The Week That Was in Doom, 25 May 2014

May 30th, 2014
in econ_news

A Gonzo Journalism Review of Last Week

by Surly1, Doomstead Diner

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 25, 2014.

Econintersect bets you've already forgotten most of what happened last week before your fabulous holiday weekend.  We guarantee last week will not be soon forgotten if you read this.

"We're all f--ked. I'm f--ked. You're f--ked. The whole department is f--ked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely f--ked."
- Sir Richard Clive Mottram

Follow up:

By anyone's measure, this week's headlines are, each in turn, harbingers of a grave, impending doom-o-pocalypse, demonstrating the extent to which we are well and truly f--ked. Time once again to blow the dust from this threadbare franchise, and consider The Week That Was in Doom.

Sir Richard, above, got overheard in a semi-private conversation as a British public servant, and spent a bit of time explaining himself. This week's headlines explain themselves. So much of what we think and write about on the Diner concerns the relationship between energy, finance, and the consequences which flow from changes in the relationship. This week, we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.

Fuk-U Hard

Let's first consider the news out of Fukushima, with reporting from ENENews by way of Washington's Blog:

Here's reporting from Will Ripley of CNN, no longer known for much in the way of groundbreaking investigative journalism:

A senior scientist and his research team at Fukushima University just published a study claiming the power plant's operator Tepco grossly underestimated the amount of radioactive poison - Cesium-137 - released during the meltdown. This material has already gone into the ocean. It's already there. He's especially worried about contaminated fish in a country where most meals come from the sea. His research team says cesium spewed into the air during the meltdown and later fell into the water contaminating the North Pacific Ocean and the Japanese mainland. Tepco says the company's radiation estimates come from the best information they have, but a spokesperson admits nobody really knows for sure.

Anthony-Freda-War-MindWe're sure that TEPCO has its best minds on the case. We're told the cleanup continues apace, as the yakuza continue to cruise the alleyways of Tokyo and Yokohama to recruit "cleanup workers." Meanwhile, Asahi Shunbun reports that workers had widespread fear that Reactor No. 3 would 'break apart' just before it had a massive explosion and after signs Reactor No. 2 vessel was destroyed, 90% of workers fled the plant in 'mass desertion'.  TEPCO's transparency is already well known and a matter for public ridicule. This week they started dumping "controlled quantities" of water with "low radioactivity" into the sea. TEPCO calls this "groundwater bypass," thus do corporations impoverish not only citizens but language. By this method TEPCO plans to reduce the alarming accumulation of hundreds of tons of contaminated liquid. This matters only if where you live, eat, drink or breathe makes contact with the Pacific basin.

You might wonder why, or why now? Shanghai Daily reports:

The utility is still grappling to deal with the daily accumulation of around 400 tons of highly radioactive water, with the same volume of groundwater seeping into the basement of reactor buildings where it's being mixed with the reactors' highly toxic coolant water.

Following protracted negotiations, local fisherman finally agreed to the release of the contaminated water into the Pacific Wednesday, once they'd been convinced that the contaminated water would not adversely affect their business, but the agreement came as the utility had to deal with a fresh headache involving the breakdown of a water treatment system for the highly contaminated water held in thousands of makeshift tanks.

A water treatment facility called the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), installed to remove the most dangerous nuclides, was completely shut down again this week and has not been fully operational since it was installed nearly two years ago, causing the manager of TEPCO to state that the repeated leaks and technical malfunctions at the plant have been a constant " embarrassment".

TEPCO has pumped a total of 560 tons of groundwater from wells dug in the mountainside of the plant with the operation beginning on April 9 and finishing five days later, and having confirmed that the radiation levels have met legal criteria and will release into the ocean Wednesday using a bypass system that funnels the contaminated water towards the Pacific.

So if you're scoring at home, this means that TEPCO's failure to operate its own cleanup facility lead to its desperation to seek legal relief, such that it could literally dump its failures into the Pacific. Meaning, on all of us.

