Category Archives: The Left

Review & Outlook: The Jobless Summer – WSJ.com

Review & Outlook: The Jobless Summer – WSJ.com.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed around the neighborhood, but this is a rotten summer for young Americans to find a job. The Department of Labor reported last week that a smaller share of 16-19 year-olds are working than at anytime since records began to be kept in 1948.

Only 24% of teens, one in four, have jobs, compared to 42% as recently as the summer of 2001. The nearby chart chronicles the teen employment percentage over time, including the notable plunge in the last decade. So instead of learning valuable job skills—getting out of bed before noon, showing up on time, being courteous to customers, operating a cash register or fork lift—millions of kids will spend the summer playing computer games or hanging out.

The lousy economic recovery explains much of this decline in teens working, and some is due to increases in teen summer school enrollment. Some is also cultural: Many parents don’t put the same demands on teens as they once did to get out and work.

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But Congress has also contributed by passing one of the most ill-timed minimum wage increases in history. One of the first acts of the gone-but-not-forgotten Nancy Pelosi ascendancy was to raise the minimum wage in stages to $7.25 an hour in 2009 from $5.15 in 2007. Even liberals ought to understand that raising the cost of hiring the young and unskilled while employers are slashing payrolls is loopy economics.

Or maybe not. The Center for American Progress, often called the think tank for the Obama White House, recently recommended another increase to $8.25 an hour. Though the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1%, the thinkers assert that a rising wage would “stimulate economic growth to the tune of 50,000 new jobs.” So if the government orders employers to pay more to hire workers when they’re already not hiring, they’ll somehow hire more workers. By this logic, if we raised the minimum wage to $25 an hour we’d have full employment. (Why not $32.55/hr?)

Back on planet Earth, the minimum wage increase has coincided with the plunge in the percentage of working teens. Before the most recent wage hikes, roughly seven million teens were working. Now there are closer to five million with a job and paycheck.

Black teens have had the worst of it, with their unemployment rate rising to 41.6% in April from 29% in 2007, faster than almost any other group. A 2010 study by economists William Even of Miami University of Ohio and David Macpherson of Trinity University found that as a result of the $2.10 increase in minimum wage, “teen employment dropped by 6.9 percent. . . . For the teen population with less than 12 years of education completed, teen employment dropped by 12.4 percent.” For teens priced out of the labor market, their wage fell to zero.

The great tragedy is that even discussing the role of the minimum wage in teen unemployment seems to be a political taboo. The other day we saw ABC’s George Stephanopoulos baiting Michele Bachmann on the minimum wage, as if refusing to raise it would be some epic political gaffe. Ms. Bachmann didn’t back down from saying that the minimum wage has contributed to unemployment, though she didn’t explain why.

The great tragedy is that even discussing the role of the minimum wage in teen unemployment seems to be a political taboo.

What she or another candidate should do is stop playing defense and ask why Mr. Stephanopoulos doesn’t seem to mind a black teen jobless rate of 41.6%. Someone truly brave would come out for a teenage sub-minimum wage of, say, $4 an hour. In certain circumstances employers can now pay teens a minimum of $4.25, but only for 90 days. This makes employers reluctant to hire at all. Make the case on moral grounds that a mandated wage that is too high blocks the young and unskilled from grabbing a place on the economic ladder.

Teenagers who work part-time while attending school generally make more money and have more successful careers as adults than kids who never work. As a 2006 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago put it: “The drop in teen labor force participation may also have implications for future productivity growth. In general, labor market experience tends to raise subsequent earnings.”

The U.S. has long had a labor market flexible enough that when the economy grows, the jobless rate falls smartly. This time has been different, and the great danger is that Obamanomics has moved the U.S. to a permanently higher jobless rate as in so much of Europe. For America’s teenagers this summer, that reality is already here.

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Design Flaw Fueled Japanese Nuclear Disaster

Design Flaw Fueled Japanese Nuclear Disaster – WSJ.com.

Nuclear technology is not the issue.  Of course, don’t hold your breath waiting for “left leaning, liberal, environmental factual analysis”…  I cannot figure out why/how the Nuclear Industry itself is so often its own worst enemy.

