Links 4/21/13

Poor, cute bunnies likely to get eaten when the snow melts early Ars Technica

Texas fertilizer plant explosion

The other form of violence Facing South (see image (Bob)).

State regulators focus on emissions — not safety Houston Chronicle

Texas fertilizer company didn’t heed disclosure rules before blast Reuters

Fertilizer sold, stored across Central Texas, but no need for panic Austin Statesman

Boston Marathon Bombing

Czech Republic Issues Statement Clarifying That They Are Not Chechnya, Because America Geekosystem

See separate post for further links and commentary.

R-R Schadenfreude

Blogs review: The Reinhart and Rogoff debacle Bruegel. Pass the popcorn!

How much of Reinhart/Rogoff has survived? Gavyn Davies, FT

IMF steps up call for Osborne to slow down austerity plans as row escalates Telegraph

Holders of Bankia hybrid instruments take huge hit El Pais

Built (Not) to Last: Hackerspaces Resurrect Broken Appliances Der Spiegel

Napolitano elected for second term as Italy president Reuters

US doubles non-lethal aid for Syria FT

These Bizarre Cartoons Prove That Even China Is Worried About Its Fate Jim Chanos, Business Insider

Thousands of Thumbs Down for Chinese Red Cross WSJ

Rail Traffic Continues To Trend Lower Cullen Roche, Business Insider

Midwestern river cities brace for floodwaters USA Today

What’s Riskier Than Bitcoins? Bitcoin Companies Wired

In Virginia’s Fairfax County, Robbing Banks for the CIA Businessweek

Profits from Poverty: How Food Stamps Benefit Corporations Corporate Crime Reporter (MR)

Financial advisers’ credentials mislead seniors, watchdog says Reuters. CFPB.

Interdealer broker: ‘I’m one of those shouting guys on a trading floor’ Guardian. (See also My time at Lehman Thoughts from Brooklyn).

LA girl scouts can get video game design badge Wired UK

Inside Bloomberg’s Twitter A-List (Well, At Least a Fraction of It) CFA Institute

A brief lesson in letter-writing Tim Harford. Attention, Rust!

The future according to Mr Google Guardian

The future of foreplay? Vibrating ‘Fundawear’ controlled by smartphone will help long-distance lovers keep in touch Daily Mail

A Rake Too Far: Optimal Platform Pricing Strategy Bill Gurley. Must read.

Antidote du jour:


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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. WI Quarterback

    Regarding the Czech Republic link, this is an example of a dynamic that my friends and I refer to as “Real life lapping The Onion”. For those unfamiliar, is a comic fake news site that is increasingly spot on for how the state of affairs has come.

    Yesterday, they had a story titled “Study: Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens”


    1. fresno dan

      Actually, the Onion is the most fact based and objective source of reality out there. CNN is the top parody site…

      1. WI Quarterback

        I agree, but I would also add the ‘Daily Show’, and ‘The Colbert Report’ to the list of most trustworthy news sources today. There is a saying of comedy that “it can only be funny if it is true”. There is no such requirement in what passes as journalism today. Therefore, when in doubt on searching for truth in “interesting times” (as the Chinese would say), always defer to comedy over other sources.

  2. AbyNormal

    Women have curious ways of hurting someone else. They hurt themselves instead; or else they do it so the guy doesn’t even know he’s been hurt until much later. Then he finds out. Then his dick falls off. margarot atwood

    …hence we’ve derived at vibrating underwear controlled via cell phone ? :-/ ?

    1. Yves Smith

      We’re just extending the range of control.

      By 1999, there were devices on the market that were oriface-friendly that would vibrate within a half-block or so of the signal being transmitted. Sort of a “get prepared, I’m almost there” signal.

  3. Jim Haygood

    From Spiegel’s ‘hackerspace’ article:

    The project fits well into an ongoing debate in Germany about “planned obsolescence,” an inbuilt expiration date that is supposed to keep the life spans of electric appliances to a minimum. The assumption is that producers are deliberately constructing their products so that they will eventually break down, forcing consumers to replace old with new equipment on a regular basis.

    Whether or not obsolescence is designed into their products, appliance manufacturers are adopting the mentality of computer makers by not supporting their products after a few years.

    Case in point: last week, the drum in my veteran Maytag dryer wouldn’t start up and turn. Foolishly, I phoned factory service (now owned by Whirlpool) and scheduled a visit.

    You should have seen the repair guy’s face as he entered the basement. Seeing the 1979 vintage machine, his jaw dropped as if he were staring at a living dinosaur.