Let the bonuses commence.

Speaking of externalized costs, even as Walmart led the way with "low everyday prices" subsidized by safety net benefits for its impoverished workforce, corporations have continued to dump their expensive-to-mitigate costs onto we the sheeple. And thus does Fuk-U come home- the California Coastal Commission released this report in which the truth is hard to spin-

The most recently reported measurements of radioactive cesium in North Pacific seawater indicate that the Fukushima plume is beginning its arrival off the west coast of North America. ... It remains uncertain exactly when, and at what concentration, the radioactive plume will reach the California coast ... Once the radioactive plume does reach California, concentrations of radiocesium are predicted to increase to peak values between 2016 and 2019, declining gradually thereafter over the next several decades."

When the plume of radioactivity currently spreading across the North Pacific reaches the California coast, local marine life will accumulate Fukushima-derived radioactive cesium (and other radionuclides present at much lower levels, such as 90Sr). ... marine organisms are unlikely to accumulate dangerous quantities of radioactivity. However, on-going monitoring of the situation is clearly warranted." [See also: Professors: Seafood off N. America coast predicted to exceed gov't radioactivity limit - Fukushima radiation to reach levels 'well above' 1,000 Bq/kg according to model]

"Surprisingly little research effort has been devoted to [the potential for dangerous levels of contamination] in California. ... Outside of Japan, ocean monitoring of Fukushima radiation has received much less attention and support from government agencies ... neither the U.S. federal government nor the state of California is currently testing for Fukushima-derived radiation off the California coast."


And closer to home, in Carlsbad, New Mexico . . . what, did you forget about that? Latest updates regarding the accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear storage facility, indicate we should not sleep on this one, either:

AP, May 21, 2014: Los Alamos National Laboratory [LANL] on Wednesday told state government it has isolated and is closely monitoring nuclear waste ... packed with a type of cat litter suspected in a radiation leak at [WIPP]. [LANL] said the 55-gallon barrels have been secured in special containers and moved to an isolated area with a fire protection system. They also are being monitored 24 hours a day for any change in temperature, smoking or other abnormalities. [...] More than 100 other suspect containers are being stored temporarily at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.

And if that's not startling enough, you can follow the link to an interview with Arnie Gunderson about how the use of kitty litter (!) has made the whole as unstable as nitroglycerin. But, as in Fuk-U, our Best People are On The Case:

KOAT, May 20, 2014: 500 WIPP barrels of questionable nuclear waste packed with kitty litter - New Mexico environment officials said more than 500 barrels of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory were packed with the kitty litter suspected of causing a chemical reaction and radiation release [...] In addition to 369 containers at the dump, environment officials said 57 more are still at Los Alamos and more than 100 are in storage in West Texas.


And then there's Hanford: The Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State may be causing severe health defects:

New data shows spike in babies born missing parts of brain around leaking US nuclear site - Official: We're really concerned it remains so high, we hoped it would go away - NBC: Many locals say Hanford to blame - CDC Expert: Cases "not focused near Hanford"; and NBC: 'Bizarre' cluster of severe birth defects haunts experts in Pacific Northwest - "I definitely believe something is going on... Maybe it just hit once and blew through" - Officials refused to say how many new cases in 2013 - County on border of most polluted nuclear site in Hemisphere.

Ironies abound in that people decry Guy McPherson for being so unrelievedly negative about his assessment for near-term human extinction; remember that he is just talking about climate change and its consequences. What do you consider the consequences of aging, dodgy nuclear facilities all based on 50 year old designs, and each throwing off piles of radioactive garbage with no place to store it? Hope you enjoyed the soup and the first course.

Quite a Week ...

Founding in Chains

Meanwhile, in Sodom-on-the-Potomac, the gobshites who inhabit the people's house took a break from their almost-constant repeal-Obamacare bukkake party to reject the AUMF sunset amendment, ensuring that the "war on terrorTM" will continue indefinitely, or until there is lasting peace on Mars.

