Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Capitalism's Dismal Future

Paul Mattick writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education:

...Left to its own devices, capitalism promises economic difficulties for decades to come, with increased assaults on the earnings and working conditions of those who are still lucky enough to be wage earners around the world, waves of bankruptcies and business consolidations for capitalist firms, and increasingly serious conflicts among economic entities and even nations over just who is going to pay for all this. Which automobile companies, in which countries, will survive, while others take over their assets and markets? Which financial institutions will be crushed by uncollectible debts, and which will survive to take over larger chunks of the world market for money? What struggles will develop for control of raw materials, such as oil or water for irrigation and drinking, or agricultural land?

Gloomy though such considerations are, they leave out two paradoxically related factors that promise further dire effects for the future of capitalism: the coming decline of oil—the basis of the whole industrial system at present—as a source of energy, and the global warming caused by the consumption of fossil fuels. Even if continuing stagnation should slow greenhouse gas-caused climate change, the damage already done is extremely serious. Elizabeth Kolbert, a journalist not given to exaggeration, called her soberly informative account Field Notes From a Catastrophe.The melting of glaciers threatens not only Swiss views but the drinking supplies of whole populations in such areas as Pakistan and the Andean watersheds; droughts have ravaged Australian and Chinese agriculture for years now, while floods periodically devastate the low-lying South Asian homes of tens of millions of people. The rolling parade of disasters is, unfortunately, only getting started. It will accompany a stagnant economy and only be exacerbated by the increased greenhouse-gas emissions that a return to true prosperity would bring.

What both of these continuing social stresses promise is that the decline of the economy, however cyclically inflected, will simply be the lead-in to a crisis of the social system that, because it is based on the laws of physics and chemistry, will transcend strictly economic issues. If the peaking of oil supplies and the catastrophes of climate change do not provoke a major transformation of social life, then it's hard to imagine what could. This idea may seem unreal today to those of us who still live, for the most part, in what remains of the material prosperity wrought by postwar capitalism, much as the misery and terror of the inhabitants of war-torn Congo are hard to grasp for the inhabitants of New York or Buenos Aires. But this demonstrates only imagination's weakness, not the unreality of the challenges in store for us, as local disasters like the flood of oil that poured out from BP's drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 will perhaps make it easier to understand.

The biggest unknown in contemplating the future of capitalism is the tolerance of the world's population for the havoc that this social system's difficulties will inflict on their lives. That people are able to react constructively in the face of the breakdown of normal patterns of social life, improvising solutions to immediate problems of physical and emotional survival, is amply demonstrated by their behavior in the face of disasters like earthquakes, floods, and wartime devastation, as well as in earlier periods of economic distress. That 21st-century people have not lost the capacity to confront social authorities in defense of their interests has been demonstrated by protesting young people in Athens, striking government workers in Johannesburg, and most recently and spectacularly by the Egyptians who, at least for the moment, destroyed a long-lived police state...

~ more... ~

Fukushima And The Nuclear Sword of Damocles

From Japan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor

The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.

The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant. Readings from reactor two at the site have been made public by the Japanese authorities and Tepco, the utility that operates it.

Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.

Workers have been pumping water into three reactors at the stricken plant in a desperate bid to keep the fuel rods from melting down, but the fuel is at least partially exposed in all the reactors.

At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel "lower head" of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.

"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."

The major concern when molten fuel breaches a containment vessel is that it reacts with the concrete floor of the drywell underneath, releasing radioactive gases into the surrounding area. At Fukushima, the drywell has been flooded with seawater, which will cool any molten fuel that escapes from the reactor and reduce the amount of radioactive gas released.

Lahey said: "It won't come out as one big glob; it'll come out like lava, and that is good because it's easier to cool."


From HUMAN SURVIVAL ON A PLUTONIUM-CONTAMINATED PLANET

After 82 days of fasting, protesting the opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project [WIPP], the facility near Carlsbad, NM, designed to hold low level nuclear waste produced by our country's manufacture of nuclear weapons, Charles did collapse. Friends took him to Carlsbad Hospital and revived him, before calling the power of attorney.

