  What’s the big deal about re-criticality?  Well, it’s not an atomic bomb per se but from this Time Magazine report from March 30, 2011

To nuclear workers, there are few events more fearful than a criticality accident. In such a scenario, the fissile material in a reactor core-be it enriched uranium or plutonium-undergoes a spontaneous chain reaction, releasing a flash of aurora-blue light and a surge of neutron radiation; the gamma rays, neutrons and radioactive fission products emitted during criticality are highly dangerous to humans. Criticality occurs so rapidly-within a few fractions of a second-and so unpredictably that it can suddenly kill workers without warning.

I’m sure some of you learned in history class just as I did of Harry K. Daghlian and Louis Slotin.

More information and links in an excellent piece by Harvey Wasserman aka solartopia at Firedog Lake.

Gregg Levine (a name you may recognize better) has some interesting pieces up too-

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Ignores Fukushima, Green-Lights First New Reactors in 34 Years

By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake

Thursday February 9, 2012 4:59 pm

The NTTF (Fukushima Near-Term Task Force) recommendations, geared toward improving safety and preventing another disaster like the one still evolving at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, have still not become official government rules-some are projected to take up to five years to draft and implement-and so, for now, the new reactor construction will get to pretend the Tohoku quake and tsunami, and the resulting core meltdowns and widespread radioactive contamination, never happened.

The Vogtle reactors are of a new (or, let’s call it “new-ish”) design. The AP1000 reactor was just approved by the NRC in December, over the objections of numerous scientists and engineers, who saw claims of innovation insufficient to counter the dangers native to any Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) design. Upon examination, many of the "improvements" to the AP1000 look more like ways to cut construction costs. Even so, a single new AP1000 is expected to cost anywhere from $8 billion to $14 billion dollars-and, it should be noted, no US nuclear facility has ever come in anywhere close to on time or on budget. The US government has already pledged over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to cover construction of the Georgia reactors, since without the government backstop, no private financial institutions will invest in such a high-cost, high-risk project. Southern Co. has already spent $4 billion preparing the Vogtle site for the anticipated new construction.

“I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened,” said Gregory Jaczko after the Thursday vote-but thanks to the four other commissioners of his captured agency, licensing as if Fukushima never happened is exactly what the NRC did.

NRC Vogtle Reactor Approval Should Blow Lid Off Nuclear Finance Scam

By: Gregg Levine, Firedog Lake

Friday February 10, 2012 9:30 am

Coming almost exactly two years after the Obama administration granted the project $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees, the NRC’s OK for the project did not signal a groundbreaking at Vogtle. Thanks to a redefinition of what constitutes construction, drafted under a former NRC commissioner who now works for the nuclear industry, Southern started building on the site long before the AP1000 reactor design was finally approved by the NRC last December. And foundations were poured into the Georgia earth before environmental impact surveys were even required to be filed. So, Thursday’s move did not actually start construction, but it did start the roulette wheel turning on a massive financial gamble where Southern Company is pretty much assured of winning, and US taxpayers and Georgia utility customers are guaranteed to lose.



As this month marks two years since the government agreed to the loan guarantees, it will mark almost as long a time since the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the details of the deal the DOE struck with Southern Co., and thus it also marks almost two years of stonewalling by the Obama administration and the energy consortium.



These, of course, are just the costs incurred if everything goes more or less right. And these, of course, are just the costs of building the reactors-it has nothing to do with the fueling, the maintenance, the waste removal and clean up should anything get, you know, “unusual.” But since the taxpayers and ratepayers pretty much built the new reactors for them, those costs should come out of Southern Co/Georgia Power’s profits once they start charging for the actual power, right?

Uh. . . wrong. As George W. Bush was headed out the door, he made sure that the Department of Energy would be liable for all costs from any high-level radioactive waste generated at the new Vogtle units. And, of course, as is true for all facilities in the US, the Price-Anderson Act indemnifies the industry against claims arising nuclear accidents.

And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval-coming when it does-does nothing to make those accidents less likely. The NRC voted for Vogtle’s COLA over the objections of its chairman, Greg Jaczko, who thought safety rules that should come from the post-Fukushima recommendations should have been stipulated as essential to any new license. And the AP1000’s design, which Toshiba-Westinghouse likes to tout as safer than its close cousin, the pressurized water reactor, is suspected to be anything but.

Meanwhile, trouble at nuclear reactors worldwide continues apace. At Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi, unit two, which was said to have been brought to a “cold shutdown” in December, has experienced what is called a “re-criticality”-in other words, the temperature inside the ruptured containment vessel has begun to rise again, up more than 20 degrees Celsius since February 1. Officials from Japanese power company TEPCO have done a poor job of explaining why this might be happening or what it might mean for the future, but they do admit to the necessity of increasing the amount of water and boric acid pumped into the damaged reactor to counteract the warming. And, since there are holes and cracks in the reactor vessel, that means more radioactive waste water pouring out of the building and into the basements and surrounding plant grounds-more water on top of the 95,000 cubic meters already believed to be there, and on top of the 220,000 cubic meters that TEPCO has claimed they “processed” (and then dumped back into the environment).



