Links May Day 2011

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Anorexia nervosa ‘link to spring birth’ BBC

Tsunami Mapper Ah, how collective worries evolve. Post 9/11, there was a site (Nuke O Matic?) that allowed you to detonate nuclear weapons of various sizes in locations of your choosing and see how far various types of damage would extend.

How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis Foreign Policy (hat tip reader May S). There is one misleading factoid in the story. It creates the impression that independent traders are the ones who make the most money from monthly commodities contract rolls. Not so. The practice is called “date rape” and its leading practitioner is….Goldman.

Manning and Mohammed cases: Tilting the scales of justice Los Angeles Times (hat tip Buzz Potamkin)

Bin Laden’s great escape: How the world’s most wanted man made fools of elite troops who’d trapped him in his mountain lair Daily Mail (hat tip reader May S)

John Walsh: This story has far too many holes Independent (hat tip Buzz Potamkin)

A Run on Grameen Bank’s Integrity ZSpace (hat tip reader Thomas R)

Where China Outpaces America Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Johann Hari: Donald Trump’s lunacy reveals core truth about the Republicans Independent (hat tip reader May S)

‘Docs v. Glocks’ goes to Governor Central Florida Political Pulse

UPDATEDx3!!! Anonymous Urges Caution on Chamber Release Daily Kos. Not sure whether this is a plant or the real deal…stay tuned….

Evidence Overwhelmingly Against Another Tax Amnesty for Overseas Corporate Profits Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win New York Times

Berkshire May Have Underwriting Loss on Disasters, Buffett Says Bloomberg

Guest column: Iowa’s Miller should return big banks’ donations Des Moines Register

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries New York Times.

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2011-05-01 at 5.02.33 AM

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  1. attempter

    The final paragraph sums up this most harrowing case study in financialization death grip on humanity. This kind of food speculation is a crime against humanity. A capital crime.

    As for the solutions discussed and laughed at, is it really possible that if America declared all derivative contracts outlawed and unenforceable, and that at any rate its own grain production was being removed from globalization, that London or Hong Kong would be able to enforce them, patrol the sea lanes, etc. on its own? I doubt that.

  2. RebelEconomist

    I thought we have been through this commodity speculation story before, in 2008 and again last year with the Johann Hari article. If I recall correctly, for it to have a long-term effect on commodity prices, financial speculation has to increase the hoarding of physical commodities. I am not saying that this does not happen – in fact, I believe it does – but the article does not give evidence of this, and if it does, the rustic farmer storing grain in his silo or the Chinese peasant stockpiling cotton in his kitchen is as guilty as Goldman.

    1. rjs

      …rainfall for april has set records from southern illinois to ohio (ie, cleveland, columbus & cincinnati set records), leaving most of the fields in the eastern cornbelt saturated and puddled…this is the first year in 39 years when i have been unable to till all april because of saturated ground; nor have i seen a tractor out anywhere in my county…so i did some looking at conditions in other states, and found that as of the latest USDA report (the 24th) only 2% of indiana corn was in, compared to 50% same date last year; only 10% of illinois is planted, compared to 67% last year; only 3% of iowa corn is in, compared to a normal 28%, and only 1% of ohio’s corn has been planted…my thinking is that even some of what is already planted may rot, as i watched live radar all week, and heavy thunderstorms persisted until thursday…as any corn grower will tell you, total yields decrease the later your corn is planted, so this does not bode well for supplies, with corn stocks 15% already below last years, and 40% of our corn going to ethanol…this could change with a couple weeks of warm dry weather, but it bears watching, especially in light of the agricultural disasters worldwide last summer…

    2. pebird

      “the rustic farmer storing grain in his silo or the Chinese peasant stockpiling cotton in his kitchen is as guilty as Goldman”

      If the rustic farmer is stockpiling due to price increases engineered by GS, you have a warped sense of ethics.

    3. lambert strether

      Giving new meaning to the famous lyric by John Lennon:

      “You’re all f*cking peasants as far as I can see”

      I confess, however, that I haven’t seen Goldman Sachs bankster and Chinese peasants equated before. Interesting times….

