Lots of ground to cover, especially the latest developments in Asia, so we head straight to it, first with this announcement from the Washington Post:

‘Happy Days’ no more: Middle-class families squeezed as expenses soar, wages stall

Wages for millions of American workers, particularly those without college degrees, have flat-lined. Census figures show the median household income in 2012 was no higher than it was 25 years ago. Men’s median wages were lower than in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, many of the expenses associated with a middle-class life have increased beyond inflation. This includes college tuition, whose skyrocketing cost has laid siege to a bedrock principle of the American Dream: that your children will do better than you did.

A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia found that 40 percent of those calling themselves middle class felt less financially secure than they were just a few years ago. Forty-five percent said they worry “a lot” about having enough money stashed away for retirement, and 57 percent said they worry about meeting their bills. Less than half said they expect their kids to do any better.

From CBS New York, sheltering the rich from class war:

Preparing For The Worst With Luxury Bunkers

Today’s Backyard Survival Cave Looks More Like An Extravagant 5-Star Resort

“The overall scope of the project was to create a wow experience for the homeowner. So that they could live here and enjoy the facility and not just survive,” said luxury bunker creator.

Survive whatever may come in comfort, whether it be a natural disaster or a future terror attack.

“It was part of the selling point. You want to make it as comfortable for the psychology,” said Ralph Henrich, who bought a bunker.

Henrich, of New Jersey, paid to reserve space in an underground luxury bunker for himself, his wife, and their three kids. The cost was $50,000 per adult and $35,000 for children under the age of 16. That’s nearly $200,000 for an average family of four.

“Leather sofas, high end kitchens, comfortable bedrooms, artwork, a gym,” Henrich said of the accommodations.

And from RT America, a high tech powerhouse:

Google now a ‘master of Washington influence’

Program notes:

The widely anticipated Google Glass is about to hit the market, but lawmakers in some states are concerned the internet-connected glasses will be a distraction for drivers. Legislators are considering restricting their use behind the wheel, so Google is responding by sending out lobbyists to convince lawmakers otherwise. As RT’s Ameera David reports, this political influence is only one small part of the company’s multi-million dollar lobbying apparatus.

And just for the fun of it, our proposal for the corporate theme song, performed in 1923 by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare:

Another high tech fortune, used to questionable ends, via International Business Times:

Bill Gates Criticised for Investment in G4S’ Israel Torture Prisons

Bill Gates’ philanthropic body, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been accused of complicity in the torture of Palestinian prisoners through its investment in British security company G4S.

G4S provides security services and equipment at Israeli prisons where allegations of child torture, forced confessions, overcrowding and medical neglect have been raised.

The foundation, the largest in the world, last year purchased £110m ($172m) worth of shares in G4S, something that human rights charities, such as Addameer Prisoner Support, claim contradicted the foundation’s belief that “every life has equal value”.

And from the Japan Times, more questions about a major and destructive trade deal being pushed ruthlessly by the Obama Regime of Hope™ and Change™:

Sealing TPP deal by May iffy despite Japan-U.S. ‘milestone’

Japan and the United States have found “common ground” to forge a two-way trade deal, but may not be able to resolve remaining sticking points in time for a mid-May meeting of top negotiators seeking a broader regional deal, a senior Japanese official said.

Marathon talks during U.S. President Barack Obama’s state visit to Tokyo last week yielded progress — hailed by the two sides as a “key milestone” — but the two stopped short of announcing a deal vital to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation bloc that will extend from Asia to Latin America.

The upbeat tone, however, was in contrast to the emphasis on “gaps” after previous rounds of talks on a bilateral deal that has been stalemated by differences over access to Japan’s agriculture market and both countries’ car markets.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another and very curious story on the same deal:

Obama denies US bullying Malaysia in TPPA negotiations

US President Barack Obama has denied that Washington is bullying Malaysia in the ongoing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Instead, he said, he himself was being bullied by his own (Democratic) party on the pact while protests against the agreement was more due to “people being fearful of the future or have invested in the status quo.”

“It is important for everybody to wait and see what is the (final) agreement before they jump into conclusions,” he said in response to a question on whether Washington was bullying Kuala Lumpur in negotiations on the TPPA at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday.

While Public Citizen casts some light on the darker side of the TPP:

TPP Investment Map: New Privileges for 30,000 Companies?

