Wall Street Strikes Again

Striking like serial predators, Wall Street’s wealthy plutocrats, who were just recently rescued by the beleaguered taxpayer and made whole after they had taken the world economy to the brink of collapse, are now fleecing Main Street again.  Have they no shame? No, they are laughing all the way to the bank.  Meaning the Goldmans and Morgans of the big five who are back running their private casino with impunity.

With Brent crude climbing to over $115 a barrel and U.S. crude to more than $105 a barrel, speculators’ net long position in U.S. crude oil futures rose 2% to a record high last week in the third straight record in price hikes since oil reached $147 a barrel in September 2008. 

Although we are told unrest in Libya and Bahrain are causing the spikes, I spoke yesterday with the former director of the Division of Trading and Markets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who have oversight over the oil futures market and he had a very different version of what is behind the price at the pump.

Michael Greenberger made it clear, just as “60 Minutes” did in their investigation following the price run up in 2008, that it is the speculators who are driving up the price, not unrest in foreign lands as is so ritually reported.  Apparently the big banks we bailed out after they ripped us off and devastated our economy, like bookies, offer to take bets on whether vital commodities like oil and grain will rise or fall. 

But the window of opportunity at Wall Street’s private casino is only open to their big super-rich clients who have placed a $40 billion bet that oil will go up.  Well guess what?  It will go up because the price is being driven up and it’s the average working stiff on Main Street who is reeling from the recession that feels the pain, as he and she gets gouged at the pump as a result. 

There is something obscene about the already rich getting richer off the backs of the poor, profiting from a rigged process that does nothing but damage the overall economy.  Particularly at a time when we are barely recovering from the recession they created.

When gas was almost $5 a gallon back in 2008, Morgan Stanley was buying oil futures contracts and having giant tankers full of crude cruise in circles to drive up the price.  It wasn’t OPEC or Exxon sitting on supply, it was Wall Street, and they are doing it again. 

The recent and watered down Wall Street reforms gave the Commodity Futures Trading Commission the power to set position limits to curb excessive speculation but the Republican commissioners are sabotaging the implementation signally to Wall Street that they can plunder with impunity. Incidentally the commodities market is supposed to be for end users of oil and grain like refineries or Pillsbury and Kellogs. But the vultures have swooped in and cornered the market making us all pay more for basic needs.

The question that arises is how can working Americans and the downsized Middle Class survive another Robin Hood in reverse raid on their almost empty pockets?  After the massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich with the sub-prime housing bubble, can we survive this latest rip-off at the pump?  Will the rising costs of energy and food knock us back into a double-dip recession?

And how long can we pretend we have a democratic meritocracy when it is increasingly obvious that our plutonomy is a rigged system that favors the inheritors and investors.  How long can American capitalism survive if it is all about extracting wealth for the few, not creating wealth for the many?

The Revolution That Is Not Being Televised

In the wake of King Hamad’s three month emergency declaration, today in Bahrain the king’s goons cleared the protesters out of Pearl Square and glimpses of their brutality were caught by amateur cameras.  Within a few feet of the riot police, a man who is crying out “peaceful - peaceful” is shot twice at point blank range.  What we are not seeing is the mayhem at hospitals that are surrounded by troops with soldiers roaming the wards shooting suspects getting treatment.

But unlike Tunisia and Egypt where the revolutions were televised, and both the media and social media played a crucial role and their success, the Bahraini uprisings will not be seen on Al Jazeera Arabic.  For the simple reason it’s too close to home and the rulers of Qatar, who own Al Jazeera, don’t like what is happening next door.

Neither do the Saudis who are behind the crackdown. The ailing Saudi king has been leaning on his Bahraini royal cousin to get tough from the beginning, and finally he sent troops in to give King Hamad some backbone.  Earlier, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had urged the king to compromise and meet some of the demands of his people, warning that baby steps towards reform will not be sufficient. 

All the while Bahraini state media and Saudi media have been stirring the sectarian pot by characterizing the protesters as heretics and agents of Iran.  This racist and demeaning characterizations of Shiites goes back to a seventh century split in Islam that makes the catholic/protestant split look positively gentlemanly.

Why do these reactionary rulers stoke the sectarian fires instead of ladelling out a little social justice?  Because they are medieval!  Like fawning royal watchers giddy over what Kate Middleton might wear at the royal wedding, we have treated the Gulf rulers like kings instead of crooks. 