    4. Ignim Brites

      What about those that refuse to use their labor to farm. Not just people in possession or arable land who are paid by the government not to farm; but doctors, lawyers, college professors. All these people withhold their labor from the farm economy and drive up food production costs. Are they not guilty too?

    5. Hugh

      I don’t really follow grain markets, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Whatever the commodity, there are costs associated with storing so limits on hoarding. Not all grain is the same. You have to distinguish between new crop and old crop. If you hold on to old crop too long its price will decline as new crop comes on.

      And if agriculture markets are anything like oil markets, the futures segment is a couple orders of magnitude larger than the physical market. So is it really a surprise that with the futures market so much larger than the physical market that it dominates and determines price?

    6. scraping_by

      “…for it to have a long-term effect on commodity prices, financial speculation has to increase the hoarding of physical commodities.”

      Actually, it just has to increase the short-term price for a long time, which would make it the long-term price.

      The price for the physical commodity rises when a futures contract is fulfilled with delivery rather than cash. While only a small percentage of contracts, it is the exchange of money for goods, and since it’s reported, it becomes a price. Rinse and repeat, again and again, and the higher price is the new normal. Nothing too abstract or profound.

      Usually futures trading is deflationary, the contracts limited only by imagination rather than the commodities limited by reality. However, with unlimited money, the mathematics can flip over to inflation. And Ben has promised abundance.

    7. Yves Smith Post author


      Pretty easy to find nothing if you haven’t bothered looking.

      Plenty of news reports of governments around the world stockpiling food.

      Also repeatedly pointed out here that it is impossible to track commodities and other food inventories. Only a small portion are visible. If places like airlines and food producers are hedging in the futures market, they will also accumulate physical product (remember, stockpiling does not have to take place in raw materials, it can take place in finished or semi finished product. Recall in the oil crisis that people kept their gas tanks full, and that increase in inventories was ascertained at the time of having a price impact. Similarly, my father became a hero of sorts at his paper company when he filled absolutely every storage facility they had and could lease with whatever form of fuel they used at the beginning of the crisis. It was enough to run the mills for a full eighteen months. During the 2008 bubble, China was stockpiling diesel, that was also well documented yet never factored into most discussions).

      1. RebelEconomist

        I did say I believe that physical hoarding is occurring, but I think that the article linked should mention the vital role of that, instead of focusing on financial speculators only.

        1. Jimbo

          How can you materially impact the price of a perishable commodity by stockpiling?

          1. einem Luftschlag


            Buy seeds and garden tools. Get it done before everything on the shelf is radioactive.

            And no Twinkies


          2. RebelEconomist

            Oil, wheat and cotton are fairly durable commodities, I believe. But you raise a good question – although it seems clear that consumers of vital commodities have to pay up while their supply is restricted by hoarding, won’t the speculators lose when they have to run down their stocks to get out of the position at some point, in which case, why bother? Perhaps the answer is that the owners of the limited resources such as oil and land are not raising prices as much as they could (eg as predicted by the Hotelling model), perhaps because of political constraints, leaving an opportunity for someone else.

  3. Name (required)

    The John Walsh opinion piece on the Afghan prison break is shallow and silly – yes motorways need solid foundations but in anything less than a marsh 10′ will suffice – and most of that is often built up above the original surface, with Google earth and High School quality surveying equipment the location, distance and bearing of any two points can be determined to within 1 meter and a single prison-guard’s key will usually open many if not all the doors of a lock. Or does he imagine the guards carry 94 keys around with them?

    Tunneling out of a prison or prisoner-of-war camp is difficult because of a lack of appropriate tools and places to dispose of the soil. Digging in from the outside presents neither problem.

    Walsh appears to have fallen into the same pit as those he professes to despise who took the US &tc into Afghanistan in the first place, which is to grossly underestimate the skills, intelligence and determination of the natives.

