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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- August 18, 2013

Ron Paul "The Drug Companies And Insurance Companies Are The Ones Who Write These Laws!"

Ron Paul Dismantles Corporate Boondoggle Known as Obamacare - Brainchild of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries - - August 16, 2013 - Back in 2009, when Obamacare first began coagulating in the halls of government, Bill Moyers described Fowler as follows: “She used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was Vice President of Public Policy. And now she’s working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want: higher profits, and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.”                     “Competition is a sin,” quipped John D. Rockefeller, a maxim as relevant to corporate mammoths like Wellpoint – the largest managed health care, for-profit company in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association – as it was in Rockefeller’s day.                Senator Max Baucus and his aide, Elizabeth Fowler.                     The so-called public option, the idea that the government will create its own health insurance agency to compete with corporate leviathans, was never a serious consideration and was indeed anathema. It was a ploy crafted to trick persistently gullible Democrats into supporting yet another corporate swindle, this time enforced by the most violent and ruthless player on the block, the federal government.                      After Obamacare was rammed through Congress, Baucus, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the healthcare industry, boasted about the architect of the legislation, Liz Fowler.                      “I want to single out one person,” Baucus said, “Liz Fowler is my chief health counsel. Liz Fowler has put my health care team together… She put together the White Paper last November 2008, [the] 87-page document which became the basis, the foundation, the blueprint from which almost all health care measures in all bills on both sides of the aisle came. She is an amazing person. She is a lawyer; she is a Ph.D. She is just so decent. She is always smiling, she is always working, always available to help any Senator, any staff. I just thank Liz from the bottom of my heart.”                     Finally, Baucus admitted earlier this year that Obamacare will result in a train wreck. Not because it is a corporate boondoggle enforced at gunpoint, but because, thanks to opponents of the legislation (which Baucus never bothered to read) and widespread criticism, primarily in the alternative media, millions of Americans oppose the scheme.                         “The American public is left to ponder if this would be happening if Senator Baucus didn’t consider reading the bill he was adamantly advocating as a waste of time,” writes Shoshana Weissmann.                         In fact, it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference because Baucus, and the rest of Congress, are in the pocket of the bankers and corporations. They are grocery clerks for the corporate state, that is to say the fascist state, as Mussolini characterized all such arrangements.

Obama's Economic Approval Slips to 35% - Was 42% in June; decline mirrors drop in overall approval - Gallup - by Lydia Saad - August 15, 2013 -

A Blunder at the Money Factory - The New Yorker - David Wolman - August 13, 2013 -
For the past few years, the Federal Reserve has been preparing to introduce a redesigned hundred-dollar bill into circulation. It will have a Liberty Bell that changes color, a new hidden message on Ben Franklin’s collar, and tiny 3-D images that move when you tilt the bill this way or that. But delay has followed delay. And now again: The New Yorker has learned that another production snafu has taken place at one of the country’s two currency factories, according to a document from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.                    The cause of the latest blunder is something known as “mashing,” according to Darlene Anderson, a spokeswoman for the bureau. When too much ink is applied to the paper, the lines of the artwork aren’t as crisp as they should be, like when a kid tries to carefully color inside the lines—using watercolors and a fat paintbrush.                     Anderson said this happens “infrequently.” Still, this foul-up is only the latest embarrassment for the bureau. The redesigned hundred-dollar bill was meant to be released in early 2011, but has been delayed for the past two years because of a massive printing error, separate from the recent mashing problem, in which some notes were left with a blank spot.                     This time, recent batches of cash from the Washington, D.C., plant contained “clearly unacceptable” bills intermixed with passable ones, according to a July memo to employees from Larry Felix, the bureau’s director. So the Fed is returning more than thirty million hundred-dollar notes and demanding its money back, Felix wrote. Another thirty billion dollars’ worth of paper sits in limbo awaiting examination, and Fed officials have informed the bureau that they will not accept any hundred-dollar notes made at the Washington, D.C., facility until further notice.                            Felix’s letter says internal quality-control measures should have prevented the bureau “from delivering defective work,” and that those responsible would be held accountable. The bureau now has to race to meet an October 8th deadline for delivering the year’s cash orders and to finally get the new hundred-dollar bill into circulation as promised. To that end, Felix has ordered the country’s other money factory, in Fort Worth, Texas, to accelerate its efforts. “There are dire consequences involved here because BEP sells Federal Reserve notes to the Board to finance our entire operation,” he wrote in the memo. “If the BEP does not meet the order, the BEP does not get paid.”                          The financial toll from the recent bungle is tough to know: the Treasury and the Fed have little interest in calculating it, let alone being transparent about it. Still, the direct cost probably isn’t greater than the sum of what the bureau pumps out in a few days. “Central banks are a bit like other businesses,” said Ben Mazzotta, a researcher at the Fletcher School’s Institute for Business in the Global Context who focusses on the costs of different forms of money. “They can draw down inventories or order additional product.”                       There are other costs, though. Taxpayers will have to pay to inspect, correct, produce, transport, and secure all the additional money that will replace the botched notes. Disposing of the bad bills? That’s on taxpayers, too, as are the additional hours spent making up for the mistake by employees of the bureau....

