Links 2/8/09

Australia fires rage with 49 dead BBC

Why sustainable power is unsustainable New Scientist

Who’s Messing with Wikipedia? MIT Technology Review

Bailout Revamp Could Use Private Bank for Bad Assets Wall Street Journal. I wish I had the energy to shred this one right now, but the headline idea is another crock, and I hope to explain why tomorrow. It is also troubling to se how many trial balloons have been floated in the last few days. For something this important, they seem to be making it up on the fly. Here is a good first cut analysis: YOU, the U.S. Taxpayer, Can’t Handle the Truth Roger Ehrenberg

Cutbanks in the Fiscal Boost Program Brad DeLong. A useful tally

J.P. Morgan’s Abusive Executives Bonuses Truth in Options (hat tip Jesse)

Legal Protectionism: A New Mercantilism Stormy, Angry Bear

Turn failed banks back into mutuals, Labour told Guardian

You Try to Live on 500K in This Town New York Times and Al Lewis: Wake Up, Folks — It’s a New World of Pay Limits FoxBusiness (hat tip reader David)

Antidote du jour:

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  1. Independent Accountant

    I read the WSJ article about the latest incarnation of MLEC. The long and short of it is: how does Treasury deceive the public about the nature and amount of big bank bailouts. All the rest is an exercise in obfuscation. Treasury cannot openly overpay for this junk so it goes through backflips to make it appear that it is not. These guys all belong in prison. Including the Big 87654 firm partners who sat by and did nothing while this was happening. If the banks’ books were properly stated, MLEC in its various forms would be impossible.

  2. doc du jour holiday

    Music du jour: All I Need

    Quote du jour: The Tempest
    Act 2, Scene 2

    STEPHANO: Four legs and two voices: a most delicate monster!
    His forward voice now is to speak well of his
    friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract. If all the wine in my bottle will recover him, I will help his ague. Come. Amen! I will pour some in thy other mouth.

    > Rabbits, tea, kettles, almost a puzzle there and the stuff of a metaphor, but for some reason I'm thinking Frost

  3. John

    If you have a strong stomach read the NYT piece about struggling bankers living in NY on 500K. I like to say more but it probably will get me banned from commenting. These people deserve the future.

  4. Richard Kline

    Regarding the trial balloons on the Bank of Potemkin plan, they _are_ making it up as they go along. Faking it up would be more accurate. No but seriously, here is the problem: the decision was made, in March 08, that, oh alright, public money would be handed to bankers 'for our own good.' The shatter-rama in Sept 08 only confirmed to the leaders that be that this was The Plan. Bo Prez came in and his bought and sold bagmen said, "This is the real Plan, the wgole Plan, and nothing but this Plan will the gold collar class except; sign here." The problem, though, is that the public JUST HATES WHAT LITTLE THEY KNOW OF THE _PLAN_. So anything that now souds, well, plan-like, becomes politically radioactive. That leaves Summers & Co. dodging and weaving, trying to find some kind of language which conceals the wealth transfer at work. The Plan of the banksters from the first floating of Mo-Lech, was to have the chumpocracy take the loss. Geithner, Summers, and the rest are having a helluva time finding a rug big enough to drape over this elephant while they shuffle it through Congress; this is why the script changes near daily. But The Plan has remained the same.

    There are some things seriously wrong with the presumptions in the Wikipedia article. I'm a bit to bushed to really sort it out. There remains the idea that 'Wikipedia is wrong a lot,' which this piece is tainted with, though it does not state that. Well, studies have shown that it is neither more or less wrong then general purpose encyclopedias. There is a further idea that all this 'veiled rewriting' of articles is somehow—it isn't state _how_—evidence of 'bias' on someone's part, and that accordingly the resulting page content is 'less true' than something which could be found elsewhere. Certainly, this can be the case. I have read biographical articles, particularly on living individuals, which plainly could have been dictated by a publicist; cavaet emptor. But the presumption behind this idea that 'editing equals weakness' is, frankly, ridiculous. Editing happens all the time at 'real' sources. So does fact-checking. Anyone who knows anything _whatsoever_ about academic discourse understands that truth is whoever has seniority in a department, and most issues of any relevance are contentious and have contending factions with countervailing fact sets. There is little absolute truth; often the greatest value is to understand the argument behind an issue so one can weight the _facts_ presented. I assume this to be true of most issues.

