Category: Features


Cherenkov Radiation in the Reed Research Reactor (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Light travels at a constant speed, roughly 3.0×108 m/s. But when light travels through a material such as glass or plastic, it has a lower effective speed because the photon interacts with the electric fields of atoms an molecules along the way through a number of quantum mechanical effects. When a high energy charged particle such as an electron travels through a dielectric material (a material that contains molecules that can be polarized) at a velocity higher than that of the effective speed of light, it creates Cherenkov Radiation, resulting in a bluish glow of light. This happens because the electromagnetic field of the electron causes a slight and temporary polarization of the molecules in the surrounding medium. This distorts the electric fields of the molecules, which return to their original shape after the electron passes. The rebound in the molecule creates a new electromagnetic wave (light). Nuclear reactors typically emit such high energy electrons, so it is possible to see in the image of a nuclear reactor here.

Wikipedia: Cherenkov Radiation

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The Earthquake and Tsunami

The magnitude 8.9-9.0 Sendai earthquake was one of a handful of such powerful megathrust earthquakes to occur in recorded history. Its epicenter was 130 km (81mi) off the east coast of Miyagi Prefecture and it took place at a depth of 24.4 km (15.2 mi). The huge earthquake shook buildings on land while sending a 6.9-10 m (23-33 ft) tsunami toward the northeastern coast of Japan. It swept inland as far as 10 km (6 mi), causing immense destruction to the area, which can be see through satellite photos from the New York Times.

British Channel 4 Footage from the tsunami in Japan (Channel 4 News, via Real News)

The waves excavated homes and factories and have dealt a second blow as two nuclear power plants were so heavily damaged by the earthquake that they may be in partial meltdown. More than 10,000 people are dead, hundreds of thousands are homeless, 4.4 million have been left without electricity and 1.4 million do not have water. If you would like to help, click here for a list of organizations that are assisting with the recovery efforts.

Nuclear Power

Fission of Uranium 235 (theblogprof)

All current nuclear power plants are fission plants, involving the splitting of atomic nuclei. In most powerplants, this occurs when a neutron collides with a Uranium-235 (235U) nucleus and is absorbed by it. The 235U was relatively stable, but 236U is unstable and it will break into five pieces, a Krypton-92 (92Kr) nucleus, a Barium-141 (141Ba) nucleus, and three free neutrons. In a bar of Uranium, these free neutrons can collide with other Uranium atoms, which in turn give off more neutrons, and so on. This is what we call a chain reaction.

In addition to the neutrons, heat is given off as well side-reaction chains that generate a few electrons and some radiation. The heat is used to create steam, which drives a turbine that creates electricity. Electrons that escape the reactor core into a surrounding water tank can create a bluish glow, called Cherenkov Radiation, as they pass through water.

Cherenkov radiation creates the blue glow in a water-cooled nuclear fission reactor (WP Clip Art)

Despite the fact that an Uranium is a very heavy element, its nucleus is still rather small compared to the size of the atom itself (including the electron shells). That means that even a heavy rod of Uranium contains mostly empty space at the atomic level. As a result, the free neutrons do not necessarily hit the Uranium nuclei sitting right next door. They can rather travel a good distance through the material before the are absorbed by another nucleus. If the bar of Uranium is too small, then too many neutrons will escape before they can collide with other atoms and in that case, there will be very few nuclear reactions.

This can be remedied by putting a enough of fissile Uranium together to ensure that neutrons will be absorbed by the 235U, but one must be rather careful about it. If too much Uranium is placed together in a small, confined place, there could be a runaway reaction that releases a good deal of all of the energy that is stored in the atomic nuclei in a very short time (read: boom). This video gives a good demonstration of the chain reaction process.

A simulated nuclear reaction using mousetraps and pingpong balls (paulnord, YouTube)

Editor’s note: I once put together a similar demonstration with 1,000 mousetraps. At one point, we reached 500 only to have a ping pong ball go off. Not good. I also remember being a bit gun shy around snapping sounds after that. My fingers were very sore at the end of the setup.

To avoid a runaway reaction, most nuclear power plants use a combination of Uranium and Carbon rods to moderate the reactions rate. The Carbon rods essentially absorb the neutrons before they can reach a Uranium atom. With fewer neutrons reaching the Uranium, the reaction rate slows. If higher rates are required, the power plant simply removes some of the carbon rods to increase the number of neutrons that generate new reactions.

The Fukushima-I (Daiichi) plant runs on a variant of this process, which incorporates Uranium and Plutonium Oxide fuels. The same general principles apply, though the specific isotopes involved in the reactions are somewhat different.

In any case, the heat generated by the reactor core is used to boil water. Each of the plants have variations on this theme, but the general idea is depicted here. Water can be heated to very high temperatures if it is kept under pressure, these plants carry superheated water into a seperate chamber to create steam. As the steam is generated, the formerly superheated water cools, and is recirculated to the reactor core. This has the effect of carrying heat away from the reactor core and regulating the reaction rate (which increases as it heats up, causing more heating). If the temperatures of the reactor were to rise to high, the Uranium rods could melt and create a molten puddle of Uranium at the bottom of the chamber. This is a meltdown and carbon rods would no longer be able to regulate the reactions if a meltdown were to take place. In a sense, there is no “off switch” for a nuclear reactor, especially one that has melted down.

Status of the Power Plants

The events in Japan are taking place quite rapidly, and from what I can see, no one is completely certain regarding whether the plants have melted down.