While some have proposed rescinding the law entirely, including President Obama, who asked Congress last year "to refine, and ultimately repeal" the AUMF, others are concerned that revoking the AUMF would effectively disarm the United States, leaving no legal authorization for counterterrorism.

"We would be left with no authority to take action against terrorists bent on killing Americans," Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said. "They just opened the 9/11 museum in New York in the last few days. Have we forgotten so quickly about what this AUMF is all about?"

The war profiteers certainly will have not. This also means that Guantánamo will remain open for business, as well as all the "defense" related industries that feast at the public trough. In the process, this gaggle also rejected an amendment that would have reduced the capacity of the United States government to indefinitely detain American citizens. You'll recall that when Pres. Obama signed the 2012 NDAA Act into law, he said he would not use the indefinite detention powers provided by Congress. The amendment, offered by Adam Smith (D-Washington), would have made that moot:

"So basically anybody that we captured, who we suspected of terrorist activity, would no longer be subject to indefinite detention, as is now, currently, the law. That is an enormous amount of power to give the executive, to take someone and lock them up without due process. It is an enormous amount of power to grant the executive, and I believe places liberty and freedom at risk in this country."

Of course, the Liberty Bund in this country is concerned only about the "liberty" of billionaires and multinational corporations to hire tax lawyers and lobbyists in order to create gaping loopholes in tax law, to create new and exotic legal ways of ratholing fortunes overseas, and to otherwise keep the "nanny state's" laws off their corporate body. Remember that a poor man has the same right as a rich man to go to a television network and purchase a multimillion dollar ad schedule, or to create an endowment to fund foundations to promulgate their ideas. Free Enterprise! Free-dumm! The capture of the Republican party by the libertarian right has created today's entree in this banquet of consequences.


Big Hot Sad For Frackers...

And in other energy news, the US energy information administration cut its estimate of recoverable oil in California's Monterey shale by 96%, thus causing a big hot sad among proponents of "Saudi America," fracking apologists, and the other assorted shills, grifters and camp followers who attend this particular energy wagon train.

"The EIA concluded that the technical recoverability of Monterey shale did not look as strong in 2014 because of the industry's difficulty in producing from the region," EIA head Adam Sieminski told reporters in New York.

Technically recoverable reserves are often a moving target, changing as new drilling techniques develop and the price of oil fluctuates. Further drilling will likely provide clearer evidence of the Monterey's true reserves, the EIA said. But fracking alone has failed to produce the same results in the geology of the Monterey shale in central California, dampening expectations for a resource once thought to rival other giant U.S. shale deposits and seen as an economic boon for the state. Some drillers have turned to other methods, including using acid to help melt rock, though progress has been slow and met with strong environmental opposition.

The original estimates were provided to the EIA by a private group that relied heavily on data provided in turn from Occidental Petroleum. it turns out that the rock and the oil are still there, but this particular formation is proven much harder to extract than others. Also the notable drought in California has made the diversion of already scarce water a dicey proposition, and thus politically charged. And the "3 million jobs" waved about as a sop to lawmakers who voted for approval for fracking? Another fugazi.

But that's California. This past week, in the remarkably insane state of North Carolina, yet another right wing sociopath introduced a bill in the North Carolina Senate that would charge individuals with a felony if they were to disclose information about fracking chemicals, which are classified as trade secrets. Few states as of yet have trade secret laws that apply to such chemicals, but this North Carolina effort looks to get out in front of any potential litigation brought on behalf of mere peasants. One will recall Act 13 enacted last year in Pennsylvania (Marcellus shale country), which is seen by doctors and physician groups as a gag order that prevents a doctor from sharing information about exposure to such chemicals with the patient he is treating.

