Links 6/16/14

Forests fuel fish growth in freshwater deltas Nature. BBC’s headline is better: Study: Deforestation leaves fish undersized and underfed.

Owners contribute to cat obesity NewsComAu. “Eighteen per cent of respondents admitted they had tasted their cat’s food and two per cent said they would do it again.”

California whooping cough cases now labeled an epidemic San Jose Mercury News

Big Marijuana — Lessons from Big Tobacco NEJM

Pension Funds, Dancing a Two-Step With Ratings Firms Gretchen Morgenson, Times

Japan readies to unshackle huge pension fund Channel News Asia

Into the shadows: Risky business, global threat FT. China’s shadow banking system.

The need to focus a light on shadow banking is nigh Mark Carney, FT

Reciprocity and the difference between usury and interest  Magic, Maths, and Money

The Hubris of Trying to Eliminate Cash The Atlantic

Trade groups sue VT over GMO labeling law Burlington Free Press

Big Brother Is Watching You Watch

Secret Service Buying Twitter Sarcasm Detector Sky News. First time as farce: “He used… sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, pathos, puns, parody, litotes and… satire. He was vicious.”

U.S. officials scrambled to nab Snowden, hoping he would take a wrong step. He didn’t. WaPo

Professors as politicians Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

What do I think of David Brat? Marginal Revolution

Jack Trammell: From rocker to farmer to House long-shot Politico

Saturday at Costco: Hillary Clinton and Sonia Sotomayor Politico

The VA: Another reason for single payer PNHP

Mass Shootings Aren’t On the Rise New York Magazine


Militants post apparent images of mass killing in Iraq AP

U.S. forges unlikely allegiance with Iran as it calls for coordinated response to the rapid spread of violence after ISIS forces boast of killing scores of Iraqi soldiers Daily Mail

Tony Blair rejects ‘bizarre’ claims that invasion of Iraq caused the crisis Guardian. He would, wouldn’t he?

Blair-Bush & Iraq: It’s not just the quagmire but the Lawbreaking & Deception Informed Comment

Many Sunnis are already returning to Mosul Ian Welsh

Robert Fisk: The old partition of the Middle East is dead. I dread to think what will follow Independent

The Long Shadow of a Neocon Harpers. The guy who picked both Karzai and Maliki.

Iraq, oil markets, and the U.S. economy Econbrowser


Ukraine faces gas cut threat as talks with Russia fail Reuters

NATO says Russia considers it an opponent, prepares Ukraine aid Reuters

Cohen on Ukraine civil war: ‘Lincoln didn’t call Confederates terrorists’ RT (CL)

Over 70,000 Cambodians leave Thailand. Why? UPDATE: Now, over 100,000 Asian Correspondent

Mr. Heinecke cannot have his coup and eat it too New Mandala. 23rd richest man in Thailand makes money on tourism, thinks coup is jake with the angels.

Class Warfare

It’s Hysteresis: Why the World Might Be Forever Poorer Thanks to the Great Recession Slate. I hate the dead metaphor that economies can “heal.” Economies are not organic beings, so they can’t heal.

Are hysteresis effects reversible? Piera

Rio police stop protesters from reaching World Cup arena Reuters and The World’s Ball Times

Amazon Is Planning A Way To Let You Hire Babysitters And Plumbers Reuters

Shopping at the Farmers Market Fat Land Living

We’re losing faith in global change as local causes boom Guardian. For some definition of “we.”

Today’s fathers spend seven times as much time with their children than they did 40 years ago – when it was roughly five minutes a day DailyMail

Why I won’t be sending you a father’s day card New Statesman

How To Catch A Chess Cheater: Ken Regan Finds Moves Out Of Mind United States Chess Federation

Antidote du jour:


See yesterday’s Links and Antidote du Jour here.

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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. craazyman

      Hmmm. So that’s what a whale looks like when it says “cheese”?

      sorry. that was bad, but it’s monday. ahha ahahahahaha

    1. JohnL

      The source on that Guardian piece – an Iraqi official quoting partially analysed thumb drives found on a guy who is dead, fingered by a torture victim.

      1. Dikaios Logos

        Oh, I agree. Also, it is one source. BUT, there a couple of non-trivial ideas here that deserve further examination:

        1. There are very meaningful assets to be pilfered in Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq. These include substantial oil operations and priceless antiquities. All the heroin, hashish, and Gandharan art in Afghanistan and Pakistan isn’t close to being as valuable AND you would have to pay off many more people.

        2. There does seem to be a high level organization. There is high quality PR and media relations. The ability to hold large amounts of territory isn’t easy. All of this makes the point that calling them “terrorists” gives them too little credit.

        And again, if you were to think about the seed money for the organization, which is supposed to have largely come from sources in putative U.S. allies (and I have more than a bit of reason to believe that is correct), all this highlights that long-time U.S. policies (I mean it didn’t start with 2003 or 1990 or 1979) in the Middle East are likely an even worse than most harsh critics realize.

        1. JohnL

          Yes, agreed. The telling quote for me in the story was “They had done this all themselves. There was no state actor at all behind them, which we had long known. They don’t need one.” Sounds like a deliberate attempt to erase links to Saudi Arabia and other terror venture capitalists.

          1. kristiina

            Merchants of war are having a lovely time. And such a quaint story here: we knew they were coming but did not feel like doing anything about it. But now that we have the email contacts, we are really gonna get them. Maybe send email telling how nasty it is to be a terrorist? I mean, it seemed there was a time when the news at least looked credible. Or was I just so naive?

    2. different clue

      Colonel Lang’s most recent Sic Semper Tyrannis analysis says that the speed, tactics, and clear strategic vision of the “ISIS” offensive combined with other reports that “former” Baathists and some of Saddam Hussein’s most militarily effective generals from the former Iraqi Army are leading the offensive show this offensive to be a mainly Baathist and Saddam’s generals offensive with heavy combat assistance from the fighting forces of the Sunni Tribes. The ISIS has raised much money and is lending cover. But if/when the offensive captures all its objectives and consolidates its control, I would imagine that the Baathists, Generals, and Tribes will then either move to domesticate or exterminate the ISIS personnel. Which would be a good thing.

  1. rich

    Boynton Beach condo owners “threatened” by takeover company

    Via Lugano, which suffered huge drops in property values after the real estate bust, now has 90 percent of its units owned by the Newtown, Mass.-based Northland Investment Corp.

    The Palm Beach Post first wrote about the owners’ dilemma in September when the company owned about 77 percent of the units. The lawsuit filed last week, says the firm now owns 90 percent.

    “The acquisitionist would threaten the unit owners and scare them into believing that if they didn not sell their homes before the Plan of Termination was recorded, there would be no money left over to distribute to the remaining owners after termination,” the lawsuit says. “The acquisitionist also told remaining owners that the developer turnover was inevitable and that they would lose their homes no matter what they did.”
    Via Lugano owner Dale Domanick
    Many of the remaining owners bought their units at boom-time prices, meaning if they sold for fair market value, they could owe deficiencies to their bank.

    “Now we feel like our homes are being stolen from us, like we’re not even living in America,” Domanick told The Post last year.

  2. DakotabornKansan

    Whooping cough, one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable deaths, is now a full-blown epidemic in California.

    Vaccine denial is dangerous.

    When presented with evidence, many anti-vaccination parents still ignore facts in favor of fallacy.

