Articles

Tony Hale is a professional political consultant living in Redondo Beach.  He presently serves as an Executive Board member of the California Democratic Party for the 66th Assembly District.  He is also the Chair of the Resolutions Committee of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

He started working on political campaigns in the 1984 Presidential  campaign of Walter Mondale.  In 2008, Tony started and managed the South Bay's first year-round Democratic headquarters.    Tony is a Co-author of a Precinct Operations Manual with a forward by Governor Michael Dukakis.  A former Chair of the Environmental Caucus of the

In the years preceding one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history, mainstream media had been more inclined to promote or favorably reconsider the benefits of nuclear power.  Spokespersons for the nuclear industry have been quick to push nuclear power as the only solution to Global Warming and dwindling oil supplies.  It was difficult to find nuclear power characterized as anything other than “non-polluting” and ultimately “safe.”  With one exception—the fear of a nuclear power plant being built in Iran—the atom was once again our friend.  But, hidden behind the high-definition screen of mainstream media, there were clear warning signs.

Earthquake Warnings

Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a Japanese seismologist and member of the expert panel that created the official seismic design guidelines for Japan’s nuclear power industry, warned in 2007 that many of Japan’s nuclear power plants (including the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant now in crisis) were inadequately designed to withstand current seismic activity.[1]  He warned that immediate steps were needed to prevent a catastrophic nightmare or “Genpastu-Shinsai,” a new terminology of disaster combining the effects of a serious nuclear accident and a major earthquake.[2]

Professor Ishibashi’s warnings were more than conjecture.  In 2006, a 6.8 earthquake caused significant damage to the Kashiwazaki-kariwa nuclear power plant, located on the west coast of Japan and the world’s largest nuclear facility.  The quake buckled walls, caused a transformer fire, and sloshed radioactive water out of the compromised containment shell.  Although the release of radiation was low, the damage was such that three of the plant’s reactors remain offline today.

Ishibashi warned that Japan’s nuclear plants were only designed to withstand earth movement of 450 gal (gal is the measurement of on site ground movement, rather than the general earthquake magnitude), but the 6.8 quake at Kashiwazaki produced ground movement of 993 gal.  Over the past five years, Japan has experienced five earthquakes producing ground movement over 1,000 gal.

Unprepared for Tsunami

According to Tatsuya Ito, who represented Fukushima prefecture in the national parliament from 1991 to 2003, the threat of tsunami to the Fukushima power plant was described in a 2002 report by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers.

Ito said the Fukushima plant was only built to withstand a 5.7 meter tsunami, not the 7 meter wall of water that hit on March 11th, nor the 6.4 meter wave that hit the neighboring area in 1960.

In a phone interview, Tatsuya said the Tokyo Electric Power Company (or TEPCO, the company responsible for the Fukushima and Kashiwazaki power plants) ignored warnings of the risks posed by tsunamis.  “Tokyo Electric brought this upon itself,” Ito said, “This accident unfolded as expected.”[3]

Ishibashi charged that TEPCO did not sufficiently consider the active submarine faults near their facilities.  This was again voiced back in 2007; but, as far back as twenty years ago, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report identified earthquake-induced diesel generator failure and power outage leading to failure of cooling systems as one of the “most likely causes” of nuclear accidents from an external event.  “It’s questionable whether Tokyo Electric really studied the risks,” said Jun Tateno, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

The Fukushima plant’s lack of tsunami preparedness was fatally compounded by keeping critical generators in a basement below sea level.  This almost guaranteed a major nuclear accident if a tsunami breached their limited defenses.[4]

Known Safety Problems

In 2002, Tokyo Electric admitted the company had falsified repair reports at its nuclear power plants for the past twenty years.

In 2007, the company further revealed that it had concealed some six emergency stoppages at its Fukushima power station and hidden a “critical” reaction at its number three unit lasting seven hours.

The above scandal resulted in two resignations and a three-week shut down of all 17 reactors owned by Tokyo Electric. This was then followed by Kansai Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and the Hokuriku Electric Power Co. all admitting they too had falsified safety repairs.[5]

In 1988, a Mr. Mitsuhiko Tanaka stepped forward to admit that he had engineered a cover-up of a major flaw in the production of a containment vessel used in the Fukushima number four reactor, the same containment vessel that exploded and burned in the ongoing disaster.  The manufacturer of the containment vessel was well aware of the deception, in fact, Mr. Tanaka received a $35,000 bonus for his cosmetic fix.  After Chernobyl, Tanaka could not bear his guilt any longer.  But, after revealing his shameful act, no actions were taken to investigate the safety of the containment vessel.

Who is to blame?

Certainly the Japanese Trade Ministry, responsible for both increasing nuclear power production in Japan and keeping the country’s reactors safe, has a huge conflict of interest.  Takashi Nakata, another Japanese seismologist, said “Regulators just rubber-stamp the utilities’ reports.”[6]

Nuclear industry lobbyists and spokespersons, along with a cast of influential leaders, all bear some responsibility for the current disaster.  Nevertheless, in a Democracy, we are all ultimately responsible for the quality of our leaders.  But how were we to know this problem existed, when the above information did not appear in the mainstream media?