    I should like someone critical of Wikipedia to show, in a thorough manner, that they are wrong _on basic facts_ more often than other sources; names, dates, places, numbers. If this is so, then yes, they are a seriously compromised source. I trust readers to have the enlightened self-interest to sort through the _arguments_ if the facts presented are not fundamentally wrong. The major limitation of the wiki approach, perhaps, is that there is not a good way to balance countervailing arguments, which gives the appearance of certainty to the page content when much may be in dispute. This is the value of real editing in quality academic journals, but which Wiki's situation does not easily incorporate. 'Nuff.

  5. Carrick

    In regard to Richard's comment and the NYT $500k article..
    Ironic how those that created (or at least expedited) this mess, have such an outspoken dumbfounded reaction ("but I don't get it") to the bonuses, fancy net jets, pay caps, etc., while simultaneously offering "you wouldn't get it" to the public in lieu of an adult explanation of where we really are and why & how far any bailout may get us.

  6. Anonymous

    on the wiki article, yes people edit wiki and people also edit books.

    wikipedia has become pretty good in my opinion, it’s not perfect but neither are books.

    the amount of bs i’ve read in books, magazines and newspapers, especially in recent times, is unbelievable.

  7. ruetheday

    Yves said: “It is also troubling to se how many trial balloons have been floated in the last few days.”

    Extremely troubling. Geithner is set to unveil his plan at noon tomorrow and he still has no idea what it’s going to be.

    It’s the same recycled, already-tried ideas of asset purchases, asset insurance, and direct capital injections. Since they’ve already committed some of the second half of the TARP to institutions and are earmarking some more for foreclosure relief, they don’t have much left to spend, and this hodge podge of ideas certainly won’t help.

    Then there’s the part about attracting private investors to co-invest, an idea that’s been floating around for months. The problem is – if private investors wanted to invest, they already would have. That means the plan will include either gov’t financing at below market rates or some sort of backstopping on the assets purchased by private investors. Yet another ubsidy. Yet more privatization of profit and socialization of risk.

  8. Richard Smith

    I haven’t tracked the number of Plan Leaks Per Day over the past couple of weeks but it must be running close to 1, all of them utterly dismal variations on the same theme.

    There is one thing to be said in favour of all this twisting, which, in one form or another, has been going on for over a year now.

    The more effort goes in to obfuscating the very evident intent, which is to rip off the tax payer as much as possible, the more obvious the subterfuge becomes.

    I imagine the by now very well-prepared critics of The Plan will have a field day skewering it tomorrow, and in the days to come.

    Whether that will kill The Plan off is quite another matter. I hope you are all going to shout at your elected representatives very loudly indeed.

  9. Sheridan Family

    Oh cry me a river on those blasted executives and their pay. They’re lucky nobody is listening to the economists who want to nationalize the banks. In other words, they’re lucky they have jobs. Further executives in Japan ride the subway everyday, and nobody complains about their “pride.” The sense of entitlement is worse than a welfare recipient.


  10. john bougearel

    On Roger Ehrenberg’s observation that the “powers that be” present through their fear-mongering that “we can’t handle the truth” belies only one reality that the “powers that be” refuse to tell the truth. They would rather go to their graves carrying their secrets with them.

    Now this is the sad reality: American values from the top-down have been so corrupted that they think these soundbites of distorted realities they provide us are better than the truth.

    We have fallen so far from grace that Jesse H. Jones can no longer say to us that “if you tell the american people the truth, they can handle anything.”

    How the hell are we supposed to handle this if they can’t tell us anything but a pack of flipping lies? As this crisis wears on, the only certainty we have is that the lies and deception grows bigger and the expropriation of monies from the taxpayer grows directly proportionate to those lies.