    “We’ve reached a tipping point. Children are suffering and dying because their parents are more frightened by vaccines than by the diseases they prevent.” – Paul Offit, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

    Waiting for the anti-vaxxer militia to show up, five… four… three… two…one…

    1. James Levy

      It’s a repository of fear. People with small children have never seen a polio victim or even know what pertussis is. But they know they are scared that little Johnny is going to be an underachieving hyperactive pain in their ass and general embarrassment, so for God’s sake keep him off those vaccines!

      This is yet another “disease” of affluence. It reflects and inability to comprehend basic math (the downside potential of vaccines versus the downside potential of epidemic diseases) and look other factors in this ADHD mania square in the face (kids being exposed to video way too early, being given no time to breathe in overplanned, overcommitted schedules, getting a poor diet and no discipline, the age of parents today, as it has now been shown that sperm in men over 40 are as likely to carry genetic damage as women’s eggs).

      We’ve got anxious, harried upper middle class professionals, male and female, unsure of their parenting skills and deeply narcissistic, having kids in their late 30s and into their 40s. They tend to be loving and hyper-vigilant, but in all the wrong ways. Their kids grow up to be twitchy hothouse flowers. Something has to be to blame other than my wife and me. Let’s see–vaccines! Yeah, it must be the vaccines! Can’t be that I never let my kid run around in the backyard without a football helmet on or make mud pies and throw them at her brother (too busy prepping for kindergarten exams and taking violin lessons).

      Easy fix: any kid dies of a preventable disease because you didn’t vaccinate your kid, you spend 15 years behind bars for depraved indifference homicide.

    2. Garrett Pace

      “Vaccine denial is dangerous.”

      You know, this isn’t happening in a vacuum. Every day there’s another article about how our health care system is a game rigged against consumers. Many people who used to put doctors and hospitals and pharma companies up on a pedestal are discouraged and disillusioned. For some crazy reason, blind credentialism isn’t leading to the best outcomes.

      Vaccine denial is dangerous, yes. And it’s a pity that so many elements in our health care system saw their credibility as a resource to be exploited for profit, rather than a sacred trust for the betterment of humankind.

      1. JohnL

        The entire economy is a game rigged against consumers. That goes for the “health care” system for sure, but also for the lawyers and others who are exploiting people’s discouragement and disillusionment for profit at the expense of people’s lives. The only cure is education. Denialism is deliberately choosing ignorance. Deliberate ignorance is dangerous.

        1. Garrett Pace

          “Denialism is deliberately choosing ignorance.”

          Today almost everyone chooses ignorance, not just denialists. They just put blind faith in the “wrong” authorities (i.e. authorities you and I don’t give any credibility to).

          We expect medical authorities to spend years of their lives to learn all this stuff. How should we expect the average consumer (go to a Wal-Mart and look around at “average”!) to come to proper conclusions via scoldy articles on huffington post, lab-coated actors on big-pharma commercials, and their facebook feeds?

          There’s a collosal problem here, but whooping cough is just the toe of the statue.

          1. JohnL

            Agreed, and no easy answers. We look to institutions such as public health organizations, universities, etc. to guide us through this mess, but those have been systematically and deliberately underfunded and “privatized” to the point that they are no longer fit for purpose. It’s a war of the elite against the rest of us. And they’re winning on every front, of which vaccination is just a skirmish in the healthcare battle, which in turn is on one of many fronts.

            I tend to agree with “We’re losing faith in global change as local causes boom” in links above. Top down solutions are designed by and for the elite.

    3. Banger

      I can’t generalize about vaccines but we delayed vaccinating one of children for a few months and after a series of vaccinations nine month started getting sick a lot. Maybe it was coincidence but the difference was stark. The other children seemed fine though. I suspect some children react negatively to vaccines but most do not, at least not in an obvious way.

      The other part of the problem is that, if you are reasonably sane you know that you cannot trust official pronouncements without looking into things deeply. So the default state of increasing numbers of people is to distrust anything they hear from officials.

      1. Garrett Pace

        “So the default state of increasing numbers of people is to distrust anything they hear from officials.”

        Oh, absolutely.

        The other problem you address is a more subtle one. A few “random” children who never would have gotten sick otherwise, will get sick and die as a result of vaccinated.

        This is the haphazard price of keeping lots of other kids alive. People are very uncomfortable with such cold, actuarial decisions made on a societal level. This is not an entirely bland and beneficent program. It is a TRADE-OFF.

          1. cwaltz

            And the question becomes- As a parent do you want your child to be that sacrifice?

            I didn’t immunize my 4th or 5th as infants. My 3rd child died just a few days following vaccination(at a little over 2 months from SIDS). Since no one could explain WHY he died I decided that I’d rather not risk even the mild symptoms that a vaccination causes at that young age. The reality is that not everyone is going to be a great candidate for vaccination at a really young age(and YES, I largely avoided exposing my really young unvaccinated children to the masses for their sakes as well as for others.) I suspect that my husband’s gene pool may have genetic component not found by science yet since my husband’s brother ALSO died of SIDS as well. That was too much of a coincidence for me to ignore.

            I really dislike that the vaccine folks don’t recognize that not everyone who doesn’t vaccinate an infant is anti science. There can be valid concerns that lead you to the decision.

            1. abynormal

              im sorry to hear this cwaltz and grateful for your share. i take issue with vaccinating the unborn child. id be doing my homework…considering past big pharma shenanigans with flu vaccines. i for one received TWO letters informing me my (corporate ‘donated’) vaccines were incorrect for the flu(s) circulating.

              there isn’t a trimester id want to receive one of those letters.

            2. JohnL

              There have always been a few against for personal reasons and herd immunity can withstand that. What it can’t withstand is trial lawyers, quack doctors, christian schools and the like encouraging a significant percentage to skip vaccination for reasons of profit or fundamentalism. That puts everyone at risk, especially of course those who choose to skip vaccination.

              Unfortunately it’s going to take an epidemic or two to remind people why we needed to do this in the first place.

              1. Pete

                How many is “a few”?

                They should probably invent a vaccine for diabetes and heart disease then. We already have a REAL epidemic.

    4. Oregoncharles

      From the whooping cough article:
      “3,458 cases of whooping cough have been reported since Jan. 1 — including 800 in the past two weeks. That total is more than all the cases reported in 2013…

      Whooping cough, or pertussis, is cyclical and peaks every three to five years. The last peak in California occurred in 2010, when a total of 9,159 cases were reported.”

      IOW: the current epidemic is cyclical, not caused by anti-vaxxers. And further down it mentions that the pertussis vaccine is alarmingly fugitive, a point I’ve seen before. Frequent renewal is necessary to prevent infection. (How long since YOU had one?)

      I agree that opposing vaccinations is irresponsible – but I also agree with the point, made below, that the movement is a direct result of equally irresponsible actions by the medical establishment (such as injecting babies with mercury – a well-known, horrific neurotoxin), and a resulting breach of faith.

      1. ewmayer

        The above post puts on vivid display the kind of willful ignorance typical of the antivaxxers – “injecting babies with mercury – a well-known, horrific neurotoxin”. Do you even understand the difference between elements and molecular compounds? Yes, the once-common (and still so in countries not rich enough to indulge the anti-science fictions of delusional, narcissistis überparents) vaccine preservative thiomersal *contains* Mercury. But it is metabolized so utterly differently in the human body (to ethylmercury) that to conflate it with neurotoxic elemental Hg (or more neurotoxic Hg derivatives such as methylmercury – and the “methyl-” here is as different form the “ethyl-” as drinking wine is from wood alcohol: similar name != similar function) makes one either staggeringly ignorant or a lying propagandist. You might as well accuse someone who gives their kid a banana in his lunchbox of “feeding children with highly reactive metallic Potassium!” (And note that natural Potassium consists of a mix of isotopes, one of which is radioactive. “We’re poisoning the children with Fukushima bananas!! We must ban these poisonous WMDs known as banana splits!!!”)