Under previous presidential administrations, the United States signed a number of free trade agreements (FTAs) that grant foreign corporations extraordinary rights and protections beyond the rights of domestic companies. A little-known FTA mechanism called “investor-state” enforcement allows foreign firms to skirt domestic court systems and directly sue governments for cash damages (our tax dollars) over alleged violations of their new rights before UN and World Bank tribunals staffed by private sector attorneys who rotate between serving as “judges” and bringing cases for corporations. Using this extreme system, corporations have sued the U.S. government in foreign trade tribunals for enacting laws or regulations that “interfered” with the corporations’ expected profits.  This “interference” has included essential environmental regulations, health laws, and domestic court decisions. These cases are not just threats to domestic U.S. policies. U.S. corporations have also used FTAs to attack public interest laws abroad.

If a corporation wins its private enforcement case, the taxpayers of the “losing” country must foot the bill. Over $380 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations in a series of investor-state cases under U.S. FTAs. Of the nearly $14 billion in the 18 pending claims under U.S. FTAs, all relate to environmental, energy, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.

The Obama administration is currently negotiating a sweeping new FTA called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — the first FTA negotiated by the Obama administration.  Despite Obama’s many campaign promises to scale down investor-state enforcement in trade agreements, the leaked investment chapter of the TPP reveals that the Obama administration intends to expand even further the extreme investor-state model of past FTAs. If passed, the TPP would grant thousands of corporations these extraordinary rights to sue governments over public interest policies for taxpayer compensation.

On to Europe, and a tale of dubeity from EurActiv:

Eurosceptics will gain national influence, study says

A new study claims that even if Eurosceptic parties do well in next month’s European elections, their impact in the European Parliament will be minimal. However, Eurosceptics will have more influence in their national parliaments, and on the sovereign debt crisis resolution. EurActiv France reports.

It is a month until the European elections, and the future looks bright for Eurosceptic parties across Europe. According to a survey published in the France’s Nice-Matin, the French far-right party, the National Front, is expected to take 24% of the vote, placing them ahead of the well-established Socialist Party (20%) and UMP (22%).

Deutsche Bank published a study titled Euroscepticism gaining currency? Implications of the EU elections for economic policy. It investigates the possible impact of Eurosceptic political parties after the European elections in May.

And Reuters raises some other doubts:

Deflation, emerging market fears set scene for tough EU bank tests

Fears of euro zone deflation, emerging markets turmoil and a determination not to repeat past mistakes mean European regulators are likely to come up with the toughest set of tests for the region’s banks that they have ever faced.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) will on Tuesday reveal the crisis scenarios that banks will have to prove they can withstand without resorting to the kind of taxpayer bailouts that all but bankrupted some countries in the 2008-2012 crisis.

Banks that fall short of capital under the imagined scenarios will have to produce a plan to boost their reserves by raising fresh funds from investors, selling assets or hanging on to profits instead of paying dividends.

On to Britain, and a weighty consequence of neoliberal school privatization from The Observer:

Top doctor slams schools policy for fuelling epidemic of child obesity

Academies and free schools could damage children’s health by opting out of healthy nutrition rules for school meals

One of Britain’s top doctors has warned that children’s health is being damaged because academies and free schools are allowed to opt out of serving healthy lunches to their pupils.

Two million children at such schools are now at risk of exposure to unhealthy foods as a result of the coalition government’s divisive and “irresponsible” policy, which is undermining the fight against childhood obesity, Professor Terence Stephenson told the Observer.

Germany next, with the usual neoliberal proposal from TheLocal.de:

Finance minister: Taxes could be cut

Germany’s powerful finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Sunday he was open to cutting income taxes, as international partners call on Europe’s top economy to spur consumer demand.

Schäuble told the upcoming issue of Der Spiegel magazine that if a compromise can be reached within Germany’s left-right “grand coalition” government while respecting fiscal discipline, he would be willing to look at tax relief.

The latest calls for reform target a quirk of the German system known as “tax bracket creep” under which employees who get pay rises slip into higher tax groups, making their net pay lower than before.

France next, and another threatened German invasion from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Siemens prepares to rival GE with bid for France’s Alstom

German industrial giant Siemens is planning a rival offer for French engineering group Alstom, which is being pursued by General Electric, a source close to the deal said Saturday.

