As Neptune's park, ribbed and paled in
With rocks un-scalable, and roaring waters"-Shakespeare
On October 13, 2010, church bells across Chile rang as the first of the 33 trapped miners arrived on the surface, traveling through 2,050 of solid rock. A warm feeling of humanity fanned out across the planet, touching so many with good vibrations and genuine belief in their fellow man. These men are still seen as heroes after enduring 69 days on limited food and air after an explosion sealed them inside a mine. But, the mine did not seal their fate. It's hard to believe that scene could be upstaged, at least in the near future, but it just might. The 800 staff that worked at the Japanese power plant that has riveted the world's attention were told to evacuate, leaving only 50 volunteers.
These volunteers are now known as the Fukushima 50, and they are the kind of heroes that even those formerly trapped Chilean miners must look up to with unbridled admiration. Children want to grow up to be famous baseball players or entertainers, and maybe a few still think being an astronaut is cool, but what's better than sacrificing yourself to save your country? I'm rooting for these guys and gals unlike I've ever rooted for my favorite football team. There are reports they have to crawl around a labyrinth of equipment in pitch darkness with flashlights while carrying heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They listen for explosions knowing they'll have to race to another release of hydrogen gas and radiation poison.
50 people rotating in and out, fighting problems at four reactors while enduring exhaustion, radiation exposure, fear, and long odds. By the way, Japan's nuclear agency has raised the level of millisieverts (mSv) an individual can be exposed to before being told they simply cannot go back into the plant. The new acceptable level is now 250 mSv from 100 mSv.
It truly seems like the Fukushima 50 are doomed at this point to get cancer and other ailments.
If Politicians Love Their Children, Too
"There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too"- Sting
It's embarrassing to see our chosen leaders dither, dodge, and even flee problems. We are in the midst of an economic meltdown that's moving in slow motion but gaining speed. It doesn't have to be a catastrophic event, but it will require sacrifice to avert. I'm talking about the legacy of borrow and spend, and borrow and spend, and oh yeah, borrow and spend again. Of course many in Washington think the only alternative to that is to tax and spend. If for a split second there was a chance of higher taxes and lower spending many would be willing to take the hit. Instead, that isn't an option. Any combination that includes less spending is rejected out of hand by people that oddly think we will never have to pay for that spending.
In the final troughs of the economic meltdown, I suspect a few people will be prepared to fight to the death, but billionaires that whine about low taxes now were not writing checks during the financial crisis and expect to make investments on the cheap. I understand public sector workers that have already spent their pensions in reality. Yet, they have children, too. Many of my best friends are public sector union workers and privately admit they got over (are overcompensated versus private sector) and their setup is untenable. They just don't want things to change until they get theirs.
The War Continues
Those politicians that push the notion of unlimited spending to be paid off from hijacking the success of others and punishing businesses present a facade like that 40 year old building housing reactors that currently threatens a country and our planet. Another threat is the persistent war on business and job creators. Thwarted by a degree by the voice of the people (all the people) this past November, the war continues through agencies and czars. The EPA finally posted its new national standard covering emissions of mercury and other toxins from coal burning power plants. The agency says it will cost $10.0 billion for the industry to enact but will reap $100.0 billion in health and environmental benefits.
I've already written about the modeling used at the EPA that says each human life is worth $9,000,000 in their calculations. Another disingenuous aspect of the actions is the notion it will create jobs, including 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 permanent utility jobs. The industry says hundreds of thousands of jobs will vanish and electricity costs per household will soar (the EPA does acknowledge higher electricity prices but says it amounts to only $3.00 to $4.00 a month). Keep in mind all this power to circumvent Congress and ignore the message of voters comes from the Clean Air Act that dates back decades. It wasn't until Bill Clinton, as he was heading out of office in December 2000, added power plants as a source of air pollutition under the Act.
I bet emissions the EPA purports to save us from don't equal to a cigarette worth of mSv a day.
Banking the Banks
Then there is the $30.0 billion wallop faced by several banks ostensibly over their handling of mortgage foreclosures but really is part of an act of intimidation that looks to force banks into holding onto very poor performing mortgages. Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM), Citibank (NYSE:C), and Ally are going to be made to lower monthly payments on 3 million or more mortgages. Those failing to meet the quotas will be forced to pay penalties that cost them more than actually accepting the mortgage payment. In the "Godfather", it was called an offer you couldn't refuse.
The Administration says it will punish banks, save homes, fix the housing market, and deter future actions...like making loans? Even the NAACP has asked for parts of the Durbin amendment to be amended as they finally understand in the end it means fewer loans and higher fees anyway for its members. Too bad ideologues can't see this same folly in the war on business, but they really think at some point the rich will be shaken down to pay for this party. But some must realize even the highest tax rates mean nothing and will not stop the end of the ride, the economic meltdown. It's a few years away, but that's a false comfort. In the end, it's going to take the American public forcing a real and honest change.
There is a distinct pattern that involves the market fighting back throughout the day. As updates on the power plant fade stocks climb, and then someone says the sky is falling and stocks tumble again. I understand the EU energy official that said the place was about to blow (I'm paraphrasing) has recanted; he cost a lot of people a lot of money. Today's session starts out ready to bounce as part of an oversold bounce, but also helped by strong guidance from FedEx (NYSE:FDX).
The economic data out this morning is also helping stocks as consumer prices not as hot as producer prices. More on the afternoon report.