Links 1/16/11

Floods hit Australia tourism Raw Story

‘Rhino poachers’ shot dead in South Africa BBC

Toxins found in pregnant U.S. women in UCSF study (hat tip reader May S). Pretty scary.

U.S. journalists back away from WikiLeaks founder McClatchy (hat tip reader May S)

Still fighting against own cause Politico (hat tip Joe Costello)

No One Listened to Gabrielle Giffords Frank Rich

Sin of Omission By Geithner in Chest-Thumping Over Tax Cut Deal Dave Dayen, FireDogLake

Evidence of an American Plutocracy: The Larry Summers Story Matthew Skomarovsky (hat tip reader May S). There is so much Summers sleaze that even this account misses some: how he tanked the Harvard endowment, and his appalling defense of chicanery in Russia via a Harvard funded initiative (professor Andrei Shliefer has still not been properly held to account).

China at a Crossroads: Trade Tensions Vie with Consumer Needs Knowledge@Wharton (hat tip reader Michael Q)

Dongguan Ghost Mall And China’s Property Boom Ed Harrison

Wall Street’s Secret Society Inducts Members With Lehman Video Bloomberg. The troubling part is that regulators feature prominently among the membership.

Number of the Week: Big Banks Gobble Up Market Share Wall Street Journal. One big reason is that the biggest banks have a TBTF funding advantage.

Imperial Intelligence-Gatherers Caixin

“Was Adam Smith Wrong on Rising Real Wages And the Spread of Opulence?” Mark Thoma

Is JPM Covering Up a Naked Silver Short Held By China As a Claim Against the Yanks? Jesse. Read the piece, but this is the money quote:

Given the current state of the US banking industry, the regulators are afraid of what a default on the Comex by the poster child of the Wall Street Banks recovery would do to investor confidence. So they are trying to kick the can down the road.

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2011-01-16 at 3.12.15 AM

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  1. attempter

    Re not-so-frank Rich

    OF the many truths in President Obama’s powerful Tucson speech, none was more indisputable than his statement that no one can know what is in a killer’s mind.

    Hmm, doesn’t mass murderer Obama know what’s in his own mind, and in that of his associates? It’s simple, Mr. Rich: Corporatist ideology and status quo elitism. Those are history’s most murderous ideas.

    Within hours, on Monday morning, vandals smashed the front door of Giffords’s office in Tucson.

    How many doors have been smashed in the war of aggression she supports?

    As the president said in Tucson, we lack not just civil discourse, but honest discourse.

    No one knows that better than a professional liar like you, Mr. Rich.

    (I also like his MSM skill in setting up an equal-extremes equivalence of the Communist Manifesto and Ayn Rand and calling them equally “lunatic”. Of course, whatever one thinks of the CM’s ideas, it’s indisputably a serious work of historical and economic analysis, while Ayn Rand is boring drivel which isn’t even well-written and can be found in a much more entertaining form in some of Plato’s dialogues and many other places.

    But the Rand ideology is in fact that of Rich’s masters starting with the mass murderer Obama, as Rich knows perfectly well.)

    1. Jim Haygood

      Frank Rich: ‘The only two civic reforms that might have actually stopped [Loughner] — tighter gun control and an effective mental health safety net — won’t materialize even now.’

      Huh? How does Rich reach this conclusion? Insanity is a legal bar to purchasing a gun, and every gun buyer (including Loughner) goes through an instant background check which includes a screening for insanity disqualification.

      What went wrong in Loughner’s case is that despite clear warnings — such as a delegation of community college officials on their doorstep saying their son was expelled because his erratic behavior was scaring people — Loughner’s parents did not convince him to seek voluntary help, or take the next step of involuntary commitment.

      People, in other words, were the weak link. Civil society broke down in this case. It’s not that the mental health and gun control safety nets weren’t there; it’s that the basics of helping someone in trouble weren’t taken care of.