Fukushima apocalypse: Years of ‘duct tape fixes’ could result in ‘millions of deaths’- RT - August 17, 2013 - Even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told RT.                         Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.                      In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo, who is the founder and host of Nuked Radio. But leaving the things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said.                        RT: How serious is the fuel rod situation compared to the danger of contaminated water build-up which we already know about?                   Christina Consolo: Although fuel rod removal happens on a daily basis at the 430+ nuclear sites around the world, it is a very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances. What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been severely compromised. However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4 has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is on the top floor of the building.                     There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous undertaking.

Fukushima's Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know - National Geographic - Patrick J. Kiger - August 7, 2013 - Tensions are rising in Japan over radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a breach that has defied the plant operator's effort to gain control.                          Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday called the matter “an urgent issue” and ordered the government to step in and help in the clean-up, following an admission by Tokyo Electric Power Company that water is seeping past an underground barrier it attempted to create in the soil. The head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force told Reuters the situation was an "emergency." (See Pictures: The Nuclear Cleanup Struggle at Fukushima.”)                             It marked a significant escalation in pressure for TEPCO, which has come under severe criticism since what many view as its belated acknowledgement July 22 that contaminated water has been leaking for some time. The government now says it is clear that 300 tons (71,895 gallons/272,152 liters) are pouring into the sea each day, enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every eight days.  (See related, “One Year After Fukushima, Japan Faces Shortages of Energy, Trust.”) While Japan grapples with the problem, here are some answers to basic questions about the leaks:
Q: How long has contaminated water been leaking from the plant into the Pacific?
Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, has told reporters that it’s probably been happening since an earthquake and tsunami touched off the disaster in March 2011. (See related: "Photos: A Rare Look Inside Fukushima Daiichi.") According to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, that initial breakdown caused "the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed." Some of that early release actually was intentional, because TEPCO reportedly had to dump 3 million gallons of water contaminated with low levels of radiation into the Pacific to make room in its storage ponds for more heavily contaminated water that it needed to pump out of the damaged reactors so that it could try to get them under control.                           But even after the immediate crisis eased, scientists have continued to find radioactive contamination in the waters off the plant. Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has analyzed thousands of samples of fish from the area, said he’s continued to find the high levels of cesium-134, a radioactive isotope that decays rapidly. That indicates it’s still being released. "It’s getting into the ocean, no doubt about it," he said. "The only news was that they finally admitted to this." (See related: "Photos: Japan's Reactors Before And After.")
Q: How much and what sort of radiation is leaking from the plant into the Pacific?

TEPCO said Monday that radiation levels in its groundwater observation hole on the east side of the turbine buildings had reached 310 becquerels per liter for cesium-134 and 650 becquerels per liter for cesium-137. That marked nearly a 15-fold increase from readings five days earlier, and exceeded Japan’s provisional emergency standard of 60 becquerels per liter for cesium radiation levels in drinking water. (Drinking water at 300 becquerels per liter would be approximately equivalent to one year’s exposure to natural background radiation, or 10 to 15 chest X-rays, according to the World Health Organization. And it is far in excess of WHO’s guideline advised maximum level of radioactivity in drinking water, 10 becquerels per liter.)  Readings fell somewhat on Tuesday. A similar spike and fall preceded TEPCO’s July admission that it was grappling with leakage of the radioactive water. (See related: "Would a New Nuclear Plant Fare Better than Fukushima?")...

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