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Links 6/30/11

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Are Amazon Reviews Corrupt? PC Magazine

Bug makes record noise with penis BBC. “On average, the songs of M. scholtzi reached 78.9 decibels, comparable to a passing freight train.”

Breeder of king cobras dies from snake bite Independent (hat tip Buzz Potamkin)

‘War on terror’ set to surpass cost of Second World War Guardian (hat tip reader May S)

Everyone’s a Helot Now The Agonist (hat tip reader BDBlue)

An Unbelievable Video Of Police Brutality In Greece Today Clusterstock. Be sure to read the LOL Greece post it links to.

Now What? Credit Writedowns

Greece crisis: Greek MPs face second austerity vote BBC. Presumably a done deal, but the public reaction has been very hostile.

The Supreme Court’s continuing defense of the powerful Washington Post (hat tip Ed Harrison)

High court undoes Scalia’s pro-tobacco order PhysOrg

The Business of America Is War Steve Lendman

Christie Loses Support for Second Term Bloomberg

Federal Reserve Raises Swipe Fee Cap In Victory For Wall Street Zach Carter, Huffington Post v the report from Pravda: Fed Halves Debit Card Bank Fees New York Times. Notice the use of “draconian” on a product that would have had massive profit margins even at the lower level initially proposed by the Fed.

Lehman creditors in pay-out settlement Financial Times

Monsanto under SEC probe for incentives Financial Times

S.E.C. Delays Rajat Gupta’s Trial for Six Months New York Times

Fannie Mae Silence on Taylor Bean Mortgages Opened Way to $3 Billion Fraud Bloomberg (hat tip reader Robert M)

BofA Haunted by Countrywide Deal Wall Street Journal. We’ve pointed it out before, but we said this was a remarkably stupid deal from the get go (as in 2007, when BofA had merely bought a stake in Countrywide).

Despite Fears, Owning Home Retains Allure New York Times. This shows how susceptible poll/survey results are to how the question is phrased. Other surveys have shown record high levels of people disenchanted with home ownership.

Antidote du jour:

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52 comments

  1. russell1200

    War on terror costs = WW2?

    Something like 48 million people died in the Soviet Union (military and civilian combined) alone -or you can believe the Soviet line and go with the lower figure of 21 million.

    The Anzio Campaign (including Diadem) had 7,000 U.S. deaths and 36,0000 wounded. That is one sub-campaign within the relatively small Italian Campaign that turned out to be mostly a sideshow.

    The equivalence is laughable on the face.

    1. liberal

      They’re only talking about money costs to the US, and it’s clearly flawed—for one example, they only correct for inflation and don’t consider fraction of GDP.

    2. doom

      Yeah, we only exterminated about a million Iraqis and Hitler got like 20 million Russians and a third again as many Jews. Genocide FAIL.

    3. bill n

      $-wise, in real $, cost of ww2 at $4T was about 200% of 1945 GDP, whereas WOT at $4T is 30% of 2010 GDP. Bad, but let’s watch our hyperbole a bit here.

  2. financial matters

    Fannie Mae Silence on Taylor Bean Mortgages Opened Way to $3 Billion Fraud Bloomberg (hat tip reader Robert M)

    “”Farkas, 58, oversaw the “triple-selling” of $900 million worth of mortgage loans to Colonial, Ocala Funding and Freddie Mac

    Kissick called to say the loan in question, which Fannie Mae had paid for, had in fact been sold a few months earlier to Freddie Mac

    Fannie Mae’s loss mitigation team in Atlanta discovered several delinquent Fannie Mae-owned loans in the name of Farkas and other members of Taylor Bean’s senior management. A public records check revealed that the named borrowers didn’t hold title to the real estate and that the mortgages sold to Fannie Mae had never been recorded

    Fannie Mae’s fraud department looked at $1 billion in suspect loans in 2009 and found $650 million to be fraudulent. the loans were bought from lenders such as Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Countrywide Financial Corp., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. “”

  3. alex

    Re: The Supreme Court’s continuing defense of the powerful

    This Supreme Court ruling is worse than Citizens United. Candidates with publicly financed campaigns can’t get funds to match privately financed candidates who spend lavishly? Could anyone justify this without sounding like they’re quoting Alice in Wonderland?