      But Rich is a one-note ‘Chatty Frankie’ doll: pull the ring cord behind his neck, and he urges ‘More gun control, more gun control!’

      As attempter noted, gun control in Waziristan is implemented by Obama’s Predator Drones blowing up your house and killing your family. Unarmed drones are already showing up in domestic law enforcement. Connect the dots … this is too easy.

      1. attempter

        The corporate liberal gun control fetish is finally starting to make sense. (I still have no clue why “real progressives” subscribe to it.)

        The class character of the gun issue is crystal clear:

        “Gun control” by definition means gun control for everyone but the rich. So now the advocacy of the likes of Frank Rich makes sense.

        It’s the latest example how throughout history, a basic metric of how enfranchised the people were was the extent to which they were allowed to bear arms.

        1. davidgmills

          Real progressives don’t. Real progressives understand the second amendment was the anti-tyranny amendment.

    2. Dan Duncan

      Attempter: The irony, of course, is that so many of your comments could have come straight from the insane meanderings of the the Loughner lunatic that precipitated this tragedy.

      “Obama is a mass murderer”.

      Yeah, OK Attempter.

      The disturbing part, though, is that nobody calls you out on this shit.

      If someone was to utter even a neutral statement about Ayn Rand, for example, there would be howls of protest. Hell, many wouldn’t be able to proceed without the breathing aid of a paper bag.

      But equating Obama with a deranged mass murderer…


      Freaking pathetic.

      1. attempter

        I see – you’re such a rabid chickenhawk warmonger that my condemnation of Obama has inspired you to gallantly defend his honor.

        I’m so touched – I’m bringing conservatives and corporate liberals together. I guess I ended up acting in the spirit of Obama’s call to “reconciliation” after all.

        1. redrum

          I think what Danny means is that strictly speaking, it’s not murder, it’s either war crimes or maybe crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute and soon enough we’ll find out because the ICC prosecutor is looking at the Wikileaks Afghan files for evidence of criminality.

          1. attempter

            Since it’s the same crimes Bush and the Republicans committed, I doubt he means even that.

            As for what it really is, mass murder is the only English language term that can be applied with any moral integrity.

            But legalistically, war crimes and crimes against humanity include the crime of murder. It’s just that the magnitude of the murders is so immense that normal criminal law isn’t suited to deal with it, so they needed to innovate larger concepts at Nuremburg to encompass that level of murder.

        2. redrum

          Right you are, under Rome Statute Article 7(1a) murder is a crime against humanity. Under Article 8(2ai) the nearest equivalent war crime is willful killing. There’s also treacherous killing and killing afterr surrender. But on the other hand it’s an offense against Truth, Justice and The American Way when you make Duncan lose his shit like that.

      2. sleepy

        “Obama is a mass murderer”.

        Yeah, OK Attempter.

        The disturbing part, though, is that nobody calls you out on this shit.”

        What I find disturbing is that our society is so propagandized that the mass murder of civilians in aggressive wars of choice is considered to be some norm, and calling it mass murder is derided.

  2. Ignim Brites

    To go by the Politico piece, civil war should be breaking out any day now. Do you have your gun?

  3. Ina Deaver

    “Toxins found in pregnant U.S. women in UCSF study” — this is really old news. The question is whether these cross the placental barrier.

    What they don’t mention is that there has generally been a massive shift from heavy metals exposure in the general population (unleaded gasoline made a huge change in the lead exposure of the general population) and to petrochemicals. Thing is, a couple thousand years experience had told us that heavy metals were trouble; the petrochemicals are generally untested for human impact because they don’t have to be — and the makers do not want to know. Literally, there is no information.

    That, I would say, is the underlying problem. Why, exactly, do we assume these things are safe? Who makes this call for the populace and whose interests do they have at heart?

