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Old 2017-03-18, 21:57   #1
ewmayer
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Default Mystery Economic Theater 2017

By way of reference, here are links to previous installments of this thread series: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

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How Bankers Became the Top Exploiters of the Economy | Michael Hudson for Counterpunch

For your longer-weekend-reading pleasure - Interview with the always-great Michael Hudson. A few bugs in the (apparently auto-rendered and imperfectly edited) transcript, e.g. 'self-caring' instead of 'self-curing' in the paragraph on Schumpeter's 'creative destruction' hypothesis, 'ruler' instead of 'laborer' in the bit about the pyramid builders, and corporate 'raters' in place of 'raiders'. Also, in the part where MH talks about the economics of atomic power, I think he means 'spent' rather than 'depleted' uranium, since the latter is leftover from U-enrichment and not particularly toxic compared to the post-reactor spent stuff. (In fact the military loves DU to make penetrating projectiles out of - when one of those fragments on impact and even burns it does great increase the toxicity, but still nowhere near that of spent fuel.)

The writings of the few economists I have real respect for, like Hudson here and the late John K. Galbraith a half-century ago, convince me that it should be illegal to grant an economics degree without at least half the total coursework consisting of economic history from ancient to modern times. They could throw the advanced maths out to make room for that, since as Hudson notes, mainstream economists deploy mathematics overwhelmingly to deceive and obscure their own bogus assumptions in a fog of pseudoscientific flummery and haute-credentialism. As Galbraith himself famously said, "In the case of economics there are no important propositions that cannot be stated in plain language."

(A fine related link on succinctness: J.K. Galbraith on the art of good writing.)

Last fiddled with by ewmayer on 2017-03-19 at 21:46 Reason: add jkg quote
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Old 2017-03-19, 14:15   #2
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"When consultants and engineers told Tepco that the plant would be unsafe, the managers overruled them. They’re in business to make money for their stockholders. Milton Friedman said that the obligation of corporate managers is to make money for the stockholders, not society. So for them, Fukushima was a success. They made money all these years without having to spend the extra money it would have cost to build a plant and its backup generators safely."

Apply that to the debate about DU ammunition. US/UK military loves it - the rest of the world hates it.
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Old 2017-03-19, 14:38   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ewmayer View Post
Also, in the part where MH talks about the economics of atomic power, I think he means 'spent' rather than 'depleted' uranium, since the latter is leftover from U-enrichment and not particularly toxic compared to the post-reactor spent stuff. (In fact the military loves DU to make penetrating projectiles out of - when one of those fragments on impact and even burns it does great increase the toxicity, but still nowhere near that of spent fuel.)
Yes, I've seen this error in news accounts, and I'm glad someone is alert enough to point it out.

Spent reactor fuel is a witches' brew of radioisotopes, some of them fission fragments with relatively short half-lives. Spent fuel rods are often kept at the bottom of large pools of water in part to dissipate the heat they generate. There are also isotopes of uranium in spent fuel that "crap up" the reactor. In theory, spent fuel could be "reprocessed," but in practice this would (as I understand it) create its own set of very nasty problems.

Depleted uranium (DU) is so called because it is depleted of its natural allotment (0.7% if memory serves) of the fissile isotope U-235, the separated U-235 going to "enrich" the uranium used as reactor fuel. DU is desirable for "sabots" (large slugs that punch through armor) because it is dense (tungsten is also so used for this reason), but DU has the added attraction mentioned above of being highly reactive, so likely to burn fiercely after a supersonic collision with armor. DU is (or at least used to be) obtainable fairly cheaply, as there aren't as many other uses for it as there are for tungsten, which among other things is a component of some kinds of steel. I have a vague recollection of reading that DU was also used on commercial aircraft for "balancing weights," which could be moved to compensate for unbalanced loading of cargo or passengers on the plane. I sometimes wondered if this was the case for the planes that were crashed on 9/11.