  11. doc holiday

    Re: Who is Target No. 1, in Taleb’s view? Robert E. Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and Citigroup board member who took home about $110 million in his years at Citi.

    >> Can anyone explain the difference between The Poster Boy Rubin and The Child-like Madoff, i.e, what is the difference between people that have no clue as to the difference between robbing people and stealing? The mind of a child is a terrible thing to waste, but Rubin, et al need to be prosecuted for providing false and misleading information to shareholders and then be held accountable for stealing taxpayers revenues!

    Obviously Rubin should give back all his pirate coins and then go to prison, or at least be unable to leave his home for the rest of his life. We do accountability and fewer pirates on the street … and as for staying at home, Rubin can have cable TV, but no phones or internet, and that goes for ll those FUC****** !!!!

  12. dearieme

    “they need to take on the appurtenances of what defines that culture”: I do admire ‘appurtenances’. I suppose that to say that they like to flaunt their loot would be too blunt.

  13. Anonymous

    If anyone still thinks Wikipedia is a bastion of neutrality and openness, the very odd circumstances surrounding Gary Weiss and are definitely worth a look:

    “Emails show journalist rigged Wikipedia’s naked shorts”

    And in the main story at, we hear even more about the censorship and deception. Here are choice bits from

    “It would be possible to dismiss Gary as a marginal creep. But his strange views on phantom stock are widely cited. Herb Greenberg and other journalists regularly promote his blog. Meanwhile, Gary and his crook friends do more than post lies on blogs and internet message boards. They have also seized control of Wikipedia – one of the most important (though certainly not accurate) sources of information on the internet.

    That’s right, Gary Weiss was until recently the sole (anonymous) author of multiple Wikipedia pages, including the blatantly distorted entries on naked short selling (phantom stock), Overstock, and Patrick Byrne. (Gary Weiss is, of course, also the author of the glowing Wikipedia page on Gary Weiss.) And though Wikipedia claims that it can be edited by anyone, the truth is that until this scandal broke, the pages authored by Gary Weiss were given special protection. Nobody other than Gary Weiss could touch them.

    Judd put together proof of what Gary was doing, and submitted it for review to a high-ranking Wikipedia administrator known only by the screen name, “SlimVirgin.” Rather than examine this evidence, SlimVirgin immediately forwarded it to Gary Weiss. One of Judd’s “methods” allowed him to determine this immediately.

    Judd also quickly learned that Gary’s privileged status on Wikipedia was, in fact, the result of SlimVirgin’s interventions. For months, anytime a user attempted to edit a page controlled by Gary, SlimVirgin would step in and restore Gary’s preferred version.

    Wikipedia allows its administrators to remain anonymous, and they would if it weren’t for clever internet sleuth Daniel Brandt. Brandt unmasked the man who edited the Wikipedia entry of one-time government official John Seigenthaler to suggest that Seigenthaler had a role in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. Brandt also revealed that a Wikipedia administrator who had claimed to be a professor of theology with two doctorates was, in fact, a 24-year-old college drop-out. These two incidents became the basis for critiques of Wikipedia in the New Yorker and other mainstream media.

    For his third act, Brandt discovered that SlimVirgin’s true identity is one Linda Mack, a woman who was suspected of working as a British intelligence agent. It turns out that Linda Mack also studied philosophy with Patrick Byrne at Cambridge University, where, for a time, they had a close if somewhat odd relationship. Patrick wrote a public letter describing this relationship. The letter has literary merit. Check it out here.

    Meanwhile, John Cooley, a former correspondent for ABC News, wrote a public letter describing how Mack had once worked as a research assistant for ABC. His former boss, Pierre Salinger, fired SlimVirgin when he began to suspect that she was spying on ABC for MI5, the British intelligence agency.

    Soon after Cooley sent this letter, I interviewed a man named Edwin Bollier, who was once accused of supplying the suitcase bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. SlimVirgin’s boyfriend was on that plane, so that could explain her interest. But Boiller says that SlimVirgin once showed up in his office and identified herself as an agent for MI5.