“Siemens is preparing an offer,” said the source, the day before GE’s chief executive is due to arrive in Paris for talks with senior government officials about its potential bid.

Shares in Alstom were suspended from trading on Friday amid press reports that GE was preparing to make a $13 billion (9.4 billion euro) takeover bid for the French engineering group’s power plants, lines and renewable energy operations.

After jump, the latest from Greece, Big Oil’s Russia woes, Saudi Arabia’s killer drones, Egypt’s newest crop, the browning of Africa’s forest, the Asian wars of history and zones, more environmental woes, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and two tales of sexual shortcomings. . .

Next up, Greece, and a hint of promise from Greek Reporter:

EU Says No More Greek Worker Firings

With Greece expecting to see the beginning of a recovery later this year, European Union officials said there’s no need for more worker layoffs but that the government has to improve the quality of its notoriously-inefficient public sector.

A European Commission official told reporters,  during the presentation of a review assessing the second Greek adjustment program that Brussels would not be asking for further layoffs in the Greek public sector, the Athens News Agency reported.

The same Commission official stressed that the Greek economy was starting to stabilize and that the worst was already behind it. He pointed to better-than-expected fiscal figures and noted that the progress made since July 2013 in fundamental aspects of the program had been huge. At the same time, the official stressed that “the work is not over yet”.

Greek Reporter wants to crash on your couch:

1.85 Million Greeks Living as Guests

A striking fact was revealed after the processing of last year’s tax returns in Greece. During the process of determining the beneficiaries of social dividend it was found that 1.85 million Greek taxpayers are living as guests.

Out of the 5.5 million tax returns that were filed in 2013, at least 1,850,000 people submitted their returns filling out the “guest code,” while also including the tax identification number of the person who was providing them with shelter.

This is yet another tragic statistic that shows the consequences of the economic crisis. Thousands of Greeks took refuge in the homes of relatives and friends because they were unable to cover their living expenses. At the same time, officials of the Ministry of Finance are certain that the large number of people living as guests is another form of tax evasion. This is why the ministry has scheduled several audits in order to investigate cases of concealment of income primarily from rent or cases of false tax return submission, with the aim to collect the social dividend.

Off to Russia and questions for Big Oil from the London Telegraph:

BP and Shell exposed as US prepares first warning shot against Russia’s oil and gas industry

Firms may be forced to curtail operations as G7 powers prepare to launch new sanctions

Britain’s top energy companies face an extremely delicate situation as the world’s G7 powers prepare to launch the next wave of sanctions against Russia, and may be forced to curtail operations or freeze certain commercial ties with the country.

The US, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada have agreed to “intensify targeted sanctions to increase the costs of Russia’s actions” – possibly as soon as Monday – unless the Kremlin takes immediate steps to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

The G7 is for now holding back Iranian-style “stage 3″ sanctions against the whole Russian banking system, mining industry, or the oil and gas nexus. This nuclear option will be deployed only if Russia escalates from black operations in Eastern Ukraine to an outright invasion, said Alastair Newton, head of political risk at Nomura.

The Verge takes us to Saudi Arabia and a not-so-surprising development:

Saudi Arabia joins the killer drone arms race

Last week, Saudi Arabia bought its first drone fleet, according to a dispatch from Tactical Reports. Saudi Crown Prince Salman met with Chinese General Wang Guanzhong to sign a contract for a shipment of Chinese Wing Loong drones, also known as Pterodactyls. The drones that make up the shipment are designed to mimic America’s Predator drone, with surveillance capabilities and enough lift to carry two matched air-to-ground missiles.

If the report is true, it means Saudi Arabia may have joined an exclusive club, one of the few nations with armed, unmanned aircraft. It’s a group that, to date, includes just the US, Britain, Israel, China, and (depending who you ask) Iran — but beyond those countries, the capability is increasingly available to whoever can pay for it. At the Singapore Air Show earlier this year, both Israel and China were showing off their wares to would-be clients, including the Pterodactyl drone named in the report, and you could find similar displays at dozens of other air shows. With American counterterrorism efforts providing an ongoing test of how valuable the machines can be, there are lots of countries willing to buy.

Egypt next, and pipe dreams from the Christian Science Monitor:

Poppies replace tourists in Egypt’s Sinai desert

Egypt’s unrest has starved Bedouins in the Sinai of tourist dollars. They are turning instead to illegal opium production, risking the death penalty if caught.