    Fukushima-I (Daiichi):

Three of six reactors (1,2 and 3) at Daiichi were operating and went into automatic shutdown prior to the tsunami. However, the emergency generators used to cool the plant stopped in unit 1 after the tsunami. Units 2 and 3 were still alright by this point. Temperatures began to rise and steam was vented to release pressure on the containment structure. A hydrogen explosion, caused by a buildup of the gas, occurred and damaged the exterior of the building, though the reactor core containment structure seems alright. Seawater was pumped in to cool the cores.

Fukushima-I before and after the Hydrogen explosion (NHK, via Wikipedia)

By March 13, reactor 3 began having trouble and venting was necessary. The core was not completely covered by water, and there may have been some damage to the core. Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from the area, and 22 residents have shown signs of radiation sickness. On March 14, the Unit 3 building was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion.

    Fukushima-II (Daini):

All four units of this plant were shut down automatically, but Units 1,2 and 4 were damaged by the tsunami and an evacuation was ordered due to possible radioactive contamination. By March 12, the temperature of the reactors had reached 100oC. No pressure release has yet occurred, however. Residence have been evacuated to a distance of 20 km from the plant.

    Onagawa:

A fire began in the turbine section of the plant after the earthquake. On March 13, radiation levels reached 21μSv/hour, causing a state of emergency to be declared – the International Atomic Energy Agency’s lowest emergency level. After a few minutes, the radiation levels dropped by half and have now returned to background levels.

Japanese authorities believe that the elevated radiation levels at Onagawa were due to the Fukushima I (some 60 km away) accident rather than from Onagawa itself. The radiation levels at Onagawa were not incredibly high, but their increase was cause for alarm. It is not known, however, how high a dose of radiation that the 22 people near Fukushima I had received. Only time will tell. 1,500 others are being tested for radiation exposure as a precaution.

So far, radiation levels are not expected to rise very much in Alaska and Hawaii.

Officials are saying that there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7 aftershock by Monday. The situation is already a long way from being finished. A large earthquake could make things worse. At the moment, there are still reactors threatening to require venting. Venting is fairly safe, provided that the fuel rods are intact, however it seems there has been at least one partial meltdown. That means that vented gas may become more radioactive as time goes on. In addition, the sea water that is being used in desperation to keep the reactors cool will eventually corrode the metal containment chamber. The stakes are incredibly high – whether a significant fraction of the northern part of the densely populated country will be inhabitable.

Hopefully the earthquake will not arrive. The last thing anyone needs is another challenge at the moment. Good luck to everyone involved in bringing the reactors under control. Stay safe.

Here is that link again if you would like to help out.

A "tractorcade" joined the protests in Wisconsin as farmers joined the action (John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

Huge Protests

The size estimates vary, though everyone is in agreement that the protests in Madison yesterday were the largest to date. The AFL-CIO reported a crowd up to 150,000, though most estimates suggest between 85,000 and 100,000 people. Governor Walker’s signature on the anti-union bill has only strengthen the resolve of protesters.

Firefighters joined the protests, partaking in an unplanned “Move Your Money” event. One by one, the firefighters walked to the Marshall and Ilsley Bank (M&I Bank) across the street from the Capitol, a supporter of Scott Walker, and closed their accounts. They withdrew a total of $190,000 and the bank closed the door behind them to prevent more withdrawals.

Recall Action

Chants from the crowd were heard to the effect that protesters were exchanging their signs for clipboards as recall efforts accelerated yesterday. All 16 state senators eligible for recall are under recall. However, the Madison Capitol Times is reporting that more Democrats than Republicans are safe from the efforts, though given the current political climate in Wisconsin, the Republicans are heavily disfavored from making gains through the recalls. Pro-union groups have had little trouble gaining signatures and anecdotal reports from friends of rbw indicate that many people across the state are trying to add their signatures to the recall clipboards.

The only group trying to recall the Democrats is a Utah-based group called Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. According to Sourcewatch.org, this group is affiliated with both the American Recall Coalition and the American Patriot Recall Coalition. There were some problems with their filings, however, because it is against state law to recall state officials from out of state. The group took back their early filings and replaced them with new paperwork once they had found operatives in the appropriate precincts.

According to PR Watch, the group is also trying to recall Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who upset conservatives by linking the Gabriel Giffords shooting to the vitriol and violent rhetoric that has been used in the media and the political environment that led to the shootings.

Each of the groups have 60 days after the initial filing to garner the signatures required for a recall, 25% of the number of votes cast in the past election in each district. One the signatures have been gathered, an election is set for a time six weeks out, though a judge can extend the period. This means the time frame for recall elections will be mid-July or August. If the presence of farmers at the protests yesterday is any indication, the state is likely going to see a number of Republican seats going to the Democrats.

Heroes’ Welcome

Another part of the festivities yesterday was the return of the ‘Wisconsin 14’, the 14 Democratic Senators whose hold out gave the state time to learn more about Republican plans for the state. They were greeted to a heroes’ welcome. Here is a shaky video with audible speeches – from newlyconservative on YouTube – there are several parts and be sure to leave comments showing what you feel about recent actions by conservatives on his message board. ; )

The Wisconsin 14 Return to Madison (newlyconservative, YouTube)

On the other side… Jeaslousy and Spite

The Wisconsin 14 said that the protesters ‘have created a new political dynamic’ in the state and the country, and they renewed the effort to fight for worker’s rights. Here is Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s response:

“Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They’re going to pretend they’re heroes for taking a three-week vacation.

“It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois – with pay.

“Their appearance at the Capitol today is in direct violation of the contempt order issued by the state Senate earlier this month, and it proves their absolute disregard for the institution of the Senate and the constitution they took an oath of office to serve.

“But the people of Wisconsin won’t forget what they were really doing these past few weeks.

“Sen. Tim Cullen refused to come back to save 1,500 jobs.