    ‘Forget it,’ he said. ‘No parts are available for anything over ten years old. You probably paid $300 for this. But the service call would be $109, plus parts and labor. You do the math …’ (In fact, parts ARE available. But they’re third-party knock-offs, not high-margin OEM parts.)

    I dismissed the ‘can’t do’ Maytag man and tore into the crippled machine myself, spouting the credo learned from teenaged years working in a lawn mower shop: ‘I’ll either FIX this sucker, or fix it where it can’t BE fixed!’

    Shortly the problem was clear: the motor rotor was locked up, probably by corrosion in the damp basement. I clamped the pulley with Vise-Grips and cranked hard — SNAP! The rust-welded blockage broken, its shaft now spun freely. We were back in the laundry business!

    Manufacturers try to make it economically infeasible to repair machines, but the Internet makes it easier than ever to find parts. If one lacks repair skills, seek out immigrants from LatAm, eastern Europe or Russia who know how to fix old stuff. They’ll do well as the U.S. Consumer Paradise ungracefully degrades.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Same thing with me. My mother’s Maytag must have lasted thirty years. The replacement lasted three. The new one I just got had to have a pump replaced after a few months of service. And the metal looks a little thicker than those metalallic-looking boxes they put Chinese food in.

      It’s appalling. Orlov makes that point somewhere that when the Soviet Union collapsed, at least they had rugged and overbuilt appliances so they could keep going with things like, oh, washing and cooking in the manner to which they had become accustomed. We don’t have that advantage here.

          1. Fridge

            I just looked at it for your (American) sake: it says “ZIL MOCKBA” on it, with Russian letters. Of course, Mockba reads Moskva. I don’t know what ZIL means.
            I assure you it’s a Soviet fridge, but of course, for you it might sound like Space Station technology, since it still works after 49 years. :)

    2. Bill the Psychologist

      Horribly sad ! Germany is the last bastion of proudly well made quality objects that last for decades.

  4. Paul Niemi

    I think the link to “Built (not) to last” is important. For example, if the toaster you bought dies after a year and a half, the work you do to earn the money to buy a new one and the work the manufacturer does to make a new one is a deadweight loss to the economy. It’s no different than digging a hole and filling it in, a waste of time and money, better spent moving on to different goals and tasks. Chances are, if you investigate, you will find the element in the toaster that quit was a few pennies less expensive to the manufacturer than one which could be expected to last 25 to 50 years. So what? The problem scales up to streets, water and sewer systems, bridges, buildings, stuff that is supposed to last. Your street is repaved and five years later it is potholed again. Taxes are increased to pay the bonds for the repairs. An investigation may show that 10 percent more spent originally on a thicker layer of gravel under the pavement would have increased the life of the original repair to 25 years. I think this is the kind of stuff that happens when there is insufficient competition for the work, when monopolies and cartels have formed as providers in these areas, and it costs us dearly.

    1. anon y'mouse

      a lot of our housing stock is built the same exact way.

      there is no mentality of “the ancients have done all the really hard work for us. let’s just maintain whatever we have already standing.” even that option is constantly portrayed as “too expensive–it was built in a different time with different (more exacting, sounds like) standards that we can’t afford to replicate.”

      sounds like techno progress has led to a downward spiral in the quality of everything, and reinventing the wheel ever 5-10-20 years just because someone has figured out a way to charge everyone for it, again (with debt on top like whipped cream on your latte’).

      and i don’t buy the argument that buildings have so much obsolescence built into them because they are designed for the way people USED TO LIVE. people live. their gadgets may change a bit, but they still eat, sleep & sh*t just the same as ever, still need light and heat and have the same comfort needs as they have since we came out of the trees.

      and, the washing machine doesn’t need to be new, red and have stainless steel (colored plastic, really) parts on it every five years. i may need a new dress, but as long as the bloody thing works and is not atrociously ugly, rusted and curse-worthy, harvest gold suits me just fine. reminds me of being a little kid at home, actually.

        1. down2long

          Here in Los Angeles, our Building and Safety Dept., makes if very difficult to restore old buildings, especially anything 3 units or over because we get the commerical inspectors who are used to modern steel truss construction, or steel studs interiors in slap up modern construction.

          They make it so prohibitively expensive to meet their unrealistic desires (these old wood frame bldgs. were built with Doug Fir that just seems to get stronger with age, the studs are really 2 x 4 incles (not 1 3/8″ by 3 and a half) etc. And don’t even get started on the Historical Presevervation Overly Zones insanity. I replaced 59
          aluminum framed windows with the “original” wood framed floor to ceiling French windows. My only request was that I could use double paned windows. Now this was a Spanish building that was gorgeous, but was not “contributing” i.e. was not a “historic” bldg. style (i.e. Victorian or Craftsman) and thus did not qualify for the Mills Act, which is Calif. law that allows lowered tax rates on “historic”- and I think interest rates on historic bldgs., and nothing over 4 units.