    1. Dirk77

      I think the ACC is correct in that piece in stating that the amount of these chemicals in the body, and not just their presence, needs to be considered. It’s a good bet that you have some atoms that were once part of the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Aristotle, Joan d’Arc, etc., but that doesn’t make you special. That said, knowing the long term effects of substances is not as firm as some would like to think. In particular, how they effect people on the far end of the distribution because eventually there is going to be something where any person finds themself on that far end. I liked the everyday cautions at the end of the article though, e.g., don’t microwave in plastic.

      1. Ina Deaver

        I agree absolutely. There will always be tails on the curve, and it is difficult to study them because it is difficult to round them up even if you see the statistical pattern. The difficulty is then in how far you go to protect the tails, and what you are willing to trade off.

        I just wish that we had more people designing studies who thought creatively about these issues – or even really understood the underlying math. It’s such a beautifully creative pursuit in the hands of the masters. And I feel like all of American education is moving away from teaching the kind of irreverent thought and strong fundamentals it is going to take to work through some of these knots.

  4. spc

    Frankly, I don’t recall any links nor coverage of 2010’s floods in Poland, Russian fires, Pakistani floods, catastrophic draughts in China.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, and it doesn’t cover the latest with Paris Hilton or give football scores either. If you want wide spectrum news coverage, go to the MSM.

  5. aletheia33


    chicago tribune (note “skirting city rules”, “supposed to be”, for breaking the law):

    “In some cases, lenders might be skirting city rules for property upkeep even after they repossessed properties.
    Woodstock found that as of the end of September, 57.1 percent of the estimated 4,468 single-family, likely vacant homes that became bank-owned from Jan. 1, 2006, to June 30, 2010, were not registered with the city as vacant, as they are supposed to be.”–20110113_1_foreclosure-process-foreclosure-filing-servicers

    (same story on npr’s marketplace money uses “clunky foreclosure process” to refer to foreclosure abuses:

    MSM euphemism/propaganda list in progress. suggestions welcome.)

    1. Leviathan

      As a Chicagoan I was pleased to see this important article make the rounds nationwide. It DOES seem to me that the city could send the bill for these pawned off properties to the major banks in question. So the question is, why does that possibility seem to not be on the radar screen?

      1. AR

        Read about the Isaac Dieudonne story to find out how the banks make it nigh impossible for anyone to know who’s responsible for a walkaway.

        Why do the banks kick the families out before foreclosing?

        I just watched this hour interview with Catherine Austin Fitts. (Skip the 8 minute excerpt and watch the whole thing.) It wraps together a lot of the past decade into a tidy package.

  6. DownSouth

    Re: “Was Adam Smith Wrong on Rising Real Wages And the Spread of Opulence?” Mark Thoma

    What Gavin Kennedy offers up is the same old hackneyed defense of capitalism that we’ve heard many times before.

    “No markets in the real world of 18th-century Britain were ‘allowed to operate unhindered’,” we’re told. However, in the entire history of the world there’s never been a time and place where markets were “allowed to operate unhindered.” “Free markets” are a myth, a fiction that exists only in the mind of the true believers in classical economic theory.

    Then there’s this:

    The changing components of ‘subsistence’ must be borne in mind when working abstractly with models that denude themselves of realism, as Ricardo was apt and proud to do – he certainly cleared the way for the pessimism of Marx, whose own models lead to ‘immiseration’ conclusions, which are contrary to the rising real incomes of labourers, in skilled, supervisory and new technology occupations – what some Marxists call the ‘aristocracy of labour’ – itself a product of ever more complex divisions of labour among supply chains, supplying rising populations, benefitting from deepening productivity.

    Whew! There’s just all kinds of wrong here, so much so that one hardly knows where to begin.

    What Kennedy is telling us is that, while not all laborers can achieve Smith’s material paradise on earth, it is available to those laborers who can break through into the “skilled, supervisory and new technology occupations.” Here Kennedy is appealing to what Reinhold Niebuhr in Moral Man & Immoral Society calls “the middle-class creed.” The doctrine finds special favor amongst the petty bourgeoisie and conservative members of the proletariat. Adherents to the creed believe it enhances their family’s chances of material success. But it also has an important psychological function: It serves to bolster self-esteem.

