Policies of mass economic destruction

It really is (way past) time to begin examining
the economic and social policies which have yielded
the dismal economic situation in which the U.S. now finds itself.
While many aspects of this dismal situation have become matters of general concern,
such as the federal deficit and debt,
some have not yet, such as the trade deficit.
In any case, it is necessary, not only to recognize how grave the problem is,
but also its causes.

Just as an outline, we mention the following principle causes of the problem:
  1. Vastly expanded spending on
    transfer payments from producers to consumers
    (SS, Medicare, and Medicaid being the largest items).

  2. Low taxes on the rich, which exacerbate the federal deficit.

  3. The demand for low consumer prices,
    which has resulted in the dismantle of the trade and tariff barriers
    which as recently as the 1960s
    protected American manufacturers from competition from
    the low-wage and -benefit societies.

  4. The constantly rising rents demanded by
    the educational and health-care sectors of the economy,
    which amount to a general tax on those not in those sectors.

All of these contribute to the general economic plight of the general public.



Climate change and global warming

With all the problems documented by the articles below,
it is more and more amazing that
the United States government refuses to fund fusion research at a robust level.
Here are some notes directed to the interest groups that could be helping to promote this funding:

To the environmental lobby:
Why not promote this funding?

To the Republican Party and the climate-change deniers:
I agree with you that there is not rock-solid, 100% certainty
that those dire warnings of the negative effects of climate change will come to pass,
and also that many of the proposals made by the environmentalists
would have the adverse effect of harming American industry
vis-à-vis those nations which take a more lackadaisical attitude
toward climate change and pollution.
But just as there is not 100% certainty that those dire consequences will occur,
neither is there 100% certainty that they won’t.
And in fact, given the credentials of many of those making the dire warnings,
one (or least I) must feel that
the odds are more in favor of those dire effects happening
than that they will not.
So, as a matter of hedging your bets and guarding against the possibility
(again, surely there is such a possibility)
that global warming is going to cause disastrous consequences for future generations,
why not push (and fund!) fusion research,
and other research into more environmentally-friendly energy sources
than fossil fuels,
as hard and as fully as seems reasonable?
The message I get from the fusion research community, as reported in the newspapers,
is that they could profitably use much higher levels of funding.
Why not give them that funding, as a hedge against those problems?

To the Democrats:
And what is your excuse for not increasing funding for fusion research?
And even when you had full control of the government,
the presidency and both branches of Congress
in the 111th Congress in 2009 and 2010,
did you make fusion research a priority?
Not to the best of my knowledge.
Congressman Holt from NJ certainly is pushing this,
but who else is?


Climate Panel Cites Near Certainty on Warming
New York Times, 2013-08-20

An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet by the end of the century if emissions continue at a runaway pace.

The scientists, whose findings are reported in a draft summary of the next big United Nations climate report, largely dismiss a recent slowdown in the pace of warming, which is often cited by climate change doubters, attributing it most likely to short-term factors.

The report emphasizes that the basic facts about future climate change are more established than ever, justifying the rise in global concern. It also reiterates that the consequences of escalating emissions are likely to be profound.

“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” the draft report says. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”

The draft comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of several hundred scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with Al Gore. Its summaries, published every five or six years, are considered the definitive assessment of the risks of climate change, and they influence the actions of governments around the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, for instance, largely on the basis of the group’s findings.

The coming report will be the fifth major assessment from the group, created in 1988. Each report has found greater certainty that the planet is warming and greater likelihood that humans are the primary cause.



Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come
New York Times, 2014-03-31

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.


Scientists may have solved the giant Siberian crater mystery -
and the news isn't good

by Terrence McCoy
Sydney Morning Herald, 2014-08-06

What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change
Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us. So what will?
By Ross Koningstein and David Fork
IEEE Spectrum, 2014-11-18

[An outstanding article!
Quoted in a comment to Pat Lang's blog in this post: 2016-11-07 'HC wants "open borders" '.]


Our society needs to fund scientists and engineers to propose and test new ideas, fail quickly, and share what they learn. Today, the energy innovation cycle is measured in decades, in large part because so little money is spent on critical types of R&D.