    When Judd reveals that Gary Weiss is the anonymous editor who has conspired with the supposed one-time MI5 agent called SlimVirgin to hijack the Wikipedia pages on phantom stock, Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales and SlimVirgin dismiss it all as “conspiracy theory.” Wales announces that Gary Weiss has nothing to do with those pages. Gary himself flat out denies that he has ever edited a Wikipedia page.

    When Judd continues to present his evidence, and persists in making this an issue, Wikipedia administrators begin to debate an Orwellian “Bad Sites” policy which would prohibit a certain website from being mentioned on Wikipedia. This online debate generates more words than are contained in the New Testament (literally, Judd has done a comparison) and is focused entirely on Judd’s blog,, as the one “Bad Site.” Things get really strange when Wikipedia’s administrators decide that their discussion about this “Bad Site” must continue without mention of the site itself.

    So now, websites advertising child pornography and other evils are regularly mentioned on Wikipedia, but a single utterance of “”, a blog devoted largely to describing the strange attempts of Gary Weiss and SlimVirgin to whitewash the problem of phantom stock, is enough to have an administrator removed from his position and banned forever from Wikipedia.

    Then Wikipedia takes the unprecedented step of blocking the IP addresses of Overstock and 1,000 homes in Judd’s neighborhood in Traverse Mountain, Utah. One should not underestimate the significance of this: Judd and his neighbors, and the employees of Patrick Byrne’s, become the only people on the planet who cannot access the Wikipedia edit function. The Register, an internet publication (something like a British version of Wired Magazine), does a story about this, titled, “Wikipedia Black Helicopters Circle Utah’s Traverse Mountain.”

    Meanwhile, Jimbo Wales and SlimVirgin continue to vehemently deny that Gary Weiss has anything to do with the “Naked short selling” Wikipedia entry.

    But then several of Wales’s contributions to a very small and private email list are leaked to Judd. One of these – a September, 2007 email from Wales — alluding to Mantanmoreland, the on-line alias of the author of the Wikipedia “Naked short selling” entry – reads as follows:

    From: (Jimbo Wales)

    I just want to go on record as saying that I believe the reason for this is that Mantanmoreland is in fact Gary Weiss.

    When Wikipedia administrators see this, they rise up against Wales. For months, Wales and SlimVirgin have been assuring them that Gary is not the editor of the entries on naked short selling – that Judd isn’t credible, that he’s a conspiracy nut and author of the world’s only “Bad Site.” Now, here is clear evidence that Wales and SlimVirgin had duped the other administrators.

    Meanwhile, dozens of Wikipedia users submit amazingly detailed and academic studies (one employs phraseology to demonstrate language-use similarities between Gary and his on-line aliases) that help prove that Gary Weiss is indeed the anonymous, conflict-laden editor who controls, with the support of SlimVirgin, every Wikipedia entry having to do with naked short selling, phantom stock, Patrick Byrne,, and Gary Weiss himself.

    Wales dissembles, saying that “believing” that Gary Weiss is Mantanmoreland is “not the same as knowing for sure.” But as the scandal spins out of control, more evidence emerges of coordinated distortion of Wikipedia pages. It appears, for example, that Wales wangled changes to the entry on a Canadian newscaster in exchange for sex. And The Register reveals that a cabal of Wikipedia administrators have hijacked the entry for a religious cult leader, Prem Rawat, who refers to himself as the “Lord of the Universe.”

    Then Jeff Merkey, a former top scientist at software development company Novell, writes Wales an email that says, “I just sent ***ALL*** of your emails to the associated press, exposing your lies and deceit.” The Associated Press, in turn, reports that Wales gave special protection to the Wikipedia article on Jeff Merkey in exchange for a substantial donation to the Wikimedia Foundation.

    As of April, 2008, a veritable revolution is underway at Wikipedia. Its administrators are demanding explanations-especially about Wales’ relationship with Gary Weiss and SlimVirgin. The Wikipedia founder, backed into a corner, has become ever more defensive, though he is agreeing to look into the Gary Weiss allegations.

    “I support that this investigation continue,” Wales writes on a message board, “and request that it be done in a kind, thoughtful, loving way.”