    Elijah Anderson in Code of the Street, his book that explores life in the inner city, describes the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality:

    It is understandable that the traditional old heads and other decent people of the community should focus on the idea of individual responsibility. These people believe that whatever success they have achieved in their own lives has been the result of personal determination, and thus they are inclined to blame those who have not been successful for not having made enough of an effort. Not to blame the victim would be to make it too easy for those victims of inner-city problems. And it would give the decent people no way of distinguishing themselves from the street people. Therefore, even though the old heads are aware of the existence of discrimination and joblessness, their solution is to build up the grit of the community…

    While the middle-class creed has much to recommend it, it nevertheless represents a partial truth and a gross simplification. As Niebuhr goes on to explain:

    But when it is maintained in defiance of all the facts of an industrial civilization, which reveal how insignificant are the factors of virtuous thrift and industry beside the factor of the disproportion in economic power in the creation of economic inequality, the element of honest illusion is transmuted into dishonest pretension.

    The work of Ricardo and Marx was necessary and important because it flushed out some of the inadequacies of Smith’s work. Marx, in order to explain the great inequalities that Niebuhr speaks of, explored the role played by the structure of society.

    Kennedy blasts Marx and Ricardo, accusing them of “working abstractly with models that denude themselves of realism.” Oh well, I suppose a good offence is always the best defense, for Smith’s theories have never squared very well with reality either.

    Perhaps the first to write about this was Sismonde de Sismondi. As Jacques Barzun writes in From Dawn to Decadence:

    But he [Sismondi] also urged factual observation in what he was the first to call “the social sciences”… He thus became the first, and for a time the only, heretic among Smith’s disciples…

    Sismondi had visited England and had been struck by the misery resulting from industrial progress. Why did the seemingly beneficial production of goods by machinery bring on “poverty in the midst of plenty”? The answer was: free competition keeps wages low, free enterprise makes for overproduction, which leads to recurrent “crises”—-shutdowns or failures entailing unemployment and starvation.

    His detailed criticism of the new society includes the observation that it splits labor from capital and makes them enemies, with the power all on one side. The idea of their “bargaining” over wages is absurd. Tyrant and victim describes the relation…

    Gregory Clark has done some interesting research, comparing the diets of early 19th-century workers in England to those who live in modern hunter-gatherer societies. What he found is that average calorie consumption is about the same. The hunter-gatherers, however, have a much more varied diet and they get more protein. In addition, the English workers had to work much harder for their meager subsistence, and they had shorter adult life expectancies.

    Of course there have been great increases in human productivity over the past couple of hundred years, and adherents of classical economic theory mark this up to capitalism. However, I question this assumption. The advent of capitalism coincides with the advent of the age of hydrocarbons, as well as a whole plethora of other scientific and technological breakthroughs. Correlation is not causation.

    1. DownSouth

      Clark also points out that in the early 18th-century the English were “the richest people in the world.”

      However, there was unprecedented inequality, and it was this inequality that made the lives of the English laborer so miserable.

    2. whoknu

      A commenter suggested looking up “Adam Smith/rent extraction” which brought me to this article

      “In securities trading these days, institutional fund managers and speculative high frequency traders are most of the market. Rarely do they provide capital for new or expanded business enterprise. Mostly they take cash out of the economy through the buying and selling of existing securities which represent the present value of past capital investment.”
      And then presents this as the evidence.
      “But from 1991 to 2000, some 150 venture capital-backed companies a year took in equity capital through Wall Street. But since 2000, such annual IPO offerings have averaged only about 50 per year.”

      1. DownSouth

        Talking zero sums games, Adam Curtis’ film The Trap has some pretty revealing information. The film can be viewed for free here:

        According to the film, our entire economic and political system is now modeled on zero sums games.

