September 2023 was a season of changes

From Fukushima to BRICS, September was full of surprises

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

September is, for most of us, back-to-school month. From school buses on the road to kids on school schedules, this is a month of transition and getting used to changes in the weather and daily routines.

And as not always entirely willing participants in a global economy, what happens thousands of miles from us ends up having impacts we might never have anticipated.


Back in 2011, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan. It was the strongest quake ever recorded in Japan – and was followed by a massive tsunami. The tsunami killed about 20,000 people and led to a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and wiped out the plant’s emergency generators.

Twelve years later, the damaged fuel rods and core still need to be continuously cooled with water – about a thousand massive tanks full of contaminated waste water. This water, like radioactive water from other nuclear sites from France the UK and China, has to go somewhere. And for Japan, that “somewhere” is the Pacific Ocean. That might not be the best option, but is probably the only option. You can see a discussion of the multitude of complications from political to environmental, here.

Just another BRIC in the wall

The organization formerly known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have about doubled their membership (and influence) after they invited Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join the non-binding economic bloc.


Local weather veered between the hottest day in the 80s (F) and a few days of fall-type weather, to another “atmospheric river”. Nationally, and across the world, weather hit extremes of heat, drought and flooding. Disruptive weather impacted harvests around the world which affected the prices and availability of everything from olive oil to pumpkins.

Seattle and Tacoma police departments in the national news

It’s generally not a good thing to be in the headlines across the country – if not around the world, but the Tacoma and Seattle police departments found themselves featured in the news cycle the same week in September. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) was on the national news for mocking the death of a young woman killed in January 2023 by a speeding police car, while Tacoma (TPD) was on trial for the death of Manny Ellis in 2020.

Good-bye Alma

In Tacoma, Alma, formerly known as Alma Mater, is closing its doors – and about 50 will lose their jobs. Alma, a visible presence in the arts and concert scene in Tacoma, was operated by the Wend Collective, a “social impact fund” with an estimated annual revenue around $15 million, and run by James Walton, a relative of the Walmart family.

Good-bye micromobility

The end of September saw the end of e-scooters and e-bikes in Tacoma. You’ve probably seen the Razor scooters across sidewalks and street corners all over town. They were meant to replace the use of cars in urban areas. I’m not sure if they ever did. The riders I saw seemed out to careen around the streets and parks, leaving the scooters out as a public hazard. Somehow I think local emergency rooms won’t mourn their absence. Paris, as well as many other major cities, have banned them altogether.

Unions in the news

Widespread membership and support of labor unions has declined for the past several decades across America. As with almost every other topic or issue, this is no longer the case. Unions, and their associated strikes, impacted everything from movie and television production to the price and availability of cars and trucks.

United Auto Workers on strike

United Auto Workers launched the first coordinated strike by the UAW against all the Detroit Three at the same time. The UAW strike is expected to cost about $150 million a day in lost revenue – more than $750 million for a five-day week. The actual losses will vary by product. Automakers could get some of the money back by raising prices as inventories run low. The strike will get expensive for the UAW, too. The union’s $825 million strike fund could start paying out as much as $6.4 million a week to 12,700 strikers. President Biden, long a supporter of union workers, was a visible presence on the picket line. Former President Trump spoke to a non-union meeting of auto workers.

Writers Guild of America

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached a temporary agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to end the strikes that have halted production for four months. The strike will remain in progress through the approval and ratification process. CNN reported that the strikes cost multiple industries a combined $5 billion.

SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 TV and film actors. WGA represents more than 11,000 writers.

As of the end of the month, the writers (but not actors) have settled their agreements, so we can have some original TV and movies again.

Formerly Twitter, formerly free

X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, which had been free, will now be a paid subscription-only service. Twitter’s U.S. ad revenue in early September was down 60%. Musk blames civil rights and consumer groups. Elon Musk has had multiple changes in policy with various companies in the past few years. Most have been as successful as this one.

Rupert Murdoch steps down

Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as chairman of the board of both Fox Corp. and News Corp. as of November. Murdoch is 92.

Fun fact: Rupert Murdoch married Mic Jagger’s ex-partner Jerry Hall in 2016. They divorced in 2022. Murdoch has six children from three previous marriages.

Government shutdown?

Much of September was haunted by the spectre of a federal government shutdown. In case you didn’t know, a government shutdown would disrupt the U.S. economy and the lives of millions of Americans who work for the government or rely on federal services.

Air traffic controllers and many members of the military would be required to work without pay for an indefinite period, and about 7 million people in the Women, Infants and Children program, including half the babies born in the U.S., could lose access to nutritional benefits. Many thousands of federal government employees would be put on furlough, meaning that they are told not to report for work and go unpaid for the period of the shutdown. Their salaries are paid retroactively when it ends. In other words, they are paid but are not working.

Government shutdowns are not new, we have had 20 “funding gaps” since 1976, but none in the prior 200 years.

The bottom line is that there is no reason for these; like individuals, we as a nation should just pay our bills, but for a variety of reasons, for some, political posturing is more important than a solid balance sheet and globally recognized credit rating.

Congress could deploy a stopgap spending measure called a continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the government open until the end of October. And then we get to do this all over again.