          The rationale was that the “mittins” – the wood frames between the panes would be 1/8″ wider. Quelle crisis.

          So no energy saving double paned windows. More nonsense. I double paned in the back house, alongside the single paned – standing next to the windows, was impossible to tell the difference. City of L.A. crazy and counterproductive.

          Bottom line: L.A. loves new crackerjack construction. Higher building fees and taxes. That is ALL they care about. The only “green” ”
          they worship is MONEY.

  5. Ned Ludd

    According to the Reuters article about Italy, chaos has engulfed the centre-left in Italy. The Democratic Party (PD) led the centre-left coalition that won the most seats in the last election; the entire executive committee of the PD has now resigned. This happened after rebels in the party sabotaged the party’s official candidates in the presidential vote. “PD leader Bersani announced late on Friday that he would quit after the new president was elected, leaving the largest force in parliament rudderless and making prospects for broader political stability looking even weaker.”

  6. taunger

    Sure, megacorps are gaming every gov’t system for their own benefit, but perspectives like these won’t help the marginalized populations:

    “While the poverty rate in the 1960s was around 15 percent, it remains stubbornly there to this day. So if these programs have not helped people that are in need, who has benefited? Large corporations and this town, boom town, have profited enormously from the expansion of these programs.”

    I’ve benefited, that’s for sure. Call me a lazy, welfare queen (which would be strange, because I never queened it up when I was ably employed and had no gov’t assistance), but I don’t think workfare makes sense; you provide a basic set of necessities for your population, and reduce stress, anxiety, and crime, etc.

    I’ll stick with my subsidized rent and foodstamps rather than take every temp job for middle class wages, because when one job ends, there’s no guarantee for another, (not like at will employment is much better) but if I loose my housing, there is even less chance it comes back. Then I have to move my family, not for opportunity, but for desperation.

    Now I just have to find a doc for a cannabis script, and we could cover all our necessities with 30 hours of low-wage work a week. See? The Keynesian future exists if you’re willing to buck perceptions.

    1. AbyNormal

      “It’s no accident that the emerging fossil fuel resistance has sent so many people to jail in the last few years. That’s because the overwhelming wealth of the fossil fuel industry means we can’t outspend them; we need other currencies with which to work. Passion, spirit, creativity. And sometimes we have to spend our bodies.

      Others of us will have the chance soon to emulate the witness and courage of Tim DeChristopher and Sandra Steingraber. For us, today, it’s enough just to thank them for their gifts to the future.”

      1. AbyNormal

        Quotes from the Seneca Lake 12:
        “I would rather eat bread and water now than have no bread and toxic water later!” —Melissa Chipman, Hector, NY
        “This is a sacred place, with sacred stories to be kept preserved. It’s not for Inergy to come and dig up the landscape and store more poisons in old, unsafe salt caverns.” —Margie Rogers, Elmira, NY

        “We cannot put our trust, our health or our economy’s future in the hands of a company that is indifferent to its impact on the health and welfare of a region such as the Heart of the Finger Lakes.” —Jim Borra, Hector, NY

        “The Seneca Lake 12 are the salt of the earth; a growing community that believes the Inergy Corporation gas storage project is a suicidal course, not the renewable energy future essential to the survival of our children and theirs.” —Jack Ossont, Himrod, NY

        “I do not take this step lightly. My wife and I have a small farm in Seneca County. We grow organic grains and maintain a large garden we use to feed our and our daughter’s families. Our garden is irrigated with lake water. I believe the Inergy gas storage complex will, at best, damage the community, and has the potential to do catastrophic damage. Important information has been kept from the public with the DEC’s cooperation. I do this to attempt to protect the community when all other means have failed. I blocked the entrance to the Inergy gas storage facility because I believe that the institutions who, by law and purpose, are required to protect the people and the environment from harm can no longer be relied on to do so.” —Michael Dineen, Ovid, NY

        Sandra Steingraber’s prepared statement:
        Your Honor, I am not a lawyer. I am a biologist and a human being. I am also a mother of a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old. I bring all these identities to your courtroom tonight.
        I am guilty of an act of trespass. On March 18, I willfully stood on private property owned by the Inergy company and blocked access to a compressor station site that is being constructed in order to prepare explosive hydrocarbon gases, propane and butane, for storage in abandoned salt caverns that are located beside and beneath Seneca Lake.

  7. Jim Haygood

    This is no way to grow revenues:

    The IRS will issue official furlough notices next week to employees detailing that the agency will be closed for five days with unpaid leave for workers this summer because of the sequester.