        And note that despite large sums of money invested in multiple studies, thiomersal has *still* never been shown to be harmful at doses remotely close to the minuscule amounts needed to preserve vaccines.

        “In our next scaremonger segment, we discuss the global plot to poison our water supplies with toxic dihydrogen monoxide … you will be shocked, shocked I say! – at the brazenness of this criminal enterprise.”

        1. Oregoncharles

          Yes, I understand the chemistry involved; do you? It’s the compounds that are dangerous. And yes, I’ve seen the claim that ethyl mercury is harmless. I heard the claim that radiation was, too.

          I’ve also seen the photographs from Minamata (look it up, if you haven’t). Stark horror.

          If you believe what Big Pharma tells you so they can save money, I’ve got a nice bridge to sell you.

          And that’s the problem, as said above: we can’t trust the authorities any more, so we’re stuck with suspicion run wild.

        2. Ernesto Lyon

          Go take a look at the CFR map of vaccine preventable illness outbreaks at . Turn off all of the outbreaks except for Whooping Cough.

          Unlike the other diseases, Whooping Cough, only seems to be a serious problem in countries that have strong vaccination programs against Whooping Cough. Isn’t that strange? Could it be that the vaccine itself is causing the disease to spread?

          In fact, research suggests that pertussis vaccination may turn patients into asymptomatic carriers of the disease. The vaccinated individual gets protection, but anyone who is unvaccinated or whose vaccine based immunity has waned is vulnerable. Since the pertussis vaccine has a history of problems there is much less vaccine based immunity to pertussis than people assume.

          The CDC’s answer to this? More pertussis vaccinations, but the more vaccinations done, the more the asymptomatic carriers there are to spread the disease — it’s a medical perpetual motion machine which will see us all getting a pertussis vaccination every 3 months by the time it runs its course. (

          My kid goes to a school with high levels of non-vaccinating or delayed vaccinating parents. We know which kids are highly vaxxed and which ones aren’t. The vaxxed kids, in general, have a lot more problems than the unvaxxed or lower vaxxed. The problems include learning disabilities, behavioral issues, proprioceptive issues and serious allergies. It’s not a perfect correlation, some vaxxed kids are very healthy and some unvaxxed have issues, but the trend is clear enough to see: the vaccinated kids tend to have more serious health, cognitive, and behavioral issues than the unvaxxed/lower vaxxed.

          But the plural of anecdote is not data, shout the blustery anti-anti-vaxxers with their proclamations of the bigness and goodness of their pharma funded research. Indeed they are correct. Why not fund a serious study of health outcomes of the vaccinated versus unvaccinated? This is something that has not been studied, and should be. Even vaccine safety studies themselves are not run against saline placebos. They are run as adjuvant only versus the full vaccine. However if you look at the comparable international data across OECD comparable nations you see the same trend: the fewer the required vaccinations the lower the autism incidence and the lower the infant mortality.

          But what about polio? That vaccine saved us from a disaster right? Not so fast. The polio vaccine was not introduced for mass consumption until 1956, while the epidemic peaked in 1952, declining rapidly from an unusual peak in the disease incidence. Could there be another explanation given the causality delay? One interesting correlation in the period is the profuse amount of DDT that was used everywhere on everything in the 40’s. DDT exposure can cause polio-like symptoms.

          What are vaccines good for then? Well, one thing they do is get otherwise healthy kids to show up for doctors visits 3-6 times a year, a nice care based cash cow for medical providers who otherwise would not be able to charge money for seeing healthy young patients. And if they get sick from the vax, the medicos are there to provide the additional services generated, on the families’ dimes.

  3. grayslady

    Excellent description of farmers markets. They used to be places for fruit and vegetables that still tasted like fruit and vegetables, all at a reasonable price. Now they have become boutique markets for the wealthy. In larger cities, where the price of gas just to get to the market locations, has increased what farmers need to charge to cover transportation costs, it’s understandable that prices have increased; however, I live in an area that is still surrounded by farmland, and farmers market prices are also outrageous. Sadly, the roadside stands that peppered the area when I first moved here are mostly gone. There is still one about 10 miles from my home that has fresh strawberries in early summer, but just about everything else is commercially grown, tasteless, and could be purchased for less in the supermarkets.

    1. JohnL

      Blessed to have several good ones here. Expensive, but the farmers still need the food bank in the winter. I pay up on the basis that every dollar I spend is a vote for the kind of world I want to live in.

    2. annie

      in nyc farmers’ markets are almost prohibitively pricey and very very little is organic. people somehow think they’re getting organic just because it’s at a stand. (you do know that strawberries that are not organic are poisonous?)

      1. JohnL

        Organic registration and certification carries a huge overhead that many small farmers can’t afford, so many choose not to certify.

        Strawberries sprayed with methyl iodide and the like are to be avoided. They don’t have to be organic not to be sprayed. Ask the farmers. If you get a good explanation, buy the product.

        Yes, a lot of local farmer grown food is expensive. Check the gov’t subsidies to big ag to see why crap food is cheap. As I said above, your dollar spent is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. Spend mindfully.

        1. annie

          not sure what you mean ‘they dont have to be organic not to be sprayed.’
          (i grow strawberries and for over a month have been harvesting more than a gallon a day, giving a lot away. this is in italy. i dont spray obviously. dont do anything but pick (yes, back-breaking). delicious, but they aren’t perfect, uniform, huge strawberries.)
          in ny i use farmers’ markets for few things like fish and some cheeses. veggies i buy at integral yoga on w.13th, ‘organic,’ reasonably priced. over many years i’ve become suspicious of our ‘farmers’ markets.’ wish it were not so.
          also, you say: ask the farmers. often people selling are not the farmers but people hired to sell.

    3. BondsOfSteel

      Go at the end of the day. You’re choice will be limited, but most people will make you a deal rather than having to load stuff up and cart back.

      I just pretend I’m on Iron Chef and the ingredient of the day is….. Leeks! Go!

  4. Banger

    I recommend reading the Harper’s piece: The Long Shadow of a Neocon concerning Zalmay Khalilzad who is one of those comic villains who often populate imperial courts. The tragedy of course is that the U.S. political establishment put this guy in a position of power. This establishment has a genius for absurdity–it almost feels like a cabal in Washington deliberately sabotaged U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I did not pay that much attention to Afghanistan because I was focused so much on Iraq in the early days of that war and very quickly I found out that Washington was intent on self-sabotage.

    I think it is generally acknowledged (I had it from two inside sources) that the neocons trashed all policy recommendations of both the State Department and the CIA for administering Iraq. Instead, Bush sent in comically underqualified people to administer the country and disbanded the not just the army but most of the bureaucracy of the old Saddam regime. The typical story was that, rather than continue to employ Iraqi engineers who had done heroic service in keeping Iraqi infrastructure functioning in the face of constant bombardment from U.S./Britain during the 90s they kicked them out and used American engineers using American specs and equipment that took many months to arrive–in the meantime power barely functioned almost because the authorities wanted to create maximum discomfort for Iraqi citizens. Almost every decision and policy made by American authorities was a result of just plain mean-spiritedness (Abu Graib) or pure corruption.

