Links 3/6/11

Scientists try to determine whether life on Earth is quickly heading toward extinction Mercury News (hat tip reader May S)

What’s Killing the Babies of Kettleman City? Mother Jones (hat tip reader May S)

Shark Fin Bill Makes Waves in California New York Times. It would be good to ban bluefin tuna to be consistent.

Gaddafi troops’ ‘gains’ disputed BBC

The new Republic of Libya: temporary council P2PNet

A Liberal Is a Villager Who’s Been Screwed By a Mortgage Servicer FireDogLake

Gordon Brown’s Recessional StandPoint (hat tip Richard Smith)

HSBC reveals plans to quit London for Hong Kong Telegraph (hat tip Richard S)

HSBC says “no decision to leave UK” BBC (hat tip Richard S, who adds “media circus in full swing”)

MERS? It May Have Swallowed Your Loan Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times

Hey, S.E.C., That Escape Hatch Is Still Open Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times

Banks, Tail Risk, and Agency Problems Stumbling and Mumbling (hat tip Richard Smith)

Wall Street’s secretive ‘expert networks’ Guardian

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2011-03-06 at 6.56.22 AM

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  1. attempter

    Re MERS:

    The piece is a good survey but has way too much pro-securitization propaganda. It implies that there was something wrong with the old pre-securitization recording system (besides that it was less profitable for the finance sector, which was a good thing).

    MERS officials say they conduct audits, but in testimony could not say how often or what these measured. In 2006, Mr. Arnold stated that original mortgage notes were held in a secure “custodial facility” with “stainless steel vaults.” MERS, he testified, could quickly produce every one of those files.

    So is that another admission that the PSAs weren’t fulfilled? How is it different from the Kemp confession, other than that MERS isn’t the originator?

    Re the mugged liberal:

    Has Milbank apologized for having denied the fraudclosure crisis, or is he pretending this is news to him? The answer to that is probably a good indication of how much he’ll care about this once the bank attends to his personal situation.

    After all, he’s one of the Real People. Stuff like this doesn’t count when it’s only inflicted upon the peasant scum. That’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s what the WaPo’s there for in the first place.

  2. scraping_by

    RE: A Liberal

    Mr. Milbank has discovered his usefulness to the owning classes doesn’t protect him from being just another mark to be shaken down.

    The entire field of working class elitism is fascinating. Race fear used to be reliable, but even the latest bogey of Muslim Terrorist is getting significant blowback as it’s being driven into the ground. The fronts mouthing the old patriotic hymns are unabashed globalists. These are not, by and large, admirable people. Christ never said anything about trickle down economics. A “good” education has left a lot of people unchanged. Rising tides don’t lift all boats. And yet, lots of employees still say “we.”

    There are millions of school-done folks who imagine that, because their jobs involve words on paper and they go home clean at the end of the day, they’re part of the upper class. Good luck on that.

  3. financial matters

    Another interesting link….

    March 2, 2011, 7:40 pm

    A Conspiracy With a Siver Lining


    In any case, the class-action lawsuit contends that between March 2010 and November 2010, JPMorgan Chase and HSBC reduced their short positions in the silver market by 30 percent, causing the metal’s price to rise dramatically, but leaving them still with a large short position. Now, with the value of silver rising nearly every day, the two banks are caught in a “massive short squeeze,” according to one market participant, that appears to be costing them the billions they made originally plus billions more.

    Nonetheless, the conspiracy-minded have claimed that the Fed must have somehow agreed to make JPMorgan and HSBC whole for any losses the banks suffered if and when the price of silver rose above the artificially maintained low levels — as in right now, for instance.

    1. Paul Repstock

      FM; Two things: I have learned to distrust any statements about the asset positions of financial corporations. And even if they were Book Short, which is entirely probable, there are several mechanisms which would let them off the hook. As you mentioned, the US government might backstop them (possibly in collusion with other governments), Or in the extreme, the government through the commodities exchanges could just put all obligations in abeyance, al la their response to the Hunt Brothers. It is obvious that the government has no great attachment to the sanctity of contract.