There is, of course, a distinction between radioactivity and chemical toxicity. DU (U-238) is chemically toxic if it gets into soluble compounds that you ingest. Its radioactivity is fairly low (half-life is about 4.5 billion years, or approximately the present age of the Earth according to current science). As an alpha emitter, it presents very little hazard if it is outside the body (your skin will stop alpha particles), but if it gets inside you (say, by breathing in uranium-oxide dust, or ingesting uranium compounds), it does present a radioactive hazard as well as a possible toxic risk.

One proven use for U-238 is as a source material for creating the well-known fissile isotope of plutonium (Pu-239). If a U-238 nucleus absorbs a neutron, it becomes unstable and kicks out two anti-electrons (positrons), thereby becoming a Pu-239 nucleus. (A much "hotter" but non-fissile isotope, Pu-238, is used as a heat source to generate power on space probes.)

Last fiddled with by Dr Sardonicus on 2017-03-19 at 14:42
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Old 2017-03-20, 00:20   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Till View Post
"When consultants and engineers told Tepco that the plant would be unsafe, the managers overruled them. They’re in business to make money for their stockholders. Milton Friedman said that the obligation of corporate managers is to make money for the stockholders, not society. So for them, Fukushima was a success. They made money all these years without having to spend the extra money it would have cost to build a plant and its backup generators safely."

Apply that to the debate about DU ammunition. US/UK military loves it - the rest of the world hates it.
When the Thiokol engineers said not to launch Challenger at such a low ambient, they were overruled. I have always thought that this was because Saint Ronnie was making a speech that evening, and he had already memorized the lines and the blocking. These might have included pointing at the ceiling and blathering about "A Teacher in Space." Various higher-ups were desperate to please the Gipper, or at least Nancy, and his minders. They didn't want to confuse him at the last moment. Fortunately, he was well experienced at "funeral orgies" (as Mark Twain had a scalawag in Huckleberry Finn declaim.) There was no problem with him eulogizing said teacher when she got pulverized.

Last fiddled with by kladner on 2017-03-20 at 00:30 Reason: more rant, and links
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Old 2017-03-20, 01:25   #5
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@Dr Sardonicus: Thanks for the added material - a fascinating subject in its own right. (But I believe you intended "kicks out two electrons".)

[For the non-physics-steeped readers: the 239U92 formed by said neutron capture undergoes a double beta decay (which can refer to either e- or e+ emission but in this case it's the former variety), and also in sequential rather than all-at-once fashion - step 1 converts a neutron into a proton and thus yields a Neptunium-239 nucleus, which subsequently (with a half-life of 2.3 days) decays via a second electron-beta-decay to relatively stable Plutonium-239. The positronic version of beta decay takes one down the atomic-number ladder rather than up. In standard nuclear-reaction symbology, β- and β+ are used to differentiate between the 2 forms of β-decay.]
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Old 2017-03-20, 13:47   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ewmayer View Post
@Dr Sardonicus: Thanks for the added material - a fascinating subject in its own right. (But I believe you intended "kicks out two electrons".)
I did. Minus signs are among the banes of my existence. Of course, each time the atomic number goes up by 1, the nucleus kicks out a negative charge to compensate. Conservation of electric charge, you know.
Heck I know that!

BTW, yet another use for DU is in armor/shielding. Again, because it's dense (19.1 g/cc), much denser than lead (11.3g/cc), and nearly as dense as tungsten (19.3g/cc).
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Old 2017-03-20, 21:58   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr Sardonicus View Post
Spent reactor fuel is a witches' brew of radioisotopes, some of them fission fragments with relatively short half-lives. Spent fuel rods are often kept at the bottom of large pools of water in part to dissipate the heat they generate. There are also isotopes of uranium in spent fuel that "crap up" the reactor. In theory, spent fuel could be "reprocessed," but in practice this would (as I understand it) create its own set of very nasty problems.
Spent fuel rods need active cooling because there is so much radioactive decay that generates heat that it can burn/melt the rods if not kept in check. The Fukushima disaster demonstrated the problems decay heat can give. 3 reactors (partly) melted and the water in the spent fuel pools heated up/ evaporated to dangerous levels).

There is such a reprocessing site in France (La Hague) and there is controversy about how much radiation it releases.