    I think the Zalmay Khalilzad appointments involved corruption–I believe American imperial officials wanted weak leaders precisely because they would allow corruption to go on (both American and Iraqi) and make sure that both the Afghan and Iraqi state would be weak an unable to sustain itself. Was this part of a long-term strategy or just the stupidity of bureaucracies who always look at the short-term power tripping and careerism of its officials? I really don’t know. I can only go on instinct from the “smell” of Washington at the time. Iraq was a growth industry for a lot of people in government and outside of it. In Washington, someone hands down (from way, way, way, upstairs) some structure–projects go up for bids and the wheels turn. The wheels involve big and small firms the bureaucracy, Congress (always very important concerning who gets contracts) and so on. All this activity has one aim–maximizing utility for each actor–the combat, the posturing, the in-fighting, the conspiracies (Washington is conspiracy central at all levels), cabals, secret deals, lots of wink-wink-nudge-nudge it’s all a stunning dance where some people can make a shitload of money and become very influential with little or no concern for the welfare of the country. Why? Because the State is just too big and too profit oriented (contractors of which I was one). So thousands of powerful actors and maybe hundreds of very powerful actors all are jockeying for the manna that comes down from up on high. The same thing happened when Homeland Security was created or when the health-care debate started up–the suits and the high-heels were running all over town with those opportunities putting little presentations together creating “events” for the bureaucrats (opportunities to get laid) and so on.

    So when “mistakes are made” those mistakes are cash-money for Washington–the more we f-ck up the more money gets made because the websites need to be fixed (and they almost always have to be after the first contractor mucked it up because of their special arrangements with certain decision-makers in the government), database problems (because of faulty designs) need to be fixed ten times because ten different agencies hired different contractors and on and on. But the American public is in permanent denial about everything–few of the frauds in Iraq/Afghanistan were ever investigated, few have been arrested or penalized in anyway (except whistleblowers). That’s why they wanted Zalmay Khalilzad to run Iraq and Afghanistan policy for the time he did. They’re doing the same thing with Nuland and Power.

    1. Jagger

      —–Almost every decision and policy made by American authorities was a result of just plain mean-spiritedness (Abu Graib) or pure corruption.——-

      Sounds just like the relationship between Israel and Palestine. What if peace is the last thing we wanted? Sometimes you cannot allow peace to break out until after you have achieved all your long term objectives.

    2. David Lentini

      Many good points, Banger. From my money, the desire of the Cheney Bush fils administration to destroy not only the Iraqi army but the police and bureaucracy as well was to give Haliburton and the major oil companies effective control over Iraq through corrupt, clueless post-war administration that would step aside when Ahmed Chalabi took power. The problem, so far as I can tell, was that Chalabi not only fooled the neo-cons as to his capability and talent, but he fooled himself as well. And of course, the neo-cons all expected the Iraqi populace to mill about, or obey whatever the US wanted, like sheep after Saddam’s fall. That didn’t happen either.

      Bush of course went along with this out of his messianic self-image and his genuine meanness. (Read Bush on the Couch if you haven’t yet.) Cheney wanted of course to control the world’s oil; and the neo-cons largely see themselves as the protectors of Israel and benign rulers of the planet.

      Take that powerful, unstable, combination of ego and insanity; and then pile on the decades of “greed-is-good” and “we’re here to usher in the Second Coming” mindset of Washington, and you have all the ingredients for a fanstastic explosion and conflagration. The results speak for themselves.

    3. VietnamVet

      True. But, there is an implication that the corruption and malevolence is in the past. No, It is worse and has reached a tipping point. Forget Climate Change. Right now ISIS is fighting with arms supplied by the USA. The new Caliphate in the Levant is up and running with destruction as its primary goal. The USA is in a warm war with Russia in the Ukraine supporting the Kiev Putsch. The Venal and the Psychotic are driving the world towards WWIII.

    4. lookdeeper

      Investigate Khalilzad connection with Cheney and villains before PNAC codified zeePlan.

  5. diptherio

    Re: What do I think of David Brat?–MR

    Well, Mr. Cowen does go jumping to conclusions a bit. I cannot agree with him when he claims that “The victory of Brat also shows that money really does not rule politics these days.” Perhaps Cowen is unfamiliar with the concept of an “exception proving the rule.” Perhaps he thinks one robin really does make a spring. Alas, it does not.

    What Brat’s win does show us, however, is that even though money does rule politics, there are ways to work around the money game. That is what we need to learn from this: not that money doesn’t rule politics, but tactics for fighting against the rule of money.

    1. Carolinian

      Was in links yesterday. Despite the breathless headline I couldn’t quite tell whether this is mostly an internal Walmart matter or really does rise to the level of accounting fraud. Which is to say whether a symptom of general Walmartophobia or that there’s some meat to the not exactly new accusations (Yves did a post on the North Carolina angle awhile back). Perhaps some of the wonks around here could set me straight.

      At my local Walmarts the bag searchers were taken away about a year ago. The people who were doing this are still to be seen around the store. There is a question about whether this random bag searching is even legal without proper cause. Best Buy got in a row with a customer about this and the customer prevailed. So unclear whether the change in policy only about staff cutbacks.

      1. grayslady

        Whenever a compensation system is based on controlling shrink, you can almost guarantee that managers are fudging the inventory. The one female manager even said that she could access the inventory control via the computer to override the numbers without any senior authorization. The absence of adequate financial controls at Walmart struck me as staggering.

    2. Banger

      I think fraud and minor financial irregularities will, in a few years be prevalent in our culture since we have made a collective decision that we are going to have a class of big shots who are immune from prosecution. The criminal mind set, once it infects the upper classes will trickle down at first and then become a torrent.

      1. abynormal

        seriously? i haven’t worked for or with a corporation that isn’t dealing in major financial frauds and irregularities. my last stint in corporate (05-08) i witnessed a treasure faint on the payable’s floor and couldn’t return due to a ‘breakdown’ of some sort. this particular corp employed 214 bean counters and every audit someone was carted out on gurney…even after heads were done rolling.

        i notice where the largest county in Georgia can’t hold onto a comptroller…18 month turnover.
        Red Flags on every level i read.

  6. Jim Haygood

    “He used… sarcasm. He knew all the tricks: dramatic irony, metaphor, pathos, puns, parody, litotes and… satire. He was vicious.”

    Litotes? Hell, I thought them things were banned along with ten-round magazines.

    El dialogo destruye cualquier situación macabra
    Antes de usar balas disparo con palabras

  7. David Lentini

    “Economies are not organic beings, so they can’t heal.”

    And they aren’t deterministic physical systems either. But, as usual, the economists gin-up an equation with no siginficant evidence from the real world that has a resmblance to certain deterministic physical processes, and then adopt bastardized terminology used in the real sciences to describe those physcial processes. Of course, when their predictions fail, the economists all cry that their use of the terminology is just metaphorical; and when they succeed, they claim they are justified in considering their nonsense to be another legitimate science.

    1. susan the other

      Google to the rescue. I just googled ‘hysteresis definition’ but I got my fingers on the wrong keys and typed in judyrtrdod frgomoyopm and Google gave me the definition of hysteresis instantly. Funny. No lagging behind there.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Too bad you didn’t type in, by mistake, fragolino.

        They say Fragolino wine, though illegal, is quite good.

      2. ewmayer

        Hysteresis is when you can’t get the just-right water temperature for your shower because the hot water knob is “sticky” – try to tweak it just a smidge hotter and it jumps to too-hot, try to tweak it back a teeny bit lower and you get chilled.

  8. Jim Haygood

    Trouble in the pampas, comrades:

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed Argentina a double defeat in its long-running fight with holders of its defaulted bonds. The justices rejected without comment Argentina’s appeal of judgments ordering it to pay more than $1.3 billion to hedge funds that hold some of the country’s bonds.