    The Supreme Court has decided that if you have enough money then you have a right not to have your speech rebutted. What a marvelous “original intent” ruling! No judicial activism there, right?

    1. Foppe

      It somewhat puzzles me that there aren’t any protests against their legislative decisions. Is this because there isn’t a “free speech zone” near the SC building, or is it just not covered by the media? I’m not american myself, but it would seem to me that it should be sort of clear by now that SCOTUS has decided to stop pretending it’s interested in justice (fairness?).

      1. Valissa

        “protests against their legislative decisions”… LMAO… yes, clearly you are not American! Americans complain, or ignore, but would not waste their time on something that would change nothing.

        Americans don’t stage protests much, certainly not the way they do in many European countries (though my Danish relatives tell me protesting not big there either). The US is such a huge country with so many sub-groups spread out over it, it’s hard to get momentum going. Also people here have very limited vacation time and days off (even paid sick days are quite limited in many companies). Things are going to have to get much worse before people will take to the streets here.

        1. xct

          A friend from a former communist country in Eastern Europe went for the first time to the US, where he was told that “our people (the Americans) would have revolted in the streets, if your (Eastern European) economic situation was inflicted upon them”. Witnessing what is happening to the Americans now (and no squeal from them), I’d say they are no better or braver than the people they used to laugh at or call cowards before 1990.

        2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          I wonder if there is a connection between people being more out of shape due to our fast food diet and fewer protests these day.

          When you subsist on flowers, like many youths were in the ’60s, you have more energy to get up and shout.

      2. NOTaREALmerican

        American society stopped pretending it cared about justice LONG before the government caught up to the people.

        We’ve got the exact government we’ve been voting for, for the last 70+ years. Smothering Mommy socialism and Kick-Ass Daddy fascism, fold together for 70 years, half-bake. Serve in front of the TV at room temperature.

  4. aeolius

    There is a graphic at BBC. It shows that annual tax
    evasion per person is 3000euro , and the total borrowing 1n 2010 per person was 2125euro.Total spending cuts ~400/yr
    What is happening in Greece is a dependency rage.

    The UN found that if it ran “feeding stations” at th same locations for too long, impoverished nomads would start settling down around it.And there were riots when the drought say, was over and it tried to close it.
    Well the EC banks set up . Where a feeding station in
    Greece was set up by the Banks.
    While at first I was irate that little was done to alleviate the tax collection problem, I now imagine that the riots would have been far bigger. Perhaps the EU will have to wait til this round of cuts is insufficient. Before the inevitable privatization of the tax system. I do hope that somewhere in the EU or better in Switzerland, a cohort of CPA’s are learning Greek. :)

    1. craazyman

      that was an interesting graphic

      if they simply paid their taxes for 10 years, their debt would be paid off. It makes you want to smash your pint of Oettingen against the wall and raise your palm at the sky. (jus kidding)

      no doubt, however, the average is skewed by a handful of “elite” who technically owe millions and millions, Probably the average Greek without the elite would be a few hundred euros, which goes for cigarettes and ouzo and actually helps juice the economy. if those taxes were paid, they’d just go into a big pocket.

      so basically, the wealthy greeks and the banksters are screwing the populace like a Dionysian Goat drills a fluffy sheep with big eyelashes. But we knew that already. LOL.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Eureka!

      That’s the solution to an engineering problem I have been working on – how to move the Earth’s orbit a couple feet away from the Sun to cool down the planet.

      Now we know – by pointing all the windmills towards the Sun.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Unless you live on a recently emerged island, every nation is built on some ancient burial grounds.

      I think that’s why all economies are in trouble…especially when voodoo shamans are not as powerful as they once were.

      1. Just Tired

        No, no, no. The voodoo shamans are at their peak of importance right now — we call them economists!