Quote:
A much "hotter" but non-fissile isotope, Pu-238, is used as a heat source to generate power on space probes.
Very little Pu-238 is available and NASA might not get enough for its planned deep space missions.
https://www.wired.com/2013/09/plutonium-238-problem/
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Old 2017-03-21, 00:21   #8
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One last note (from me) on the Hudson piece - In estimating the true economics - i.e. factoring in the costs of any attendant nonrenewable-resource-depletion and environmental harms - of any form of energy production, it's become clear we need to not just focus on obvious harms such as radioactive waste/disaster for nuclear, air pollution for fossil fuels, and manufacturing inputs (including energy use) and processing waste products for 'green' technologies (e.g. manufacture of solar panels and installations, and batteries for power storage). For example, it's become clear over the past half-century that even 'clean' FF power such as 'clean coal' and natgas have a major environmental cost not accounted for during their rise to prominence: global warming, which has good odds of ramping up into an existential threat for humankind (and other-living-kind, as well) in the not-too-distant future. CO2 is currently considered the primary culprit, which led to a boom in natgas development and deployment, but as CH4 is an orders-of-magnitude-more-potent greenhouse gas than CH4, that may well prove to have a 'cure worse than disease' development.

-------------------------------------

Going After the Opioid Profiteers | naked capitalism
Quote:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription drugs and heroin) has quadrupled since 1999. In 2015, opioid deaths in the United States hit a record-breaking 33,000.

The [Teamsters] labor union is targeting the three largest U.S. prescription drug wholesalers — McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen — for flooding hard-hit areas with the highly addictive pills.

Between 2008 and 2012, for example, these companies shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone opioid doses to West Virginia — 433 for every man, woman, and child in the state. During that time period, 1,728 people in the state overdosed on the painkillers.
That is a height-of-the-1980s-AIDS-crisis level of death, and unlike AIDS where there ensued an unprecedented wave of medical research which led to a range of effective treatments (albeit no cure yet), there is no sign the ramping-up othe opioid crisis is abating. Sure, more money for treatment and intervention will save some lives, but that is merely dealing with the symptoms, rather than the root cause, which is mass-scale economic immiseration in flyover "deplorables" country, as a direct consequence of the neoliberal economic policies followed by the power elites starting roughly with Reagan and continuing unabated, in thoroughly bipartisan fashion, ever since.

See esp. the comment by reader 'Dave'.
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Old 2017-07-11, 23:57   #9
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Default Ever More Official Lies From The US Government -Paul Craig Roberts

I'll just put this here, as it expresses the utter futility I feel in pointing out that which should be obvious.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/47417.htm
One example:
Quote:
Last Friday’s employment report is just another lie from the government. The report says that the unemployment rate is 4.4% and that June employment increased by 222,000 jobs. A rosy picture. But as I have just demonstrated, there are no fundamentals to support it. It is just another US government lie like Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, Russian invasion of Ukraine, and so forth and so on.

The rosy unemployment picture is totally contrived. The unemployment rate is 4.4% because discouraged workers who have not searched for a job in the past four weeks are not counted as unemployed.

The BLS has a second measure of unemployment, known as U6, which is seldom reported by the presstitute financial media. According to this official measure the US unemployment rate is about double the reported rate.

Why? the U6 rate counts discouraged workers who have been discouraged for less than one year.

John Williams counts the long term discouraged workers (discouraged for more than one year) who formerly (before “reforms”) were counted officially. When the long term discouraged are counted, the US unemployment rate is in the 22-23 percent range. This is borne out by the clear fact that the labor force participation rate has been falling throughout the alleged “recovery.” Normally, labor force participation rates rise during economic recoveries.

It is very easy for the government to report a low jobless rate when the government studiously avoids counting the unemployed.
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Old 2017-07-12, 00:35   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kladner View Post
I'll just put this here, as it expresses the utter futility I feel in pointing out that which should be obvious.
I hope you don't mind me moving your not-at-all-so post from the 'Useless' thread to here. Your comment echoes mine (under same handle I use here) of late last night on this NC piece:

Ben Bernanke, in Denial? "When Growth is Not Enough | naked capitalism
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Old 2017-07-12, 01:26   #11
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Don't mind at all. Thank you. I had not thought of this thread.
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