“Sen. Bob Wirch refused to come back to save countless middle-class jobs at the state and local levels.

“Sen. Mark Miller refused to come back even to make sure his own staff were safe in the Capitol he abandoned.

“Sen. Fred Risser refused to come back out of respect for the institution and dignity of the state Senate.

“Sen. Bob Jauch refused to come back even though our side was negotiating in good faith to try to find a reasonable compromise.

“Sens. Jon Erpenbach, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor were all too happy to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras in Illinois, never mind their constituents here in Wisconsin.

“And Sens. Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Tim Carpenter, Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, and Julie Lassa refused to come back to actually do the job they were elected to do.

“To the Senate Democrats: when you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.”

Spoken like a truly sore loser. There will be no parades or cheers for Fitzgerald. He and his Republican allies got a very different treatment when they muscled through the anti-union bill. As they say, it is karmic.

Thousands of workers protest in the Wisconsin State Capitol (Wikipedia)

Nearly a month ago, a Tea Party governor who was elected on a tidal wave of corporate money that was legalized by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision took power in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker began work on a billionaire-supported regressive agenda in a state long known for its progressive stances on labor and human rights. Once people realized what was happening, they took action and while the first bill got through, efforts to remove the Governor and the Legislators who are responsible are progressing rapidly. The protests are the largest ever seen in Wisconsin and they continue to grow in size. At stake are the right to vote, the right to bargain for wages without a power differential between the worker and the management, the public maintaining control over the infrastructure that it built and maintaining a high quality of life, health and education within the state.

Great work so far everyone. Keep it going!

Wikipedia: 2011 Wisconsin Protests

Republican Congressman Peter King (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)

Cracks in the Façade

Since President George W. Bush (not Congress!) declared America’s Global War on Terror during the tragic fall of 2001, its armed forces have been engaged in conflicts around the world. American engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the lion’s share of the press coverage, owing as much to the intensity of the action as well as to the falsity of the claims that led to the Iraqi action, though the U.S. is still active in both countries, along with Yemen and now Pakistan. Support for all of these wars has been spurred by the meme: The threat of violent Islam.

Louie Gohmert (R-TX) even decried terror babies that were being born and bred to infiltrate the United States. That is right, terrorists are born that way even if gays are not! Regardless of the “financial advantage that terrorists gain” Gohmert claims by living in the United States, do we not have confidence that terrorists might come to peace with their new standard of living?

Louie Gohmert and Anderson Cooper on 'terror babies'

We are told that everything that one need concern themselves about the wars are encapsulated in that phrase. The threat of violent Islam. It tells us Islam is violent by nature. We are threatened by it. In our fear, we react (ironically, violently) in order to protect ourselves – because they do not know peace. Presidents Bush and Obama both promised to attack this extremism wherever it can be found, lest the threat ever reach our shores.

But worldwide conflicts require military equipment and the fighting have been incredibly lucrative for American defense contractors. The profit-driven media conglomerates that derive their revenue by selling ad spots for these defense companies have found a honey pot in hard times. Hence there should be no surprise that the main stream media have been complicit in beginning wars under false pretenses as well as promoting the meme: The threat of violent Islam. “They hate us because of who we are!” “They want to destroy America!” They must be stopped!

The attacks on reason and the coercions are broadly based. All while we hear the slogans and calls for action on TV, salon monkeys such as David Brooks – a politically active commentator for the New York Times – goes on the writers circuit touting his book while encouraging people to make spontaneous and emotionally charged decisions, as if he were working in a vacuum.

Yet the spreading peaceful demonstrations against dictatorships that had been supported by the American military industrial complex (remember Made in the U.S.A. in Tahrir Square?) has placed a crimp in both the popularity in supporting puppet dictators as well as a realization that there is another route to peace: Peace itself. Peace, solidarity and human rights are now the considerations of Americans when they look to the Middle East as the labor and democracy movements there inspire the growing labor and democracy movement at home. Many Americans no longer see Islam as violent by nature, but they do see Muslims, Christians and Secular Arabs working together in order to ensure a better life for themselves. They are beginning to realize that democratically-elected leaders who prop up dictators have no respect for the democracy that they protect.

The defense industry and the media have an advertising problem because people are now becoming aware of the misinformation that they have spread for the sake of corporate profits and lowering wages at home. Most of all, when Americans look to the Middle East, they are increasingly seeing themselves.

As a result, people who see an alternative have been flocking away from the mainstream media and toward NPR and PBS, whose coverage of international affairs has been very good in stark contrast to the corporate media. Listeners to NPR routinely rank higher than Fox, CNN and Network news in terms of their knowledge about current events. And the situation is even more stark in radio: Right wing radio is being eviscerated at a time when NPR ratings are on the rise. People can now tell the difference between information and propaganda.

That NPR, a non-profit organization, is now directly competing with profit-driven organizations like Fox and CNN makes NPR very dangerous indeed. It means that the profit-driven news model, already teetering on collapse, faces new pressures from an organization that does not need to pay dividends to stockholders. For the political class, the quality of NPR’s reporting it means that listeners are increasingly hearing dissenting points of view and that makes them less likely to listen to the propaganda – including the propaganda that capitalism is the best economic model always. (Just ignore that NPR is a non-profit. Look over here! A muslim radical! And he is a SOCIALIST!) People will be less likely to support wars in distant places, now understanding the true costs involved. That will affect profit margins in defense, the news and politics alike.

In the world of American politics as infected with aggressive mendacity as it is, whither the news organization at the head of the class?

Coordinated attack?