Back in the USA, the San Onofre plant remains completely shutdown after one reactor was found to be leaking tritium on January 31. Meanwhile, the other reactor, offline for refueling and repairs since January 9, was discovered to have alarmingly excessive wear inside its almost new turbine tubes.

And at Prairie Island, a nuclear facility in southeastern Minnesota, Xcel Energy has copped to two separate toxic chemical and radiological spills. One happened last November, but Xcel did not alert residents of the Prairie Island Indian Community-a whopping 600 yards from the power plant-till last week. The second happened just last Friday, February 3, but Xcel waited to give notice till Monday because the leak happened “‘after business hours’ just before the weekend.”

This is but a small sample-less than a week’s worth-of the nuclear world the NRC has now voted to expand. With each of these items should come a list of questions and a cavalcade of caution, but the NRC’s rulings on the AP1000 have defied the facts on the ground. Meanwhile, the entire federal government seems hell-bent on ignoring the fiscal realities, instead choosing to guarantee that money flow from the pockets of taxpayers into the coffers of nuclear energy corporations, whether or not those corporations ever provide a kilowatt of power to those taxpayers.



Many who are outraged by the bailouts of the banks should see each of these nuclear facilities as a little version of the same “socialize the risk, privatize the profit” model. A nuclear facility might only lose billions of dollars instead of trillions, but as Everett Dirksen observed in a cheaper era, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”



And for those that think this week’s $25 billion settlement with the five big financial institutions guilty of mortgage fraud is somehow a grand amount-just remember that you can’t get two new nuclear power stations for that. . . and after typical delays and cost overruns, $25 billion likely won’t even get you one.

So, take a good look at what is happening in Georgia-even if the Obama administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission won’t. . . even if the Obama administration and the NRC don’t want you to. The nuclear industry, its acolytes, its lackeys, its supplicants and subordinates want to make the Vogtle reactors the first of many, the first of an irresistible nuclear renaissance, the start of a hard-charging, government-subsidized pushback-against activists and environmentalists, sure, but in reality, against the truth.

The truth, of course, is that without the lobbyists and the grease they spread, without the captured regulators and the purchased elected officials, the nuclear industry would be relegated to the past, right alongside its antiquated technology. The truth is that nuclear power is not clean, nor safe, nor too cheap to meter-it is dirty, dangerous, and a financial sinkhole of epic proportions. Banks and investment houses know it, ratepayers in Georgia and Florida know it, many of the residents of Japan know it, and even the government of Germany knows it-and now you know it, too. Now is the time to make sure your representatives in government-your president, your members of Congress, your state and local officials-know that you know it. Now is the time to stop this boondoggle and bailout, and then get to the business of safely uncoiling the nuclear serpent’s grip on our leaders and our imaginations. The AP1000 is not a first glimpse of the future, it is the last gasp of the past-and the sooner we stop subsidizing the old ideas, the sooner we can start investing in some new ones.

Feb 13

On This Day In History February 13

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 13 is the 44th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 321 days remaining until the end of the year (322 in leap years).

On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.

Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), commonly known as Galileo, was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of science”, and “the Father of Modern Science”. Stephen Hawking says, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”

The motion of uniformly accelerated objects, taught in nearly all high school and introductory college physics courses, was studied by Galileo as the subject of kinematics. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.

Galileo’s championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offence, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as “false and contrary to Scripture”, and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it-which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Feb 13

Muse in the Morning

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Muse in the Morning


Interlocking 1

Feb 13

Late Night Karaoke

Feb 13

Pique the Geek 20120212: The Things that we Eat. More on Milk

Two weeks ago we began a short series on milk, in particular cow’s milk, used as a food by humans.  We mentioned that humans are the only species to drink any kind of milk after infancy (unless we feed it to animals).  We also mentioned that human milk is the very best food for human infants.  Next week we shall end the series by talking about the advantages of real milk to infants unless readers would rather see a discussion of cheese first.

Last time we pretty much focused on fresh milk and few derivatives of it.  This week we shall look at some of the derivatives of milk, either fresh or fermented.  There is a marvelous variety of liquid milk derivatives available, and some are very delicious.  In addition, there is butter which obviously is not liquid.

For a product as perishable as milk, it is amazing that so many wholesome fermented products can be made from it.  There are reasons for that, and we shall get to them in due course.

Feb 13

the company of dogs

brisk and bold, the bracing east wind blows across the lowlands, drying the air and clearing the sky of its oft worn grey.

today it is bright. today there is cold sunlight. today is one for a long walk in the park.

Photobucket

cross posted at writing in the rAw and at daily kos