  4. watercarrier4diogenes

    The DailyKos article on Anonymous is, itself, a warning that THEY are “Not sure whether this is a plant or the real deal…stay tuned….” regarding the supposed leak of a block of Chamber of Commerce documents. From their letter posted at their ‘’ website:

    Despite the promise of secrets and leaks, early research has thus far shown that this information is publicly available through a simple Google search. It’s very possible that “@septscelles” is just an attention seeking troll. Despite this, there is a more insidious possibility. We learned from the HB Gary emails that the Chamber of Commerce was advised to “feed the fuel between the feuding groups, [creating] disinformation.” Specific mention was made of “[creating] messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization [and to] submit fake documents and then call out the error…”

    1. laVoce diManrico

      called the Trunk?”

      trunco, truncare, truncavi, truncatus V (1st) [XXXDX] strip of branches, foliage

      elephants eat leaves and twigs. They use proboscis, trunk to strip off the branches and foliage for their salad-to-go. Why is number thirteen unlucky for pachyderm? When she/he looses his 13th set of teeth she will turn her head direction secret elephant graveyard, never look back, and trudge slowly home to the green-green-grass of home.

      Ai nostri monti ritorneremo.

  5. Patrick

    “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries” presents what needs to be done if the U.S. wants to educate students well like other countries. However, I think the point is that the U.S. doesn’t want to educate people in public schools; the U.S. wants to create a permanent underclass.

  6. KFritz

    The “Food Crisis” article dovetails nicely with the Libertarian post. Aside from firepower, could there be a more effective form of power, and hence coercion, than the ability to manipulate food prices?

    1. Dean Sayers

      I agree that they are a part of the same system. But I disagree that the article is particularly different in regards to the applicability of the paradigm.

      The article about China applies. The structural tests mentioned: education, life expectancy, penal system and renewable energy – are all maligned by their own capital/state relations, and there is control by a minority at both the state/capital points in all of the industries related to these tests.

      What follows is simple: the centralized nature of capital and anti-democratic states(since fascism is taboo even though it fits both) is the core reason.

      To put it another way, which might feel safer for marxists (and is no less true): the centralized ownership among both state and capital resources attempts to reproduce and expand itself. Capital tries to valorize. State power also tries to expand.

      And these are not mutually exclusive structures: rather, they are intertwined. The state and corporate powers both have layers of bottlenecks state, private-arbitration and barrier-to-entry market tactics are largely “binary” if/then modifiers of markets. And structures like medicare, marketing tactics, retailer stock arrangements are largely scaling and rating modifiers to market conditions, that help determine the rate and size of market demand, market shares, etc..

      In short, its all state and private coercion together – one begets the other…

  7. Eastside

    Re: The High Cost of Low Teacher Pay

    The article sites a 2003 study that found that teachers make 14% less than professionals of equal education. 2003?! Is there no one who wants to discuss issues honestly?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      More recent studies come to similar conclusions.

      I note you provide no counterevidence. Isolated anecdotes don’t cut it. I can provide isolated examples of ridiculous private sector pay, like John Thain’s driver making $230,000.

      And when I was young, teachers were paid better than similar white collar jobs (indoor work, college degree, not very high levels of stress) like office manager.

      1. Jimbo

        Yves, let’s concede that teachers should be paid more. The next question is, where should that revenue stream come from?

        The working and middle-class are already overtaxed at the state and city levels. And even in New Jersey, municipality after municipality has rejected property tax referendums. If we also take sales and state income taxes off the table, where do we get the supplemental funds?

        I propose some type of annual federal excise tax on the wealth of the very rich, coupled with significant consolidation of school districts.

        1. ScottS

          Nix the income tax, increase estate tax to 100% above $1mil per beneficiary, tax capital gains at 40%, corporate tax at 40% for large businesses, eliminate the “carry interest” BS for hedge funds, and aggressive to-the-mattresses enforcement of tax-dodging or “avoidance.”

          No more tax credits for GE.

    2. Jimbo

      But I would argue that an Art History major from Stanford who managed to secure a job at an investment bank is far sharper than a teacher with a degree in Art History major from a low-ranked state university.

  8. IF

    The tsunami tool is not based on any kind of simulation. But I guess it is entertaining.

  9. wunsacon

    I continue to suspect it more likely than not that the Bush/Cheney/PNAC administration PREFERRED OBL’s escape, because OBL’s confirmed death or capture would’ve led too many swing voters to doubt Bush/Cheney/PNAC’s plans to greatly expand military operations was in any way related to the “war on terror”.