Last Thursday was yet another highly ironic day in Washington D.C. Two days after the major media widely promoted the sting operation on NPR by James O’Keefe that supposedly led to NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and executive Ron Schiller (no relation) to step down. NPR denies it, though many corporate news organizations argued it was because of their biased views of the Tea Party being a racist and xenophobic organization, Tea Party Republican Congressman Peter King opened his hearings on Muslim Extremism in the United States.

The recent activity revolving around Islam seems to be a coordinated distract, divide and confuse operation by the right. It would be a way to divide the NPR audience, to place the attention of the news cycle on militant Islam once again, to distract from the pro-democracy movements and to cause people to think emotionally again – going against the grain of NPR programming.

The plan to hold hearings on Muslim extremists had been known long in advance. Here is a link to a Talking Points Memo article regarding the hearings, dated 17 December, 2011. There would have been plenty of time for James O’Keefe to coordinate the February 22nd meeting with Ron Schiller of NPR, and there would have been time to release the hidden video tape prior to the hearings on March 9th – just in time to distract attention from Peter King’s hearings, which in addition to a more complete conversation regarding violent extremism in the U.S. as a whole, had already received well-balanced treatment by NPR in January.

The January NPR piece discussed violent extremism in its widest sense, primarily in the wake of Gabriel Giffords shooting earlier that month. In addition to discussing radical Islam, its conversation included comments about right-wing extremists such as Timothy McVeigh and other individuals such as Ted Kaczynski and Jared Loughner. The piece brought in voices as various as the heads of the Tea Party Express and the Southern Poverty Law Center, but this was not the type of attention that Peter King was seeking for his high-profile hearings.

The Players

Last year, Andrew Breitbart attacked the US Department of Agriculture for its handling of legal settlements for African American farmers who have faced discrimination from the USDA. Breitbart alleged fraud and discrimination against whites in claims that continued from an earlier scandal during the case of Shirley Sherrod during the spring of 2010. Sherrod has since sued Breitbart for defamation of the case, and she is certain to win it due to the fact that Andrew Breitbart publicized a snippet of her comments in the exact opposite context in which they were intended. (Here is the Breitbart video. And here is the whole thing.) The entire issue had been reported heavily by NPR.

Andrew Breitbart is the same person who brought James O’Keefe to fame in the now infamous case where O’Keefe dressed as a (rather unconvincing) pimp and spliced video together to falsely claim that the community action group Acorn was supporting prostitution for public funds. Acorn won a lawsuit over defamation, but still lost public funding due to the wild political connotations that were now associated with its reputation. Breitbart was instrumental in having the segment aired on Fox and Friends.

Since that time, O’Keefe’s other “journalistic” adventures include trying to lure CNN’s Abbie Boudreau into a “den of sin”. He had planned to essentially sexually harass her while she was supposed to interview him in an effort to discredit CNN, but she found out and exposed the plot.

In another incident, O’Keefe was arrested for infiltrating Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans to wiretap her office – a felony. O’Keefe mentioned that he was trying to expose Landrieu’s support for the health care reform bill. O’Keefe plead guilty but was only sentenced to 75 hours of community service and $1,500 in fines.

As early as October, 2010, Representative King had called to defund NPR. On the 22nd of that month, Politico quoted him after NPR’s firing of Juan Williams over his racist statement regarding how he felt nervous when Muslims boarded his flights:

“NPR has disgraced itself by caving into CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] and by firing Juan Williams for exercising his right of free speech. This is political correctness carried to its extreme form. Congress should move to defund NPR because of its indefensible bias.”

This led to a row between Fox News and NPR regarding the supposedly “politically-motivated” firing of a conservative journalist. Actually, Juan Williams was fired for his bigoted comments on the O’Reilly Factor. With Fox losing viewership to NPR, there could be a concern that Fox was merely working with leftovers from NPR. So what does one do? What Fox was designed to do: Make relentlessly repeated petty political attacks until people begin to memorize the slogans. In fact, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is giving millions of dollars to Fox News to support its war on NPR. And most ironically of all, Fox News is complaining about bias!

It has not worked – NPR is still growing – and Peter King is a very frequent guest on Fox News – especially in segments regarding race. Peter King also receives a good deal of political contributions from defense contractors, communications companies and lobbying groups – Koch Industries, too, like any good Tea Partier.

King rather infamously took part in a television show just prior to the hearings. The show was produced for a group called Act! for America, a conservative group that is against the spread of radical Islam. The tactics of this group, however, leave much to be desired. In her book, Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America, founder Brigitte Gabriel claims that she says “what many in America are thinking but afraid to say out loud, for fear of being labeled a racist, bigot, Islamophobic, or intolerant.” Yet Representative King decided to participate in a rather one-sided show for the group anyway. See for yourself:

The ACT for America Show (Act! for America, via Youtube)

Remember, those were Muslim rockets! This group clearly has an axe to grind, yet Peter King resisted complaints that suggested that he was enacting the hearings for political gamesmanship and he refused to discuss the notion of violent extremism on the whole.

Act! for America has cooperated with the Chino Tea Party (the branch of the Tea Party based in Chino, CA) to support demonstrations against Muslims and Muslim groups. A screenshot of an announcement for a February Act! America/Tea Party demonstration against a fundraising event for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is shown here:

Chino Tea Party/Act! America Announcement of anti-muslim protest (Chino Tea Party)

Given the tone of the rhetoric in such an announcement, one may be curious about the nature of that protest. Here is video of the protest:

Chino Tea Party/Act! America anti-muslim protest, Yorba Linda, CA, 2/13/2011 (George M. Collins, via RealityDictates on YouTube)

The cheers after the death threats in the above video are typically reserved in mainstream media for “Islamic militants”, though you clearly heard that from caucasian citizens of Orange County, CA. The demonstrated ignorance with the assumption of a difference between “God” and “Allah” was an added bonus around 4:17. Why would Peter King associate himself with this group just prior to holding hearings in which to inform himself on the issue of violent extremism?