    Then, in a 7-1 ruling, the high court said the bond holders could use American courts to force Argentina to reveal where it owns property around the world. The decision should make it easier for them to collect on court judgments.


    The widow Kirchner addresses the Argentine public at 9 pm. That ought to one rip-roaring, shoe-banging performance. As a guess, probably she will propose an offshore-U.S. payment system, at least for European bondholders who accepted previous settlements. This would berserk the U.S., which believes that the whole world should gratefully accept the extraterritorial application of U.S. law (as in Fatca).

    This SCOTUS decision has broad implications for all New York law bonds issued by foreign sovereigns, by the way. It would seem to reduce defaulted borrowers’ negotiating power to force restructurings with the implicit threat that ‘if you want to hold out and sue, you’ll have to wait years to see a cent.’ Now creditors are in the driver’s seat, with little to lose. Chaos!

    1. Banger

      We are not far away from chaos in the world order. The oligarchs are snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory by creating bad feelings everywhere–we are in for a bumpy ride.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Argentina should print more of her Argentinian money, convert it to dollars, pay off the foreign bondholders and be done with the whole thing.

      In fact, all monetary sovereigns can do that with their Dollar loans.

      1. Jim Haygood

        Argentina already tried this.

        The faster they print pesos, the faster the exchange rate goes against them. Today, Argentines are paying a 45% premium (11.75 pesos vs. the 8.10 official rate) for ‘blue-market’ dollars:

        Borrowing in foreign currency is a major cause of sovereign defaults. Printing local currency doesn’t fix it. Borrowers have to obtain foreign currency the old-fashioned way: earn it.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          How about the Argentinian central bank printing it in stealth and then, buying dollars with a silent partner (like Belgium) – without alarming the exchange markets – and funneling the dollar money to the Argentinian government for her to pay off her 1.3 billion dollar debt to hedge funds?

          1. Jim Haygood

            Hate to tell you this … but if you take a wad of Argentine 100-peso bills across the river to Uruguay, their value to buy dollars is haircut by about one-third.

            Carry those pesos all the way to Belgium, and they can’t be exchanged at any price.

            1. skippy

              Wellie Jim, didn’t know you were tight with Cayman Islands-based vulture fund NML Capital Limited.

              “The recession that resulted in the crisis lasted between 1999 and 2002; of the USD82 billion in defaulted bonds, 51% were issued during that interim.[6] Argentina defaulted on a total of USD93 billion of its external debt on December 26, 2001. Foreign investment fled the country, and capital flow toward Argentina ceased almost completely during 2002 and 2003. The currency exchange rate (formerly a fixed 1-to-1 parity between the Argentine peso and the U.S. dollar) was floated, and the peso devalued quickly to nearly 4-to-1, producing a sudden rise in inflation to over 40% and a fall in real GDP of 11% in 2002.[1]

              Large-scale debt restructuring was needed urgently, since the debt had become unpayable. The Argentine government met severe challenges trying to refinance its debt, however. Creditors (many of them private citizens in Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.S., and other countries, who had invested their savings and retirement pensions in debt bonds) denounced the default; this included bondholders from Argentina itself, estimated to comprise about a fourth of affected bondholders.[7] Refinancing efforts were further undermined by the George W. Bush administration policy of vetoing proposals to create a mechanism for sovereign debt restructuring.[8]

              Economic recovery eventually allowed Argentina to offer large-scale debt swaps in 2005 and 2010; the first brought 76% of bonds out of default and the second, 93%.[1] The terms of the debt exchanges were not accepted by all private bondholders, and these became “holdouts.” The IMF initially lobbied for the holdouts until Argentina’s lump-sum repayment to the IMF in January 2006. Individual creditors worldwide, who represent about one third of this group, have mobilized to seek repayment from the Argentine state. Among the most prominent are Task Force Argentina, an Italian retail bondholder association, and Mark Botsford, a private U.S. citizen retail bondholder. Italian nationals had become the largest group of foreign retail investors in Argentine bonds when during the 1990s, banks in their country purchased USD14 billion in bonds and then resold them to nearly half a million investors; the vast majority rejected the first swap but accepted the second.[9]

              Holdouts retained a total of USD4 billion in bonds as of 2013.[10] Vulture funds, which owned USD1.3 billion of this total,[5] sued to be repaid at 100% of face value for purchased for cents on the dollar, filing injunctions to attach future payments to other bondholders by way of forcing Argentina to settle.[2][11][12][13][14] A similar strategy had been successfully pursued by vulture funds against Peru and a number of African nations as well.[14][15] The American Task Force Argentina, sponsored by the Cayman Islands-based vulture fund NML Capital Limited, is the most prominent and best financed lobbying group against Argentine bond restructuring efforts, spending over $7 million lobbying U.S. Congressmen and becoming the top campaign contributor to a number of these; the most prominent, former Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Chair Connie Mack IV (R-FL), became the main sponsor of a bill in 2012 designed to force Argentina to pay NML nearly $2 billion before losing his Senate bid that year.[12]

              Argentina has still not been able to raise finance on the international debt markets for fear that any money raised would be impounded by holdout lawsuits; their country risk borrowing cost premiums remain over 10%, much higher than comparable countries. Consequently, Argentina has been paying debt from central bank reserves, has banned most retail purchases of dollars, limited imports, and ordered companies to repatriate money held abroad. Nevertheless, between 2003 and 2012 Argentina met debt service payments totaling USD173.7 billion, of which 81.5 billion was collected by bondholders, 51.2 billion by multilateral lenders such as the IMF and World Bank, and 41 billion by Argentine government agencies. Public external debt denominated in foreign currencies (mainly in dollars and euros) accordingly fell from 150% of GDP in 2002 to 8.3% in 2013.[6]

              A Belgian court in June 2013 declined to issue judgment in favor of the creditors to distrain Argentinian diplomatic bank accounts.[16] A German court ruled in favor of Argentina in July on the basis of the Pari passu clause.[17] The French government planned to file an amicus brief in favor of the Argentine position at the US Supreme Court, said Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, while the IMF declined to intervene.[18] In August 2013, the Government of Argentina lost an U.S. appeals court case and was told it had to repay the full face value amount to these holdouts.[19] A third debt restructuring offer to remaining holdouts on similar terms to the 2010 swap was announced on August 27, 2013.[5]” – wiki

              skip here… Seems political graft can give – those that believe blood does flow from stone – another decade of attempting, too squeeze, a population for the life blood that – is – theirs. Um… I wonder how many wars and resulting capital destruction bond holders have wrought this world in the last 100ish years….

              Skippy… the brain power on display is magnifique, stymie economic recovery, then bitch about notional paper values not conforming to expectations, bribe corrupt politicians, receive favorable judicial out come [contrary to international opinion], scratch head when outcome is not according to plan…. rinse and repeat…

              PS. then you die unfulfilled…. en fin…

            2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              It sounds like they should be nice to Uruguay and print (3/2) x 1.3 billion or about 2.5 billion pesos and ask their neighbor to exchange the money for them.

  9. DakotabornKansan

    “Put it all together, Mr. Obama is looking like a very consequential president indeed … I’m happy to say, yes, he could.” – Paul Krugman today’s NY Times

    “The Pope’s-nose of a featherless peacock.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

    Krugman is his own easiest dupe. What he wishes to be true, he believes to be true.”

