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Posts Tagged ‘waste

“There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: ‘I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.'”*…

 

McKinsey

 

 

McKinsey has a lot of high-flying rhetoric about strategy, sustainability, and social justice. The company ostensibly pursues intellectual and business excellence, while also using its people skills to help Syrian refugees. That’s nice.

But let’s start with what McKinsey is really about, which is getting organizational leaders to pay a large amount of money for fairly pedestrian advice. In MacDougall’s article on McKinsey’s work on immigration, most of the conversation has been about McKinsey’s push to engage in cruel behavior towards detainees. But let’s not lose sight of the incentive driving the relationship, which was McKinsey’s political ability to extract cash from the government. Here’s the nub of that part of the story.

The consulting firm’s sway at ICE grew to the point that McKinsey’s staff even ghostwrote a government contracting document that defined the consulting team’s own responsibilities and justified the firm’s retention, a contract extension worth $2.2 million. “Can they do that?” an ICE official wrote to a contracting officer in May 2017.

The response reflects how deeply ICE had come to rely on McKinsey’s assistance. “Well it obviously isn’t ideal to have a contractor tell us what we want to ask them to do,” the contracting officer replied. But unless someone from the government could articulate the agency’s objectives, the officer added, “what other option is there?” ICE extended the contract.

Such practices used to be called “honest graft.” And let’s be clear, McKinsey’s services are very expensive. Back in August, I noted that McKinsey’s competitor, the Boston Consulting Group, charges the government $33,063.75/week for the time of a recent college grad to work as a contractor. Not to be outdone, McKinsey’s pricing is much much higher, with one McKinsey “business analyst” – someone with an undergraduate degree and no experience – lent to the government priced out at $56,707/week, or $2,948,764/year.

How does McKinsey do it? There are two answers…

The estimable Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) explains: “Why Taxpayers Pay McKinsey $3M a Year for a Recent College Graduate Contractor.”

See also: “How McKinsey Makes Its Own Rules.”

[Image above: source]

* “Everybody is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”  —  George Washington Plunkitt, New York State Senator and “Sage of Tammany Hall

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As we reconsider consultants, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, despondent after the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides, set himself afire in his home town of Sidi Bouzid… a central catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution— the Jasmine Revolution– and the wider Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes throughout the region.

220px-Mohamed_Bouazizi_2 source

 

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash– all of them”*…

 

garbage

Widely considered to be the first sanitary landfill in the U.S., the Fresno garbage dump, which opened in 1937, has the dubious distinction of being named to both the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the nation’s list of Superfund sites. That’s a funny pair of categories to straddle, but it illustrates an important point: Trash is a starring character in the American story, even as we continue to wrestle with its consequences…

Dumpster dive at “Mapping America’s Mountains of Garbage.”

* John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

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As we sort compost from recycling, we might recall that it was on this date in 1583 that Sir Humphrey Gilbert established the first English colony in North America, at what is now St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Written by LW

August 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Eight years involved with the nuclear industry have taught me that when nothing can possibly go wrong and every avenue has been covered, then is the time to buy a house on the next continent”*…

 

 

The Yucca Mountain Waste Depository sits empty.  Starting 1983, our electricity bills contained a tiny charge (a tenth of a penny per kilowatt-hour) meant to pay for the storage of nuclear waste until it’s safe– an estimated 10,000 years– at Yucca Mountain.  In 2014, after collecting $30 billion, the Department of Energy stopped the fee.  Five miles of tunnels—out of the intended 40—had already been carved into the rock, but there was no radioactive waste stored there.  Having missed its planned opening date of January 31, 1998 by an embarrassing margin, the Obama administration in 2010 abandoned the languishing plans to build Yucca Mountain.  Three-and-a-half years later, a court ruled the federal government couldn’t keep collecting fees for a site it had no intention of building.

That’s one way to see Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository’s continued nonexistence, as yet another political boondoggle: thirty billion dollars of taxpayer money collected to build a mythical mountain.

But Yucca Mountain is more than that. The ambition behind it far exceeds the two- or four- or even six-year terms of any politician. Here we were trying to build a structure that would last longer than the Great Pyramids of Egypt, longer than any man-made structure, longer than any language. When forced to adopt a long view of human existence—when looking back on today from 10,000 years into the future—it’s hard not to view Yucca Mountain in near-mythical terms. We can imagine future earthlings pondering it the way we ponder the Parthenon or Stonehenge today—massive structures imbued with an alien spirituality.