    * * * * * * * *

    The importance of Wikipedia entries should not be underestimated. If you do a Google search for “naked short selling,” the all-important number-one result is the Wikipedia entry that says in no uncertain terms that phantom stock does not exist.

    Did Jimbo Wales give special protection to Gary Weiss and SlimVirgin, allowing them to hijack this and other Wikipedia pages? It is perhaps too early to say for sure, but it is worth understanding a little bit about Jimbo Wales’ prior career.

    To summarize: Before founding Wikipedia, Wales owned a soft core porn site. Before founding a soft core porn site, Wales was a key player in the precise area of the Chicago options market where naked short sales are often negotiated.”


    There’s more at the site. Highly recommended. Like Markopolous, these guys were blowing the whistle and being ignored for years before Madoff broke.

  14. Anonymous

    Legal Protectionism: A New Mercantilism Stormy, Angry Bear

    Er, would it be “protectionist” to give $2TRILLION or so to your insurance, banking and investment Industries?

    Apparently not. Must be tough on those countries who were prudent and are not subsidizing these Industries which of course invest in companies that engage in International Trade.

    Free trade another fraud and scam perped by the folks at the IMF, WTO and World Bank. When will the next Mantra be launched?

  15. Daniel

    Oh boy.

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has a new one up and it’s a doozy. He seems just about ready to head for the hills…

  16. Anonymous

    Representative Kanjorski (PA): 550 Billion Draw Down on Sept 19, 2008

    Kanjorski, “At 2 minutes, 20 seconds into this C-Span video clip, Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania explains how the Federal Reserve told Congress members about a “tremendous draw-down of money market accounts in the United States, to the tune of $550 billion dollars.” According to Kanjorski, this electronic transfer occured over the period of an hour or two.”

    Spread this video around.

    Bernanke/Geitner must be terrifying Congress with this information. Kanjorski also says that Treasury dropped the asset bailout idea because they quickly figured out it would cost $3 or $4 trillion dollars (at least at the prices the banks want paid for their junk assets).

    This is insanity. Congress needs to adopt Professor Fama’s proposal to seize the banks, wipe out equity, and force enough creditors to give up their debt claims for stock claims to leave the banks solvent.

    This doesn’t hurt the taxpayer. This doesn’t hurt the public. This only hurts corrupt/incompetent bank executives and lazy shareholders/creditors let the bank executives take obscene risk with the US financial system.

  17. Anonymous

    Typically, businesses are limited in how much they can lower their tax liability when they acquire another company with built-in losses. But the IRS decision exempted banks, essentially providing no cap for how much a healthy bank could deduct from its taxes by realizing the losses that came with the troubled bank it acquired.

    Several lawmakers cried foul when they learned about the preferred tax treatment for banks, saying the IRS had no authority to overturn tax policies without congressional input.

    Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is leading an effort in Congress to get the preferential treatment eliminated. A measure that would do away with it for any bank deal announced after Jan. 16 of this year is in both the House and the Senate versions of the stimulus bill still being ironed out by Congress.

  18. Anonymous

    …each step had been but a stumble: each operation a very feeble palliation. Days and weeks had been gained, obscurity had been allowed to give more chance, solely from fear of disclosing the true and terrible state of affairs, and the extent of the public ruin.


    [out of copyright, in case Geithner wants dibs on it for his memoire]

  19. eh

    It is also troubling to see how many trial balloons have been floated in the last few days.

    It keeps the stock market up until they make up their minds.

  20. Anonymous

    February 8, 2009
    Congress Spooked in September By Massive Financial System Run Underway?

    The Treasury opened up its window to help, and pumped in $105-billion into the system, and quickly realized it could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks. They decided to close down the operation, to close down the money accounts. … If they had not done that, in their estimation, by 2 PM that afternoon $5.5-trillion would have been withdrawn and would have collapsed the U.S. economy and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed.


  21. Anonymous

    One can surely justify more than 500k for a few bankers. But only a few, like, maybe a dozen for the whole U.S.

    The rest of them are just a dime a dozen.

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