An uninformed electorate is incapable of intelligently choosing their leadership or directing government in the public interest.  Mainstream media has failed to alert the public about the dangers of nuclear energy, offshore oil drilling, and reckless home lending practices until faced with an unavoidable crisis.

I don’t propose there was a mass-orchestrated conspiracy to suppress information on the above issues.  I’m asserting that mainstream media (in its present form) is incapable of informing the public on the issues important to the lives of most people.  The for-profit orientation of mainstream media creates an endemic condition adverse to public service.

As we can see, the odds of a major nuclear accident in Japan were left to just a matter of time.  While mainstream media was on a codependent bender with Charlie Sheen, the final minutes ran out for Japan.

The issues that threaten our quality of life deserve a better hearing, and I for one believe media reform is the only answer.  Combating the consolidation of media, expanding the role of public media, and re-establishing and increasing journalistic standards are issues that should be taken head-on.


By Tony Hale

April 14th, 2011

Notes:

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/12/japan-ministers-ignored-warnings-nuclear
[2] http://www.japanfocus.org/-Ishibashi-Katsuhiko/2495
[3] http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-03-18/japan-disaster-caps-decades-of-faked-reports-accidents.html
[4] http://www.sify.com/news/radioactive-releases-following-japan-tsunami-can-last-for-months-experts-news-international-ldolEgddcia.html
[5] http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-03-18/japan-disaster-caps-decades-of-faked-reports-accidents.html
[6] http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-03-18/japan-disaster-caps-decades-of-faked-reports-accidents.html 

California Democratic Party, Tony's concern for the environment started with his childhood interest in the ocean habitat.  He has been a certified SCUBA diver for 44 years, and has worked on environmental projects off the California coast.  In 2015, Tony ran the campaign to prevent oil drilling in Hermosa Beach.  He won a victory at the ballot box by almost 80% and defeated the oil company's million-dollar campaign.  Tony continues to help elect Democrats in Northern and Southern California.    

By Tony Hale

Many registered voters are dissatisfied with both candidates from the two major parties, and take a cynical view of politics in general. They consider this view as a high ground and are perniciously apathetic about the whole political process.

This cynical apathy is more dangerous than the hatred and ignorance of the Trump supporters. It is more dysfunctional than the extreme views of the left or the right. And, unless we find a way of ridding ourselves of this clinical indifference, it is more likely to destroy our democracy than all of our enemies or any of our internal conflicts.

One maxim explains it: “All that is required for evil to succeed is for the good to do nothing.”

Absenting from politics undermines the contract between the government and the governed. A failure to participate in democracy allows others to participate for you. And, with each abstention, one person at a time, our country becomes less free.

Too many people see politics as a consumer act; if they do not see what they like on the shelf from the two major brands, they vote with their feet and do not buy either product. “That will show them,” they think to themselves. But, unlike the marketplace, politics is an interactive process. People choose who they support for local office. Those elected officials are then supported by even more people and go on to higher office. Eventually, one of those people will successfully run for president.

So, in a democracy, it is you, the voter, who puts the product on the shelf, and it is you who will be affected by that choice, whether you buy in or not.

You have opportunities at every stage of our political process to have greater influence. You can have influence on the political parties; you can have influence on how your local elections are run; and you can play a very important role in choosing and supporting candidates.

If you believe these opportunities are not worthwhile, you have just made my argument.

People say voting doesn’t make a difference, and then they prove it to themselves by not voting!

One of the prime excuses for not caring about politics is encapsulated by the refrain “I just don’t like any of them.” This is the “perfect” excuse because you can’t argue feelings, and it saves them having to do any work determining which candidate would best represent one’s own interests. But this is a completely inappropriate excuse. We don’t need to like or love our elected officials. We are hiring someone to do a job, and there is a very limited number of qualified applicants and a hard deadline.

Now, some will argue that their dislike of the candidates is based on some largely undefined standards that happen to boil down to “I just don’t like any of them.” Or, some may have highly defined ideas about particular issues, and those ideas disqualify most or all the candidates —ideas like, “I would only vote for a president who is pro-Life and is for legalizing marijuana”, or “I will only vote for a president who promises to ban all fracking.” One’s requirements for supporting a candidate may have merit; but, if those requirements prevent one from voting for any candidate that is capable of winning, then those requirements are getting in the way of fully participating in American democracy.

Like it or not, third party candidates have almost no chance of winning elections in America. And, until more people participate in our elections, we will never see that change.

This is one of the most important elections in our nation’s history. If a large number of people abstain from this election, it will be far worse than a failure of civic duty, it will be sign of cancer in the body politic.