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TOKYO—Some senior engineers at Tokyo Electric Power Co. knew for years that five of its nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture had a potentially dangerous design flaw, but the company didn’t fully upgrade them, dooming them to failure when the earthquake hit, a Wall Street Journal examination of the disaster shows.

The company used two different designs for safeguarding its 10 reactors in Fukushima. When the devastating quake struck on March 11, the five reactors with the newer design withstood the resulting 45-foot tsunami without their vital cooling systems failing. Those reactors shut down safely.

But the cooling systems failed at four reactors with the older design. Backup diesel generators and electrical-switching equipment were swamped by seawater. As a result, fuel melted down at three reactors and there were explosions at several reactor buildings, culminating in the largest release of radiation since Chernobyl.

The tsunami exposed an Achilles heel in the design of some of the plants: the questionable placement of a single kitchen-table-size electric-switching station. At newer plants, the station was in a robust building that also housed the reactor. In others, it stood in a poorly protected outbuilding—a relic of the original design. When the tsunami hit, those switches were knocked out, rendering operating generators useless.

This article is based on interviews with a dozen current and former senior Tokyo Electric Power engineers, including several who were intimately involved when the fateful design decisions were made in the 1970s. Some of them say the company, known as Tepco, had opportunities over the decades to retrofit the oldest reactors. They blame a combination of complacency, cost-cutting pressures and lax regulation for the failure to do so.

Earthquake in Japan

Track the toll of dead and missing, read survivors’ stories, see before and after coastline photos and read more about past nuclear incidents.

“There’s no doubt Tepco should have applied new designs” throughout Fukushima, says Masatoshi Toyota, 88 years old, once a top Tepco executive who helped oversee the building of the reactors. He says he blames himself for not noticing the design problems and correcting some of them later.

A spokesman for Tepco declined to comment for this story, citing the Japanese government’s ongoing investigation into the cause of the accident.

Japan isn’t the only nation grappling with aging nuclear reactors. The U.S. has dozens of reactors that have operated for more than 30 years, and 23 with the same General Electric Co. design as the older Fukushima reactors. Several face fights over relicensing in the next few years. Elsewhere, Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase out their aging plants and drop nuclear power altogether.

All the Fukushima plants, including the newer ones, were based on GE designs. GE maintained lucrative contracts to service GE reactors in Japan and was engaged with partner Hitachi Ltd. in a global campaign to extend the lives of its aging plants.

GE said any flaws at the Fukushima reactors weren’t its fault because Tepco was in charge of design changes. “The location of emergency diesel generators at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were reviewed and approved by Tepco and regulatory authorities,” said GE spokeswoman Catherine Stengel.

Construction of the oldest Fukushima plants dates to the 1960s. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power station—the source of all the post-quake radiation problems—was the first for Tepco, Japan’s largest utility. The facility, located on the Pacific coast, was seen as a learning lab. At that time, barely two decades removed from the devastation of World War II, Japan was incapable of designing its own nuclear-power plants. It imported nuclear technology wholesale from GE, say Japanese engineers.

[JDOOMED] Tepco

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor No. 1, damaged by an explosion.

The early reactors used GE’s Mark 1 design. The general contractor was an American engineering firm called Ebasco, which no longer exists. To keep the reactor compact and economical, Ebasco made the reactor building small, said Mr. Toyota, the engineer who helped oversee the construction.

Nuclear-power plants must continuously cool their unstable, radioactive fuel. Those cooling systems run on electricity, which the plants ordinarily pulled from the nation’s power grid. If the grid fails, on-site diesel generators kick on to keep the cooling systems running. If they don’t, that plant is in danger of melting down.

Because Tepco’s first reactor buildings were small, the generators had to go somewhere else. Engineers put them into neighboring structures that house turbines. The reactor buildings were fortress-like, with thick concrete walls and dual sets of sturdy doors. The turbine buildings were far less sturdy, especially their doors.