  10. mellon

    We need to preserve the VA and expand to single payer but it wont happen while these trade agreements exist, and there needs to be a national discussion on this issue, but both parties have a vested interest in preventing public awareness. This is because the trade agreements keep imposing bilateral and multilateral limits on US’s own freedom to set our own healthcare policy whenever we force a trading partner to accept terms favorable to US health insurance firms, or US drug firms, which invariably limit public healthcare, we place that same restriction on our own country. Also, individual trade agreements often contain so called “standstill” clauses which limit future steps which impact the profits of any existing multinationals in the country. A recent arbitration case involving dutch insurer Achmea and the central Euroean nation, Slovakia, illustrates this problem graphically. Note that despite headlines saying they won, Slovakia actually lost- if the goal is to be able to change their healthcare system without being held liable for “expropriation” of an insurers “property” (the market itself) by an unaccountable trade tribunal) This is the reason neither party wants to discuss single payer – nomatter how many people are dying because they cannot afford health care. The situation could get far worse than it is today. This situation is a sordid one. They gave away our rights and continue to repeatedly block the same rights again in new free trade agreements. The ones I know of which explicitly do this already are NAFTA and GATS. The US screams bloody murder when other countries who it does business with attempt to institute single payer or other money saving strategies blocked by trade agreements like TPP, so it seems obvious to me that the supposed freedom of states to set up their own single payer is limited to systems which use the word single payer but which cannot actually be single payer (and cannot actually save money) because for them to tell insurance companies to close so that the state can be the single payer would trigger demands for compensation by any involved firm which was a multinational company. Also, it should be said that WTO rules would require the single payer to have existed before the signing of the GATS. Its quite possible that the US could end up in a Slovakia type situation. The tribunal in the Slovakia case said they did not have the right to set Slovakian law, just that they had the right to order compensation AFTER the two portions of the law had been implemented. The first part of the 2006 Slovakia law limited profits by insurers (similar to the ACA attempts to do) the second part instituted single payer. That resulted in a huge aware against Slovakia which made it impossible for them to institute the second part which the tribunal said they were welcome to do(the “win”), but, THEN they would have to pay compensation for “expropriation” (theft of a market) under the FTA. A similar situation exists in South Africa because the apartheid-era South African government signed GATS. Later, of course the apartheid government was replaced by majority rule.

    Nobody in the new government was even aware of this limitation -which overrules national sovereignty– and South Africa actually passed a national healthcare insurance law, however, when they started to try to implement it the health insurance industry- which included US companies, threatened a legal suit for “expropriation”. See and here:
    As of a few days ago, South Africa still does not have a national healthcare plan, as the limitations placed on them by GATS, basically, the requirement that they maintain the for profit system, makes it impossible to work out an acceptable set of tradeoffs. However, since the free trade agreement trumps the national interest, they are stuck.

    Basically, very similar to the unfortunate situation we either already have or are on the verge of unwittingly having here.

  11. Garrett Pace

    What I wonder:

    Is there any event that would get Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc. to say, “We blew it in Iraq. We thought we were creating reality but now we see reality being imposed upon us”? Or is their smugness unassailable?

    1. susan the other

      We just took a little war break because the tide of sentiment was adamantly opposed to it. But we cleverly left all our war materiel there for somebody (?) to use. And now we see why. The prize in the Middle East, the only prize left to appropriate because confusion reigns, is the Caspian. I’m certain this is true because you never hear a word spoken about the Caspian. And we are still going for it. What else?

  12. fresno dan

    The Hubris of Trying to Eliminate Cash The Atlantic

    It is difficult to discern if the advocates of complete control of every possible financial transaction are really that clueless about the tremendous overcharging in using credit cards, or despite ALL the evidence, still have this naïf belief that “competition” in an utterly corrupt FED/Treasury/bankster circle jerk will lower fees.
    Of course, these ‘economists’ (i.e., court hangers on) are just incapable of admitting that the biggest financial disaster since, if not including the Great Depression, was fundamentally due JUSAT to ILLEGALITY, fraud, corruption, self dealing, etcetera. Where are all the scholarly articles on incentives of Bob Rubin, Hank Paulson, Lloyd Blankenfein, or Mozilo???? Where are the articles on WHY there was so much law breaking (because that is where the money is?)
    And to believe that less choice and more power to bankers will help us….they must be proud of being stupid.

  13. TimR

    What do you all think of Tony Cartalucci’s Iraq analysis over at his Land Destroyer blog?

    ..It is a defacto re-invasion of Iraq by Western interests – but this time without Western forces directly participating – rather a proxy force the West is desperately attempting to disavow any knowledge of or any connection to. However, no other explanation can account for the size and prowess of ISIS beyond state sponsorship. And since ISIS is the clear benefactor of state sponsorship, the question is, which states are sponsoring it? With Iraq, Syria, and Iran along with Lebanese-based Hezbollah locked in armed struggle with ISIS and other Al Qaeda franchises across the region, the only blocs left are NATO and the GCC (Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular).

    With the West declaring ISIS fully villainous in an attempt to intervene more directly in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, creating a long desired “buffer zone” within which to harbor, arm, and fund an even larger terrorist expeditionary force, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and others are offered an opportunity to preempt Western involvement and to crush the ISIS – cornering and eliminating NATO-GCC’s expeditionary force while scoring geopolitical points of vanquishing Washington’s latest “villain.” Joint Iraq-Iranian operations in the north and south of ISIS’s locations, and just along Turkey’s borders could envelop and trap ISIS to then be whittled down and destroyed – just as Syria has been doing to NATO’s proxy terrorist forces within its own borders.

  14. TimR

    I was trying to post this excerpt:

    It is a defacto re-invasion of Iraq by Western interests – but this time without Western forces directly participating – rather a proxy force the West is desperately attempting to disavow any knowledge of or any connection to. However, no other explanation can account for the size and prowess of ISIS beyond state sponsorship. And since ISIS is the clear benefactor of state sponsorship, the question is, which states are sponsoring it? With Iraq, Syria, and Iran along with Lebanese-based Hezbollah locked in armed struggle with ISIS and other Al Qaeda franchises across the region, the only blocs left are NATO and the GCC (Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular).

    With the West declaring ISIS fully villainous in an attempt to intervene more directly in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, creating a long desired “buffer zone” within which to harbor, arm, and fund an even larger terrorist expeditionary force, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and others are offered an opportunity to preempt Western involvement and to crush the ISIS – cornering and eliminating NATO-GCC’s expeditionary force while scoring geopolitical points of vanquishing Washington’s latest “villain.” Joint Iraq-Iranian operations in the north and south of ISIS’s locations, and just along Turkey’s borders could envelop and trap ISIS to then be whittled down and destroyed – just as Syria has been doing to NATO’s proxy terrorist forces within its own borders.

    1. TimR

      From Tony Cartallucci’s Land Destroyer blog. Interesting analysis, wanted to share and get other views.

  15. mellon

    Two things:

    1.) Food issues- People who want to be able to continue to purchase arguably more healthy local foods, Its very important to oppose the secretive TTIP US-EU “trade agreement” because its being touted as a blueprint for “because it will lower food safety standards globally. Local farmers markets could run into bars which prevented public entities from sponsoring them. There could be bars on labeling laws which told you what which foods did not have certain kinds of chemicals

    See and many others, search on TTIP, for example IATP’s: “10 reasons TTIP is bad for good food and farming

    2.) The National Security Archive at GWU is a good source for information, in the form of declassified documents, so it is more useful than most other sources, on the often quite long and convoluted history of US interventions in places like Iraq, Iran, Eurasia, Latin America, etc. For example: Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein:
    The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984

    Also, a book entitled “Killing Hope”, by William Blum, which one can find in major bookstores, is very much worth reading as it contains exhaustive list of US interventions (many of them have been huge mistakes) going back over 60 years.
    Its the only book of its kind that I have seen anywhere.

