Friday, July 20, 2018

Last Train Out of Hungary

I met a woman whose uncle was on the last train out of Hungary before the borders were closed to people escaping Nazi persecution.

She said that her mother had seen the shift to fascism because she had been working with Jewish refugees escaping Nazi occupied regions. Her mother left before most of her community.

Fascism arrived incrementally. The signs were visible but people could not see the pattern, in part because their liberal sensibilities refused to accept that the madness of fascism could disrupt the law and order of liberal democracy.

This example has relevance for David Runciman's interesting How Democracy Ends.

Although I agree with much of what he says, his disbelief in the possibility of totalitarianism arising in a liberal democracy is mistaken.

Liberal cosmopolitanism (a philosophy held by Democrats and Republicans) has a difficult time recognizing totalitarianism because liberalism (as an ideology) presupposes political pluralism, a view of power as distributed relatively equitably in society.

Liberalism's is not attuned to the ways that power is structured into roles and social institutions because its basic metaphor is the market transactions of goods/symbols between and among individuals. These individuals are thought of as rational utility seekers.  Wrong-doing is thought and policed primarily in terms of individual transactions.

The entire ideology has a difficult time addressing contiguities and patterns of wrongdoings, as well as the homicidal madness that sometimes infuses them.

For example, liberal cosmopolitanism has difficulty coming to terms with the idea that the liberal democratic state can become a primarily repressive apparatus despite examples of that trajectory circulating in the media daily.

Today I read an article on an immigration raid in Tennessee that reminded me of storm troopers in Nazi occupied areas, such as Hungary:

The terror described in this article is being echoed daily in the stories of incarcerated children separated from their parents by immigration authorities.

I can barely stand to read the paper anymore because terror is being used as a weapon by the state everywhere I look.

The ascendancy of the repressive state IS the totalitarian society that emerges in the wake of the exhausted contradictions of late capitalism.

It doesn't happen over night and it isn't irreversible.

But Marx was so wrong about the outcomes of the contradictions of late capitalism:  The Hegelian dialectic is more likely to end in our self-inflicted extinction than a communist paradise.

What can be done to stop this ascent into madness?

I fear the main tactic being deployed as resistance will only exacerbate the problems of repression.

The resurgence of Cold War paranoia by Democrats intent on removing Trump is going to boomerang back in greater cultural paranoia that feeds the repressive apparatus.

This trajectory rhymes with other periods of homicidal madness, especially WWII and atmospheric testing period during Cold War when we bombed ourselves, perhaps into eventual oblivion if Mueller's work on trans-generational mutations in fruit flies applies to human populations.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Using National Security to Rape the Earth and Poison the Population

Buried in a misleading article in today's Wall Street Journal is news that the US Commerce Department opened an investigation into imported uranium after receiving a petition from UR Energy Inc and Energy Fuels Inc, both of which want to mine in the US:
Vogt, Heidi (2018, July 19). Trump eyes uranium imports. The Wall Street Journal, p. A6/

The Commerce Dept is investigating whether "uranium imports threaten national security" because of dependence against foreign suppliers.

The article reports that last year the US imported $2.2 billion in uranium ore and other products, mostly from Canada, followed by Austrlia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The article doesn't mention that Energy Fuels Inc is mining near the Grand Canyon (see here), threatening the Colorado River with further contamination despite the millions of people that depend upon its water.

In 2017 UR Energy's Lost Creek mine in Wyoming had a terrible accident, described in the headline below as one of the worst recorded uranium mine spills, although trivialized in impact as not posing a threat: 
Heather Richards (2017, September 8). Wyoming uranium mine spill one of the largest recorded in U.S.; officials say it does not pose a threat. Star Tribune:

The Lost Creek uranium mine north of Rawlins shut down operations Wednesday just weeks after reporting one of the largest spills of uranium injection fluid ever recorded in the U.S.

The spill was contained on site and is not a human health hazard, according to federal regulators. The spilled fluid had not yet been pumped into the uranium ore beneath the surface. Radioactive metal contained in the fluid was naturally occurring.

The mine, owned by Littleton, Colorado-based Ur-Energy, reported an Aug. 19 spill of 188,000 gallons of pre-injection fluid at Lost Creek. Another spill of 10,000 gallons of pre-injection fluid at Lost Creek on Tuesday was reported to federal regulators.
See how the article trivializes impact by stating that the radioactive metal contained in the spilled fluid was "naturally occurring."

Uranium mining rapes the earth and processing and utilization poison the population as well as the eco-systems upon which we depend.

We don't need nuclear power - its inefficient, costly, dangerous, and no solution exists for waste - and we don't need nuclear weapons.