“Backup power generators are critical safety equipment, and it should’ve been a no-brainer to put them inside the reactor buildings,” Mr. Toyota says. “It’s a huge disappointment that nobody at Tepco—including me—was sensitive enough to notice and do something about this discrepancy.”

Kiyoshi Kishi, a former Tepco executive in charge of nuclear-plant engineering, says that at the time of the original design, people thought a large tsunami on Fukushima’s Pacific coast was “impossible.” Later Tepco adjusted some parts of the plant—but not all—to address tsunamis of up to 18.8 feet, less than half the height of the one that hit in March.

Another Tepco engineer who visited the Fukushima Daiichi plant many times starting in the 1970s says the cramped reactor buildings barely allowed room to install a valve during routine work. “It was super-inefficient,” this engineer says.

The Tepco engineers say Tepco was so dissatisfied with the Mark I that it decided to switch designs midstream as it was planning the sixth and final reactor at Fukushima Daiichi. An improved GE reactor with a sleeker design—the Mark II—was available. The No. 6 reactor building had enough space for the backup generators to go inside.

Tepco improved its design further when it started building its Fukushima Daini complex about seven miles away in the late 1970s. The four reactors built there, all using the Mark II, had a more “domestic flavor,” Tepco engineers say, with specs that better addressed earthquakes and tsunamis.

GE says it made improvements to the Mark I design in the 1980s in the U.S. and Japan as technology evolved. It says the Mark I is safe.

By 1987, Tepco had opened its tenth and final reactor in Fukushima prefecture. Nos. 1 through 5 at Fukushima Daiichi had the old design. The other five had the newer design.

Over the ensuing years, Tepco updated the plants repeatedly, and the Japanese government tightened standards for earthquake preparedness several times. The government gave the turbine buildings that contained the generators for the older reactors a lower earthquake-preparedness rating, Class B, than the reactor buildings that housed the generators at the newer facilities, which were graded Class S.

“Some of us knew all along and were concerned about the inconsistent placements of diesel generators at Fukushima Daiichi between reactor No. 6 and the older reactors 1 through 5, and their potential vulnerability,” says one of Tepco’s top engineers who has guided the company’s nuclear division.

The engineer says that when he was preparing for a regularly scheduled government inspection in 1987, the inconsistent placement of the backup generators “stood out like a sore thumb.” He says he asked his colleagues, “Do we need to fix this?”

Another expert, he recalls, said it wasn’t necessary because the turbine buildings were more earthquake-resistant than their Class B rating suggested. The engineer says he concluded that “it simply wasn’t a must-fix.”

Says Mr. Toyota, the former Tepco executive: “Over the years, a lot of engineers have come up with different ideas to improve safety. But my guess is that they couldn’t come forward and point that out to management because of the high costs associated with back-fitting older reactors with new designs.”

Tepco was criticized during those years for having high electricity rates, and such significant changes would have been difficult, say former company officials.

In 1998, to comply with new regulatory requirements, Tepco decided to give each reactor at Fukushima Daiichi at least two dedicated backup diesel generators, according to executives—something that not all of them had. New backup generators for reactors Nos. 2 and 4 were placed in new buildings located higher on the mountainside next to the reactors. All six reactors were given access to generators housed outside of the vulnerable turbine buildings.

Those were major safety advances, and Tepco was now just one safety-improvement away from ensuring backup power to all of its reactors in the event of a March 11-size tsunami. It involved the switching stations that sent power from the backup generators to the reactors’ cooling systems. Japanese engineers call the stations meta-kura—a Japanese pronunciation of “metal-clad,” referring to the equipment’s covering.

The meta-kura for reactors Nos. 1 through 5 were still in the poorly protected turbine buildings—Class B safety territory—and that’s where they stayed. (Because of its more-advanced original design, No. 6’s meta-kura was already in the reactor building.)

Katsuya Tomono, a former Tepco executive vice president who in the late 1990s was in charge of nuclear-plant equipment such as backup generators, says he believes that “engineers on the ground took the easy way out and used the switch yard that already existed in the turbine buildings. As far as I know, there was no debate on this matter among engineers who led the move to add backup generators.”