A disruptive fusion technology, for example, might skip the steam and produce high-energy charged particles that can be converted directly into electricity. For industrial facilities, maybe a cheaply synthesized form of methane could replace conventional natural gas. Or perhaps a technology would change the economic rules of the game by producing not just electricity but also fertilizer, fuel, or desalinated water. In carbon storage, bioengineers might create special-purpose crops to pull CO2 out of the air and stash the carbon in the soil. There are, no doubt, all manner of unpredictable inventions that are possible, and many ways to bring our CO2 levels down to Hansen’s safety threshold if imagination, science, and engineering run wild.

We’re glad that Google tried something ambitious with the RE<c initiative, and we’re proud to have been part of the project. But with 20/20 hindsight, we see that it didn’t go far enough, and that truly disruptive technologies are what our planet needs. To reverse climate change, our society requires something beyond today’s renewable energy technologies. Fortunately, new discoveries are changing the way we think about physics, nanotechnology, and biology all the time. While humanity is currently on a trajectory to severe climate change, this disaster can be averted if researchers aim for goals that seem nearly impossible.



Why the Paris climate deal is meaningless
If you actually care about global warming, you should be rooting against an agreement.
By Oren Cass
Politico, 2015-11-28


But the more seriously you take the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the angrier you should be about the plan for Paris. With so much political capital and so many legacies staked to achieving an “agreement”—any agreement—negotiators have opted to pursue one worth less than…well, certainly less than the cost of a two-week summit in a glamorous European capital.

Climate talks are complex and opaque, operating with their own language and process, so it’s important to cut through the terminology and look at what is actually under discussion. Conventional wisdom holds that negotiators are hashing out a fair allocation of the deep emissions cuts all countries would need to make to limit warming. That image bears little resemblance to reality.

In fact, emissions reductions are barely on the table at all. Instead, the talks are rigged to ensure an agreement is reached regardless of how little action countries plan to take. The developing world, projected to account for four-fifths of all carbon-dioxide emissions this century, will earn applause for what amounts to a promise to stay on their pre-existing trajectory of emissions-intensive growth.


And therein lies the sticking point on which negotiations actually center: “climate finance.” Climate finance is the term for wealth transferred from developed to developing nations based on a vague and shifting set of rationales including repayment of the “ecological debt” created by past emissions, “reparations” for natural disasters, and funding of renewable energy initiatives.

The issue will dominate the Paris talks. The INDCs covering actual emissions reductions are subjective, discretionary, and thus essentially unnegotiable. Not so the cash. Developing countries are expecting more than $100 billion in annual funds from this agreement or they will walk away. (For scale, that’s roughly equivalent to the entire OECD budget for foreign development assistance.)

Somehow, the international process for addressing climate change has become one where addressing climate change is optional and apparently beside the point. Rich countries are bidding against themselves to purchase the developing world’s signature on an agreement so they can declare victory—even though the agreement itself will be the only progress achieved.

An echo chamber of activist groups and media outlets stands ready to rubber-stamp the final agreement as “historic,” validating the vast reservoirs of political capital spent on the exercise. Already, the Chinese and Indian non-plans have been lauded as proof that the developing world is acting and the United States stands as the true obstacle. India won the remarkably inapt New York Times headline: “India Announces Plan to Lower Rate of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” A formal agreement, notwithstanding its actual contents, will only amplify the demands that we do more ourselves—and, of course, that we contribute hundreds of billions of dollars along the way.

From a political perspective, perhaps this outcome represents “victory” for environmental activists launching their next fundraising campaign or for a president building his “legacy.” But it comes at the environment’s expense. A system of voluntary, unenforceable pledges relies on peer pressure for ambitious commitments and the “naming and shaming” of countries that drag their feet. In this context, true U.S. leadership and environmental activism require the condemnation of countries manipulating the process. Instead, the desperation to sign a piece of paper in Paris has taken precedence over an honest accounting. And once the paper is signed, any leverage or standing to demand actual change in the developing world will be weakened further.

Congressional Republicans, signaling they will not appropriate the taxpayer funds that a climate-finance deal might require, stand accused of trying to “derail” the talks. But opposing such a transfer of wealth to developing countries would seem a rather uncontroversial position. One can imagine how the polling might look on: “Should the United States fight climate change by giving billions of dollars per year to countries that make no binding commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions?” Certainly, President Obama has made no effort to even inform his constituents that such an arrangement is central to his climate agenda, let alone argue forcefully in favor of it.