Joseph Hobbs, a professor of geography at the University of Missouri and the author of the only scholarly work on the Sinai’s opium culture, says that poppy cultivation there began in the early 1990s. Until then, opium had been smuggled from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, before the Syrian Army – then occupying Lebanon – began cracking down on poppy farmers in Bekaa.

The Sinai Peninsula had the right climate and terrain: soil that doesn’t become waterlogged, and mountains to shield the fields from the wind. It also offered the protection of lawlessness. In his 2010 study, “Troubling Fields,” Hobbs estimated that the Sinai at that time contained 476 poppy fields.

Since then, growing opium has become virtually risk-free. Egypt’s 2011 revolution chased police off the streets, creating a security vacuum in which drug seizures – mostly hashish and heroin smuggled in via the Sinai Peninsula – dropped to almost nothing.

And from Environment News Service, a shrieking African alarm:

Green Heart of Africa Turning Brown

Africa’s Congo rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, has lost its much greenness over the past decade, a new analysis of satellite data shows.

The study demonstrates that a persistent drought in the Congo region since 2000 has affected the greenness of an increasing amount of forest area and that the browning trend has intensified over the 13 years of the study.


Scientists use the satellite-derived measurements of forest “greenness” as one indicator of a forest’s health.

Published Wednesday in the journal “Nature,” the research uses several independent satellite sensors to measure the effects of long-term drought on the Congo rainforest.

A quick stop in Latin American with the
Japan Times

Social media gives new voice to Brazil protesters

Citizen journalists use digital tools to tell a different side of the story in Rio’s slums

When the battered body of a young Brazilian professional dancer, Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, was found in the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela in Rio de Janeiro, locals refused to believe the police statement — that his injuries were “compatible with a death caused by a fall.”

Instead, many residents of the community located about a kilometer from Copacabana beach — one of the main backdrops to global coverage of the World Cup — took to the streets to express their anger. They set fire to barricades and even exchanged gunfire with the police, during which one man was killed.

Pavao-Pavaozinho was one of dozens of favelas that have been subjected to a police “pacification” program, designed to seize back control of the areas from drug traffickers and make them safer for the tournament and the 2016 Olympics. The family of Pereira, who was known as “DG,” believe that the police mistook him for a drug trafficker and beat him to death.

And off to Asia with Channel NewsAsia Singapore and more anti-China allying:

M’sia, US upgrading bilateral ties to comprehensive partnership

Malaysia and the United States have agreed to upgrade their bilateral relations to a comprehensive partnership, said Prime Minister Najib Razak.

This, he said, marked a new phase in the relationship, with greater collaboration on the economy, security, education, science, technology and other fields.

“We also decided to reinvigorate the Senior Officials Dialogue as a key forum for high-level discussion. Together, these agreements lay a firm foundation for further co-operation to come,” he said.

Najib was speaking at a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama following talks between both leaders on Sunday.

From Nikkei Asian Review, a sunken career?:

South Korea prime minister’s resignation may not placate critics

South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s administration has come under heavy fire for its mishandling of the sinking of a ferry that has left hundreds dead or missing, and her deputy’s resignation may not be enough to contain public anger.

“I’d like to apologize for the mishandling of a slew of problems, from preventive measures before the accident to the government’s initial response and follow-up steps over the accident,” Chung Hong-won said at a news conference Sunday morning, where he offered his resignation.

Rescue efforts and the handling of the accident’s aftermath are the top priority, and Park will accept his resignation after they are finished, according to a government spokesperson.

From the Japan Times, a new wrinkle in the Game of Zones:

Britain unsure about Japan’s claim to Senkakus, U.K. files show

Britain was unsure about Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands in the early 1970s, according to declassified documents seen by Kyodo News at the National Archives in London.

Officials were unable to establish whether Japan, China or Taiwan had a rightful claim over the small group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that continue to drive their bitter territorial dispute.

The advice was against making any comment on the respective claims. This position is maintained today by the Foreign Office which, when asked by Kyodo News, said it “does not take a position on the underlying sovereignty issues” and called for the matter to be resolved “peacefully and by international law.”

While Xinhua reveals a blast from the past:

Archives reveal ‘comfort women’ official actions of Japan

Forcing women into sex slavery and setting up “comfort stations” were official actions of the invading Japanese army during World War Two in Asian countries, newly publicized wartime archives reveal.