We don't need any more uranium. Its antithetical to security when thought in relation to the preservation of life.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

More Americans are Dying of Liver Cancer, But it's Their Fault Anyway

Liver cancer death rate in US surged 43 percent in 16 years WSYM Tue, Jul 17 3:37 AM MST Fox 47 News

Death rates from liver cancer increased 43 percent for American adults from 2000 to 2016, according to a report released Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

...More than 70% of liver cancers are caused by underlying liver disease, which has risk factors such as obesity, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and hepatitis B and C infection, said Dr. Farhad Islami, the scientific director of cancer surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.

Why is it that when disease incidents increase, expert authorities cited by the media always blame the victims?

Why is it that environment gets reduced to lifestyle choices?

Why are the mass media so complicit in erasing other environmental causes for diseases whose incidents are rising in rather alarming ways, such as Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Autism, ADHD, and various cancers?

The idea that you are responsible for your diseases is not entirely wrong in the sense that lifestyle choices do matter, but what matters as much, or in many cases more, are exposures over which you have little-to-no control, such as the ubiquitous pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals in your environment.

And human-engineered chemicals rarely approach the toxicity of elements freed by human engineering such as uranium, lead, mercury, radiocesium, etc.

Radionuclides produced by nuclear plants and weapons testing are the greatest cancer engine of all.

President’s Cancer Panel (2010, April). Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, 2008-2009 Annual Report. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, and National Cancer Institute Bethesda, MD, p. v

See also
Steven L. Simon, AndrĂ© Bouville, and Charles Land, “Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests and Cancer Risk,” American Scientist 94 (2006), 48, doi: 10/1511/ 2006.1.48.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Obama's Speech and the Possibility of "Inclusive" Capitalism

Former President Obama's speech today delivered in South Africa is worth reading in its entirety.

The speech contains many truths that i can agree with, but one fundamental contradiction emerges between (1) his valorization of inclusive capitalism and (2) acknowledged institutionalized power relations that erode true inclusiveness in addition to the rule of law:
Remarks by President Barack Obama at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture
July 17, 2018
Johannesburg, South Africa

... So we have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken during these last several decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away. They were never fully dislodged
Can capitalism be free of these corrosive power relations, or at least move in that direction?

One would have thought the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression, would have prompted reforms necessary for the sustainable and value-laden capitalism Obama supports.

But, instead, we see today that the wealthiest and the poorest are increasingly polarized with financial profits controlled by a smaller and smaller slice of global firms, mostly (but not entirely) in the financial services arena and to a lesser extent in energy, high-technology and retail services.

Bank profits relative to household income are a good indicator of whether capitalist ownership is becoming more inclusive or more exclusive and the data support the latter interpretation as bank profits heat up while personal income stagnates:
Emily Glazer & Christina Rexrode (2018, July 14-15). Economy heats up profits at big banks. The Wall Street Journal A1, A2
•JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc posted double-digit profit increases for the second quarter as businesses and consumers showed confidence in stronger economic growth by borrowing more…
•JPMorgan profits of $8.3 billion, up 18% from a year earlier
•Citigroup’s profit rose 16% to #$4.5 billion
Concerned that banks are not earning quite enough, the new Federal Reserve Chairman has launched a new set of tools to control interest rates by paying banks interest on the funds they deposit with the Fed:
N. Timaros (2018, July 14-15)Fed Defends its use of new tools. The Wall Street Journal A2
This is another tactic aimed at providing the banks free capital, allowing them to finance mergers and acquisitions, which are booming, and to purchase up capital in the economy. For example, several days ago I posted a discussion of how financial firms gobbled up real-estate, transforming former owners into renters and raising real-estate pricing out of bounds for many first-time homeowners.

Meanwhile, the average US citizen has not seen any increase in their real earnings over the last year:
Kiernan, Paul. (2018, July ). Surging Prices chip away at wage gains by workers. The Wall Street Journal, A1-2.
So, the type of inclusive and sustainable capitalism Obama elevates doesn't seem to be happening here.

I'm not recommending some alternative economic social organization per sec but rather pointing to fundamental contradictions in the promise and operations of a globalizing system whose operations are controlled by a relatively small number of firms for the benefit of a relatively small number of the world's populations.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Missing Plutonium

Plutonium is in the news.

Plutonium is rarely found on earth. It is chemically toxic and its radiation decay includes gamma radiation, alpha particles and beta particles.

One atom of plutonium internalized has the potential to kill you over time as its alpha particle decay shreds DNA.

Of course, plutonium is prized for precisely these decay elements.  Its killing radioactivity adds to the allure of its explosive force.

One would therefore think that countries would be more mindful of their plutonium.

The US has failed in this regard. Although the Nuclear Regulatory Committee monitors nuclear fuel consumed by utilities, the Department of Defense has not kept careful records, nor have adequate controls been established to prevent disappearance of dangerous radioactive materials.

The most recent episode occurred in March of this year when staffers from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory drove to Texas to pick up some sort of radioactive material, the nature of which is not clear in the article.