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          It seems the Onion story is suggesting that Kachinas are not appeased any more, thus the failing US economy. My guess is that the current crop of voodoo shamans are not as powerful.

  5. wunsacon

    I suppose I’m not fond of rats.

    At least this one isn’t scurrying across the floor of my favorite pizza joint.

    1. ambrit

      Hi wunsacon;
      One of my sisters had a pet rat for several years. (Really, before she got married. [That's another story.]) Finally she realized that it was time to return him to his natural habitat. Her biggest challenge was in determining if he belonged in the Bank or the Courthouse.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      They are supposed to be nice pets. Remember, about 700 years ago, cats were hated. Fashions in pets change.

  6. PQS

    Re: Home ownership:

    The only benefit I can see is the tax deduction. Otherwise I would rent, and I imagine many people will consider this in the future, as properties sit vacant in nice suburbs, thanks to the Economic Meltdown.

    Not every rental is “a rental”.

    I wonder if this potential upsurge will also eventually cause an upsurge in “renters’ rights” legislation….nah, not with the US Supreme Court of the Corporations in charge….

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I don’t know if one should suggest this at a time one needs to support one’s local police financially by committing minor traffic violations such as not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, but I think it’s a good idea to give $1000 tax deduction each time one exercise one’s civic duty to vote.

  7. ambrit

    Friends;
    Help an old geezer figure the system out here, will you? I saw it mentioned once before how to suggest a newsworthy link to our esteemed hostess. Internet etiquette, si vous plais. (Isn’t that French for ‘look for your own seat?’)
    Thanks in advance for your help. The Byte Challenged One.

  8. Sock Puppet

    Christie: my morning run one day last week took me along the boardwalk of a very conservative NJ beach town. The retirees staffing the pavilions and the young cops on mountain bikes were standing in groups trash talking Christie. He’s destroying his base.

    1. Valissa

      As someone who has family that lives near a conservative NJ beach town, and as someone who vacations in same (and enjoys walking the boardwalk), I can tell you that Jersey folk almost always trash talk their governors (of either party). Complaining about the gubment is an ancient human bonding ritual ;) It comes right after talking/complaining about the weather!

      1. ambrit

        Maam;
        Surely you jest. The two subjects are not in the same league. Now, with global warming, we’re Doing Something About the Weather. On the other hand, politics is indeed a lost cause.

  9. Hugh

    Throughout the Constitution’s 202 year history, the Supreme Court has almost always been a critical instrument of class war of the haves against the have-nots. It has championed the rights of the propertied over the propertyless, slaveholders over slaves, and employers over workers. It not only fought for slavery. Later it sought to maintain discrimination. It fought against child labor laws and later against FDR’s New Deal. There has been only been one brief period from Brown (1954) to Roe (1973), the Warren Court era, where this was not completely the case, and for that it has been excoriated by conservatives and the powers that be. It is important to remember that Buckley v. Valeo (1976) came out just a few years later equating money with free speech.

    By the time of Bush v. Gore (2000) the Court had long reverted to its previous form. But it was this case which showed the Court’s fundamental politicization and disregard for the democratic process. Citizens United (2010) was simply the natural fulfillment of Buckley v. Valeo and officially established the reality of the last few decades, that we do not have a democratic process but a money process, that money does not equal free speech: it far transcends free speech. The most recent case Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett is just about stamping out what few vestiges of the old democratic system remain.

    The Court is really a tour de force example of how extremism can be merchandized, sanctified, and stuffed down the public’s throat by just dressing up a handful of reactionaries in funny looking, antiquated black robes.

    1. Hugh

      That should read 222 year history. The Constitution went into effect the same year as the French Revolution 1789.

  10. Jim Haygood

    So now (thanks to PC Magazine) we know the truth about those ubiquitous, opinionated Amazon Top 1,000 reviewers:

    They’re just old unemployed Boomer dudes, pecking out another thousand words as they sit at the keyboard in their underwear, knocking back another Bud for lunch.

