Links 11/21/10

Tiger summit aims to double numbers BBC

What’s Really Wrong With the Smart Grid Lisa Margonelli, Atlantic (hat tip reader Crocodile Chuck)

French ban X-ray scans for illegal immigrants as radiation makes them ‘too dangerous’ Daily Mail (hat tip reader May S)

Long Live the Web Tim Berners-Lee, Scientific American (hat tip reader Lee, via the Financial Times)

Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha Frank Rich, New York Times

Consumer Risks Feared as Health Law Spurs Mergers New York Times

Peak Oil: why the Pentagon is pessimistic Le Monde

Socially challenging Economist

Are we living in the end times? Al Jazeera (hat tip reader May S). Zizek is quite the iconoclast.

Answering the bunnies James Hamilton

US firms warn Irish over tax move Telegraph (hat tip reader Swedish Lex)

Looking at Ireland, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry Guardian

This bail-out blackmail must be stopped Jeremy Warner, Telegraph. Why aren’t we seeing more of this sort of headline?

Banks walk away from houses rdan Angry Bear

“Countrywide Routinely Failed to Send Key Docs to MBS Trustees” Mark Thoma. This confirms what we were told quite some time ago and reported here, that Countrywide did not convey the notes to the securitization trust. Countrywide reported to the SEC that it securitized 96% of the loans it originated. Having official confirmation is a big deal.

Antidote du jour:

Picture 55

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  1. attempter

    Re Peak Oil:

    Article like this explain exactly what’s been happening for the last 40 years, and the whole neoliberal strategy.

    This quote from the Pentagon sums it up:

    At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.

    Reading between the lines: The end of the Oil Age will require a harsh economic adjustment for America. The only way we elites can maximize our wealth and power and the length of time we can hold onto those is by moving toward economic and political totalitarianism, including ruthless conquest wherever necessary.

    Re the “smart grid”:

    I wrote a post on this back in May

    As for Margonelli’s article, what can we say? She describes some of what’s wrong with it, but goes into system hack mode:

    * It’ll be bad if hijacked for profiteering. As if any rational person not on the take would have (or express) any doubt about that.

    * Whatever’s wrong with it, we still have to have it. Implicitly. It’s “green”, and it’s kool hi-tech and all, ya know?

    * So Obama has to do the right thing here! Of course we know how accountable Obama is to calls for doing the right thing. And how seriously we should take an MSM commentator who still calls upon us to repose faith in Obama.

    On the contrary, we can take it as an empirically proven fact that if the benevolence of something is dependent upon Obama “doing the right thing”, then it will definitely be bad in practice, and we should reject and resist it.

    1. Paul Repstock

      LOL, I would suggest that “The Pentagon is Pesimistic”, because that position will justify a military response for securing the world’s oil supplies for American needs. If longterm independance from fossil fuels had truly been the goal, the first actions should have been increased taxes on the production and consumption of those fuels. Raising the cost of oil consumption would have been many times more effective than subsidising ‘research’ on alternatives. That would have been a market driven incentive. Subsidies are hopelessly inefficient motivators and usually lead to even more waste.

      1. attempter

        One thing we have going for us is that all the indications are fossil fuels will continue to be rationed by “the market”, and not rationally husbanded for the sake of power preservation.

        Since mankind is almost certainly going to burn all the fossil fuels that it’s economically possible to burn, from our point of view the faster and more wastefully, the better.

        It occured to me that a Hummer is a relatively innocuous thing. Better that the oil go to waste for another decade of monster SUVs than that it be saved for a century of armored police vehicles.

    2. Paul Repstock

      I read the post you linked from your own blog and would like to add a concrete example for you. Take the case of high voltage transmision lines. Power companies endlessly fight claims of any effect from the Electro Magnetic feilds generated by the lines. But, at the same time will prosecute anyone who harnesses those feilds for theft.

      I understand you may not want unvetted posts on your blog, however, you might include a link so people could submit posts or information via email.

      1. attempter

        Thanks for the example. Are you referring to how comments on by blog a turned off on a post after 15 or 30 days, I forget which? Maybe that’s too soon, although I was getting sick of spam showing up on posts a year old and such.

        If you have something to say regarding an older post, it’s OK to stick it in a more recent comment thread. I’ll see it.

    1. Toby

      I thought he was just trying to change the light bulb (albeit in a somewhat excited state). I must be getting old (and somewhat perverse).

    2. Jim Haygood

      Squirrel? DOH! I thought that was a candid photo of me last night, stoned sideways and playing air guitar.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like that famous painting called ‘The Creation of Adam Squirrel.’

    3. Doug Terpstra

      He’s actually conducting a symphony orchestra, raising one arm to the brass section, while keeping the strings muted by his left. The Beethoven coiff trembles for effect as he gestures.