Ten thousand years may be the time scale of legends, but nuclear waste storage is a very real and practical problem for humans. It is a problem where incomprehensibly long time scales clash with human ones, where grand visions run up against forces utterly mundane and petty…

In 1981, the Department of Energy convened a task force on how to communicate with the future.

The panel of consulted experts included engineers, but also an archeologist, a linguist, and an expert in nonverbal communication. Dubbed the Human Interference Task Force, they were tasked with figuring out how to keep future humans away from a deep geological repository of nuclear waste—like Yucca Mountain…

Read more about HITF’s attempts to communicate with our far future selves at “The Cat Went Over Radioactive Mountain” in the terrific new Method Quarterly.

* The late, lamented Terry Pratchett

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As we reach for the kitty litter, we might send penetrating birthday greetings to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen; he was born on this date in 1845.  As a physicist working at the University of Würzburg in 1895, Röntgen became the first to discover– to produce and detect– electromagnetic radiation in the range we now know as x-ray (originally called “Röntgen ray”).  Two weeks after his discovery, he became the first person to create an image with x-rays, when he took a “picture” of his wife Anna Bertha’s hand.  For his discovery, Röntgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.  And in 2004, element number 111 roentgenium (Rg) was named in his honor.

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Written by LW

March 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“We have sacrificed space exploration for space exploitation, which is interesting but scarcely visionary”*…

 

What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department. 

Three weeks ago, the office of the Inspector General of the US State Department sent a memo to the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Administration noting that it had identified “contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all.” As an example of how that $6 billion figure was reached, the memo notes that “a recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan. The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by [federal accounting regulations].” Now, when I read that and the other examples in this memo, it is unclear to me if this means that the projects meant to be covered by those 33 files were paid for and not done, if they were paid for and done but not cataloged, or something else. The media, though, has widely interpreted this $6 billion as money down the drain, rather than money wisely spent but poorly tracked. Importantly, this $6 billion was lost / mis-catalogued over the course of about 6 years; the missing funds therefore total about 2% of the agency’s spending over those years.

What else could we have done with that money? Well, if that money were to somehow show up under the doormat at the US Capitol building in an unmarked envelope with a note of apology, and if Congress were decided to spend it all on space exploration, it would go along way. In fact, the entire President’s Budget Request for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate—the part of NASA that covers all of its active and developing science missions—for fiscal year 2015 is less than $5.2 billion.

As a reference for people who think that space exploration costs too much, there’s a Tumblr that lists things that cost even more…

What costs more than space exploration? Unused gift cards.

According to financial consulting firm CEB TowerGroup, Americans let an estimated total of $1.8 billion in giftcards go to waste in 2012. Lots of Americans give and receive gift cards (also according to TowerGroup, the American gift card economy is larger than the GDP of 136 different nations), and some of those gift cards get lost, are thrown out, or expire. If this total sounds high, it’s worth noting that it’s actually much lower than the waste levels observed in previous years, thanks to the CARD Act: between 2005 and 2011, a total of $41 billion in giftcards was wasted, for a rough average of $5.85 billion per year.

In October 2012, SpaceX launched the first of twelve commercially-operated cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station. A Dragon capsule, built by SpaceX, launched onboard a Falcon 9 rocket, also built by SpaceX, and rendezvoused with the Station before being grappled by ISS’s robotic arm and berthed. In total, the Dragon capsule delivered about 900 pounds of useful supplies to the crew of the station (nearly 2,000 pounds, if you count all of the packaging); two and a half weeks later, Dragon returned to Earth carrying a different 800 or so pounds of returning payloads and equipment. It total, SpaceX’s contract for those twelve flights will cost NASA and the US tax payer $1.6 billion.

More at Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration.

* Eugene Cernan

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As we raise our eyes to the stars, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers– Flight 19– took off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission.  Their course was plotted to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned.

Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had both failed– as had those on all of the other planes in his flight, and that their position was unknown.  After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard, apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously due to lack of fuel.

By this time, several land radar stations finally determined that Flight 19 was somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of the Florida coast, and a search and rescue Mariner aircraft took off with a 13-man crew. Three minutes later, the Mariner aircraft radioed to its home base that its mission was underway. The Mariner was never heard from again.

The disappearance of the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13 men of the Mariner led to one of the largest air and seas searches to that date, and hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and remote locations within the interior of Florida.  No trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.

Although naval officials maintained that the remains of the six aircraft and 27 men were not found because stormy weather destroyed the evidence, the story of the “Lost Squadron” helped cement the legend of the Bermuda Triangle…

Artist’s depiction of the five TBM Avengers that disappeared.

 

source

 

Written by LW

December 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

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