    Huh, wonder whether the free goodies include beer?

    - BURP! -

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Thank God, that’s one less goal for me to achieve now, knowing it’s not a fair competition.

  11. Valissa

    Stephen Colbert prevails before the FEC http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-fec-grants-colbert-20110630,0,7610291.story

    The Federal Election Commission Thursday granted faux talk-show host Stephen Colbert a special exemption to establish a corporate-backed political action committee to run ads on his program. Colbert had asked the FEC for permission to create a “Colbert Super PAC” that would produce and air election advertisements, with the assistance of resources provided by Viacom — the parent company of Comedy Central, which airs “The Colbert Report” –- without disclosing the extent of Viacom’s assistance. …

    By a 5-1 vote, the commission granted Colbert a limited press exemption. Viacom may provide undisclosed resources to aid the PAC in creating ads that air on “The Colbert Report.” But, the commission declared that the PAC must disclose the value of Viacom resources used to create ads that air on other networks, and to maintain the PAC’s paperwork. Colbert’s appearance energized the normally sleepy goings-on at the FEC.

    I excerpted the key bits, suggest reading the whole thing to appreciate the layers of issues this involves (kafka-esque, for sure). Perhaps it’s time to buy stock in Orville Redenbacher.

    1. Anonymous Jones

      While it’s not A Modest Proposal, using the whole beside-the-point theatrics as the teaspoon of sugar to cleverly disguise the medicine (bringing money-in-politics more into the public consciousness) is pretty cool, I’d say.

  12. Externality

    The latest groups the government wants to add to the no-fly list: “potential child abductors” and children traveling with only one parent. (The latter, in order to travel, would need to show TSA and the airline a letter from the other parent authorizing the trip.)

    GAO Suggests ‘No-Fly’ List for Potential Child Abductors
    http://www.securitymanagement.com/print/8667

    1. Valissa

      This is a continuing trend. For the past couple of years there have been similar results in the Rasmussen polls, even using slightly differently stated questions. The great majority of the people in the US have MAJOR distrust of the ruling political elites and the institutions they represent, and pretty much assume the elites don’t care anything about the average citizen. However the elites do not seem to care about these poll results regarding their unpopularity.

  13. Valissa

    Geithner mulls departing Treasury post: sources http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/30/us-geithner-idUSTRE75T6BC20110630

    Geithner is the last remaining top member of President Barack Obama’s original economic team. Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee is planning to leave the administration in August to return to the University of Chicago.

    Geithner, 49, has been warning all year of catastrophic consequences if Congress fails to increase the $14.3 trillion statutory borrowing limit and the United States defaults on its debt. …

    Geithner, 49, has spent most of his career in the public sector and does not have a university position or banking job waiting for him.

    Will have to splurge and buy a really good whiskey. It’s an important ritual to drink to the exiting bankster lord before he is replaced with a new and not-very-differnt bankster lord.

    Anyone one to takes bets as to which of the big banks he goes to work for? Or will we be stuck with him heading up the World Bank?

  14. Max424

    from Stephen Lendman’s, The Business of America Is War:

    “…with supplemental and hidden add-ons, as well as Pentagon, intelligence, and other unknown amounts, the grand [MIC spending] total likely exceeds $1.5 trillion…”

    Correct.

    from Bruce Gagnon’s, The Sword and the Shield: Surround Russia and China with Mobile “Missile Defense” Systems:

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=17422

    “So the strategy is clear. Surround Russia and China with mobile “missile defense” systems whose job is to take out their retaliatory capability after a U.S. first-strike against their nuclear weapons. Russia and China then build counter-measures to the U.S. missile defense systems and then the Pentagon in return counters with the new “global strike” systems that are today under development.

    All this means one thing – an extended arms race with Russia and China which will mean huge profits for the weapons industry and the very likely reality that no effective arms control treaties will be negotiated during this administration. Why would Russia and China negotiate to seriously reduce their nuclear arsenals when the U.S. is surrounding them with missile defense and building new global strike systems?”

    Correct.