In order to calibrate their radiation detectors (needed to ensure they picked up the "correct" material), the  “specialists” from Idaho brought with them small samples of radioactive materials , including a “plastic-covered disk of plutonium” and one of cesium!!!
Patrick Malone and R. Jeffrey Smith (2018, July 16). Plutonium is missing, but the government says nothing. The Center for Public Integrity.
To ensure they got the right items, the specialists from Idaho brought radiation detectors and small samples of dangerous materials to calibrate them: specifically, a plastic-covered disk of plutonium, a material that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons, and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope that could potentially be used in a so-called “dirty” radioactive bomb.
The plutonium and cesium were left in their vehicle overnight in a Marriott Hotel parking lot. The vehicle was broken into and the radioactive materials stolen.

Uh huh.

Apparently this is not a new problem, as the Center for Public Integrity explains:
For nearly 40 years, “DOE officials and their predecessors … did not have an effective capability within their accounting systems to know if significant quantities of” bomb-grade uranium were being diverted to illicit use, according to Charles Ferguson, a physicist who is now director of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board at the National Academies of Sciences.

The Government Accountability Office declared in Sept. 2015 that the department also had never conducted an authoritative inventory of the location and quantity of plutonium loaned by the United States to other nations, and that eleven foreign sites with U.S.-made bomb-grade uranium had not been visited by U.S. inspectors in the previous 20 years. Many sites inspected before 2010 lacked rigorous security systems, the GAO warned.
I recommend reading the full article linked above.

The stupidity involved in this case is beyond belief.

Humans should not play with technologies they are too stupid to control.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Politics of Primary and Secondary Effects

I read a very interesting news story recently reporting on a study that concluded that air pollution plays a major role in causing diabetes
AFP (2018, June 29). Air pollution plays significant role in diabetes: study. Yahoo. Available
Paris (AFP) - Air pollution caused one in seven new cases of diabetes in 2016, according to a US study, which found even low levels raised the chances of developing the chronic disease...  The study estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016 -- or around 14 percent of all new diabetes cases globally that year. 
"Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally," said Ziyad Al-Aly, the study's senior author. Pollution is thought to reduce the body's insulin production, "preventing the body from converting blood glucose into energy that the body needs to maintain health," according to the research.

Al-Aly said the research, published in the Lancet Planetary Health, found an increased risk even with levels of air pollution currently considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Age
This study - available here - disclosing how air pollution adversely affects the body's insulin production raises questions about the spike in diabetes cases in Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

A recent article authored by J. Watkins (citing a study by Masaharu Tsubokura) claims the increase in diabetes in Fukushima is the greatest health effect from the disaster. Moreover, following Tsubokura, Watkins claims diabetes is unrelated to radiation, resulting from psychological-social disruption, not exposures:
Watkins, J. (2018). The Biggest Health Risk After Fukushima: Diabetes.

But, seven years on, the true health impact of the Fukushima disaster on former residents has been very different from what everyone feared: The Fukushima disaster reduced life expectancy far more due to increased diabetes rates than due to cancer caused by radiation — by a factor of six.

And, among the elderly, diabetes trumps radiation as a threat to life expectancy by a factor of 33.

That’s according to a September 2017 study using six years of public health checkup data from Minamisoma and Soma, two towns closest to the power plant. To be fair, the reduction in life expectancy is small in both cases — 0.04 years because of diabetes and 0.007 years because of radiation for the general population — but the gap is substantial.

According to the researchers, it not only speaks to the fact that the negative effects of radiation were mercifully small — a meta-analysis by a U.N. agency of dozens of studies found “no deterministic health effects due to radiation exposure … and none are expected” — but also shows the importance of taking into account indirect health issues caused by lifestyle disruption following a major disaster.

“The main health effect of the nuclear disaster [has been] the social disruption” caused by the evacuation, says study author Dr. Masaharu Tsubokura from the Department of Radiation Protection at Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital in Fukushima.

You can find the study here:

If you read through the study you will see that diabetes risk is separated out from radiation risk, the latter of which is defined strictly in terms of cancer.

The idea that diabetes is a secondary effect, attributed to psycho-social factors alone, can be challenged with new findings that pollution can cause diabetes.

Of course, the idea that pollution causes diseases other than cancer is well established but rarely discussed when radiation contamination is at issue in particular cases in the US, Japan and elsewhere.

For example,
Roxanne Nelson (2016, January 19). Diabetes in Cancer Survivors a Late Effect of Abdominal Radiation? Medscape,

SAN FRANCISCO — Children and young adults treated with total body or abdominal radiotherapy have an increased risk for insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus, but the exact underlying mechanisms remain unclear. However, findings from a small pilot study suggest that even in individuals who are not overweight, this subset of childhood cancer survivors might be at high risk for subclinical derangements of glucose and insulin.