The Al Saud family’s thousands of princes are embezzlers of gigantic proportions and the wealth of the top princes cannot be measured because they are state secrets.  But if their billions were revealed, the Forbes list would need some serious adjustment. 

And King Abdullah, who we obediently label as a reformer, is the same bloodthirsty tyrant who recently called Obama every day yelling at him to allow his friend Hosni Mubarak to mow down those ungrateful students in Tahir Square. 

Imagine what they do to their own students who challenge the monumental scam the Al Saud’s have going, where as absolute monarchs, the only avenue of political expression allowed is to petition the royals for mercy.  Having reduced their people to beggars, on top of that, they impose the Wahhabi religious police on them.

The regime’s witch hunters invade the most intimate recesses of their citizen’s lives to the point the men are sexually repressed to the breaking point, and the woman are either property or slaves-in-waiting.  They don’t have time to think of anything else, let alone rebellion

So as Ahmadinejad and his horrible regime across the Gulf lick their chops at the prospect of shredding the Saudi military paper tiger, we can only ponder how again we got it so wrong.  How could not have our whole political and economic arrangement in the Middle East resting on such a thin straw? 

But after having taken their bribes for decades, how can our leaders urge these barbaric potentates to ease up a bit on their people before they blow it all?  Apparently they are not listening and we are heady for the abyss. 

Greed and God are too great.  And we are so pathetically dependent on their oil that we have no excuse but to suck it up when the spigot is turned off.  The only good news is that the young educated Saudis hate the regime and it’s religious oppression. So if it does turn out like Egypt then we will be lucky.

If it does not, then the Iranian regime with be over the moon.  But then again we have been so good to them lately.  We got rid of their enemy the Taliban and then their arch-enemy Saddam.  And George W, Bush just handed them Iraq.  Giving them Saudi Arabia on top of that is truly icing on the cake. 

Our Friend The Atom Turns On Us

Whether it was guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki or greed on the part of companies in on the ground floor at the dawn of the nuclear age, America’s rush to turn a horrible reality into a wonderful opportunity is now slapping us in the face. 

Our reckless embrace of the friendly atom and the export of it abroad via the “Atoms for Peace” program has always been divorced from the dangerous reality of what we are really dealing with. But since 1945 there has been an amazing and concerted propaganda campaign to deny the dangers and pursue the promise of nuclear power.

The pioneers of the nuclear age, Einstein and Bohr understood from the beginning that the sudden release of nuclear energy, the bomb, was a scientific obscenity, but they had no illusions about the difficulties associated with a controlled fission reaction, nuclear power. 

Controlled, it the operative word.  And the father of the nuclear submarine, whose reactor was scaled up to make the first civilian nuclear power reactor, Admiral Rickover, never wanted nuclear power in the hands of civilians who he considered lacked the military discipline to handle the monster. To this day nuclear powered naval vessels do not enter the ports of large American cities.

With thousands of Japanese sealed inside their homes as clouds of radiation drift outside, we have little knowledge of what is actually going on at the site of the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima I reactor, then 3, then 2 and now 4.  Given the radiation levels, are workers still in control of what is left of the controls? 

What we have learned so far is not reassuring.  Fallout from number 2 reactor, the latest to explode, was caused by a rapid drop in water levels that exposed the core and led to a massive leak of radiation.  The plant’s owners, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) admitted the nuclear fuel rods were partially exposed because an engine-powered pump ran out of fuel.  This suggests either confusion or a lack of manpower on site, which, due to the levels of radiation exposure, might explain the unbelievable.

Yesterday I spoke with a leading researcher into the environmental and security impacts of nuclear technologies, Gordon Thompson.  He laid most of the blame at the utilities companies for cutting corners in the design and construction of these costly plants.  Apparently they could be built with containment that prevents meltdowns and a lesser example, the Europeans have filters on their venting pipes that would prevent the release of radioactive steam during emergencies. 

He also said that this disaster shows how vulnerable these plants are to malevolent intent, meaning terrorist attacks.  It turns out that Fukushima reactor 4; that was shut down for maintenance, had a fire in the pool storing spent fuel rods because it had dried up for reasons that are hard to understand.  Spent fuel rods are very nasty in terms of the concentration of radioactive nuclei and the rods take a long time to cool. 

Spent fuel rods sit in adjacent swimming pools for years, behind thin concrete walls with pumped water continuing to circulate around them.  There are reports that the swimming pool wall at reactor 4 was breached, perhaps by earthquake damage, and that led to the fire and the cloud of deadly radioactive smoke. 