  2. NS

    QE2 explanation by bunnies rocks! The subsequent discussion in answering the bunnies is interesting as well. All the assumptions over the past 25 years regarding the roles of NYFed, Federal Reserve, Treasury, Primary Dealers in the economy and how they function, rightly is called into question.

  3. Gerald Muller

    This article from Le Monde is “réchauffé” stuff. I read Matthew Simmons’s book 5 years ago when it was published and the arguments seemed solid. However, no such thing as a decrease in production has happened and the crisis has given at least another ten years of relatively inexpensive oil. It seems that we are at a kind of plateau where production equals demand and there are still some untapped reserves. The only concern is whether the Chinese are going to expand their non-economical car fleet at the present rate. So far, the increase of Chinese consumption has been more or less offset by the decrease of consumption by the US and Europe with much leaner cars produced each year.
    The smart grid is another matter. In my opinion, the first thing the USA should do is to build a a better grid before a smart one. The US grid is lousy compared to European ones. Trying to compensate this sad state of affairs by the so-called smart grid is not a brilliant idea. The only real use of a smart grid will be when electrical cars will be in significant numbers in a country so that there is a real need for a smart grid and smart charging meters. This will not happen for another 20 years.

    1. wunsacon

      >> I read Matthew Simmons’s book 5 years ago when it was published and the arguments seemed solid. However, no such thing as a decrease in production has happened and the crisis has given at least another ten years of relatively inexpensive oil.

      Whoa! First, decreases in production don’t happen in the manner of a few months after the peak. Here, pick up on this thread:

      Second, how do you figure “relatively inexpensive”? We’re going through a very deflationary period. Houses/condos are down 50% since 2006. In some areas, down 75%. And that’s *with* Sisyphean efforts to curtail supply, excite demand, and push prices back up.

      Where oil? It’s at 2006 prices:
      2006 prices don’t seems so “inexpensive”.

  4. Anonymous Jones

    I really hope it’s the “End of Times” … or at least close. Otherwise, all these MREs I’ve invested in will have just been a waste. I’m hoping to use them as appetizers upon my path of conversion to cannibalism in the midst of the apocalypse. :-)

    BTW, stunning plethora of good links tonight! I clicked on almost all of them.

  5. Ina Deaver

    Really good linkfest tonight Yves, thanks. I found most of it thought provoking, and some of it produced a snort of laughter that upset the cat in my lap.

    One thing that particularly made me laugh was the concept that the Fed is better at predicting inflation than economists off the street, essentially. That is like me predicting that, sometime in the next half hour, I will get a drink of water: I’m the only one who can influence the circumstances regarding whether my prediction comes true. Does that make me the new guru of personal thirst? Well, that and those other economists are more or less reading goat entrails for their predictions. All too funny.

    Also pretty fond of disco squirrel.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      How could they not? Would you dare cross such an eccentric and passionate conductor?

      (I saw the same persona, noted above before I saw your comment. It’s a very delightful antidote)

  6. rd

    Re: Countrywide notes

    It appears to be the proverbial rock vs. hard place.

    Countrywide may find it easier to foreclose since it turns out that they have retained the notes which presumably gives them standing to foreclose once they want to acknowledge that they are the true note-holders.

    However, that would mean that they retained the notes and they were never transferred to the investors so Countrywide/BoA retain ownership, lose lots of money on bad mortgages, and go bankrupt after being sued by all of the investors on top of writing off the note losses.

    May I point out that mere mortals who only make 5 and 6-figure incomes are incapable of coming up with such a brilliantly incompetent scheme. It takes true genius, worth 7 to 9-figure incomes, to come up with such a Clousseau-like Rube Goldberg machine for losing money.

    It will be interesting to see if the ripples from this rock tossed into the water turn into a tsunami.

  7. attempter

    Here’s another, more extensive piece on the “toxic title” bank walkaways:

    Re Frank Rich:

    I know what Rich does, and normally he does a pretty decent job with the material he has. If I didn’t know better, I’d find many of his lies plausible.

    But this was certainly one of his less convinving efforts. His contention is that Palin is politically potent, but the only piece of relevant evidence he can muster is how badly she just failed as an electoral impresario.

    So contrary to his misdirection attempt, the best evidence right now is that Palin, for all her celebrity, was a political flash in the pan.

    Otherwise this column is nothing but a fluff piece about a run-of-the-mill reality show star. We’ve had plenty of those. We don’t even know if she’ll be as successful as Ozzy Osbourne, let alone Hitler, the way Rich wants us to fear.

  8. Fractal

    Gretchen Morgenson at NYT today liked the report released last week by the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP):

    She also pointed to a recent trial court ruling against an RMBS trust attempting to foreclose on a mortgage originated by Countrywide; BAC admitted in the case that the note had not been assigned to the trust.

