Links 7/30/2012

Scientists Use Microbes to Make ‘Clean’ Methane Science Daily

Lord of the tree rings: What trees can teach us about fire and climate change Grist

Draghi on Offensive as Game Changer Sought in Crisis Bloomberg

ECB’s Super Mario takes the stage Reuters

Crash of the Bumblebee NYT Krugman

Europe pulls the wrong lever Macrobusiness

The Euromess Continues Fed Watch

Worst blackout in decade leaves 300m without power Times of India. More. Water, trains, hospitals affected.

Philippines: The circus is still in town Al Jazeera

Japan Industrial Output Falls as Korea Confidence Sinks Bloomberg

Used Lamborghinis Linger on H.K. Lots Amid China Lull Bloomberg

Hong Kong protests China ‘patriotism’ classes Al Jazeera

Qidong China Protest Photos Cryptome

China keeps up block on Bloomberg website FT

Asahi Shimbun correspondent beaten by Chinese police Asahi Shimbun

Criminals abuse New Zealand’s liberal company laws Austin Statesman. Mainstream playing catch-up with NC. Again.

Sorry, but Olympic sponsors are on the wrong track… Independent

Analysis: Apple sounds warning bell for smartphone industry Reuters

JCPenney to get rid of check-out counters and clerks, use self check-out machines and RFID chips ABC (furzy mouse)

The New York Times Is Now Supported by Readers, Not Advertisers New York Magazine

Minutes before Netanyahu meeting, Romney cancels on Yacimovich Haaretz. More Jerusalem Post

Adviser: Romney would back Israeli strike on Iran USA Today

Most likely to attack Iran Glenn Greenwald Salon

Drought of Ideas in Congress Is Worse Than in Farm Belt Bloomberg

A Social Security Ditty: “If Privatization is Necessary—“ Angry Bear

No to ‘fracking’ doesn’t mean no Columbus Dispath (dan)

No rocket scientist — alleged meth-lab chemist checked in under real name Philadelphia Inquirer

Inside the Coursera Contract: How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses Chronicle of Higher Education. A bit stale but good detail.

Questioning El-Erian Felix Salmon Reuters

Banks Are The “Achilles’ Heel of Capitalism” Big Picture. They should be regulated like public utilities.

Veblen’s Institutionalist Elaboration of Rent Theory Michael Hudson. Must read.

Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music Nature. Keen charts and equations!

NOTE Readers, Campaign Countdown will return for the remainder of the week. I apologize to Yves and everyone for a schedule mishap, due to my mentally compensating for an already compensated for date (still) here on the other side of the International Dateline.

Antidote to du jour: Sending this one out to Furzy Mouse because I couldn’t get the elephant photos out of my camera.

Film star Helen Twelvetrees on an elephant, Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney, 1936-7 / Sam Hood

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. D. Mathews

    Revista Summa: En 2013, la Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP) espera que las principales economías del mundo continúen recuperándose, aunque a tasas moderadas. Se estima que las tasas de crecimiento mundial estarán entre 2,3% y 3,6%.

  2. rjs

    Scientists Use Microbes to Make ‘Clean’ Methane is poorly written…they can not “turn electrical energy into pure methane”

    what is the source of the carbon? what is the source of the hydrogen?

    1. evodevo

      Right! When I read the article my first reaction was “Huh?”. I guess these guys have made a miraculous breakthrough – it defies the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics !! Nobel is next, I guess…

    2. BondsOfSteel

      I like how they just waved their hand over the storage problems. Like it’s not going to leak. Current leakage for storage is ~3%.

      Secondly, what is the effecency like? Elec->Methane->Elec has to be better than Elec->Hydrogen->Elec… which currently has loss ratios of ~20%.

      I’m a skeptic…

    3. J Sterling

      They’re fairly clear that they’re getting the carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. But the quality of the reporting goes downhill from there. At one point in the article it says they’re getting the hydrogen from hydrogen gas. So far so good: there are methanogens that can use the chemical energy of CO2 and hydrogen to make methane, and the hydrogen could be made from solar cells electrolysing water.

      But then the article says something weird about the bugs using electricity directly. Well, I can see that, even. The electrical potential would let them grab hydrogen from water, then combine that with CO2. What I don’t see is the point of them being electricity users *and* users of H2 gas. I think the reporter just got confused at some point.