      1. financial matters

        Yes those are two possibilities but the public should be paying attention. Do taxpayers want to bail out JP Morgans short positions and thus become the squeezee of this transaction?

        Also there are other possible solutions… From the article..

        “”The Commodities Futures Trading Commission should immediately release the files from its investigation into the supposed manipulation of the silver market so the public can determine whether JPMorganChase and HSBC did anything illegal, with or without the help of the Fed. In addition, the commission should start enforcing the 10 percent threshold on silver positions it has proposed to comply with Dodd-Frank law. Basically, the other commissioners must join with Bart Chilton to do the job they are required to do: Protecting the sanctity of the markets and preventing the sorts of manipulation we’ve seen all too often.””

        Regulators seem to have a hard time getting a handle on the derivative business…


        Traders, Guns and Money
        by Satyajit Das revised edition 2010 subtitled Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives


        Derivatives can make a mockery of most rules if you use them in particular ways – these are the known unknowns. I never told the clients about these nuances of derivatives and I didn’t tell the trainees either; if they were smart they would work it out. Derivatives have always been about knowledge – people who knew, people who didn’t. If you didn’t know then somewhere along the line you would pay school fees to learn about the other side of derivatives.

  4. PQS

    Re: A Liberal Villager:

    As noted here, “Mr. Milbank has discovered his usefulness to the owning classes doesn’t protect him from being just another mark to be shaken down.”

    Yet, as many on FDL posted, I’m sure all this unpleasantness will be resolved for the Wealthy Celebrity Journalist via intervention from Citibank’s highest levels. And he will return to writing about the Excellent Service he received from Citibank in no time at all.

  5. Hugh

    Sounds like HSBC is doing some sabre-rattling. It is hard to parse these pseudo-conflicts between the various factions of our kleptocratic elites. The current British government’s austerianism is not exactly populist, but it is not quite as obsequious to the banks as US policymakers and this apparently grates with the management of HSBC.

    Me, I would let HSBC go I would revoke its right to do business in the UK and force it to cough up any and all benefits plus interest on them which it may have received during its tenure in London. Call it a going away present.

    1. Richard Smith

      Think HSBC may well mean it – when they set up their domicile here (1992, after 130 yrs in China) there were two reasons a) ostensibly, the regulator wanted them to have a UK domicile as a condition of their taking over Midland Bank (then one of our omnipresent “High St” banks) b) they also wanted a base other than Hong Kong (which was about to get reabsorbed by China with then-unknown effect; it seems to have turned out OK). So it’s not an idle threat, or plan – it’s one they renew every two or there years; a straight business decision.

      It is still hassle for them, but they are used to handling political instability (or promoting it): they were set up in the aftermath of the second opium war and coped with the Boxer rebellion and the WW2 Japanese occupation (their then CEO died in Japanese captivity, ’44 or so).

      Compared with that lot, the Osborne banking levy they are jibbing at now must look pretty tame.

      Since the whole row has now gone ecstatically and massively public (not much British impassiveness there) I should probably write a post about about what the half-dozen players in UK banking might be thinking and how it might go.

      It is all about long term risk reduction vs short term revenue loss. Plus the political desirability of showing some banks, somewhere, that they can’t just dictate terms to a sovereign nation.

  6. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Interesting headline about scientists and a warming about lief heading towards extinction.

    I have been working on a equation. I call it The First Equation of Nature and it goes like this, with Nature as a funciton of time N(t):

    N(time i) + (delta EI) + (delta II) + Scinece/Technology = N(time i+1)

    Where EI stands for eternal influences (such as impacting astroids, solar storms, etc) and II for internal influences (like geological evens such as volcano eruptions, pole revesals, tectonic plate movements, etc).

    Delta EI stands the change in EI from time i to time i+1.

    Now, if the during from time i to time i+1 is short, you can ignore it for an approximation.

    If you do that, you get,

    N(100,000 yrs ago) + Science/Technology = N(now)

    Note that 100,000 years may sound a long time to you and me, but it is really nothing in geological and cosmic time scales.

