Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tea Baggers Tickle the Dragon’s Tail




Outside the Fukushima plant and for some distance at night, can be seen the intermittently sparkling blue glow of re-criticality, as the melted fuel from four reactors, moderated by fresh water pumped from fire trucks, puts on a light show of ionized air over the coast of Japan. This is a requiem display, a salute of fireworks, because Japan, mortally wounded, is dying the same way the Soviet Union did, killed by the nuclear dragon it thought it had tamed.


Louis Slotin's Los Alamos ID
This same light show was once observed in 1946, with fatal consequences, by physics students working in Los Alamos on advancements to the atomic bomb. Louis Slotin, their 35-year-old Canadian instructor, had been the criticality math whiz of the Manhattan Project and had personally assembled the core of the Trinity device. His method of establishing critical mass values was very bold, not to say reckless. Slotin would push fissile masses together slowly until they displayed early onset signs of criticality to clickity-clacking Geiger meters. On May 21, 1946, Sloton demonstrated his technique, which Richard Feynmann had by then coined “tickling the dragon’s tail,” to the six star-struck students in his lab.



Using his bare hands, Sloton slowly moved a screwdriver out from between two beryllium half-spheres lined with uranium reflecting neutrons back to a 3.5-inch-diameter (89 mm) plutonium core. At exactly 3:20 p.m., the screwdriver slipped and the upper beryllium hemisphere fell. The room flashed iridescent blue and Slotin, reacting heroically, used his other hand to knock the spheres apart. He died horribly, nine days later, from the exposure, but he saved the rest of the people in the room, not to mention everyone within a 5 mile radius of Los Alamos.



The Idiotcracy that staged a palace coup in the US Congress last fall is now tickling the dragon’s tail of the full faith and credit of the United States. Refusing to give up tax breaks for the rich and powerful, the Exxons, BPs and Haliburtons, the tea baggers and their millionaire Republican allies are demanding elimination of medicare, privatization of Social Security, and a blather of deep social welfare cuts that any impartial accountant (the Congressional Research Service, the General Accounting Office, or the Office of Management and Budget,for instance) recognize as not only ineffective (pushing the USA into far greater, and more expensive, problems down the road), but purely political gamesmanship. The goal of that game, for millionaire Republicans, is to get as close to the brink as possible, elicit as many concessions for the wealthy as possible by beggaring the poor, and then to pass a new debt ceiling and repeat the process.



The goal of the Tea Baggers, for whom nuance and strategy are not strong suits, is to play to the cheers of the Colosseum as they give thumbs down to federalism and separation of powers and toss the Moorish President to the lions.



The US is now officially without a fiscal budget, living on holdover spending, mere wax and string that runs out on August 2nd. The millionaire Republicans want to strike a deal on August 1st and ham it up for the cameras until then. The Tea Baggers want to strike a deal on August 3rd, if then, to give both the Democrats and Republicans a taste of the lash. Neither have any idea of what kind of dragon the tail they are tickling belongs to.



The US Treasury is limited by Congress to borrowing up to a debt limit, originally established in 1939. Since Congress originates all federal activities requiring funding, such as insanely expensive foreign war adventures or sending rockets up into space, Congress has to annually increase the debt limit to keep up. The last increase was in February, 2010, to $14.294 trillion. George W. Bush increased it 8 times, moving it from 57% of GDP to 84% of GDP. Under Obama, it has risen to 97% of GDP.



The Supreme Court ruled in 1935 that Congress does not have the power to void a government bond, so if any loans come due, it is obligated to pay them or default. Here is what happens if the Tea Baggers’ screwdriver slips:



There would be widespread banking collapse, not just in the US, but everywhere dollars are traded as the currency of choice for oil and other commodities. If economic transactions are halted, then trade and supply-chains break. The longer goods are stalled in the pipeline the more consumables and perishables decay in transit and storage or are consumed by present holders or returned to sender. Pipelines and machines rust, factories close, unemployment and starvation turns to riot.



The longer the down time and the wider the scale, the harder the re-boot once the idiots see what they have done. The dollar ceases once and forever to be the world’s reserve currency. Suddenly, instead of getting everything in the global economy at a discount, the US pays top dollar to buy, say, Swiss Francs, so it can pay for its addictions.



FEASTA’s David Korowicz, writing last month on large-scale risk management, said, “The wonder of our globalized economy is that in all this globalized integration and complexity there is no one in control…. So, while national economies may have an individual character, they have no autonomous existence in anything like their present form outside the globalized economy, just as an arm, lung or heart cannot declare independence from the human body.” Korowicz was underscoring the point that we are all coming to realize: the global economic body is delicately interconnected, and hungry, but there is no brain.



In the US, a Zombie Congress is dragging itself through the angry streets in search of fresh blood. It may, in the end, have to settle for consuming its own. This dragon does not like to be tickled.




 

2 comments:

Larry said...

Great article as usual. How do you find out about people like Louis Slotin? Thanks for visiting Japan/Spain the Global Warming conference in Cancun et cetera and reporting first hand on what's going on.

Don said...

yeah, it's insane in the world, as usual, only ratcheted up to cliff-hanger status or even armeggedon status. The question, politically, is what do we do now? I doubt the Dems will run anybody else, and besides, who is smarter and capable? I suppose I'd vote for Bernie Sanders if he ran, but I doubt he'd be willing to whore himself out to the compromises necessary to win office.

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