      To sum up, this is a fairly old idea, and making it work requires that they can show they have brought the costs of all the parts, from photovoltaic cells to methane storage and burning, down to the point where it’s competitive. The best way to impress me that you’ve done that is to roll it out, not tell a reporter how great it’s going to be when you do. So, slow news day, I’m guessing.

    4. MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

      No matter what they do, there’s no such thing as magic. Methane product from organic matter simply represents another form of inefficient solar power storage and that energy is dissipated. With methane as it’s end product instead of electricity. The methane becomes a little less inefficient if you use it directly for transportation energy, but it’s still no prize.

      1. Synopticist

        Most likelly it’ll be a dry hole, but surelly it’s worth drilling just in case?
        I read a prospectus from a company that was trying something along these lines a few years back, and the great commercialization never occured, but if enough people throw their brains at it, you never know, it might oneday work.

  3. Goin' South

    There’s a connection between the “‘No’ to fracking” article and the Veblen piece.

    Veblen saw that “ownership” in a Capitalist economy is a right to collect rent–and nothing more. Seen that way, the effects of the private ownership of land, patents, etc. is exposed as socially harmful and leads to booms and busts.

    The landowner in Ohio who was surprised to learn that saying now to a fracker wouldn’t stop them from fracking on his land is operating under a different concept of “ownership,” something along the lines of “a home is a person’s castle.” He thought his deed made him more or less sovereign over his 10 acres. The fact that unitization, something that’s been around for a long time in the O&G industry, will pay him royalties, doesn’t matter to him, especially if his well is ruined and his little piece of paradise spoiled.

    MERS, unitization, eminent domain for development. We should be learning that the supposedly sacrosanct concept of “ownership” is very flexible if the “owner” is a little person whose rights get in the way of the rich and powerful.

    1. rjs

      here’s the trick: “Unwilling landowners will be paid 100 percent of the value of their respective shares of the oil and gas produced from each well. Those payments will start after Chesapeake collects twice the amount of money it spent to drill its first well.”

      at current prices they are losing money…they need $6 to $8 mcf to profit…in fracked wells, production falls by half each year…they will never collect twice the amount spent in drilling…

      1. Aquifer

        Seems to me this must be challenged at the Constit. level as an unlawful “taking” in the sense that the gov’t has instituted the law by which the activity is allowed ….

      2. Patccmoi

        I think you read this wrong.

        It’s twice the amount spent to drill the FIRST well. But over this large a surface I’m pretty sure they drill many wells. So the unwilling landowners will get some of the royalty money, basically 100% of their share based on the % of land that is theirs in the unit (so if you own 1% of the unit, you would get 1% of the total oil and gas sold after the cost of the first well has been covered twice), while willing landowners will get 12.5% (and a signature bonus).

        The trick about saying that it’s the cost of the first well though is that this is likely much more costy than the other wells to build because they must put as much as possible in its cost (like carrying all the material, maybe build roads if necessary, etc.) and reduce as much as possible the cost of the other wells needed afterwards, at least that’s my guess of what they do. Still, I’m pretty sure that they do make money.

        Now, does that money compensate from the fact that your property will basically lose all its value, and that you might have contaminated water and air? Likely not. And you basically have no say in the whole deal. It’s pretty aweful.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Damned straight, Jack. A numerate citizenry (if we had one) would constitute a serious threat to government finances.

      Meanwhile, the Times-Titanic faces some intractable arithmetic of its own. From the New York mag article linked above:

      [NYT’s] digital subscription effort has been more successful than many people wanted it to be. The news group now counts 509,000 digital subscribers, up from 454,000 in March.

      The morning paper costs more, too, but most people don’t seem to mind. “There’s a large group of people that values what the Times does as a news organization, and that their willingness to pay is greater than we thought it was,” [media analyst Ken] Doctor said.

      “There’s an alchemy there of aggressive pricing, access to good apps, and the content itself. If that’s in place, it looks like there’s a fairly large number of people who will pay for it.”

      Well, I beg to differ, Dr. Doctor. Let’s have a look at the old grey lady’s old grey readers:

      NYT demographics

      Male … 52%
      Female … 48%
      Median Age … 49

      That median age of 49 is up from 45 just a few years ago.

      Newspapers are a pre-digital age business whose remnants are being kept afloat by doddering, toothless Boomers.

      No one under 30 has actually touched one of those nasty things — you might get ink stains on your fingers that would leave streaks on your iPhone screen!

      Within five years, the foundering Times-Titanic will sink beneath the waves, I staunchly predict.