    She quoted the COP as warning that banks could face possible fifty-two billion dollars ($52B) in losses due to failure to properly securitize RMBS. She did not mention last week’s other NYT story, dated 11/17/2010, that the potential liability was four hundred twenty-five billion dollars ($425B). That earlier story attributed the $425B estimate to an report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) supposedly released at the House subcommittee hearing on “robo-signing” held on 11/18/2010:

    The CRS did not testify at the hearing on 11/18/2010 (they often do not since they work for Congress).

    Fire Dog Lake got its hands on a CRS report about “robo-signing” dated 11/15/2010, but that report said nothing about potential $425B in losses:

    Where is the CRS report (or other source) for the $425B estimated losses facing banks due to their own gross stupidity?

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      If you read the COP report, that $52 billion is a “consensus estimate” among investors. The COP did not prepare its own estimate. And as I have written at length, those cases are hugely overhyped (and banking expert Chris Whalen, no fan of banks, agrees). The monolines have booked wildly unrealitic recoveries to keep themselves from being declared insolvent, they are doing everything in their power to give exaggerated estimates of likely losses, as are the law firms behind these deals (one was giving investor conference calls, which one of my colleagues said ought to be an ethics violation, but no one seems to care these days).

      Both one of my top experts and I spoke to Adam Levitin, counsel to the COP, about how the liability for these cases is exaggerated. My source is one of the few people to have actually pursued and settled one of these cases; the language for his claim is repeated in all the current actions in progress.

      Levitin came around to our point of view, but the conversation took place too close to the report publication time for that input to have any impact.

  9. Ignim Brites

    Why are we not seeing more of pieces like Jeremy Warner’s criticism of the bank bailout regime? There are three answers. First, this regime has been in place for so long that it seems natural and rational. Second, people who might be disposed to criticize the regime are afraid that the consequences of real resolution would be an acknowledgment that there will be decades if not centuries of declining living standards. Third, people who have the competence to criticize the regime are for the most part tied into it in one way or another and have personal assets that would be vulnerable to a resolution.

  10. eric anderson

    Re: Peak Oil

    Last week, the New York Times published, “Energy and plenty of it, for decades to come.”

    “…the outlook, based on long-term trends barely visible five years ago, now appears to promise large supplies of oil and gas from multiple new sources for decades into the future.”

    I don’t know who to believe.

    I take no position on this debate. Either way, I think entry into oil stocks at the right price looks like a wise option.

    1. Paul Repstock

      Be very carefull on that one Eric. Oil may be declared a “strategic natonal asset”. Also, oil is worthles without access to a refinery?? There are very few refineries??

  11. scraping_by

    Re: Irish tax move

    The interesting bit was toward the end of the piece, where it was mentioned in passing that the Irish government would be selling off state-owned assets to make payments. Even notice how these debt crisis things include a state property (fire)sale?

    They, and the Greeks, should count themselves lucky. If they were Muslims, they’d be caught building nukes and in line for NATO shock and awe.

  12. Bob Falfa

    re: smart grid

    Privacy/control issues aside, I’m more concerned that there will be a feeling of supreme control over power consumption so generation and transmission will be run closer to the safety margins – resulting in more large scale/widespread power outages/brownouts.

    1. attempter

      More of the Just-in-Time-Accounting mentality, which is a big part of what makes all our systems so unresilient and vulnerable.

      By not paying for that vulnerability (it’s simply dogmatically zeroed out, an uncost) on balance sheets, in GDP, economic theories and models, etc., the system institutionalizes this false efficiency and false economy, calling them real. It’s another Big Lie.

      1. Rex

        “By not paying for that vulnerability (it’s simply dogmatically zeroed out, an uncost)”

        Interesting, I had never though about it before, but just-in-time with no safety net is basically a bet that the worst case will never happen. We’ve been given a couple examples in the last years how well rounding the tails off of the bell curve works in practice after just a few years of real-world numbers.

  13. Sundog

    Cheers for the Zizek link. Maybe I mentioned this here before but he rocked out presenting “End Times” at LSE not long ago. I would listen first, though, to FT’s Gideon Rachman introducing his new book “Zero-Sum World: Power and Prosperity in the Age of Anxiety” in which he does a great job of summarizing what I see as the conventional wisdom regarding the world scene over the past 30 years or so.



    Another good link for podcast fans is from a recent conference at UCB called “New Deal or No Deal” featuring Baker, DeLong and Eichengreen. Nice back-and-forth between Baker and Eichengreen on what might have happened absent TARP. (FYI DeLong relies quite a bit on his slide deck so you might want to have a look at that before listening if you’ll be away from a computer.) (hit the link beside the “stimulus and response” session)

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