The cost of climate change: Cold, hard cash sought for support of Obama’s deal
by Stephen Dinan
Washington Times, 2015-11-30

Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa was explicit earlier this year when asked what it would take for developing countries to sign up for the emerging U.S.-led climate deal: “Money.”

His candor was recounted in an April email between two of the Obama administration’s top global warming officials, who called the succinct wisdom from Mr. Kutesa — at the time the president of the U.N. General Assembly — the “best answer of [the] night.”

Indeed, as Todd Stern, the State Department’s top climate official, and Brian Deese, President Obama’s top climate adviser, are trying to rally a deal ahead of a major meeting in Paris that kicks off Monday, it’s becoming clear that any diplomatic breakthrough will be far less about converting hearts and minds than it will be about finding enough money to seal the agreement.

That payoff will come in the form of the Green Climate Fund, the U.N.’s green bank, to which the world’s rich countries are supposed to donate $100 billion a year beginning in 2020, with the money going to the developing world, where it is supposed to be split between converting economies to green energy and helping mitigate the worst effects of changing temperatures.

“It’s not about climate. It never was,” said Christopher Horner, a researcher who obtained the Obama administration email detailing Mr. Kutesa’s stance. “All they want is wealth transfers, for the poor in rich countries to pay the rich in poor countries.”


Labels: ,

Fusion research

Research into fusion power, or fusion research for short,
is a subject at the junction of science, technology, economics, and politics.

Fusion power offers vast potential to solve critical world problems,
most notably,
  • global warming and
  • dependence on rapidly vanishing fossil fuel reserves
(this latter entails a national security issue,
as most of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels
are not located in the United States).
For more information,
visit the U.S. Fusion Energy Science Program or Fusion Power Associates.

Considering the great benefits, to the nation and to the world,
from developing an economic way to obtain power from fusion,
it is surprising that the United States spends so little
on research into fusion power
(see, e.g., this One Pager, or for more, scroll down to Budget here,
or see the historical data here);
we are talking from $.3G to $.5G per year
(G = giga = billion = 109, so, to illustrate,
$.5G = $500M = $500,000K = $500,000,000),
which seems paltry considering the potential benefits.

The question, to me, is:
How much money can the scientific and technological community
productively absorb to advance this research?

Evidence is that it can absorb considerably more than it is now getting,
but how much more?
To answer this question, it seems to me the best approach would be
to ask the National Academy of Sciences to appoint a panel
to investigate precisely that question.
The panel would report back to Congress and the executive,
which would then make available the funding level
that offered the optimal combination
of achieving progress while avoiding undue risk.

A reasonable starting point for such a panel would be
the National Research Council’s 2001 report
“An Assessment of the Department of Energy’s
Office of Fusion Energy Sciences Program”
for the book in HTML, click here;
for more on the web, click here.
That report made seven specific, concrete, recommendations,
listed in its Executive Summary.
Note that its seventh recommendation was:
Recommendation 7.
There should be continuing broad assessments
of the outlook for fusion energy and
periodic external reviews of fusion energy science.
Have those contining broad assessments have been done?
Maybe so, but I don't know (yet).

In any case, questions I would like to be asked now are:
  1. Are those recommendations still valid, five years later?
    (Probably more crucially:)
  2. Have those recommendations received
    an adequate and desirable level of financial support?
    (One would suspect, just based on general knowledge,
    the answer is almost surely “No.”)
  3. What additional initiatives are desirable now, starting in 2006?

Miscellaneous Comments


The well-known NYT columnist Thomas Friedman’s latest book is titled
Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
Tonight he gave a talk summarizing the book.
He gave a list of (five) major problems that he considered humanity to be facing,
and, as I understood it, stated rather emphatically that they could all be solved, or at least greatly mitigated,
if someone could come up with a cheap, clean way of producing electrons,
by which I presume he meant a cheap, clean source of power.
(I’m sure the book would clarify this, but frankly I haven’t read the book.)