The Hearings

There is also irony that Peter King would hold a hearing on violent extremism to say the least. As it happens, Representative King has a long history of support for another violent and extreme group, the Irish Republican Army. At one point in 1985, he told a pro-I.R.A. rally:

“If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

Representative King’s hearings did not include the vast majority of the thousand or so violent or hate-driven groups that are organized around the country. Still, they led to an interesting view both into the mindset of the Congressman and his influence on people around him. Here are King’s opening statements:

Rep. King opening comments to Homeland Security Committee Hearing on radical Islam (House Committee on Homeland Security, via YouTube)

Not only is radical Islam a problem, but so too are the forces of political correctness! But Neo-nazis are apparently not a problem for Rep. King.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and Neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, or other isolated mad men. Only al-Qaeda and Islamist affiliates in this country are a part of an international threat to our nation.”

With a start like that, how did the hearings go? As Talking Points Memo states it: Peter King Hearing Focuses On Whether Peter King Hearing Was A Good Idea. Rep. Charlie Dingell (D-MI) cautioned against the McCarthyite atmosphere around the hearings. But some of the most emphatic testimony from the hearings was from Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the lone Muslim in Congress, shown here.

Rep. Ellison comments to Homeland Security Committee Hearing on radical Islam (House C-Span 3, via YouTube)

One interesting comment by Ellison: The best protection against violent extremism is social and economic inclusion. That is not the type of statement that supports the militarization of the planet.

But what of the threat of violent Islam? It is certainly true there are violent Islamic extremists. One, supported by the U.S. since the end of the Bush Administration, is currently attacking his own citizens in Libya. They had the temerity to stand up and demand democracy. Another extremist is a dictator in Yemen, who is currently supported by the U.S. military as it enacts drone strikes on Al Qaeda cells in that country – acts that have led to the uprising for democracy that are taking place there. Osama bin Laden is still at large, likely in the mountains of western Pakistan, and he himself was supported by the U.S. while he and the Taliban were part of the Mujahadeen during the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. Everywhere that one finds violent Islamic organizations, one finds dealings the U.S. military and the dictator de jour who is supported to keep the oil spigots running. Perhaps we should listen to Keith Ellison. Unfortunately, each of the major cable news networks, Fox New, MSNBC and CNN, showed Rep. King’s statements, but they cut away before the Democrats Bennie Thompson and Keith Ellison spoke! There is a reason why the Keith Ellison clip above was from C-Span 3.

Schiller’s comments

Let us consider who is right in the argument regarding NPR. Here is what Schiller said:

Ron Schiller discusses the Tea Party with a fake muslim group (AP, via Youtube)

While it might be disconcerting to hear a news executive give his own personal opinions on politics, what part of what he said was wrong? It would be incorrect to claim that all Tea Partiers are racist and that all of them are fundamentalist Christians, but Schiller does not specifically make that claim. It is certainly true that the Tea Party is connected to racist groups. That case has been made in this article, and in addition, a white supremacist played an important role in writing the Arizona immigration law last year. Which group is currently supporting elimination of restrictions on firearms? Which one is enacting anti-immigration laws all over the country? It is the Tea Party in each case. NPR should not have repudiated Schiller’s statements.

As for the liberal bias of NPR, here is a piece that it aired regarding the entire James O’Keefe affair. Listen to it and ask the question, “Would Fox News ever be so complete and self-critical in any of the stories it airs?”

NPR also refused the false $5 million donation prior to the release of the O’Keefe video.

Postscript

Despite all of the posturing over radical Muslims, the fact remains that the dominant form of extremism in the United States is right-wing extremism. One case of right-wing extremism came to light Friday when Francis “Schaeffer” Cox and four accomplices, all “sovereign citizens” who believe they are subject to no governmental authority, were arrested for plotting to kill a federal judge and a number of Alaska State Troopers.

UPDATE

The Atlantic is now reporting that NPR has released a couple of internal emails. They show that NPR was not duped by the fake muslim organization and they also demonstrate strict adherence to the law when it regards donations. In short, James O’Keefe’s dishonesty managed to show just how great a public organization NPR truly is. On the other hand, aren’t there laws against entrapment?

Minneapolis Truckers' Strike of 1934 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Minneapolis had been a non-union city because business leaders had kept the unions at bay through the Citizens Alliance, a populist sounding group of business leaders and supportive lackeys who served to enhance the power of millionaire plutocrats – the Tea Party of today. The excesses of industry had bought about the Great Depression and by the time the economy had ebbed to the depths of those in 1934, unions were even gaining strength in Minneapolis. During the month of May that year, over 3,000 truckers began a strike that crippled transport of goods in the hub of Minneapolis. They were led by a local Trotskyist group. Only certain farmers were allowed to transport food into town and the strikers had shut down most markets. At one point in July police shot to kill, taking aim at peaceful picketers and the governor declared martial law. The National Guard raided the strike headquarters but the protesters retook control the next day. By August 14th, the military was shipping goods in and out of town but the strike continued until August 21st, when the union won each of its major demands. After the strike, more unions began to organize in Minneapolis and across the country.
Wikipedia: Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934

"In memoriam -- our civil service as it was", Thomas Nast (Harper's Weekly, 1877. via Wikipedia)

Prior to Andrew Jackson’s presidency, each newly elected president had been rather circumspect regarding the transfer of power from one administration to the next. Andrew Jackson changed that in a big way. An office-seeking horde descended upon Andrew Jackson’s inauguration after Jackson had promised friends, allies and cronies alike positions within his new administration. The new process of appointing people due to political ties rather than competence represented a marked change from the past in the 1830s. This new Jacksonian system, the Spoils System derives from a quote by the Jacksonian Democratic Senator William L. Marcy of New York: “To the victor belong the spoils.” The system remained in place until the 1860s, when the public began to demand an increasingly large number of civil services to be administered by the federal government. The system did not end, however, until the Pendleton Act passed in 1883, however, which established a bipartisan board that would select applicants for work within the government. Later, the Hatch Act of 1939 prevented government employees from taking part in many political activities.