The industry reporting database FracFocus indicates that chemicals like ethylene glycol (used in antifreeze) hydrochloric acid and tetramethylammonium chloride are on the long list of chemicals that could be found in fracking fluid.

Much is still unknown about the health effects of fracking. Water samples taken near fracking sites have found elevated levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health wrote that at least four well workers have died since 2010 due to "acute chemical exposure" from flow-back fluid at fracking sites.

Fracking is banned in North Carolina until the state crafts rules to regulate the industry. A state panel in January passed a rule allowing companies to apply for trade secret status for fracking chemicals.

And let's never forget that the Halliburton loophole to the Clean Water Act was engineered by Dick Cheney, Satan's viceroy on earth, as part of the energy policy act of 2005. Oil and gas companies get a number of "byes" not available to other companies, including much less stringent standards under the Clean Air Act, and handling of waste water under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It's good to be able to write the regs under which your industry has to labor.


Be Suspicious...

In a PR offensive timed to coincide with the House's consideration of a bill to limit NSA power, FBI chief James Comey made the news a couple of times. He was quoted Wednesday as saying,

"I believe people should be suspicious of government power. I am. I think this country was founded by people who were worried about government power so they divided among three branches."

That is like coming out for motherhood. Comey went on to say that all of the FBI's program to run responsibly and that their operations had helped track down kidnappers and save children, if not cats in trees. And in a story that moved earlier in the week, Comey averred that the FBI might have to rethink its policy on marijuana use. Apparently current policy makes it much harder to find tech savvy recruits, who are apparently all stoners.

"I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said.

You can't make this stuff up. And speaking of big hot sads, apparently Sen, Jeff Sessoms (R-Beta Centauri) was not amused at the specter of the FBI failing to genuflect emphatically enough in the direction of demon Marijuana.


Tennessee To Bring Back the Electric Chair

cheney electric chairAnd speaking of retrograde, Republoconfederate attitudes, why should only Middle Eastern countries have all the fun of administering ninth century "justice"? As we've seen from following the headlines, torture is back and in the FSoA, we've got it. Notions of "civilization," "progress," "humanity," at all are now so twentieth-century. Enough of that, mullahs! This week Tennessee decided to deal itself in.

Tennessee said Thursday that it would bring back the electric chair if it couldn't get its hands on drugs to perform legal executions.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Thursday evening, the Associated Press reports, amid growing shortages of the drugs used in lethal injections,questions about their humaneness and a recent botched execution. Though any planned electrocutions would likely spark legal challenges, one expert said the law made Tennessee the first state to bring back the chair without giving the condemned an option of how to die.

Apparently drug manufacturers had been holding back from supplying states with the combination of drugs necessary to administer lethal injections. One wonders whether it is criticism that the lethal injections are not humane enough, or fear of potential litigation that has restrained this trade. Some states have taken to getting local pharmacies to mix up a cocktail for lethal injections. In one recent example of botched execution, an inmate took more than a half hour to die, and then of a heart attack, prompting the Justice Department review and suspended executions in some states. Note that at no time is Tennessee considering reviewing their policy of execution.

And yes, this evening's dessert course of consequences is a little bitter.


And how to conclude a banquet better than with a cup of fresh coffee? This last one hits close to home: Grist reports that my usual cuppa joe (or more to the point, potta joe) is in trouble:

Coffee lovers beware: Those miracle beans just got all the more precious. Coffee rust, a fungal disease, and Brazil's epic drought are driving up the cost of that vital morning fix.

As NPR reports, wholesale coffee prices have jumped by more than 60 percent since January, and traders suspect that the worst is still to come. Some predict that during the main harvest next month, prices could shoot up to $3 a pound. The long-term forecast looks even grimmer: Global warming is only making it easier for the fungus to spread, and some studies even suggest that our favorite blends will be wiped out by 2080.

The only good news here is that 2080 should see me out.

***Find all statements of fact or other citations are in the embedded links.***


Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of women both young and young at heart.

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