    Furthermore, when the ‘forewarned’ life extinction happens, you can write it like this:

    N(100,000 yrs ago) + science/technology = N(life extinction).

    Now, obvious, I am trying to improve this equation but I wonder what help, pointers, comments or suggestions scientists would offer about this equation, the First Equation of Nature.

    PS: One can derive many corollaries from the First Equation of Nature. For example,

    Whole foods + science/technology = processed/not-organic/genetic modified foods

  7. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Sorry, didn’t mean to scare, but it’s ‘external’ not ‘eternal.’

  8. JTM

    Currently linked on WaPo website: “Milbank: I survived my month without Palin”. There’s an untitled link to the CitiBank column. But it’s pretty clear what they want to feature (and not).

  9. Karen

    Re “Hey, S.E.C., That Escape Hatch Is Still Open”:

    I am not comforted to be told that the SEC’s (and Barney Frank’s?) aim is to eliminate all requirements to pay attention to the ratings agencies.

    Those ratings agencies were created to try to solve a problem, were they not? If you go back to allowing pension fund managers to invest in anything they want, the way it was before, isn’t that a step BACK, not forward? At least Moody’s and S&P rated SOME dreck as non-investment grade, even if they did also rate other dreck as investment grade.

    Frustratingly, that point appears not to have occurred to Ms. Morgenson.

    1. Paul Repstock

      Sorry Karen…The ratings agencies are ‘for profit businesses”. Any information..well ummm..prop..ahhh..well disinformation, that is spilled to the public, is probably not of the bet quality. These agencies are really not obligated to the public. We are not paying them???

      1. Karen

        Hey, I’m not saying the ratings agencies are problem-free – far from it. But going back to the way things were before the ratings agencies even existed is no kind of substitute for subjecting the ratings agencies to liability.

      2. Karen

        You say “These agencies are really not obligated to the public.” But they are. We are not paying them in cash, but we (our government) has given them an oligopoly, which is even better than cash. By law, pension fund managers, insurance companies, and others are required to pay attention to the ratings agencies’ ratings and only buy investments they have blessed as “investment grade.”

        1. Paul Repstock

          Hee hee Karen. You are proving my point.

          -By law, pension fund managers, insurance companies, and others are required to pay attention to the ratings agencies’ ratings and only buy investments they have blessed as “investment grade.”-

          With regulations like these, the government can decide where investment funds put your money.

          We have all seen the recent Trans Atlantic sniping at various European countries and their bond issues. By using the ratings agencies proclamations, the play the bond yeilds like a fiddle, litteraly.

  10. Paul Repstock

    Is there any end to this?

    A couple of weeks ago I posted a link I had found to a Phd thesis by Seif al islam Gaddafi at the LSE. The thesis appeared well done and was a very ethical argument for the equitable sharing of authority in developing countries. The thesis seemed quite at odds with the actions of the gaddafi clan in general, but in the early part of the uprising Seif al islam appeared rational so I thought, “well, maybe”.

    A few days ago I came accross a rumour that accused plagerism and even ghost writing??

    Today I found this link. Everything fell into place. crash!

  11. Jeff Lee

    It strikes me as misleading to tally up the number of subspecies in order to measure extinction. Most of the harm was already done over 10,000 years ago just by using primitive tools. Environments continuously change and always favor one species or the other, and it takes something very big like an asteroid or volcano to actually cause “mass extinction.”

    1. blue e

      Jeff Lee,
      I looked through the Nature paper that the MercuryNews article was based on, and they did not use subspecies. The MercuryNews, I assume, talked about subspecies because the eastern Cougar’s been in the news recently.
      While we haven’t had a recent asteroid or volcano, we have had near-exponential growth of human populations; massive conversion of forests, grasslands, and marshes to developed lands (habitat loss and fragmentation); introductions of invasive species; and over exploitation of species (as seen in the NYTimes article on shark fin soup linked here). While in the past it took something “big” like a volcano to cause a mass extinction, I think you may be underestimating humanity’s impact on our environment.

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