He left the talk before I could ask him a question that I thought relevant
to both his concerns and the subject of this post.
Let me phrase the question here,
together with a bit of context-setting preamble,
and perhaps someone reading this can bring it to his,
or someone else’s, attention.
Here goes:

Most people, when they establish a budget,
make a distinction between what is essential and what is “nice to have”.
Well, if one believes what he said in his talk,
coming up with a cheap, clean source of power
is absolutely essential to
the long-range continuation of anything resembling
the standard of living much of the world has become accustomed to
in the last few centuries.
On the other hand, so far as I can tell,
most medical research falls under the “nice to have” category.
If the world fails to cure cancer, heart disease,
or any other of the medical problems
that have afflicted the world for lo these many millennia,
we (the human race) won’t be in worse shape,
rather in just the same shape.
But again, to repeat myself,
if we fail to come up with reductions in hydrocarbon pollution
and a replacement for fossil fuels,
we will be in drastically worse shape.

If you believe all that, or at least a reasonable fraction of that,
then the question is:

Why does the U.S. government spend
on the order of $30 billion a year on medical research,
and only a few hundred million dollars per annum
on research into fusion power?

In Hot Pursuit of Fusion (or Folly)
New York Times Science Times, 2009-05-26


Here in a dry California valley, outside a small town, a cathedral of light is to be dedicated on Friday. Like the cathedrals of antiquity, it is built on an unrivaled scale with unmatched technology, and it embodies a scientific doctrine that, if confirmed, might lift civilization to new heights.

“Bringing Star Power to Earth” reads a giant banner that was recently unfurled across a building the size of a football stadium.

The $3.5 billion site is known as the National Ignition Facility, or NIF. For more than half a century, physicists have dreamed of creating tiny stars that would inaugurate an era of bold science and cheap energy, and NIF is meant to kindle that blaze.

In theory, the facility’s 192 lasers — made of nearly 60 miles of mirrors and fiber optics, crystals and light amplifiers — will fire as one to pulverize a fleck of hydrogen fuel smaller than a match head. Compressed and heated to temperatures hotter than those of the core of a star, the hydrogen atoms will fuse into helium, releasing bursts of thermonuclear energy.

The project’s director, Ed Moses, said that getting to the cusp of ignition (defined as the successful achievement of fusion) had taken some 7,000 workers and 3,000 contractors a dozen years, their labors creating a precision colossus of millions of parts and 60,000 points of control, 30 times as many as on the space shuttle.

“It’s the cathedral story,” Dr. Moses said during a tour. “We put together the best physicists, the best engineers, the best of industry and academia. It’s not often you get that opportunity and pull it off.”

In February, NIF fired its 192 beams into its target chamber for the first time, and it now has the world’s most powerful laser, as well as the largest optical instrument ever built. But raising its energies still further to the point of ignition could take a year or more of experimentation and might, officials concede, prove daunting and perhaps impossible.

For that reason, skeptics dismiss NIF as a colossal delusion that is squandering precious resources at a time of economic hardship. Just operating it, officials grant, will cost $140 million a year. Some doubters ridicule it as the National Almost Ignition Facility, or NAIF.

Even friends of the effort are cautious. “They’ve made progress,” said Roy Schwitters, a University of Texas physicist who leads a federal panel that recently assessed NIF’s prospects. “Ignition may eventually be possible. But there’s still much to learn.”

Dr. Moses, while offering no guarantees, argued that any great endeavor involved risks and that the gamble was worth it because of the potential rewards.

He said that NIF, if successful, would help keep the nation’s nuclear arms reliable without underground testing, would reveal the hidden life of stars and would prepare the way for radically new kinds of power plants.

“If fusion energy works,” he said, “you’ll have, for all intents and purposes, a limitless supply of carbon-free energy that’s not geopolitically sensitive. What more would you want? It’s a game changer.”


[In my opinion, this project, and other projects seeking ways to harness fusion,
are a hell of a lot more worthwhile than
the far more expensive and extensive research
that the federal government funds into medicine.
The medical research budget should be slashed,
with the savings going into fusion and other energy research,
or just reducing the deficit.

As to why cancer research gets so much spent on it, see here.]


