Inside the Fukushima Evacuation Zone

A Japanese journalist, Tetsuo Jimbo, ventured through the Fukushima nuclear reactor evacuation zone last week filing the above video report. The video is in Japanese with English subtitles.

On March 12th, the Japanese government issued a mandatory evacuation for the residents living within a 20 kilometer radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that was hobbled by the devastating tsunami that followed the powerful 9.0 earthquake that struck the northeastern part of Honshu. The video captures a surreal scene of towns largely devoid of life apart from dogs abandoned by their owners.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Oil Prices Soar. Oil price in London trading soared to fresh two and half year highs driven by fresh fighting in Libya and uncertainty in Nigeria. North Sea Brent crude was up 0.8 percent settling at 123.17 US dollars a barrel. In New York, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US benchmark, was up 1 percent at 111.28 US dollars. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last night issued a warning that the widening gap between demand and supply could push prices even higher. IMF adviser Thomas Helbling said: "The recent trend increase in oil prices suggests that the global oil market has entered a period of increased scarcity."

European Central Bank Raises Key Interest Rate. For the first time since the financial crisis of 2008, the European Central Bank raised interest rates by a quarter point to 1.25 percent on Thursday. Preliminary figures suggest that the inflation rate within the euro zone has already reached 2.6 percent, 0.6 percent higher than the declared ECB goal of 2 percent or less. Thursday's step is also aimed at reining in speculation fuelled by supplies of cheap money. Market analysts are predicting the increase will be the first in a series and that interest rates could reach 1.75 percent by the end of the year. More from Der Spiegel.

China's Energy Policy Threads a Fine Line in the Middle East. Peter Lee of the Asia Times looks at China's initiatives in the wake of Arab unrest. Lee notes that "China has no credibility as a democratic reformer or clout as a military power in the Middle East; it seems to be trying to carve out a role for itself as a regional facilitator, one with good relations with all the key players, from Egypt to Israel to Saudi Arabia to Iran." With US-Saudi relations are now strained, China believes that it may have an opening to become a bigger player in Mid-East geopolitics however Beijing may find it increasingly difficult to placate Tehran, its biggest Mid-East energy supplier, as it moves to court Riyadh.

US Expels Ecuadorian Ambassador. The United States is expelling Ecuador's Ambassador in retaliation for the Andean nation's decision to declare US Ambassador Heather Hodges a persona non grata after remarks she made about police corruption were made public by Wikileaks. In addition, the US has cancelled upcoming talks scheduled for June between Washington and Quito. More from the Financial Times.

Korean Producer Price Growth at 28 Month High. Korea's Producer prices rose at the fastest pace in 28 months, putting greater pressure on the Bank of Korea (BOK) to raise interest rates. The producer price index increased 7.3 percent in March from a year earlier, up from a 6.6 percent rise in February, representing the sharpest gain since the 7.8-percent elevation in November 2008, according to the central bank Friday. The BOK is struggling to contain consumer prices that have been rising significantly faster than the government's 3 percent target. The full story in the Korea Times.

Cuban Dissidents Reach Madrid. Thirty-seven former political prisoners and 208 of their relatives landed at Madrid's Barajas airport on Friday. These latest arrivals are the last of a group of political prisoners whose release was negotiated last year among the Cuban and Spanish governments and the Cuban Catholic Church. All told, 115 political prisoners have been released by Cuba and exiled to Spain. The latest group includes Cuban dissident Orlando Fundora, who was arrested in 2003 among a well-known group of 75 dissidents. More from CNN International.

Rand Paul: Black Lung Regulations "Too Costly"

With some 1,500 American miners still succumbing to black lung disease every year and the number rising, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is proposing a plan to reduce the number of such deaths through the stricter regulation of coals. But Kentucky's Tea Partying Senator Rand Paul is voicing opposition to the proposed new regulations saying that they would be "too costly."

“Every regulation doesn’t save lives,” Senator Paul said at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “There is a point or a balancing act between when a regulation becomes burdensome and our energy production is stifled. We have to assess the cost.” 

By "cost", the libertarian Senator from Kentucky means the cost in dollars, not the cost in lives.

Senator Paul also argued that black lung disease is on the decline. Well this is really a case of when you pick your data point. Paul is saying that since 1970 when regulations were first enacted, black lung cases are on the decline. That's true. But also true is that they are now rising again after the Bush Administration loosened regulatory standards in 2001. Over the past decade, black lung disease has claimed the lives of over 10,000 miners.

From the Institute for Southern Studies:

Coal miners get black lung from breathing coal dust. The dust builds up in a miner's lungs and gradually reduces his ability to breathe. The body is unable to remove this dust from the lungs. Continued exposure to coal dust for a miner who has developed simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis results in complicated coal workers' pneumoconiosis marked by large, black, fibrotic scars from 2 to 10 centimeters in diameter. The lung appears blackened. Miners with black lung breathe short, raspy breaths. Black lung slowly strangles its victims to death. 

Reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tell us that between 1993 and 2002, West Virginia recorded nearly 2,300 deaths as a result of black lung. West Virginia recorded the highest number of age-adjusted black lung deaths for that time period nationwide.