A total of 89 wartime documents were made public on Friday as a response to Japan’s right-wing politicians’ denial of its wartime crimes in China. Twenty-five files relate to “comfort women”.

The use of “comfort women” was the state action of Japan during the war, said Su Zhiliang, a professor on the history of “comfort women” at Shanghai Normal University.

Jiji Press plays duck and cover:

Heart-Wrenching to Think of Comfort Women: Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Sunday it is heart-wrenching to think of the sufferings of wartime comfort women.

“It really tears my heart apart to think of the indescribable suffering experienced by comfort women,” Abe told reporters in the town of Iwaizumi, Iwate Prefecture.

He signaled readiness to work to gain the understanding of the international community about Japan’s efforts on the issue of comfort women. “We will continue to explain Japan’s approach.”

From Global Times, a graphic sin?:

Sina makes second apology for online porn

China’s Internet giant Sina.com on Sunday made another apology for its involvement in online pornography, saying that the website will obey the authorities’ punishment.

“As one of the influential websites in China, Sina has failed to shoulder its due responsibility and we feel deeply sorry for that,” the company said in a statement to Xinhua.

Chinese authorities on Thursday announced to revoke the company’s two crucial licenses on Internet publication and audio and video dissemination and impose “a large number of fines” for pornography on its website.

And from South China Morning Post, the story behind today’s Chart of the day:

As China cracks down on official extravagance, Scotch sales suffer

As president fights official extravagance, whisky distilleries feel the pinch in Scotland

The impact of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on official extravagance is being felt far beyond China: even Scotland’s famous whisky distilleries are feeling the heat.

Xi announced an eight-point plan in December 2012 to strictly regulate the lavish, often booze-soaked celebrations and ceremonies for which party cadres were notorious – part of a wider crackdown on corruption.

While makers of China’s national liquor mao-tai and famous foreign brands of brandy and cognac have been hardest hit, Scottish distillers say the new rules sent sales in China plunging by more than a quarter last year.

Nikkei Asian Review offers a story of rare cooperation:

Japan, China, South Korea to hold conference on air pollution

Environmental ministers from Japan, China and South Korea will discuss the growing air pollution problem affecting their countries when they meet in the South Korean city of Daegu from Monday.

Japan and South Korea are expected to agree to collaborate on monitoring fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, emitted by automobiles and factories, as well as on developing technologies for air quality prediction. With China, city-level cooperation will be discussed. Japan will send Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara.

This marks the first visit by a Japanese cabinet member to South Korea since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine at the end of December. The conference provides an opportunity for Japan to improve its relations with the two neighbors, which have hardened their stance since Abe’s controversial shrine visit.

From the Japan Times, the proposed cover for the agenda for resurgent militarism:

Six golden rules proposed for Abe’s collective defense push

Hand-picked panel has six ideas for assuring civilian control of SDF

A panel hand-picked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to propose that the government reinterpret the Constitution to lift the long-held ban on collective self-defense, and limit its use by establishing six conditions meant to ensure civilian control, sources said.

Since the issue of exercising the U.N. right to aid allies under attack remains controversial with the public, the sources said Saturday that the conditions would require that:

Japan’s security be under great threat.

Countries with close ties to Japan be under attack.

Clear requests for help be made from Japan’s allies.

Approval be secured from third countries for Japanese forces to pass through their territory.

The prime minister, as a rule, obtain Diet approval for exercising collective defense.

The prime minister make a comprehensive decision on the effectiveness of the action.

The Asahi Shimbun casts doubt:

Local assemblies voice concerns over move to reinterpret Constitution

Dozens of local assemblies have taken issue with the Abe administration’s moves to reinterpret the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

At least 61 local entities have raised objections or urged utmost caution with regard to the issue, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

The number is based on a tally of statements by local assemblies sent to the two chambers of the Diet since September, soon after Ichiro Komatsu, a former Foreign Ministry official who is a longtime advocate for exercising the right, took office as the director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

Nexrt up, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First, digging into the problem with NHK WORLD:

Detailed containment vessel probe to begin soon

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is planning a more detailed probe into the containment vessels of the 3 damaged reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Company hopes to learn more details to assist with the retrieval of melted fuel.