Wikipedia: Spoils System

Bunny! (Wikipedia)

Why bunnies? Because on some days the news is so bad that you just have to try to find a way to smile.

Wikipedia: Bunny

Michele Bachmann (Alan.com)

As the winter clouds slowly give way to springtime sun, the United States is waking up to a nightmarish political climate. The Republicans have taken over more state legislatures than at any time since the Great Depression, and well… It looks like that is where we are heading there again. Why? Because the GOP, rebranded by the Kochs’ Tea Party after the intense failures of the Bush Administration plummeted the country to new depths, has retaken control in a November 2010 election in which liberals stayed home.

Uh... wah?!

The Tea Partiers have never been much for civil discussion – here are Tea Baggers waiting to get in at a Health Care Town Hall event in Missouri. Of course, these people were encouraged to behave abysmally by the Tea Party itself – and some were even paid to do it! (Learn how!)

Buoyed by a self-declared national mandate, the Tea Party is now beginning hard work on important new legislation across the country – all guaranteed to either send the U.S. backward to a preliterate tribal society or a post-industrial, pre-Rapture apocalyptic nightmare state. Let’s take a quick look at some of the bills making their way through some state legislatures around the country.

Montana

We have already reported on some of the interesting bills under consideration in Montana. These include important issues such as legalizing hunting with spears and guns with silencers. Tea Partiers like guns… a bit too much… so they have decided that the state government should allow guns in schools, in the state Capitol, and as if that was not enough safety, there is also a proposal to create armed militias in every town.

Tea Partiers do not like regulations very much because the Tea Party benefactors, the Koch Brothers, pollute a lot. So it should not be much of a surprise that there is an attempt to nullify federal laws, including federal environmental regulations. The state is also planning to eradicate incentives to promote the development of wind power and it would also like the government to demonstrate that it has obtained National Park land legally, lest glaciers be allowed a chance to be conserved.

South Dakota

Tea Baggers do not like women very much either. Women in South Dakota may soon be forced to listen to a Christian sermon about abortions prior to obtaining one – of course – it was not as if the decision was tragic enough in and of itself.

Another bill, an interesting and creative combination of Tea Party misogyny and love for guns would have legalized killing abortion doctors as well as defund Planned Parenthood. This law has been tabled… for now…

Texas

And then there is Texas. They do stupid in Texas BIG! Its Board of Education is a joke and it is difficult to understand how students that go through their schools will have the knowledge that they will need to thrive in competitive, technical fields such as biomedical engineering, much less pass a college entrance exam with the state’s reinforcement of creationism in the schools and rewriting of American history in the state educational standards. Oh, and despite the fact that Thomas Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence and that as president, he doubled the size of the United States in the Louisiana purchase (including some territory in Texas itself) he is no longer recognized as a founding father because he also happened to be suspiciously liberal and agnostic.

Only weeks after the Gabriel Giffords shooting and with shootings on college campuses in the news annually, Texas has decided to allow concealed guns on college campuses within the state.

While we’re discussing guns, there are also bills that will enable guns on party boats and bills that nullify (there is that word again!) federal laws that apply to guns and ammo made in Texas. That should make it easier for the Branch Davidians to regroup in Waco without any pesky ATF interference.

But how can one be satisfied with guns and treating women like trash alone? There are plenty of other groups to discriminate against! That’s why Texas may make it illegal to be gay in the National Guard (Virginia is trying this one too). Sorry gays, no playtime with guns for you in this middle finger to that Kenyan guy. A bill by Leo Berman would make it illegal to run for president in Texas unless it was possible to see your original, legal birth certificate. But the question is would they believe it is real if the candidate has dark skin?

And there are Tea Partiers in Texas who believe that the immigration situation should be remedied. Why? Because the Arizona bill does not go far enough because it does not have the death penalty for illegal immigration.

Oklahoma

In neighboring Oklahoma, where the public passed an amendment to the state constitution banning the adoption of shariah law, because that was apparently a problem with muslims comprising 0.16% of the state.

Of course, there are new gun proposals, too. Because people may soon be able to carry guns everywhere: College classes, grocery stores (watch out! that pineapple looks OVERRIPE!), and even bars! They deserve bonus points for combining guns and booze.

Don’t worry – illegal immigration proposals were scuttled when the Chamber of Commerce intervened! And women have already been forced to listen to ultrasounds and hear a discussion of a fetus before having an abortion – even if you were a rape or incest victim.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, there is a new bill to make it very difficult for students to vote! A new law would allow students to vote in New Hampshire if their parents happened to have a previously established residence in the town where the student lived. Since students generally move away from home and live in the town where they go to school, that means they may be barred from voting at all if they go to school in New Hampshire. And if that were not enough, Election Day registration would also be banned for students that did not understand that their voting rights have been infringed. According to the Republican House Speaker, William O’Brien, well here is a clip from the Washington Post:

New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They’re “foolish,” Speaker William O’Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.”

Ohio

In Ohio, Republicans have turned on police and firefighters. This is all about union busting. (They have already gone for state employees including teachers).

