Saturday, April 30, 2011


The bulletins were rather frightening coming out of Japan. First there was the enormous earthquake – Japan seems to have them with regularity; but a 9.0? – who heard of an earthquake that big since Krakatoa? Then, the ensuing tsunami that engulfed whole coastal communities, whole bullet trains… indeed that rippled across the biggest ocean we have, killing nosey looky loos 10,000 miles away in northern California. And of course, these two events alone killed an estimated 20,000, left tens of thousands more homeless.

This wrath of God twofer might’ve ended there, except leave it to the mind of man’s most heinous invention ridiculously close to the epicenter: nuclear power. In a deadly irony, this same nation of Japan, the only nation (that we know of) to suffer the devastation of deliberate nuclear explosions had brought upon itself, 66 years later, another radiation catastrophe. And in a sort of Hiroshima / Nagasaki revenge scenario, there remains danger, at this writing, that by sea or by air, this radioactive contamination could reach the west coast of the United States. “Biblical proportions” now seem an inadequate description.

But God can hardly be entirely blamed for the last third of the Japanese disaster. A scant 11 months after British Petroleum’s deep water drilling gambit exploded, and kept profusely bleeding black blood into the Gulf of Mexico for weeks, the work of greedy, short sighted men helped out immeasurably. They bet their profits against an earthquake in Japan. They seem to have lost the bet. Similarly, some years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers took short cuts building the famous breached levees protecting New Orleans, figuring the odds were enormous against a category 5 hurricane – we now know it was Katrina – hitting the area and uncovering their incompetence. “Who knew the levees could be topped?” declared Pres. Bush. Nuff said.

And, similarly, Halliburton allegedly cut some corners on their concrete pour at the BP Gulf of Mexico oil drilling site. They were just doing what they do, taking money and not putting it into their work. What were the odds their handiwork would give way when there was a precious mother lode of Texas Tea to be had? 11 men instantly paid the price for that lost gamble.

So, what were the odds a 9.0 earthquake would hit the northern coast of Japan, where sit archaic nuclear power plants, whose generating systems were locating below ground, where, say, a tsunami could destroy them and expose the vaunted fuel rods to meltdown? And it is not over yet, and may not be for a thousand years, per the nuclear clock.
Yes there was Chernobyl – exactly 25 years ago – but here was a nuclear meltdown considerably closer to home, considerably more in keeping with the times.

And one might guess the hidden evils of nuclear power by the company they keep: it is in the pro-big business lexicon to lump together oil, gas, “clean” coal and nuclear as our energy policy. Wind and solar are mocked along with steam driven cars, or damned with faint praise “oh yes, them too.”

So as might be expected, nuclear power has as fierce a lobby, and has purchased as many members of congress as big oil, big gas, and big Pharma. Even as Japanese kamikaze soldiers were risking their lives feebly attempting put their fingers into a radioactive dyke - which saw the government order U.S. citizens in the area to move 50 kilometers away from ground zero - U. S. Senator Lamar Alexander went onto the floor of the U. S. Senate to express concern about us pussying out on nuclear power (like, say, the one to be built in his state) just because of a little mishap. The mishap being a “China Syndrome” meltdown so close to China that it might well be called a “USA Syndrome”.

And so the voices of corporate puppets quickly checked in, in what might be called a preemptive action. The Republicans are familiar with preemptive actions.

It is all eerily reminiscent of Katrina tool Michael “Brownie” Brown arguing to continue to “drill baby drill” even as oil gushed into the Gulf – and blaming Obama for “politicizing” the disaster as a possible cynical means to bolster his argument against further off-shore drilling.

In any case, it seems as though their panic wasn’t necessary, or, more cynically, may have been heeded, as plans are afoot for both nuclear power plant building and deep water drilling.

These and meltdowns of various kinds are happening at an interesting time:

March 25, 1911. Just months after huge labor protests rocked New York City contesting the conditions for garment workers – and demanding unionization and workplace regulation - a fire broke out on one of the lowers floors of the Asch Building in lower Manhattan. Within 18 minutes, 129 of 300 women sewing machine operators on the 9th floor Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were dead. 17 men also died. Many burned to death, many jumped to their deaths. They were mostly immigrant women from poor families, ranging in age from 48 down to 14 years. Exit doors were locked, as was routine, to prevent workers stealing scraps of fabric. The guy with the key escaped to safety.
Cops who had battled these workers during the labor unrest now retrieved their bodies and belongings. When the city of New York refused to allow unions to conduct a mass funeral – fearing it would be used for “political purposes”, union workers refused work on April 5, and 100,000 people joined in a silent march. The workers became unwilling martyrs to a great cause.