Since then Charles has served as an example of the sort of activist who has done all he could, and then lapsed into a Zen-like acceptance of the fact that the planet has been irremediably poisoned. He called WIPP "a nuclear waste distribution facility. You can't keep plutonium isolated in wet salt."

He also told Willson that if he were forty years younger, he'd be working on plans to evacuate the planet — he called the imaginary project, "Exodus." But he fretted that only the wealthy would be allowed to escape the poisoned planet, and he admitted that that did not satisfy him.


From How capitalism made Japan’s disaster worse

The Japanese government has told people in the area of the nuclear reactors to move 10 miles away. Yet all the corporate executives have been told to relocate at least 50 miles away. Most have fled to luxury hotels in Tokyo. Massive government-sponsored airlifts have been provided to evacuate corporate bloodsuckers from Japan, while working people freeze and go hungry.

Salute Japanese nuclear workers

The perilous job of racing to stop a nuclear catastrophe is being heroically and selflessly carried out by a small group of workers. The amount of radiation levels they can “safely” absorb is constantly raised by those sitting at a safe distance.

While adults and children were dying, the first “emergency” measure taken by the Japanese government was to dump almost half a trillion dollars into the stock market to prevent a crash.

The G7 countries held an emergency meeting March 19 attended by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke. They discussed their fear that the global capitalist crisis was deepened by this tragedy.

They each pledged to put money from their central banks — the working class’ money — into propping up currencies. Did they take up relieving the largest rise in food prices in 36 years? Did they discuss the fate of the Japanese people, or the planet? No, their concern was how to shore up the currency markets.


From
Surviving Nuclear Toxicity

What does radiation do to us? It burns the cells, kind of like burning down a house. It is well known that radiation burns our cells by creating too much free radical damage. Now of course this is like talking Greek to medical officials and professors because if they knew this they would be on the bullhorn telling the public what to do to minimize free radical damage.

This is important information because just about everyone in the northern hemisphere, within a short period of time, will have to live with a gentle radioactive mist all around them and their children. We always have been surrounded by radiation but increasingly so in recent decades because of all the nuclear tests and accidents and use of nuclear materials in warfare (God forbid they are using depleted uranium weapons in Libya) and, of course, the wireless revolution.

But now comes our worst nuclear nightmare, an out-of-control nuclear station belching out plutonium and other very nasty nuclear materials. Imagine it as a mist for that is what it is. If you can conceive of Geiger counters around the world picking this up you know it’s raining nuclear particles just about everywhere. Within the space of only two weeks radiation is being reported in a huge area.

Okay, it’s only a light nuclear rain so far but who wants to go out even in a mild nuclear rain without a nuclear umbrella? But for those poor unfortunate souls who live and work within 50 miles of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, it’s a downpour, and perhaps ‘only’ a strong rain as far away as Tokyo. Now we understand why they tell people to stay indoors, the nuclear density (rain) in an area will only increase the longer the source continues to emit radioactive particles. Staying indoors only affords partial protection for the contamination seeps through in the air, water and food that we breathe and eventually eat and drink.

They can only say that this amount of initial radiation is safe because biological entities do have built in systems to handle very unsafe radioactive particles. Low levels of radiation speak about the quantity of nuclear materials, to their density, but not to the capacity of each nuclear particle to wreak havoc inside our cells by creating flurries of free radicals.

Fears rise over missing political blogger in China

From The Age:

China's crackdown on internet dissent, sparked by the ''jasmine'' revolutions sweeping the Middle East, may have claimed its highest-profile target, with one of China's most influential political bloggers disappearing at Guangzhou airport.

The disappearance of Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen and one of China's more prominent online political analysts, will also prove a headache for Julia Gillard, who is due to visit China late next month.

Dr Yang, a former Chinese Foreign Ministry officer turned novelist and political blogger, has not been seen since calling a colleague from the airport on Sunday to say that he was being followed by three men.

His friends and relatives, including his Sydney-based wife, are worried he has been taken by security police...

~ This is Yang Hengjun ~

~ Yang Hengjun: The Fall of Authoritarianism ~

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