In 2001, when the original 30-year operating permit for Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 1 reactor was set to expire, Tepco applied for and received a 10-year extension. It got another one earlier this year, just five weeks before the accident. Regulators never reviewed whether the basic blueprint of the older reactors was flawed, the abbreviated minutes of government deliberations show.

“The extension was based on the premise that design reviews were undertaken before the plant was ever built, so there was no discussion of fundamental design and construction specifications,” says Katsunobu Aoyama, an inspection official at Japan’s regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. “Our process focused on things like pipes and fittings.”

The nuclear agency is part of the industry ministry, which also is responsible for promoting nuclear power. The ministry aimed to raise nuclear power to more than half of Japan’s electricity output, from around 30% last year—a goal reaffirmed as recently as June 2010 by Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

At around 3:30 p.m. on March 11, 45 minutes after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck, a giant wave hit Fukushima Daiichi. It knocked out the power grid and swamped the backup generators housed in the turbine buildings since the 1970s.

All three of the generators added in the late 1990s, located in the separate hillside buildings, kept working. But they didn’t do any good at reactor Nos. 1 through 4 because the meta-kura that delivered power from the generators to the cooling systems got swamped in the lightly protected turbine buildings.

“Once water gets in there, the whole thing is kaput,” said Mr. Tomono, the former Tepco executive vice president.

Radioactive fuel began overheating at reactors Nos. 1 through 3. The risk was that the fuel would melt and release radiation. Within hours, fuel at No. 1 was almost completely melted and lying at the bottom of its vessel, according to Tepco.

Over the next few days, explosions at Nos. 1 and 3 severely damaged those reactor buildings. Hydrogen leaking from No. 3 is thought to have triggered a blast at the No. 4 reactor building, and No. 2 probably had an explosion, too. The multiple blasts released radiation into the outside air.

In contrast, reactors No. 5 and 6, and all four reactors at nearby Fukushima Daini, safely reached cold shutdown. At No. 6, two generators located inside the reactor building became inoperable temporarily, perhaps because water got inside through exhaust pipes, according to Tepco officials. But the newest generator housed in a separate building kept working and supplying power through its undamaged meta-kura, secure inside the reactor building. Tepco was able to use that power to keep equipment at neighboring No. 5 running.

The worst-hit reactors are still months away from reaching cold shutdown.

Mr. Kishi, the former Tepco executive in charge of nuclear-plant engineering, watched the nuclear plant he had worked on for decades go up in smoke. He says he believes the discrepancy between the older and newer reactors at Fukushima was “subtle.”

But in retrospect, he says, Tepco’s inconsistency in applying improved standards was the “basic flaw” that doomed Fukushima and darkened nuclear power’s prospects around the world.

Write to Norihiko Shirouzu at norihiko.shirouzu@wsj.com

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Vindicating the CIA

Review & Outlook: Vindicating the CIA – WSJ.com.

Well, again I wait for the moaning and bleating of the liberal press…

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The education of the Obama Administration on antiterror policy has been remarkable to behold, and the latest installment is Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to pull the plug on the investigation into most CIA interrogations. The disgrace is that this probe was ever undertaken.

In 2009, Mr. Holder appointed prosecutor John Durham to look into the possible mistreatment of some 100 detainees by the CIA, with an eye toward possible prosecution. On Thursday, Justice said it would proceed with investigations in two cases where prisoners died in CIA custody, but that any more investigation of the others “is not warranted.”

The Administration might have concluded that from the start if it had listened when seven former CIA directors urged President Obama to stop the probe. Reopening investigations into cases that had already been reviewed by career prosecutors at Justice “creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy” for agents who were operating under the legal guidance of the Bush Administration, the former directors wrote. Then-CIA director Leon Panetta objected on similar grounds.

Mr. Holder originally said that “it would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” But he still couldn’t resist the opportunity to placate the anti-antiterror left that had invented a fantastic dark world of alleged Bush misdeeds. In the event, Mr. Durham has found nothing but two cases whose details are unknown to the public and so are impossible for us to judge.