      1. Tim Mason

        The author, Andrew Hacker, is very much in favour of numeracy, and is himself pretty good at stats. He is against the use of higher maths as a filter, or barrage. This is not a trivial matter: in my own country, France, the medical profession – to give but that example – has been using maths as a barrage on entry for decades. The maths required to qualify as a doctor bears but a vague relationship to what doctors actually do. The result has been to prevent many young people who would have made competent doctors from entering the profession.

        (The barrage was put in place, by the way, at a time when girls regularly scored less well on maths tests than boys. Now that the boot is on the other foot, it may come into question).

        I’m not sure that I agree with the article, but it is far from being stupid or in any way against giving ordinary people the skills they need to understand the world – on the contrary. Read it, then argue with it. But don’t knee-jerk

          1. McKillop

            Military . a heavy barrier of artillery fire to protect one’s own advancing or retreating troops or to stop the advance of enemy troops.
            I was also unfamiliar with the word used as “barrier”. A barrage is also a “dam”.
            I’d guess that the meaning was diminished by our own misunderstanding.

          2. LeeAnne

            I was thinking “barrier to entry.” The word is repeated -like a machine might do if it couldn’t know what you mean. Could it be someone or something other than the thinker was doing the typing. Maybe a computer you can speak into to do your typing?

            The writer was maybe speaking in a French accent.

        1. Ed

          I agree its a well argued piece, but his target should be calculus, which I believe is actually required of high school students in California. And requiring high school students to teach calculus is insane. The liberal arts type equivalent would be making learning Hungarian a requirement to graduate, and then coming up with all sorts of hand waving justifications about the importance of learning languages.

          Algebra is a strange target for this argument because its basically abstracted geometry and only one step up from basic arithmetic. I guess the liberal arts equivalent would be requiring Latin, which actually was done in the past and would make some sense, but algebra really is easier and and more basic than Latin.

          1. chad

            calculas is all about rates of change which make it about the most applicable field of math out there. Everything in the universe changes over time, calculas is pretty important.

          2. ArmchairRevolutionary

            I personally think that every student should be required to master mathematics through basic calculus to graduate high school.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        Ahem. I still have my teeth. And since bad teeth are income-related, you’re in for a two-fer: Age-ism and classism. Well played, sir!

        Adding: There is this to be said for paper, as well; as a medium, it survives when the power goes off. There’s something to be said for that, unless you take the grid for granted as a permanent feature of your life.

        1. citalopram

          Oh come now, Lambert. When we disparage Boomers, we don’t mean every Boomer on the planet. Don’t take this personally.

          1. McKillop

            Specifying “which” would call for precise in expressing what we think we are going on about.
            How on earth can bigotry flourish without cliched generalization?

          2. citalopram

            Generalizations don’t include every single Boomer out there. Generations are talked about generally all the time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule.

          3. McKillop

            Yes: the generalization of ‘boomers’ as doddering and toothless doesn’t apply to each and every person defined as a ‘boomer’ (born post WW11 ’til who knows when).
            Once a demographic term and useful _only_ in describing people born “when”, it has now become degenerate and is being used to suggest various faults and/or attitudes that do not apply.
            The term is also being used to denigrate a group of people with whom others might benefit more by recognizing common causes and interests.

      3. Ed

        The funny thing is that my median age is 42, and its up from being 38 only a few years ago. I stopped reading the Times for the most part ten years ago, the Gulf War coverage being the last straw, and the little I’ve seen of the paper since indicates that I’m not missing much.

        We could be in the same situation here as with the network evening news broadcasts.

        I think the culprit is really the increase in the propeganda and fluff to actual news ratios, and not the tech. At the most the tech is an excuse that enables people to avoid confronting a real decline in quality in many institutions which were in OK shape twenty years ago. But Generation X have been slowly abandoning these things and the Millenials never got started, so we will be in the situation where the Boomers are seen as the last users and defenders of these legacy institutions.

      4. Wendy

        Or, more likely, the person under 30 is wise to BPA and knows that newspaper ink contains it, at high enough level to be absorbed through the skin. Those ink stains are actually toxic.

        They are especially toxic to reproductive systems and babies – things the 30 and under-30 crowd either has or is trying to get.

        So maybe they are just being super sensible by trying to avoid marinating in toxins.

        I am 40+, so the age references don’t refer to me. But even so, I don’t really care to have toxins dumped on me.