    1. gordon

      You might like David Horowitz’ “From Yalta to Vietnam” (rev. ed. 1967), basically a history of the Cold War with emphasis on the US role. Obviously a bit old now, but still very interesting. Its age actually means that you get more in-depth discussion of events like Korea and Cuba.

  16. Oregoncharles

    From the whooping cough article:
    “3,458 cases of whooping cough have been reported since Jan. 1 — including 800 in the past two weeks. That total is more than all the cases reported in 2013…

    Whooping cough, or pertussis, is cyclical and peaks every three to five years. The last peak in California occurred in 2010, when a total of 9,159 cases were reported.”

    IOW: the current epidemic is cyclical, not caused by anti-vaxxers. And further down it mentions that the pertussis vaccine is alarmingly fugitive, a point I’ve seen before. Frequent renewal is necessary to prevent infection. (How long since YOU had one?)

    I agree that opposing vaccinations is irresponsible – but I also agree with the point, made above, that the movement is a direct result of equally irresponsible actions by the medical establishment (such as injecting babies with mercury – a well-known, horrific neurotoxin), and a resulting breach of faith.

  17. fresno dan

    “A demographic tool has become an economic one, treating a demographic challenge as both an economic crisis and a basis for pessimism justifying drastic reductions in bedrock government programs, including those supporting children and the poor. Even at state and local levels, the aging boomer demographic is repeatedly blamed for our economic difficulties. That is a lamentable mistake. The United States has serious economic problems, and the aging population poses significant challenges, but those challenges are not the main cause of the problems. They should not be treated that way.

    The dependency ratio does not justify the solutions that the alarmists propose. Just as important, perhaps, it fails to account for the striking benefits accruing from the dramatic increase in life expectancy in the United States during the 20th century—what the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on an Aging Society called “one of the greatest cultural and scientific advances in our history.”

    I would be willing to float off on an ice floe, but I’m thinking there won’t be any ice floes in a few years…
    Besides, the only resources I take is my Netflix prescription…(your thinking he’s old and meant subscription – nah, Obamacare provides for dvd’s….and all the movies I watch are generic)

  18. optimader

    Interesting read from CrisRhodes Energy Balance blog, Sorry for the long post, I’d offer the link but NC’s host filter eats it.

    Mycoremediation (Bioremediation with Fungi) – Growing Mushrooms to Clean the Earth. A mini-review.

    This paper will appear in the next issue of the journal “Chemical Speciation & Bioavailability”


    Some of the prospects of using fungi, principally white-rot fungi, for cleaning contaminated land are surveyed. That white-rot fungi are so effective in degrading a wide range of organic molecules is due to their release of extra-cellular lignin-modifying enzymes, with a low substrate-specificity, so they can act upon various molecules that are broadly similar to lignin. The enzymes present in the system employed for degrading lignin include lignin-peroxidase (LiP), manganese peroxidase (MnP), various H2O2 producing enzymes and laccase. Accordingly, the degradation can be augmented by adding carbon sources such as sawdust, straw and corn cob at polluted sites.

    Keywords: Mycoremediation, fungi, bioremediation, white-rot fungi

    1. Introduction to fungi.

    Fungi feature among Nature’s most vigorous agents for the decomposition of waste matter, and are an essential component of the soil food web (Rhodes, 2012), providing nourishment for the other biota that live in the soil. The forest floor is covered with leaf litter from the previous season, which plants cannot use directly to grow on, because the fallen leaves are too tough to be broken down and digested; thus, any nutrients they contain are locked within them. The key organism for breaking down the leaf litter is fungus: strictly, mycelium – the vegetative part of the fungus – which we often observe as fine, white threads that grow out from dead wood, and leaves etc. Indeed, fungi are the only organisms on Earth that can decompose wood. The mycelium exudes powerful extracellular enzymes and acids that are able to decompose lignin and cellulose, the two essential components of plant fibre. As the fungus breaks down wood and leaves, a rich material called humus is formed. In the natural ecosystem, a realm of organisms from different kingdoms make their assault on those different substrates that are present, and the rate of degradation becomes maximal when there is a good supply of nutrients in the soil, e.g. N, P, K and other essential inorganic elements (Rhodes, 2013). Aspergullus and other moulds are highly efficient in decomposing starches, hemicelluloses, celluloses, pectins and other sugar polymers, and some aspergilli can degrade such intractable substrates as fats, oils, chitin, and keratin. Substrates of human origin, such as paper and textiles (cotton, jute and linen) are readily degraded by these moulds, when the process is often referred to as biodeterioration. In 1969, when the Italian city of Florence (Firenza) flooded, it was found that 74% of the isolates from a damaged Ghirlandaio fresco in the Ognissanti church were Aspergillus versicolor (Rhodes, 2013).To achieve a successful mycoremediation, the correct fungal species must be selected to target a particular pollutant, for which a simple screening procedure has been described (Matsubara et al., 2006). An encyclopedic overview of the research literature on the action of fungi on organic pollutants, up to 2006 is available (Singh, 2006), along with the beautifully illustrated “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World” (Stamets, 2005), which serves to provide a hands-on guide to growing fungi and applying them to remediating contamination, e.g. from oil spills and chemical toxins, on the practical scale.

    2. The issue of contaminated land.

    The decontamination of soil and water from pollutants using microorganisms (bioremediators) is known as bioremediation (Rhodes, 2013). There are essentially two approaches, described as in situ and ex situ. In situ methods are those in which the contaminated material is treated on-site, whereas when the material is physically removed to be treated elsewhere it is referred to as ex situ. To excavate and remove contaminated soil is a relatively costly procedure, as is compounded when this is cleaned using chemical methods, or by incineration. In contrast, if the soil can be left where it is and decontaminated there, the overall expense is far less. Moreover, in washing or extracting toxic materials from soil, the contamination is simply moved from one place to another, and is not eradicated per se, while incineration may cause problems in its own right, e.g. dioxin formation, as well as being energy intensive. Methods of bioremediation offer means to degrade toxic organic materials, e.g. from oil spills, pesticides, and industrial waste, at the molecular level, converting them to more innocuous compounds. The ultimate goal of bioremediation is the full mineralization of contaminants, i.e. their transformation to CO2, H2O, N2, HCl, etc. Heavy metal and radioactive cations, of course, cannot be decomposed but can be rendered into forms of low solubility, e.g. by a change in oxidation state, such as U (IV) (in UO2) (Singh et al., 2014), so that they remain less harmfully in the ground, or might be physically removed by phytoremediation or mycoremediation, which involves harvesting the plant or fungus.