This latest accident in the compounding and cascading disaster in Japan is the scenario that has often been cited as a potentially deliberate plan on the part of terrorists.  Anyone better trained than the Times Square terrorist or the jockstrap bomber could easily punch a hole in the pool by the 405 Freeway at the San Onofre nuclear plant south of here.  As it happens, our plants are protected by rent-a-cop security and they routinely fail “Red Team” mock attacks.  And as demonstrated in japan, if a natural disaster can shut down the back-up systems, it would not take a genius to cut power and sabotage generators and batteries.

But this does not stop our pathetic mainstream Press from parroting happy talk upbeat reports on the ongoing meltdown of our nuclear dreams.  The radiation the Japanese are getting is less than a chest X-ray we are breathlessly told.  The ratio of nuclear industry-owned talking heads to critics is about five to one, and if you were to make that “informed” critics, as opposed to ranting activists, it’s about ten to one. 

Meanwhile the apologists in the Press are digging their own grave, along with the nuclear industry.  Facts are tenacious and reality, no matter how inconvenient, eventually prevails.  By then we can only hope the planet has not been poisoned too much and we can turn the lights on without turning off our future.

Tickling The Dragon

 

Lately I’m swearing a lot at the television. Especially at the vacuous blondes on local TV news, as they chirp out happy factoids from the talking points they must be getting from the nuclear industry.  But no amount of reassuring prattle can cover up the diabolical disaster underway in Japan as six reactors at two locations are in various stages of meltdown.

Another hydrogen explosion at the stricken Fukushima plant reactor-3 indicates the metal cladding around the fuel rods is melting, exposing the core in an escalating nightmare that makes it more deadly to keep people on site to monitor the deteriorating infrastructure.  As they desperately pump in seawater to cool the out-of-control core, the on-site monitoring systems rapidly deteriorate and it takes suicidal courage to stay there and do what is necessary to stop the unstoppable.

Just south of L.A. the San Onofre nuclear plant sits on the shoreline with an earthquake fault a half a mile away under the ocean.  But according to the plant manager featured on local TV news, we have nothing to worry about because the nuclear industry has built in redundant safety systems. 

And although we have just seen these redundant systems fail in Japan due to a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami, if you actually listened to the San Onofre spokesman’s cheerful blandishments, he admits his plant is only built to withstand an earthquake that is hundreds of times weaker than what just struck Japan.  And the thirty-foot seawall that is supposed to keep the tsunami at bay only faces the ocean, so presumably a wall of water can swirl around it and swallow the plant. 

In addition to the potential for a core meltdown, nuclear power plants have adjacent swimming pools containing spent fuel rods, and if those thin walls are breeched (by a terrorist with an RPG for example) even more fallout is released into the environment as the rods melt down. 

Incidentally, the stricken reactor-3 that just exploded at Fukushima burns MOX (mixed oxide fuel) that contains plutonium, the most deadly substance on the planet, so it’s spewing fallout that is lethal for fifty thousand years.

But the powerful nuclear lobby, that has just managed to get $36 billion in proposed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors into President Obama’s State of the Union Address, is a veritable Lazarus in terms of rising from the dead after terminal accidents.  I remember how their propagandists slammed the prescient film China syndrome, just before reality intervened at Three Mile Island. 

Can they pull off a third "Nuclear Renaissance" after TMI, Chernobyl and now Japan?  Will Wall Street, that almost killed them off in the 1980’s, still buy their socialist subsidized stocks propped up by gullible politicians and sanctified by shameful environmentalists who drank the Kool-Aid of nuclear power as the panacea for dealing with global warming? 

With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now in the midst of deciding whether to extend the reactor lifetimes of our 1960’s designed light-water reactors, if the worst-case scenario does unfold in Japan, will we hear a chorus of calls to shutdown our light-water reactors?  All of which are aging beyond design specifications. 

A relic like Indian Point, near a major population center and plants in earthquake zones, should be immediately shut down.  Since we are already adding megawatts from wind power every day, and there has been no additional megawatts from nuclear generated for decades, the writing is on the wall.  That is for those willing to see past the short-term self-serving lies of an industry that would not even be alive but for the Price-Anderson Act that indemnifies utilities and puts the taxpayer on the hook for nuclear accidents   

Will Japan’s economy go into another nosedive with stagnation returning as the nuclear miracle of safe, clean energy is buried forever?  Or will the small crowded country on the world’s most active earthquakes zone, decide to live without the dragon of nuclear power and live with the dragon lurking beneath in “the ring of Fire” they are sitting on. 