    Since 1947, the Holy Grail for top level US military planners has been to obtain nuclear First Strike capabilities over their opponents.

    We are almost there.

    Note: Watch out, China! You try to monopolize world petroleum supplies; we kill you (will we suffer 20 to 50 million dead in return. Probably. But it will be a small price to pay for Total Victory, and more importantly, for the last drops of oil).

    1. Valissa

      Possibly one of today’s most important articles, in that it shows VERY clearly that congress no longer has any meaningful power over the banks. The intense full on lobbying battle over this was quite incredible!

      The average swipe fee in America is 44 cents, the highest rate in the world. In December, the Federal Reserve released an analysis saying that banks could still make profit by charging 12 cents per transaction, and under the Dodd-Frank financial reform, planned to enforce this cap starting today. …

      Yesterday, less than 24 hours before their rules were to go into effect, the Federal Reserve announced it would cap the fees at as high as 24 cents, not 12.

      In announcing that the Fed would double the proposed cap, chairman Ben Bernanke said “I think this is the best available solution that implements the will of Congress and makes good economic decisions.” Alongside the Senate fight, Wall Street has also been pressuring the Fed to help them out, and apparently their pleas have been heard.

      Clearly this was a bait-and-switch plan from the get go. Wall Street and the Fed are buddies, and teh congress and small business owners got played.

  15. Max424

    Off topic.

    I could be wrong, but recently, I believe there has been a subtle but detectable shift in the Professor’s thinking.

    Today, for instance, Krugman extolls the virtues of TRADE BARRIERS! … and, get ready for it … FULL EMPLOYMENT!

    Giggle.

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/wrong-to-be-right-2/?gwh=3C56490305C7C88682B1E044CCC3EFB6

    I like Krugman, I can’t help it. He’s a truly funny bastard, and I’ve never met a truly funny bastard who was evil.

    Did the Professor spend 30 years on the fringes, or actually in, the evil neo-liberal camp? Yeah, he did.

    But, if Krugman chooses to spends his remaining years on the fringes of the MMT camp, I’ll mostly forgive him; and if he courageously joins our camp, I’ll forgive him completely.

    Note: Is it possible the confrontation Krugman had with the MMT boys a few weeks back had a noticeable effect on his thinking? Hmm…maybe. Also, I think it’s dawning on the Kruger that there are no sane people left in Washington, and that knowledge is freeing him up to say whatever he wants, because basically; we are all truly and totally fucked, and if there is nothing left to us now ‘cept honorable death, why not go down screaming the truth?

  16. Thomas Barton, JD

    Yves, why hasn’t the deal wrung out of the French banks and in todays bloomberg scroll, the germans say the French plan is a template for their own german banks, why hasn’t this clear restructuring triggered any financial repercussions ? I thought the ECB spent the last year howling that any restructuring even “voluntary” even in the form of lengthened maturities would not be tolerated by them and would trigger larger losses immediately of unknown dimension. It is as if the ECB said there would be H bomb effects on the Eurozone but they are acting as if it is just some mild volcanic cloud from some obscure Icelandic volcano.

  17. Jackrabbit

    There are reports that Geithner is “considering” leaving after the budge deal.

    Could this signal that Obama is “considering” appointing Warren?

    1. Jackrabbit

      Oh, now it seems that he has decided to stay for the foreseeable future.

      NYT article describes how his power within the administration has grown. Interesting read. I suppose some here would say that his power has increased as much as it has become more apparent.

  18. Cedric Regula

    “Bug makes record noise with penis”

    They say ants are 500 times stronger than us too. Bugs have everything over us!

  19. Sundog

    This take on Mexican entrepreneurs rings my bells.

    [no byline] “Mexico’s criminal organizations: weakness in complexity, strength in evolution”
    http://www.southernpulse.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3922170

    Read only the last graf if you’re short of time, or just this: “the transition from criminal king to political king maker is relatively swift to complete and nearly impossible to reverse.”

    Comparison to DEMGOP and bankers is nearly impossible to resist.

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