The operator plans to fill the containment vessels of reactors 1, 2 and 3 with water. This will help to shield workers from radiation as they attempt to retrieve the fuel. The utility is now checking the vessels for necessary repair work to prevent water leakage.

NHK WORLD again, this time with a plea for help:

Institute seeks nuclear fuel debris removal ideas

A Japanese government institute is asking engineers from Japan and abroad for their input on removing melted fuel from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The current plan is to fill the reactor containment vessels with water to shield workers from high levels of radiation as they retrieve the fuel.

During a seminar in Tokyo on Friday, officials from the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, or IRID, told engineers that this method may not be feasible.

They said surveys of the containment vessels found that it may be difficult to locate and plug leaks.

From JapanToday, calling a timeout:

Restart of two reactors at Oi nuclear plant to be delayed

Kansai Electric Power Co, which had been hoping to restart two reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, says a restart is now likely to be delayed until March 2015.

The utility has applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart its No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. But last month, the NRA decided to give priority to two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co, meaning that ongoing safety checks of Kansai Electric’s reactors may fall behind.

The NRA has also said that the Fukui plant does not meet the standard for resistance to earthquakes and needs to reinforce its structure and fail-safe systems.

The China Post covers successful Fukushima-inspired backlash in Taiwan:

Nuke 4 construction halts amid protest

Anti-nuclear power protesters yesterday staged a massive demonstration in Taipei, parading from Ketagalan Boulevard to Zhongxiao W. Rd., while Kuomintang officials reached a consensus to halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant with immediate effect.

In response, protesters said the ruling party announced that it will “halt” construction, not “terminate” the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, demanding that Premier Jiang Yi-huah hold a press conference and make an official announcement.

According to the Kuomintang (KMT) consensus, construction of the plant’s nearly completed No. 1 and No. 2 reactors will be halted. The No. 1 reactor, which is currently undergoing safety inspections, will not be activated when the inspections have been completed, said Fan Chiang Tai-chi, head of the KMT’s Culture and Communications Committee.

While Environment News Service has nuclear anxieties much closer to home:

Quake Risk Exceeds Licensed Limits at U.S. Nuclear Plants

Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren today called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to direct the licensees of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts and Seabrook Station in New Hampshire to immediately implement mitigation measures against seismic risks that were previously unknown.

Reports released Thursday by the NRC reveal that dozens of reactors that reassessed their vulnerability to earthquakes in the wake of the March 2011 meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are at greater risk than they were originally licensed to withstand.

“We were alarmed to discover that of the dozens of reactors that re-assessed their vulnerability to earthquakes in the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns, the newly evaluated seismic risk at both Pilgrim and Seabrook is larger than the risk the reactors were originally licensed to withstand,” write the Senators in the letter to NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane.

From United Press International, ironic and idiotic:

Fatal Facebook Photo

Woman dies driving while posting on Facebook about Pharrell’s ‘Happy’

Woman died in car accident while posting to Facebook about Pharrell Williams song “Happy.”

A 32-year-old North Carolina woman died in a car accident Thursday just moments after she used her cell phone to post on Facebook.

Police in High Point, N.C., said Courtney Ann Sanford posted a message on Facebook at 8:33 a.m. and one minute later the car accident was reported. She was driving.

“The happy song makes me HAPPY,” Sanford wrote of the hit song by Pharrell Williams.

“In a matter of seconds, a life was over just so she could notify some friends that she was happy,” said High Point Police Lt. Chris Weisner.

And to close, a couple of short posts about [ahem] shortcomings, first from the London Daily Mail:

Size really does matter! Women are MORE likely to cheat on men with larger penises, new study claims

Study examined 545 women in Kenya, of whom just 34 cheated on husbands

Those who did cheat told researchers they disliked pain and discomfort

Research was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE

And from USA TODAY, there’s a reason they’re called “quickies”:

Short sex is pretty normal, it turns out

It’s not exactly the most romantic statistic: Almost half of all men finish sex within two minutes, reports the New Republic by way of Dr. Harry Fisch’s new book, The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Grown-Ups.

In an excerpt published on Nerve, Fisch notes that his patients are typically fixed on what the normal frequency of sex should be, but that quality — and therefore duration — should be of equal concern. He trots out statistics from previous sex studies to that end: that the length of the average sex act is 7.3 minutes, but an “astonishing” 43% of such acts are completed within 2 minutes.

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