The probe has still done considerable harm by creating a culture of second-guessing and political retribution that CIA operatives must now consider as they try to protect against terror threats. We’ll never know what actions in the future won’t be taken, because of this culture, that might have saved lives.

 

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Geert Wilders: In Defense of ‘Hurtful’ Speech

Geert Wilders: In Defense of ‘Hurtful’ Speech – WSJ.com.

Yesterday was a beautiful day for freedom of speech in the Netherlands. An Amsterdam court acquitted me of all charges of hate speech after a legal ordeal that lasted almost two years. The Dutch people learned that political debate has not been stifled in their country. They learned they are still allowed to speak critically about Islam, and that resistance against Islamization is not a crime.

I was brought to trial despite being an elected politician and the leader of the third-largest party in the Dutch parliament. I was not prosecuted for anything I did, but for what I said. My view on Islam is that it is not so much a religion as a totalitarian political ideology with religious elements. While there are many moderate Muslims, Islam’s political ideology is radical and has global ambitions. I expressed these views in newspaper interviews, op-ed articles, and in my 2008 documentary, “Fitna.”

I was dragged to court by leftist and Islamic organizations that were bent not only on silencing me but on stifling public debate. My accusers claimed that I deliberately “insulted” and “incited discrimination and hatred” against Muslims. The Dutch penal code states in its articles 137c and 137d that anyone who either “publicly, verbally or in writing or image, deliberately expresses himself in any way that incites hatred against a group of people” or “in any way that insults a group of people because of their race, their religion or belief, their hetero- or homosexual inclination or their physical, psychological or mental handicap, will be punished.”

I was dragged to court for statements that I made as a politician and which were meant to stimulate public debate in a country where public debate has stagnated for decades. Dutch political parties see themselves as guardians of a sterile status quo. I want our problems to be discussed. I believe that politicians have a public trust to further debates about important issues. I firmly believe that every public debate holds the prospect of enlightenment.

My views represent those of a growing number of Dutch voters, who have flocked to the Party for Freedom, or PVV. The PVV is the fastest-growing party in the country, expanding from one seat in the 150-seat House of Representatives in 2004, to nine seats in 2006 and 24 seats in 2010. My party’s views, however, are so uncommon in the Netherlands that they are considered blasphemous by powerful elites who fear and resent discussion.

That’s why I was taken to court, even though the public prosecutor saw no reason to prosecute me. “Freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in public debate in a democratic society,” the prosecutors repeatedly said during my trial. “That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable.”

The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where a court can force the public prosecutor to prosecute someone. In January 2009, three judges of the Amsterdam Appeals Court ordered my prosecution in a politically motivated verdict that focused on the content of the case. They implied that I was guilty. The case was subsequently referred to the Amsterdam Court of First Instance.

The judges who acquitted me yesterday already had a peremptory ruling from the appeals court on their desk. They decided, however, to follow the arguments of the public prosecutor, who during the trial had once again reiterated his position and had asked for a full acquittal.

Though I am obviously relieved by yesterday’s decision, my thoughts go to people such as Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard, Austrian human rights activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and others who have recently been convicted for criticizing Islam. They have not been as fortunate. In far too many Western countries, it is still impossible to have a debate about the nature of Islam.

The biggest threat to our democracies is not political debate, nor is it public dissent. As the American judge Learned Hand once said in a speech: “That community is already in the process of dissolution . . . where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists to win or lose.” It has been a tenet in European and American thinking that men are only free when they respect each other’s freedom. If the courts can no longer guarantee this, then surely a community is in the process of dissolution.

Legislation such as articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch Penal Code disgraces our democratic free societies. On the basis of such legislation, I was prevented from representing my million-and-a-half voters in parliament because I had to be in the courtroom for several days, sometimes up to three days per week, during the past year and a half. Such legislation should be abolished. It should be abolished in all Western countries where it exists—and replaced by First Amendment clauses.

Citizens should never allow themselves to be silenced. I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak.

Mr. Wilders is a member of the Dutch Parliament and the leader of the Party for Freedom.

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