    In a memo to employees, IRS Acting Commissioner Steve Miller said the furlough days will be May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and Aug. 30 with two additional days possible in August or September. During these days, all public-facing operations will be closed as will toll-free operations and Taxpayer Assistance Centers.

    There is speculation that the furloughs could result in fewer audits this year. A report released earlier this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows audit rates dipped 5.3% last year and could fall even more this year with less personnel available.

    On April 9, Miller testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government and discussed the impact of sequestration and told lawmakers that he anticipates a considerable reduction in the revenues the agency will collect and the calls it can answer.

    Sounds like the post office, don’t it?

    Likely the impact will be disproportionate to the five missing work days, owing to disruption of operations and the effect on employee morale.

    The NTEU is not bloody amused, and has ways of acting out its frustration.

    1. AbyNormal

      a close family member recently retired from irs criminal investigations unit…might be interesting to call and see if the furlough hits permanent positions or temp to perms.
      couple times i temped the tax season at irs…the dates they are furloughing happen to be when the temp positions end.

      1. AbyNormal

        btw the rumors are true…the irs outsources some auditing to India (supposedly only small business).

  8. Brian

    Forced obsolescence becomes more prevalent. One thing that folks shouldn’t forget is that you can do something, sometimes. If you have used something a thousand times, did you clean it up? Did you take it apart (as you are able without breaking a plastic thingamagig that tries to stop you) and clean it? Or do anything to help it continue working? Sometimes we forget that basic maintenence will help a lot.
    But then you have things like Ford (to name only one) where your suspension system is made to fail after your warranty expires. Ever heard the term “lube”? Ford makes their parts “lube free” meaning, you can’t even help them last longer. Your only solution is to replace the junk. Junk.

  9. bob


    A better overview of the damage, very detailed-

    The apparement building got the majority of the blast.

    The blast appears to have originated on the railroad spur.

    The mainline rail tracks were “pushed” together. The rail people are trying to figure out how to fix it in the top link.

    The trees. The trees outside of the area of the blast have leaves already. The trees in the “field” don’t. Was the fireball that big?

  10. Jim S

    Re: Red Cross

    Red Cross corruption with Chinese characteristics. I was disturbed to read that more half of my donation in the wake of the Haitian earthquake probably disappeared into thin air, and what relief it did provide seems to be on the order of tarps, bottled water, and peanut butter sandwiches. And it seems the response to Katrina was similarly bungled.

    Red Cross, I’m not giving you any more money until you clean your act up.

    The upshot is that I anyone has a favourite charitable relief organization, I’d love to hear about it.

    1. AbyNormal

      these sites help navigate monetary flows etc

      • American Institute for Philanthropy ( The group grades about 500 charities on a variety of factors, including their fundraising costs, percentage of funds that go to programs, and assets.

      • Charity Navigator ( The group analyzes the financial data of more than 5,000 charities and compiles a rating based on performance in several categories, including fundraising and administrative expenses.

      • Great Nonprofits ( This group doesn’t rely on financial data for its ratings. Instead it encourages donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries to comment and rate their experiences. The website lists about 6,500 nonprofits.

      • Guidestar ( The group maintains financial data from IRS records on virtually all nonprofits and presents information on their mission, executives, expenses, and programs.

  11. bdy1

    a stretch:

    “Imagine a situation in which public expenditure is running out of control, so that households fear a collapse of market confidence, or a rise in tax rates, at some uncertain point in the future. They might then cut their spending today, in which case GDP growth will decline before debt rises; but the true cause of the problem will be too much public spending, not too little.”

    Hot yoga stretch. Saltwater Taffy. Plastic Man.

    Households base spending on what they want, what they feel they can afford, how much credit they have access to, how hard their children nag about a particular purchase. Bond rates, projected GDP and hypothetical tax futures mean dick. Liquidity is demand.

  12. tert

    I’m grateful to see a few links about West, Texas. I’ve had to hunt for the news and it seems like Boston has sucked all the air out of reporting this equally tragic event.

  13. Winston Smith

    Re: The Other Form of Violence.

    I’m surprised West Fertilizer Co. is not being investigated as an eco-terrorist communist front group.

    From the article:

    While many press accounts refer to the plant as West Fertilizer Co., the corporate entity is actually Adair Grain Inc., which according to Dun & Bradstreet has only eight employees and annual revenues of only a few million dollars.

    Footnote: Until the accident, the only time Adair Grain rose out of obscurity was in 2007, when under the name of its affiliate Texas Grain Storage it filed a federal lawsuit against Monsanto, charging it with anticompetitive practices in its sale of Roundup herbicides

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