    3. Bioremediation using fungi.

    White-rot fungi digest lignin by the secretion of enzymes and give a bleached appearance to wood, from undissolved cellulose, hence their name. In contrast, brown-rot fungi degrade cellulose, leaving lignin as a typically brownish deposit. These fungi also cause chequered, cubical cracking and shrinking in wood, which is frequently apparent on felled confer trees (Stamets, 2005). It has been estimated that some 30% of the literature on fungal bioremediation is concerned with white-rot fungi (Singh, 2006). As we shall see, there are particular mechanisms implicit to white-rot over other kinds of fungi, which offer advantages, e.g. over the use of bacteria, as a means for bioremediation. In particular, bacteria need to be pre-exposed to the particular pollutant they are intended to degrade, in order to induce those enzymes that are required to accomplish the task. There is, furthermore, a pollutant concentration level below which the enzymes are not expressed in bacteria, thus limiting the technology (Adenipekun and Lawal, 2012). A very large range of organic molecules are susceptible to the actions of various strains of white-rot fungi, to varying degrees, and even normally highly intractable and persistent substances, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), may be degraded by them (Singh, 2006). The white-rot fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium is an ideal model for bioremediation by fungi, since it is more efficient than other fungi or microorganisms in degrading toxic or insoluble materials. It presents simultaneous oxidative and reductive mechanisms which permit its use in many different situations, regarding the type of contamination, its degree, and the nature of the site itself. A number of other white-rot fungi also can degrade persistent xenobiotic compounds, e.g. Pleurotus ostreatus, Trametes versicolor, Bjerkandera adusta, Lentinula edodes, Irpex lacteus, Agaricus bisporus, Pleurotus tuber-regium, Pleurotus pulmonarius. (Singh, 2006; Adenipekun and Lawal, 2012). Soils may also be decontaminated from crude oil, with the requirement that lignocellulosic substrates (e.g. sawdust straw and corn cob) are also provided, to support the growth of fungal species in the soil (Lang et al., 1995). Other toxic materials that have been successfully degraded using white-rot fungi are: polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins, pesticides, phenols and chlorophenols, effluents from pulp and paper mills, dyestuffs and heavy metals (Singh, 2006). It has been proposed that fungi might be deployed in the biodegradation of sites that are polluted by complex mixtures of PAH, for example from creosote, coal tar and crude oil (Loske et al., 1990). However, it has been shown that the degradation of Benzo[a]pyrene by Pleurotus ostreatus is strongly influenced by the presence of heavy metal cations and mediators such as vanillin and 2,2′-azinobis-(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulfonate). A 15 mM concentration of copper was found to best enhance the degradation (74.2%), which was progressively worsened as the Cu concentration increased. The extent of degradation was increased to 83.6 % when 5 mM of vanillin was included in the medium (Bhattacharya et al., 2014). The possibility is offered, therefore, that the presence of vanillin (a breakdown product of lignin) might augment the process of mycoremediation using white-rot fungi in actual field-applications. It has been demonstrated (Isikhuemhen et al., 2011) that L. Squarrosulus can degrade cornstalks significantly after 30 days, with a maximum lignocellulolytic enzyme activity being achieved on day 6 of cultivation, to generate exopolysaccharides. Thus, L. squarrosulus might prove very effective in the industrial pretreatment and biodelignification of lignocellulosic biomass. The main reason that white-rot fungi are active to such a wide range of compounds is their release of extra-cellular lignin-modifying enzymes, with a low substrate-specificity, so they can act upon various molecules that are broadly similar to lignin (Adenipekun and Lawal, 2012). The enzymes present in the system employed for degrading lignin include lignin-peroxidase (LiP), manganese peroxidase (MnP), various H2O2 producing enzymes (Kirk and Farrell, 1987) and laccase, although the three types of enzymatic activity are not present in all lignolytic fungi.

    4. Practical implementation of mycoremediation using white-rot fungi.

    In order to use white-rot fungi successfully for bioremediation, knowledge must be taken from fungal physiology, biochemistry, enzymology, ecology, genetics, molecular biology, and engineering, among other cognate subjects. A four-phase strategy has been advocated (Lamar and White, 2001): bench-scale treatability, on-site pilot testing, production of inoculum, and finally full-scale application. Substrates such as wood chips, wheat straw, peat, corn cobs, sawdust, a nutrient-fortified mixture of grain and sawdust, bark, rice, annual plant stems and wood, fish oil, alfalfa, spent mushroom compost, sugarcane bagasse, coffee pulp, sugar beet pulp, okra, canola meal, cyclodextrins, and surfactants can be used in inoculum production both off-site or on-site, or as mixed with contaminated soils to improve the processes of degradation (Singh, 2006). It is critical to attain the correct nitrogen/carbon ratio in the substrates used, so to avoid any impeding effect on the efficiency of the fungi in the bioremediation process. Fungal inocula coated with alginate, gelatin, agarose, carrageenan, chitosan, etc., in the form of pellets, may offer a better outcome than with inocula produced using bulk substrates.

    The latter approach, termed encapsulation, is derived from the mushroom spawn industry, and both preserves the viability of the inoculum and contributes nutrients to maximally support the degradation of pollutants. This, furthermore, increases the survival and effectiveness of the introduced species. Fungal inoculum may also be obtained by solid state fermentation. Such inoculum preparation methods improve the likelihood of success in the first phase (above), while good technical and engineering vitalise the second phase. Success in stages three and four depends on the exact remediation practices employed for the monitoring, optimisation, continuity and maintenance of the process overall. Native microbial populations will also provide a potential competition to mycoremediation process, but there is, as yet, a lack of defined protocols to eliminate such influences. There are some patents available which refer to the subject of remediation using white-rot fungi (Singh, 2006).

    5. Conclusions.

    Clearly, there is scope for the use of fungi in decomposing in situ intractable, persistent, and highly toxic pollutants, including TNT (2,4,6-trinitrotoluene) and the nerve gases VX and sarin (Stamets, 2005). By inocculating a plot of soil contaminated by diesel oil, with mycelia from oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), it was found that after 4 weeks, 95% of many of the PAHs had been converted to non-toxic compounds. It seems that the naturally present community of microbes acts in concert with the fungi to decompose the contaminants, finally to CO2 plus H2O (full mineralisation). In 2007, a cargo ship spilled 58,000 gallons of fuel along the San Francisco shoreline. Hair mats, resembling S.O.S. pads the size of a doormat, were used as sponges to soak up spilled oil. They were then collected and layered with oyster mushrooms and straw. The mushrooms broke down the oil and after several weeks the resulting soil was good enough to be used for roadside landscaping. Wood-degrading fungi are extremely effective in decomposing toxic aromatic pollutants from petroleum and also chlorinated persistent pesticides (Rhodes, 2013). Mycofiltration is a similar procedure, in which mycelia are used as a filter to remove toxic materials and microorganisms from water in the soil. A major protagonist of mycoremediation is Paul Stamets, who has proposed (Stamets, 2005) that there should be “Mycological Response Teams”, who would employ fungi to recycle and rebuild healthy soil in the area following any contamination incident (oil spill, chemical leak, radiation egress, e.g. at Fukushima). It has been suggested that edible mushrooms might be grown for the purposes of mycoremediation, and the prospects of whether they would be safe to eat afterwards are considered (Kulshreshtha et al., 2014). Naturally this depends on the exact nature of the pollutants, so that heavy metals are likely be a problem (if they are absorbed and concentrated into the mushroom), while some organic soil contaminants might be decomposed without so imparting toxicity. In the latter case, the benefit is offered that land that is contaminated and unfit for agriculture could be both cleaned and made to yield a nutritious food crop.


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    1. Glenn Condell

      Great stuff, thank you. I was blissfully unaware of the awesome powers of the humble ‘shroom until I recently saw Richard Fortey’s excellent doco The Magic of Mushrooms. If biofuels can get going too, we might be sitting a bit prettier.

  19. gordon

    Prof Cohen draws an analogy between Ukraine and the US Civil War. My first reaction was to draw an analogy between Eastern Ukraine and Texas. Texas was once part of Mexico, but a predominantly US-centric population declared independence and fought off Mexican attempts to prevent secession (“remember the Alamo”). Those secessionists had help from across the border, of course, and eventually Texas was integrated into the US.

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