Tennessee

In Tennessee, Tea Partiers are all about pooh-poohing slavery. Speaking of slavery, the Tea Party there is also gunning for teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Missouri

In Missouri, a new proposal would eliminate child labor laws for children under 14. Children looking to earn a buck could work up to 80 hours a week! Just think of all of the wonderful free-market capitalism that they could enjoy during their formative years without an education! The bill also specifically allows children under the age of 16 to work in the hotel industry, after hours. Yes, it specifically goes out of its way to mention that. Oh, and the law would bar the Missouri Division of Labor Standards from making sure that employers of children provide safe working conditions.

Missouri is also considering a compact with Arizona and Tennessee that would oppose the adoption of federal Health Care Reform, in another nullification move.

Utah

The same month in which a U.S. Congressional Representative was shot in the head just to the south, the state of Utah voted on a state firearm. They picked a Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol. How tasteful!

And with guns comes hating women. Did you know that miscarriages are like natural abortions? That is why it is now possible that a woman who has a miscarriage will face murder charges.

Georgia

Oh, and Utah was a lightweight – women who have a miscarriage in Georgia could get the death penalty.

The Georgia Tea Party would also like to enact a few other provisions, including: The “Energy Freedom of Choice Legislation”, which would prohibit cap-and-trade limits to greenhouse emissions; an Arizona-style anti-immigration law (papieren bitte!); tax cuts everywhere, including property taxes!

Arizona

Arizona is the home of crazy. They have already sold several state buildings, including the state Capitol, to private firms so that the state can rent from them at higher cost in perpetuity!

It is possible to carry concealed weapons to bars now. But don’t think of buying beer, cigarettes of any “niceties of life” if you are welfare – you will lose your funding. Oh, and a children’s health insurance program has been repealed for 38,000 kids. This means that billions of dollars in Medicare money may be withheld by the federal government. In other words, Arizona is keeping the government out of Arizonan Medicare – we’ll see how that goes amongst the geriatric population there.

There is now also a law that requires abortion doctors to report the names of women who undergo abortions.

And there is the anti-immigration law that allows anyone caught while brown to be arrested if they are not carrying their documentation at all times.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, the new Tea Party legislature is not happy with the Democratic Governor’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Michele Bachmann and other Republican Congressional delegation members are planning to defund the EPA

In attacks on women, Republicans have decided to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of wether the child will survive more than a few minutes anyway. The bill will be vetoed by the governor, but you can’t blame them for making a statement, can you?

Another Republican, Senator John Carlson of Bemidji, decided that he would introduce a bill that would repeal pay equity for women. Why is it that the Tea Party hates women so much? Here is what he said, from the Minnesota Independent:

“That bill’s been pulled and it won’t see the light of day,” Carlson said Saturday at an Education Minnesota event, the Bemidji Pioneer reports. “I would admit I didn’t do my homework very well.”

“So I author the bill, put it in the hopper, and the next thing I know, all hell breaks loose,” he said. “And I deserve it for being naïve. Quite honestly, I deserve that. I did it with good intentions.”

“Obviously, I’ve been married for 32 years, I have a daughter out in the workforce, and I have a granddaughter — I can’t believe anyone would think I would harm that relationship,” Carlson said.

I wonder just what those good intentions were that would have lowered wages for half of the human race for the simple fact they were not male.

Not to be outdone with misogyny, the Tea Baggers want to get the gays too! They plan to introduce an anti-gay marriage amendment.

Federal Government

With the 2012 elections coming up and the Republicans hoping that Obama will fail, they are planning a budget that is a poison pill for the current economic recovery.

Republicans also plan to send us back a century or two, by cutting scientific researh – especially climate change science and monitoring. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood also take political hits from the government. Meanwhile, nearly a million jobs are on the line with draconian cuts aimed at breaking unions, eliminating programs for the poor. If that were not enough, the GOP plans dire cuts to education and infrastructure development.

The Republicans would also like to defund the EPA for their Koch brother masters. They have even replaced recyclable food containers in the Congressional dining room with non-recyclable styrofoam, provided by an affiliate of Koch Industries. Since they are also planning to slash funding to toxicology clinics, one blogger suggests that the GOP is simply trying to poison America. Considering their impact on the nation so far, it seems that it is safe to say “Mission Accomplished”.

George W. Bush - Mission Accomplished (Wikipedia)

Michael Moore had a lot of very good and very important things to say regarding the budget battles that are sweeping the country at the moment. He came out with very strong support for the Middle Class, for Workers, and he pointed to tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations as the key problem facing American budgets.

Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Fighter (Wikipedia)

The F-35 Lightning II is a new stealth fighter capable of penetrating defenses and carrying nuclear weapons at supersonic speeds. It also comes at the estimated price of $110 million per plane, which is much cheaper than the B-2 Bomber with a price tag somewhere between $1- and 3-billion dollars per plane. The U.S. Airforce would like to purchase 2,443 aircraft in a program originally estimated to cost $382 billion (the math does not work out because cost overruns have made the plane more expensive than at the time the program cost was worked out).

At $110 million per plane, simply not building three planes – only building 2,440 (99.8% of the original total) – could provide the funds for the U.S. government to build about 66 rural high schools around the country, assuming a cost of $5 million per school.