NIOSH also reports a rise in the number of black lung cases from 1995 to the present time, indicating 13 percent of miners with 25 or more years experience have the disease. Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia show the largest increases. Data from the Enhanced Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Division of NIOSH report this fatal condition is appearing in miners at a younger age -- miners with less than 25 years in the mines.



Senator Paul said that he was concerned that these new MSHA regulations, the rules were actually first proposed last October, where too costly base on projections made by National Mining Association (NMA). The NMA told the Louisville Courier-Journal would cost the industry $1.8 billion in lost revenues, a figure the MSHA disputes.

This Tuesday marked the first anniversary of the Upper Big Branch tragedy in West Virginia. Twenty-nine out of 31miners at the site owned and operated by Massey Energy were killed making the Upper Big Branch the worst mining disaster in the United States since 1970. While the disaster has brought some renewed interest to mining standards and safety, Republicans continue to stymie any efforts to tighten mining regulation. For them, profits come before lives.



Around the World

News from across the globe impacting your world today.

Presidential Residence in Abidjan Captured. Forces loyal to the UN recognized President Alassane Ouattara have overrun the home of Laurent Gbagbo, the usurper and darling of the American Religious Right, in the Côte d'Ivoire. Sources in Paris suggest Mr Gbagbo was now attempting to negotiate his surrender. Mr Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power even though the Ivorian election commission declared him the loser of November's run-off vote, and the UN certified the result plunging the West African country, the world's largest cacao producer, into civil war. The latest on the situation in Abidjan from the BBC and All Africa. Meanwhile, Media Matters sheds more light on the relationship between the American Christian Right and African thuggery.

Crude Prices Top $121 A Barrel in London. Oil prices hovered near their highest levels since the summer of 2008 on Tuesday, with prices of Brent sweet crude just shy of $121 USD a barrel in London trading, as unrest in the Middle East and North Africa supported prices and on delays to elections in Nigeria. On Monday, the North Sea Brent crude for May delivery closed at $121.06 USD a barrel, the highest settlement since August 1, 2008. In the US, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US benchmark crude oil, fell 41 cents to $108.05 USD a barrel, after settling at $108.47 USD a barrel on Monday, the highest settlement close since September 22, 2008.

Regrets? I have a few. The German news magazine Der Spiegel has a wide ranging interview with former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He also has a website, The Rumsfeld Papers, an archival site released in conjunction with his memoir, Known and Unknown.

Detained Chinese Artist Dissident Missing. The noted Chinese artist, activist, and philosopher Ai Weiwei has been detained in Beijing while trying to board a flight to Hong Kong. Chinese authorities have refused to comment on his detention and his whereabouts are unknown. The 53 year old world reknown artist has a wide following on Chinese social media, including Twitter, and had been vocal on social issues in China, including the collapse of sub-standard school buildings in the 2008 Szechuan earthquake. The United States has joined with the European Union and numerous human rights organizations in demanding his immediate release. More from The Economist.

Preliminary Results in Haitian Presidential Elections. Preliminary election results suggest that Michael Martelly, a singer and political novice, won 68 percent in the March 20th presidential run-off which pitted him against former First Lady Mirlande Manigath. Final results are due on 16 April at the earliest. The BBC offers a profile.

Moody's Downgrades Portugal Debt. Moody's Investors Service downgraded its rating on Portugal's bonds by one notch on Tuesday to Baa1 from A3 and warning that the small European country could suffer another cut soon because of political and economic uncertainties. A general election in Portugal is due on June 5. More from Al Jazeera.

Ocean Radiation in Japan Soars. The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility, and government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish. The story in the Los Angeles Times.

Reid Pulls the Plug on Modest Energy Bill

Having already set aside comprehensive energy and climate legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today pulled the plug on the more modest energy bill that was to address the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and set a few new energy standards.

"It’s a sad day when you can’t find a handful of Republicans to support a bill," Reid told reporters.

From The Hill:

Reid had planned to debate and vote on competing Democratic and Republican spill plans Wednesday but he said "it's clear Republicans were going to be determined to stand in the way of everything."

Reid promised that, "in the interim, we will continue to work for Republican votes."

"We are going to continue to listen to people during the August recess," Reid said, "and we are going to continue fighting for energy legislation before we leave this Congress."

He said it will be easier to do so after the summer break "because we’ve had some very good conversations."

"I think before the end of the year, the answer is absolutely yes" that energy legislation will be passed.

The GOP spin:

Robert Dillon, spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), pointed out that Reid did not even have all the members of the Democratic caucus standing behind his effort - and that was the reason he had to pull it.

"The reason Sen. Reid pulled the bill is because his own members were set to vote against it and for the Republican bill," Dillon noted in an email. "We believe our bill is better and less costly. Instead of playing the blame game, Democratic leaders should allow an open and transparent process where both sides can contribute ideas."

The reality:

The decision to abandon the legislation comes amid concerns among some Democrats that the energy provisions — which focus on home efficiency retrofits and natural gas-powered and electric vehicles — were too modest.

"I think there was substantial concern on the Democratic side that the energy bill did not do enough," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

 And so it goes. Senator Reid will attempt to steer passage of an energy bill in some form after the Congress returns from its August recess.


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