  4. LeeAnne

    A Social Security Ditty: “If Privatization is Necessary—” Angry Bear

    I’d like to outline a simple expample of ‘privatization’ because everyone with a checking account is familiar with it although they may not be aware of how privatization of welfare payments affected the poorest among us.

    IN the ’80s or ’90s a deal was cut by the government for Citibank to process ‘automatic desposits’ of welfare payments that had traditionally been deliered to the poor by mail.

    The deal is that Citibank would take the risk of giving checking accounts to welfare recipients, but would be limited to a $3.00 a month charge for each account.

    Well, you know the rest. The charges at ATM machines that can run as high as $2.50 if you don’t use your own bank’s machines, the overcharges for overdrafts and the subprime loans handed out to people who were only marginally able to manage a checking account -and so forth.

    Citi’s retail profits soared as a result.

    PRIVATIZATION is as evil a word as GLOBALIZATION -worse if that’s possible.

  5. Ned Ludd

    The article about China blocking the Bloomberg website is reprinted at CNN, for anyone who doesn’t have a FT subscription. Instead of being proud at antagonizing an authoritarian regime, Bloomberg appears to be chastened.

    In the meantime, Bloomberg appears to be trying to keep a lower profile in China. Its spokeswoman declined to comment for this story and employees said that reporters in China had been advised not to email the article about Mr Xi to their contacts or even to print it out, in order to avoid being seen to spread it around.

  6. craazyman

    Getting tired of reading all these Euro articles. It’s been too long now and I want to cash in. I don’t have the fascination with this stuff that some of you have — and I’m not saying who — you could read this stuff all day long and then talk about it all night. I just want out.

    Is it time to go long UVXY?

    This could be a 30-bagger. Put in as little as $100,000 and you’re set! No more work, ever. Just laying around doing nothing (or drinking wine and beer). Unless you end up losing it all speculating. hahaha haah. I wouldn’t do that.

  7. Ned Ludd

    From The Nation: “How WikiLeaks Transformed Brazil’s Media”:

    The impact of WikiLeaks on the Brazilian media community has been unmistakable: within a couple of months, articles based on documents from Brazil’s dictatorship period started popping up in the press. Folha de S. Paulo started its own WikiLeaks-type section, the “FolhaLeaks,” and established an investigative unit in Brasília. More investigative stories are being produced by both the traditional and the independent media. A year later, corporate media outlets such as Globo and Grupo Bandeirantes—major TV networks in Brazil—are fighting to sponsor the annual congress of the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism. And Publica is now up and running.

    The story is written by Natalia Viana, the director of Publica, Brazil’s first nonprofit investigative journalism center, which was started to publish articles based on WikiLeaks documents that the corporate media was not interested in. “Staffing a temporary newsroom with fifteen volunteer journalists, we were able to publish another fifty articles based on the cables. My favorite new revelation was the secret transfer to Brazil by the United States of thirty Drug Enforcement Administration personnel who had previously been expelled from Bolivia for spying and aiding the opposition.”

  8. Up the Ante

    Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)

    “.. 13th round of negotiations of the TPP—even though none of us had any clue what was really going on. ”

    “.. Other than “cleared advisors”—primarily industry representatives—no one outside the inner circle knows what is currently being negotiated in TPP. Most members of Congress do not even know what is in TPP. Indeed, the last publicly available text of TPP’s intellectual property chapter is a leaked version dated Feb. 10, 2011. ”

    “.. input based upon a 16-month-old leaked text that may no longer reflect what the negotiators are actually negotiating ..”

    “.. failing to release a current TPP text seems ..”

  9. Susan the other

    Krugman. NYT. The Crash of the Bumblebee. About the unlikely survival of the Euro. Just thinking about Michael Hudson’s piece on fictitious capital, i.e. there is no collateral to be found these days. When Krugman said the “bubbles burst” in 2007 he begged the entire question of “the housing bubble.” It didn’t burst in the usual sense. It burst in 2007 because it was becoming known that all those CDOs contained no collateral. Because the notes had been destroyed and the mortgages had been pledged multiple times. The market collapsed because the securitizations were fraudulent. So I’m thinking that Lehman went down not because it was in debt; it was in debt because it went down a year before; couldn’t sell a thing. I remember one report that the French (?) demanded Lehman buy back all of its MBSs. And here’s a kicker: Lehman couldn’t be saved because it could not write down or off all those trillions in crashed assets because nobody knew who owned them. This would certainly explain why we, and Europe, are in suspended animation. The solution to this conundrum has been to hide the fraud because fraud vitiates everything; nullifies everything, and really pisses people off. Instead, just plod along until people pay off their mortgages. That’s the only way out. Even if it takes 10 years of bank insolvency. Here and in Europe.