The owners of the company who were at work in the offices on the 10th floor, also escaped. They were tried and quickly acquitted for manslaughter, and in the bargain collected a huge insurance payoff, amounting to $400 per victim. They did lose a civil suit, and were ordered to pay $24 per victim.

A corrupt Democratic machine ran New York in those days – it was called Tammany Hall. They supported business, period, and weren’t too keen on unions and workers, much less immigrants and the poor. Suffice to say the owners of the Triangle factory were well connected with Tammany Hall.

Tammany good old boy, Alfred E. Smith, the future governor of New York, ultimately did not fall into lockstep – such was the public outrage. He headed a commission to investigate the tragedy. Changes were made rapidly by the New York state legislature. Frances Perkins, FDR’s future labor secretary, and the first woman cabinet member, was a member of the commission and had been in lower Manhattan, watching shirtwaist workers jump to the sidewalks below. Perkins declared that “The New Deal was born on March 25, 1911”. For nearly 70 years since, the routine for American labor has been the protection of unions, and the regulation of workplace safety.
But something else happened in 1911: Ronald Reagan was born.

Nearly 70 years later, in January of 1981, he was inaugurated President of the United States. He was supported by forces long keen on fighting the New Deal, and its unions and regulations. Reagan was eager to oblige, as were his Republican progeny over the next 30 years.

One might said the attack on the New Deal commenced practically the same year it was born.

March 11, 2011. As we honor the 100th anniversary of the Triangle tragedy, governors of at least five states most notoriously Scott Walker of Wisconsin, as well as those of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Florida, led an obvious Koch Brothers fueled Republican gambit to gut unionized government workers of their ability for collective bargaining. Much of such bargaining involves not only pay and benefits, but also workplace safety – the very things the shirtwaist workers of 1911 fought for, and for which whose martyrdom paved the way… until another veteran of 1911, Ronald Reagan, started undermining their gains. In his strident pronouncements, Walker has often invoked the name of Ronald Reagan as his inspiration. Reagan, the one thing to come out of 1911 that Walker honors.

Wisconsin legislature Democrats walked out and famously disappeared to deny Republicans quorum - their version of a Mitch McConnell filibuster - to successfully prevent the legal passage of Walker’s draconian measure. Emphasis on “legal”. But Walker managed to do it through some illegal maneuvering on this day, two weeks short of the Triangle fire centennial. A judge has blocked the move. The governor ignored her. The judge blocked again. Now the governor and the state’s attorney general are “confused”.

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But the thin dyke between us and the Republican nirvana of a Somalia West (or Texas), where there are many guns and little government, may have more holes than the Democratic Dutch Boy has fingers, with this ferocious war on labor that seems to be spreading – at least to Republican controlled enclaves.

Our political opponents have rocketed across the Rubicon of rationality, but they have crossed whatever the line is that the Rubiconians refer to as the Rubicon. They have not only deigned to touch the “third rail” of Social Security, but Rep. Paul Ryan (and a fellow Walker Wisconsian) has grabbed with both hands, and is apparently putting it on display in his trophy room – daring Democrats to challenge “without lying”.

They have gone to a land to the east of the east of Eden, west of the Twilight Zone, where Nixon, Eisenhower and even Goldwater would now be considered RINOs, if not socialist/communist/terrorists, and subject to birth certification. What is that if not a nuclear meltdown of our system, and, if these fanatical Republicans now in power, and their Supreme Court enablers have their way, the America we have known?

March 24, 2011. A day before the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory tragedy, Governor Paul LaPage of Maine ordered a mural in the Department of Labor building to be erased… a mural that is homage to labor’s progress and achievements. Maine. A blue state, generally… where the "purple sisters", Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, are Senators, perhaps the last ones on the Republican side of the aisle (but probably not for long).

March 25, 2011. Exactly one hundred years after the tragic fire, at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, in northern Japan, the one on the verge of The China Syndrome after the March 11 earthquake/tsunami combo, two workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were hospitalized for radiation exposure after they stepped into radioactively contaminated water while laying electrical cables in the basement of the building housing reactor No. 3. At this writing, radioactive water is spewing into the Pacific Ocean, and its fate remains incredibly uncertain, not to mention the fate of the inhabits of the region, the food supply of the region, or indeed the livability of the region. The nuke builders took a shot, and, good grief, go know - up came snake eyes, a royal flush was dealt, the coin landed on its edge.

April 5, 2011 In keeping with the mendacious and hypocritical politics of our times, no sooner had Obama announced his intention to run for re-election in 2012 than opposition TV ads popped up.

The “drill baby drill” folks are sliming Obama for the BP oil spill, which they want to risk more of, and quickly.

Melting down.