Zeal for Dream Drove Scientist in Secrets Case
New York Times, 2010-09-28


In 1988, after nine years at the weapons lab, he left and embarked on a personal crusade to achieve what had eluded thousands of other scientists: a controlled version of nuclear fusion, the violent process that powers the Sun, the stars and hydrogen bombs. His proposal — the use of a big laser — was considered among the most futuristic of the alternatives on the table.

Skeptical of federal plans for laser fusion, he promoted his own as cheaper, faster and far more likely to succeed. Its wavelength was much longer, and its blasts of concentrated light far easier to achieve. He dismissed resistance to his plan as an overzealous commitment to the status quo.

“It’s a cultural thing,” he told The New York Times in 1988. “They don’t want to admit something different.”

He won guarded approval. A Los Alamos panel led by Gregory H. Canavan, a respected senior scientist, found Dr. Mascheroni’s idea worth exploring. The main attraction, the panel said, was that his laser system might prove to be as little as one-twentieth the cost of its rivals.

“It’s very important for our country to have this option for the future,” Dr. Mascheroni said in a 1989 interview. “The other approaches are not going to work.”

After leaving the weapons lab, Dr. Mascheroni toiled on his pet project without pay, relying on his wife to provide most of the family’s income. Her jobs at Los Alamos included technical writing and editing.

Dr. Mascheroni, meanwhile, persistently lobbied the Capitol for his laser plan. In 2003, for example, he wrote to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had just become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. The letter was 319 pages long, and Dr. Mascheroni sent copies to relevant experts outside of Congress.

Despite his rebel status and impolitic ways, he was often taken seriously. He won the backing of a former Central Intelligence Agency director, R. James Woolsey, who helped him promote his vision. Ultimately, however, the nation chose a more elaborate laser path.


As Dr. Mascheroni sits in a halfway house in Albuquerque awaiting trial, the rival laser that he criticized for so many years now looms over a small California town. The size of a football stadium, the $3.5 billion site is known as the National Ignition Facility. It is the world’s most powerful assemblage of lasers, their concentrated light like a tiny star. The 192 lasers fire in unison on flecks of hydrogen fuel smaller than a match head.


[This illustrates exactly the problem I suspected above.
There are indeed other reasonable approaches to achieving fusion power which have not been pursued, not because they are judged infeasible, but simply because there is not adequate funding.
Surely, as important as energy is for our nation’s and people’s future, funds could have been found (in my preference, diverted from medical research) to fund this alternative approach.]

Fusion energy milestone reported by California scientists
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post, 2014-02-12

Scientists are creeping closer to their goal of creating a controlled fusion-energy reaction, by mimicking the interior of the sun inside the hardware of a laboratory.
In the latest incremental advance, reported Wednesday online in the journal Nature, scientists in California used 192 lasers to compress a pellet of fuel and generate a reaction in which more energy came out of the fuel core than went into it.

There’s still a long way to go before anyone has a functioning fusion reactor, something physicists have dreamed of since Albert Einstein was alive. A fusion reactor would run on a common form of hydrogen found in seawater, would emit minimal nuclear waste and couldn’t have the kind of meltdown that can occur in a traditional nuclear-fission reactor.


Stewart Prager, director of the Princeton laboratory, applauded the new results reported in Nature by the California team, saying, “It’s the first sign that they’re getting what we call self-heating.”

He’s optimistic about fusion energy in the long run.

“In 30 years, we’ll have electricity on the grid produced by fusion energy — absolutely,” Prager said. “I think the open questions now are how complicated a system will it be, how expensive it will be, how economically attractive it will be.”

The short-term problem is funding.
Congress appropriated about $500 million for fusion energy science in the 2014 budget,
a boost of more than $100 million from the tight budgets of the previous two years,
but fusion advocates want more.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), a physicist who spent 10 years working at the Princeton lab, said Wednesday that the United States is losing leadership in fusion energy research to Europe, Japan, South Korea and China.

“It’s nowhere close to making your electric meter run backwards,” Holt said of fusion energy. “But the reason other countries are now investing more than we are — this is a sad story in itself — is that the country that was the world’s leader in fusion research is no longer.”

[There is no clearer place where the nation's priorities are askew than here.
$30 billion for health care research and only $500 million for fusion research?
With the problems global warming is forecast to produce?
Talk about the wrong priorities!]

Labels: , , ,