  10. wunsacon

    Bidding up food commodity futures leads more farmers to plant more acreage, which will then bring prices down. In other words, high prices are the cure for high prices. No?

    Sorry, I didn’t read the article. Does it contradict the propositions in my first paragraph? If not, then I blame higher food prices:
    (a) our presently flat tax rates, which gives the rich more fuel to bid up everything
    (b) money printing

    In other words, food prices are rising for the same reason everything else (other than still-overpriced housing) is rising.

    1. wunsacon

      Oh…and the other reasons for higher *real* food prices:
      – billion more humans
      – fuel/water scarcity

      …i.e., the factors folks on The Oil Drum and, recently, Grantham talk about and which most religious groups (e.g., “Full Quiver” movement, anti-abortionists) ignore.

  11. Hugh

    The crisis in education is another aspect of kleptocracy. There is always money for another war or tax cuts for the rich and corporations, but education, the nation’s physical infrastructure, retirements, Social Security, Medicare, jobs? Sorry, the money can’t be found.

    Education is also too ideological. Every 5 or 10 years, some new “idea” comes along about how teachers are supposed to teach. Other than providing publishing opportunities for tenure track positions at universities virtually all of these are trash. I would forget education degrees, get out of the way, and let teachers teach. Will there be poor and incompetent teachers? Sure. Do any of us know of an enterprise where there aren’t poor performers and incompetents?

    I think the focus on testing, testing, testing is a con and a cop out. It’s just a wedge to allow businesses come in and loot the place. It also gives us all a free pass on our failure as a society to treat education as having the importance we say it has. Schools are only part of the educational process. It has to be a focus of parenting. It has to be portrayed positively in our media. I mean seriously look at all the reality TV where knowledge is unimportant but being the best con artist, dancer, or singer is. Look too how intelligence is portrayed as some kind of disability, that being intelligent means you are either a geek or a social cripple (think shows like Big Bang, Numbers, Bones, etc.) Or look at how knowledge and nonsense are confounded in places like the History Channel where one day they will have a nice show on astronomy and the next about visitations by alien astronauts.

    Finally, I agree with the notion that, from a kleptocratic point of view, a gullible and ignorant population is easier to control and manipulate than an informed, critically thinking one.

  12. The word

    Re: Tsunami Mapper

    Yes – and how happy the MSM and even blogs are to get their viewers or ‘clicks’ by spreading the fear. Of course a righteous blogger such as yourself is not self-serving like those evil banks or oil companies. You are fighting the good fight. Spreading the ‘truth’ about how evil corporations and banksters are destroying all that is holy (er I mean good – obviously religion is also evil). hahahahha

  13. Michael H

    Grand Theft Benny: Hanky-Panky at the Fed


    “It’s the biggest flim-flam in the nation’s history. But, thanks to the Congressional Research Service, the scam has been exposed and the public can now get a good look at the type of swindle that passes as monetary policy….

    “On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders office released a CRS report titled “Banks Play Shell Game with Taxpayer Dollars” that sheds a bit light on the shady ways the Fed conducts its business. Sanders “found numerous instances during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 when banks took near zero-interest funds from the Federal Reserve and then loaned money back to the federal government on sweetheart terms for the banks.”

    “So, now we have irrefutable proof that the Fed was simply handing out money to the banks. More importantly, the report shows that this was not just a few isolated incidents, but a pattern of abuse that increased as the needs of the banks became more pressing. In other words, giving away money became policy. Is it any wonder why the Fed has fought so ferociously to prevent an audit of its books?”…

    From Sander’s report: “The banks pocketed interest on government securities that paid rates up to 12 times greater than the Fed’s rock bottom interest charges, according to a Congressional Research Service analysis conducted for Sanders.”

    “Are you kidding me; 12 times more than what the Fed was getting in return?

    That’s larceny, my friend. Grand larceny.

    So the question is, if Bernanke was already involved in this type of hanky-panky, what would keep him from raising the stakes a bit and really putting his friends back in the clover? Honor? Integrity?

    Not likely….

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