Maybe Japan will borrow from their rival the Chinese and grasp the combined concept of crisis and opportunity and become a global powerhouse of renewable energy.  They have already borrowed the worst from General Electric, eagerly subsidized and exported by our government, while we remain stuck, still sucking on the shaky Saudi teat. 

Reeling from the latest in a series of oil shocks with prices at the pump peaking, we can only helplessly watch as the nuclear genie spews forth fallout from man-made cauldrons releasing a poison named after Pluto, the Roman God of hell.

Tickling The Dragon

 

 

Lately I’m swearing a lot at the television. Especially at the vacuous blondes on local TV news, as they chirp out happy factoids from the talking points they must be getting from the nuclear industry.  But no amount of reassuring prattle can cover up the diabolical disaster underway in Japan as six reactors at two locations are in various stages of meltdown.

 

Another hydrogen explosion at the stricken Fukushima plant reactor-3 indicates the metal cladding around the fuel rods is melting, exposing the core in an escalating nightmare that makes it more deadly to keep people on site to monitor the deteriorating infrastructure.  As they desperately pump in seawater to cool the out-of-control core, the on-site monitoring systems rapidly deteriorate and it takes suicidal courage to stay there and do what is necessary to stop the unstoppable.

 

Just south of L.A. the San Onofre nuclear plant sits on the shoreline with an earthquake fault a half a mile away under the ocean.  But according to the plant manager featured on local TV news, we have nothing to worry about because the nuclear industry has built in redundant safety systems. 

And although we have just seen these redundant systems fail in Japan due to a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami, if you actually listened to the San Onofre spokesman’s cheerful blandishments, he admits his plant is only built to withstand an earthquake that is hundreds of times weaker than what just struck Japan.  And the thirty-foot seawall that is supposed to keep the tsunami at bay only faces the ocean, so presumably a wall of water can swirl around it and swallow the plant. 

 

In addition to the potential for a core meltdown, nuclear power plants have adjacent swimming pools containing spent fuel rods, and if those thin walls are breeched (by a terrorist with an RPG for example) even more fallout is released into the environment as the rods melt down. 

 

Incidentally, the stricken reactor-3 that just exploded at Fukushima burns MOX (mixed oxide fuel) that contains plutonium, the most deadly substance on the planet, so it’s spewing fallout that is lethal for fifty thousand years.

 

But the powerful nuclear lobby, that has just managed to get $36 billion in proposed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors into President Obama’s State of the Union Address, is a veritable Lazarus in terms of rising from the dead after terminal accidents.  I remember how their propagandists slammed the prescient film China syndrome, just before reality intervened at Three Mile Island. 

 

Can they pull off a third "Nuclear Renaissance" after TMI, Chernobyl and now Japan?  Will Wall Street, that almost killed them off in the 1980’s, still buy their socialist subsidized stocks propped up by gullible politicians and sanctified by shameful environmentalists who drank the Kool-Aid of nuclear power as the panacea for dealing with global warming?

 

 With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now in the midst of deciding whether to extend the reactor lifetimes of our 1960’s designed light-water reactors, if the worst-case scenario does unfold in Japan, will we hear a chorus of calls to shutdown our light-water reactors?  All of which are aging beyond design specifications. 

 

A relic like Indian Point, near a major population center and plants in earthquake zones, should be immediately shut down.  Since we are already adding megawatts from wind power every day, and there has been no additional megawatts from nuclear generated for decades, the writing is on the wall.  That is for those willing to see past the short-term self-serving lies of an industry that would not even be alive but for the Price-Anderson Act that indemnifies utilities and puts the taxpayer on the hook for nuclear accidents   

 

Will Japan’s economy go into another nosedive with stagnation returning as the nuclear miracle of safe, clean energy is buried forever?  Or will the small crowded country on the world’s most active earthquakes zone, decide to live without the dragon of nuclear power and live with the dragon lurking beneath in “the ring of Fire” they are sitting on. 

 

Maybe Japan will borrow from their rival the Chinese and grasp the combined concept of crisis and opportunity and become a global powerhouse of renewable energy.  They have already borrowed the worst from General Electric, eagerly subsidized and exported by our government, while we remain stuck, still sucking on the shaky Saudi teat. 

 

Reeling from the latest in a series of oil shocks with prices at the pump peaking, we can only helplessly watch as the nuclear genie spews forth fallout from man-made cauldrons releasing a poison named after Pluto, the Roman God of hell.