    1. Wendy

      Trying to figure out why they keep dragging their feet on this Euro debacle, I had to conclude the same thing – the longer they drag it out, the more interim payments they get.

      What does it matter if your bond is ultimately written off or down, if you’ve received enough interest payments to put you not just in the black but way ahead of any other type of short-term investment you could have made?

    2. VietnamVet

      The shocks from 2008 crash continue to reverberate. The plutocrats here and in Europe are refusing to take haircuts. They want the remaining payments to keep coming down the pipeline; the hell with deflation, depression or the fate of anyone else.

      This is a strange election in November in the USA. We have the choice of either the plutocrats’ Chief Handmaiden or a real to life certified Oligarch. Government by and for the people is too quaint for the 21st century shock capitalism.

  10. Up the Ante

    Minami is one of THE most radioactive places on earth, in spots, comparable to Chernobyl.

    “Odaka, .. is in the southern district of the larger city Minami Soma ..”

    Kobayashi “.. If there is no radiation exposure danger here, then the only danger remaining is the reactors. ”

  11. Herman Sniffles

    From the Veblen article: “Writing two decades before Veblen, the journalist Henry George obtained a popular following by denouncing landlords and urging taxation of the land’s full rental value.”

    Now that would make owning rentals a really popular past time! People would just line up to buy them. Then they could just hand the rent checks to the government, and keep paying upkeep, repairs, taxes, utilities, etc. etc. How insigntful!

  12. Susan the other

    Michael Hudson excerpt on Veblen. Really great read. Thanks. I’ve never read Veblen but I have seen informed readers here refer to him. I thought it answered some of my simplistic questions like, capital and labor were originally one so how did they get separated? etc. And another thought occurred to me: that we evolved to be social creatures for the advantages it gave us, yet we isolate each other and prevent ourselves from really capitalizing on those synergies. Or our bad habits prevent us. I’d like to see Veblen’s sense of political economics applied to cleaning up the planet and sustainable, equitable capitalism.

  13. Cap'n Magic

    Capuchin monkeys show sense of fairness:

    Money quote:

    To test whether or not such behavior is found in other species, Brosnan designed an experiment for brown capuchin monkeys, a species well-known for strong social bonds and relatively cooperative behavior, particularly in shared food-gathering activities like hunting squirrels and locating fruit trees.

    Individuals were drawn from two large, well-established social groups of captive brown capuchins from colonies at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and paired with a partner. Pairs were placed next to each other and trained to exchange with human handlers a small granite rock within 60 seconds to receive a reward, in most cases, a piece of cucumber.

    “That may actually sound simple, but not very many species are willing to relinquish things, especially intentionally,” Brosnan said in a telephone interview. (Think of trying to pry a large bone from a dog’s mouth.)

    Only female capuchins were tested because they most closely monitor equity, or fair treatment, among their peers, Brosnan said.

    Partners of capuchins who made the swap either received the same reward (a cucumber slice), or a better reward (a grape, a more desirable food), for the same amount of work or, in some cases, for performing no work at all.

    Brosnan said the response to the unequal treatment was astonishing: Capuchins who witnessed unfair treatment and failed to benefit from it often refused to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers they received for their labors, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at human researchers.”

  14. JustAnObserver

    Nice piece on Veblen which may have answered my long-standing question on How anyone can, with a straight face, talk about financial “Products”; an oxymoronic piece of NewSpeak if ever there was one.

    The answer, clearly, is that if there are (by definition) no rents then what we are paying must be for something – some factor of production – and so !voila! it must be a “product” … and the circle closes.

    Its such a comfort to know that all that interest I’m shelling out gets me a real thing I can cling on to.

  15. F. Beard

    re Banks Are The “Achilles’ Heel of Capitalism” Big Picture. They should be regulated like public utilities.:

    Yeah and we can go back to redlining too!

    Look. If “loans create deposits” then credit creation is a form of counterfeiting. Therefore NO ONE is credit worthy! Not blacks. Not whites. Not the rich. Not the poor. Not those without tattoos. Not the Pope. Not Ghandi. NO ONE!

    We should not be seeking to regulate banking but to eliminate it! And if people wish to borrow money then they can borrow it from those who actually have it and wish to lend it – a novel concept to be sure.

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