        After laissez faire capitalism was discredited following the Great Depression, Frederick Hayek could find little audience for its revival. But then the mathemetician John Nash of Hollywood fame (The Beautiful Mind) developed mathematical theories that demonstrated how game theory could be applied to achieve stable societies. And his theory showed that game theory could be applied not just to economics, as the article you cite indicates classical economic theory does, but to all aspects of social existence. It was this theory that served as the impetus for the rebirth of laissez faire captitalism, but a mutated laissez faire capitalism that is even more virulent than the 18th- and 19th/century strain.

  7. Jim Haygood

    Re Ed Harrison’s Dongguan ghost mall … last night I talked to someone who just returned from a business trip to several Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Nanjing.

    I asked him whether China is overheating. ‘All I could see, from one end of the horizon to the other, was cranes,’ he answered.

    ‘Sounds like Las Vegas in 2006,’ I replied. ‘Don’t start flipping apartments there just before the music stops!’

    1. Gordon

      Just so. We had a holiday on the Spanish Costa del Sol in 2002 and evry second or third hilltop had its own forrest of cranes. 12+ was common but I counted up to 20.

      A bubble, very literally, in the making.

  8. Max424

    Who are the two cute and cozy porkers, Portugal and Spain?

    I see easygoing Iberians sharing the same peninsula, other see trotters and bacon.

  9. Gene

    Re Frank Rich/Giffords article (comments on NYT are closed): Rich’s version of honest, civil debate is to calmly accuse the tea party of insurrection and inciting antigovernment mayhem. The tea party is not a party, it is a not very well defined movement comprised of a lot of people that are unhappy about the expansion of government beyond the limits which they view as acceptable and the erosion of individual rights.

    The purpose of Rich’s mischaracterization is obvious because it is a common theme among those who are unable to confront issues directly and engage in civil debate over them: “Those people are dangerous, their ideas are silly and dangerous, and they need to be shut down.” It is this theme, rather than guns and religion, that should concern us all, tea party or not. This theme is being played out in official discussions about constraining talk radio (because for some strange reason the left has not been able to get even a toehold there), about the fairness doctrine (because for some strange reason the left cannot seem to muster an audience for their views), and censorship of the Internet in a variety of forms (because for some strange reason the bloggers need to be shut up).

    Rather than attacking people or ill-defined groups, it would be more productive for people like Rich to explore the merits and demerits of the core issue that these people appear to be concerned about. That is, what should be the limits of government and what are the political and moral underpinnings for the opposing positions. See, e.g.,

    I have seen only once in 60 years a civil debate in which a hard-core liberal/progressive and a hard-core libertarian debated those issues clearly and came to an agreement to disagree about a fundamental premise –namely, does society have a moral claim to the fruits of labor of any individual. The debate ended there. But there needs to be a deeper debate about why. In the main stream media neither side appears confident enough in their premises and convictions to engage in deeper debate civilly. And so, the overgeneralizations, straw men, emotive argument and demonization continues on both sides, as Rich demonstrates.

    1. rps

      “does society have a moral claim to the fruits of labor of any individual”

      Thomas Paine in Agrarian Essay states, “Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.”

  10. Paul Repstock

    The $50 lobotomy. The coming Robotics revolution.
    I didn’t know here to paste this so I chose ‘links’. Here is the solution to all antisocial and disruptive behavior.
    And sooo much cheaper than having millions of kids doped oit of their minds on behavioral drugs which wear off.

  11. Bill

    Yves, I just read some very interesting information regarding a class action settlement or decision regarding up to 10,000 foreclosure cases in Maryland. I read this story on the firedoglake blog. I was unable to verify any of the details they discussed. Is fdl a reliable source? I’m guessing if what they claim is true, the story will be all over the media on monday.

  12. Bill

    Thanks for the info Gene. What are the ramifications of gmacs surrender? Did they surrender because they think they can refile with better affidavits and win? Does GMAC have to notify the trusts involved in these cases?

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