I’m not sure we can survive a generation of government gridlock and inaction. There are real problems we must act on and there are significant adaptations we must make in response to a rapidly changing world. A fully functioning democracy is our only hope. Right now, the first step requires making a choice in this election.

By Tony Hale

October 6th, 2016

What did they have to hide?

While Washington legislators were preparing to leave for their Christmas recess in 2000, Republican Senator Phil Gramm: Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee in a Republican controlled Congress, slipped 262 pages of very complex financial deregulation into an omnibus appropriations bill ready for passage.  If he wanted to get away with something big, this was the time to do it.  It was the final lame duck days of the Clinton presidency, and few were ready for a fight—especially over something they did not understand.

It was called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, and it was clearly not written by Senator Gramm or any other member of Congress.  Only lawyers for the movers and shakers of Wall Street could have created such a self-serving contraption.  In fact, this legislation passed without hearings or debate, and was not likely to have been read by any member of Congress.

What this legislation was meant to do was draw a curtain around a growing sector of our financial system.  Behind this curtain, investors, banks, and insurance companies would be able to engage in financial actives unfamiliar to most Americans. 

Complex Derivatives was the name given to this new economic component or product, but you may choose to call it by its more common name—gambling!  Yes, uncontrolled gambling, deregulation allowed banks to set up backrooms where high steak bets could be made.  I call them backrooms, but the banks call them Structured Investment Vehicles—but hey potato potahto.  What matters is that inside these Structured Investment Vehicles, all the above parties are free of Federal and State regulations, and they are shielded from the prying eyes of public investors, stockholders, and all the rest of us. 

Now some may say, “what people do in the privacy of their own Structured Investment Vehicle is their own business,” but what is happening behind the curtain is affecting all of us.  Complex Derivatives are big; more money is invested in this new form of gambling than in all stocks and bonds.  Complex Derivatives are behind the subprime mortgage crisis, the 30 billion dollar taxpayer bailout of Bear Stearns, and much much more. 

If Nero had a BlackBerry

Remember this is nothing more than gambling—and not investing in a risky business kind of gambling, this is pathological gambling.  Here are some of the recognizable symptoms.

Banks are betting billions of dollars that the subprime mortgages will be paid off.  They tell themselves and their investors that these bets can’t lose.  Why?  Because they have calculated Mark-to-Model Valuation; translated into English, “I know I’m going to win, because I’ve got this formula;” and “wink wink, I’ve also taken out a little insurance on this bet.”  Now the banks consider these private bets such sure things, they publicly report the possible payouts as assets.   This is like someone placing all their wealth (say $350,000) on number seven on the roulette table, and while the ball is still spinning around the wheel, they fill out a loan application declaring their possible winnings (over $12 million dollars) as collateral.

Because these bets are being made behind the curtain, we don’t know how many bets and bad loans have been made, or what the true assets or losses of our financial institutions are.  What about that insurance?  Insurance companies, wanting in on these same sure bets, have been writing insurance policies as fast as they can.  But they don’t call them insurance policies; they call them Credit Default Swaps—why?  Because if they called them insurance policies, these transactions would be regulated by State Governments.  Unfortunately, many of these Credit Default Swaps are not worth the paper they are printed on, and over the past few months we have seen insurance companies begin to fail.

Most despicable, are those speculators betting on the fall of America’s economy.  This goes far beyond taking long or short positions in the market.  For example, they are actually betting on the massive foreclosures of subprime mortgages.   John Paulson, through his hedge fund Paulson & Co., added $15 billion dollars in assets last year betting on people losing their homes.  His personal take was estimated at $3 to $4 billion dollars, and this is believed to be the highest one-year salary in the history of Wall Street.  Paulson has also exhorted pressure to prevent refinancing of these mortgages, because if these people make their payments and keep their homes, he losses his bet.  Will market forces like this huff and puff and blow all the houses down?

 What was the best-case scenario the masterminds of Wall Street publicly envisioned for the bulk of the subprime loans?  They argued it didn’t matter how bad the loans were, because by the time the mortgage payments increased, the value in the homes would increase.  This would allow the borrowers to borrow more, and make their new higher payments.  What a vision, America in deeper debt.  In effect selling the American Dream short.

McCain’s Economic Brain

 Phil Gramm has played a large role in creating the New Bad Deal for America; in fact, it’s his family business.  Wife Wendy Gramm, as a Commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1983 to 1993, helped develop the trading rules her husband would unleash into law.  These new laws formed the Enron business model, and after leaving the commission, Mrs. Gramm was placed on the corporate board of Enron.  After doing the bidding of Wall Street in the halls of Congress, former Senator Gramm was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Swiss investment banking giant UBS.  Just this month, UBS reported it lost $19 billion dollars betting on subprime and other mortgages.

 Phil Gramm is now the chief economic adviser to John McCain.  While McCain has admitted he "doesn't really understand economics," Fortune Magazine has described McCain's economic proposals as "vintage Gramm."

 By Tony Hale
April 24th 2008