Wikipedia: F-35 Lightning II

Wisconsin Protests

Protests in Madison continued through the weekend. 30-50,000 people showed up Saturday to protest against Governor Walker’s attacks on working families. Mail carriers had their day on Sunday. But the Tea Party had a pro-Walker rally on Sunday as well at Alliant Energy Center. Despite having access to the Kochs’ billions, they could only muster 600 people to support Scott Walker. A new poll came out, albeit with a very small sample (603 respondents, corresponding to errors greater than +/- 4%), showing very negative reactions to Governor Walker, a strong majority against stripping unions of collective bargaining rights, and 72% of Wisconsinites want to solve the Walker-created budgetary problems by raising taxes on people earning more than $150,000 per year. HUGE protests are expected across the nation next Saturday, with more events also planned throughout the week. And the bottom may be dropping out on Governor Walker as thousands of dairy farmers plan to drive their tractors to the Capitol to show support for unions next Saturday. In Wisconsin, when dairy farmers protest Republicans, it generally means the end of the careers of those Republicans. Some are predicting that the protests in Madison are just the beginning, as the debate to cut Social Security begins in Washington.

Other Tea Party Fun

In Ohio, the Tea Party legislature is passing tougher anti-union legislation than the bill in Madison. It makes it a criminal offense for workers to go on strike. Some shenanigans were required in order to get the bill through committee, however. When a committee was deadlocked on the proposal with even some Republicans dissenting, the Republican Senate Majority Leader fired two Republican Senators from their committee assignments so that the bill could reach the floor. Still, even some Republicans are calling the bill unconstitutional and it likely violates existing labor laws. Unfortunately Ohio Dems can not prevent a quorum in the Republican-filled Ohio legislature. This week has seen the largest protests to date in Columbus.

Indiana Democratic House Members are still in Illinois, preventing a vote on anti-union legislation there. As protests in Indiana continue, Indiana’s newly elected Republican Secretary of State Charlie White is probably going to jail. He has ben indicted on three counts of felony voter fraud for registering to vote in places where he did not live. One would think that a State Secretary of State, who is in charge of elections within the state, would understand the rules here – that is unless that was the reason for his choice to run. Keep in mind that White has supported the voter ID requirement in Indiana, ostensibly to prevent people from voting illegally as he has done. There are a lot more interesting details in this article
from the Brad Blog.

The State Legislature of Arizona has passed an unconstitutional bill to nullify federal laws. Laws of this sort were the same type that precipitated the Civil War, when southern states attempted to nullify federal regulation of slavery. This comes on the heels of a vote by the Arizona Legislature to allow people to carry guns to public events, because, you know, guns at public events are a fantastic idea and it is not as if one of their own members of Congress was shot in the head by a lunatic carrying a gun or anything just two months ago. Oh, as it happens, Jared Loughner has just been hit with 49 additional criminal counts for his firing spree on a crowd at a Giffords event in January.

The Tea Party-led Montana State Legislature is still at it. Even Republicans are now claiming that the Tea Party is leading to the the Republicans to become such a national laughingstock that they are driving away young GOP voters. In addition to working to allow guns in schools, they are trying to, as MT Cowgirl puts it, “legislate the laws of nature” to deny climate change, eliminate stem cell research, to claim the earth is between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, and to criminalize homosexuality.

Florida Tea Party Governor Rick Scott may be subject to a criminal investigation over his firing of the state nursing home long-term care obmudsman. It is not generally considered a smart move to anger the nursing homes in the state with the nation’s most geriatric population.

Wikileaks

Julian Assange is appealing the expected British court ruling that he should be extradited to Sweden. His organization WikiLeaks has already uncovered a huge amount of corruption from countries accross the world. It was revelations of the excesses of the family of the Tunisian dictator that have led to pro-democracy rallies across Africa and Asia. Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, who the military claims gave WikiLeaks documents that it later published, is in detention under cruel and unusual conditions – including being kept in his cell naked, being refused sleep, etc. Does this sound familiar?

Corruption on the Supreme Court

Calls are coming out for the removal of Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia for illegally participating in political fundraising, tax evasion and refusing to make public conflicts of interest.

Jon Stewart Defends Teachers (The Daily Show)

3753 Cruithne (Powell Observatory, via Wikipedia)

Everyone has seen the Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, in the sky going through its phases as it revolves around our planet, but there are also other classes of objects in space that have orbits similar to Earth. Some of these objects revolve around the Sun, but pass very close to the Earth on regular intervals due to an orbital resonance. The result, when viewed from Earth is an oddly-shaped orbit centered on a point near Earth. One of these objects is the asteroid 3753 Cruithne, one of five known quasi-satellites of Earth.

Cruithne is a small asteroid, roughly 5km in diameter, it is never bright in the sky and it requires a 12-inch telescope to view it. During close approaches, Earth’s gravity alters its orbit slightly so Cruithne spends a good deal of time either catching up to the Earth or falling behind it until the next close pass alters its orbit in the exact opposite way. The pattern is stable for hundreds of millions of years.

Wikipedia: 3753 Cruithne

"Miner strikes the owner" (Judge, via Wikipedia)

Bituminous coal miners had gone on strike in 1897 and had won a resounding victory. With success, the unions grew rapidly in size and spread to anthracite coal miners by 1899 and 1900. During that time, owners acquiesced to labor demands rather than impose on Republican William McKinley’s chances in the upcoming election. But in 1902, anthracite coal miners still lacked recognition for their unions and they did not have much say in the decisions that shaped their industry. Unwilling to concede even more, the company bosses refused arbitration and 100,000 United Mine Workers of America, comprising up to 80% of the workers in Pennsylvania, went on strike.

J.P. Morgan, owner of the Reading Railroad (of Monopoly fame) and financial autocrat, played a significant role in the negotiation process after intrigues involving the Federal mediation, the National Guard, Police and spies, but after 163 days, the strike ended with another labor victory. In the end, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that the government sought to ensure a “Square Deal” (first usage ever) to both sides. The strike was a victory for the workers and help lead to Progressive Era reforms.

Wikipedia: Anthracite Coal Strike