Blogs

BAC Watch

| Wed May 6, 2009 11:09 AM EDT

I give up.  Apparently Bank of America's need for $34 billion in new capital is somehow being spun as good news, and as of 11 am BAC is actually up a point or so.  WTF?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Solitary Con-swine-ment

| Wed May 6, 2009 10:44 AM EDT

Sad news for Afghanistan's lone pig:

Afghanistan's only known pig has been locked in a room, away from visitors to Kabul zoo where it normally grazes beside deer and goats, because people are worried it could infect them with the virus popularly known as swine flu.

The pig is a curiosity in Muslim Afghanistan, where pork and pig products are illegal because they are considered irreligious, and has been in quarantine since Sunday after visitors expressed alarm it could spread the new flu strain.

Considering this guy is the only pig in all of Afghanistan, I'd say he has a pretty good chance of steering clear of the bug that's infected more than 1,000 people worldwide.

Advancing the Story of the Anti-Torture Torture Memo

| Wed May 6, 2009 10:12 AM EDT

On April 21, Philip Zelikow, who was counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the Bush administration, revealed on Foreign Policy's "Shadow Government" blog that he wrote a memo in 2005 disputing the conclusions of Bush Justice Department lawyers that torture was legal. The existence of such a memo was a surprise. But Zelikow also disclosed that the "White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo."

Now Zelikow has told Mother Jones who he thinks was behind the effort to suppress his dissenting opinion. You'll never guess who it is....

(Read the full article for that news and an exclusive preview of Zelikow's congressional testimony next week.)

King Corn

| Wed May 6, 2009 1:31 AM EDT

Via the LA Times, this is the best news I've heard all day:

The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed renewable fuel standards that could reduce the $3 billion a year in federal tax breaks given to producers of corn-based ethanol. The move sets the stage for a major battle between Midwest grain producers and environmentalists who say the gasoline additive actually worsens global warming.

....While biofuels as a whole — including grasses and even algae — are considered promising alternatives to petroleum, some researchers have begun challenging the use of corn for this purpose.

In particular, they point to the "indirect land-use" effects of pulling corn out of the world food supply, which could force farmers in developing nations to clear rain forests — and release massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the process — in order to plant corn.

Please dump the corn ethanol subsidies.  Please, please, please.  Dollar for dollar, it might well be the stupidest use of taxpayer cash in the entire federal budget.

Stress Test Update

| Wed May 6, 2009 12:16 AM EDT

The New York Times reports that the Treasury's stress test has determined that Bank of America needs $33.9 billion in new capital.  That's nearly half the current value of the entire company, which has a market cap of about $70 billion.

If BofA can't raise this money itself, it means either (a) more TARP money or (b) conversion of the Treasury's current $45 billion in preferred shares into common shares.  I continue to think that (b) is little more than a shell game, but better minds than mine have suggested that it would have some genuine value.  If that's what happens, conversion at Tuesday's closing price would give the government a one-third stake in BofA.  But if their stock plummets and conversion happens at a lower price, Treasury could end up with a majority stake.

On the other hand, BofA's chief administrative officer bravely says they have plenty of options for raising the money themselves before they have to strike a deal with the feds.  For example, BofA could decide to quickly sell a third of its stake in China Construction Bank, which would bring in about $8 billion.  The sale of First Republic and Columbia Management could generate about $4 billion.

Maybe.  It's hard to say at this point.  But $33.9 billion is a lot higher than anyone's been talking about so far.  Any way you slice it, it's bad news for Ken Lewis.

Watching the Banks

| Tue May 5, 2009 9:01 PM EDT

I approve of this:

Banks that want to return Troubled Asset Relief Program funds will have to demonstrate their ability to wean themselves off another major federal program, according to senior government officials, making it less attractive for some banks to return the money.

The other program, a guarantee of debt issuance offered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., allows firms to borrow money relatively inexpensively. Banks have $332.5 billion of debt outstanding under this program, which began last fall.

If a bank is healthy and solvent and able to lend money freely, then it should be allowed to turn down extraordinary government aid and operate without extraordinary government oversight.  But there's more to the federal bailout program than just TARP, and if a bank is really healthy it doesn't need to take advantage of any of the other extraordinary programs either.  Until and unless that happens, however, Treasury should insist that they keep their TARP money and stay under TARP rules.  No stealth bailouts, please.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

200-Plus New Frogs in Madagascar

| Tue May 5, 2009 8:18 PM EDT

Somewhere between 129 and 221 new species of frogs have been identified in Madagascar—nearly double the known amphibian fauna on the island. The new study suggests that biodiversity in this biodiversity hotspot has been significantly underestimated, even in well-known and well-studied national parks.

"People think we know which plant and animal species live on this planet," says Miguel Vences of the Technical University of Braunschweig, one of the authors. "But the century of discoveries has only just begun—the majority of life forms on Earth is still awaiting scientific recognition."

In the 15 years prior to these findings, researchers had discovered and described over 100 new frog species from Madagascar and believed their species inventory to be nearly complete.

But the new surveys show far more species than suspected. The results come from DNA sequencing of 2,850 specimens of amphibians at 170 sites. The data don't show suggest more individual amphibians living in Madagascar—only more species diversity. Which means the new species are likely fragile and less populous.

The new research also implies that total biodiversity of all species on Madagascar could be higher than previously thought. Therefore the continuing destruction of rainforest in Madagascar may be affecting more species than we know.

Although many reserves and national parks have been created in the past ten years, real protection on the ground is thin. Madagascar has already lost more than 80 percent of its historic rainforest.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that nearly one-quarter of the new species were discovered in unprotected areas.
 

How Do You Say "Chickens Coming Home To Roost in Japanese"?

| Tue May 5, 2009 7:55 PM EDT

Ah, technology animating the voices, and the sins, of the past.

Huffpo links to a piece on how Google has stirred up Japan's past bigotry (read: forced it to acknowledge it) simply by taking an interest in its history and uploading vintage maps from its past:

The maps date back to the country's feudal era, when shoguns ruled and a strict caste system was in place. At the bottom of the hierarchy were a class called the "burakumin," ethnically identical to other Japanese but forced to live in isolation because they did jobs associated with death, such as working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves.
Castes have long since been abolished, and the old buraku villages have largely faded away or been swallowed by Japan's sprawling metropolises. Today, rights groups say the descendants of burakumin make up about 3 million of the country's 127 million people.
But they still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived. Moving is little help, because employers or parents of potential spouses can hire agencies to check for buraku ancestry through Japan's elaborate family records, which can span back over a hundred years.
An employee at a large, well-known Japanese company, who works in personnel and has direct knowledge of its hiring practices, said the company actively screens out burakumin job seekers.

 

If These Are "The Best And Brightest" Pray That We Never See "The Worst and Dumbest"

| Tue May 5, 2009 7:53 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Tue May 5, 2009 7:53 PM EDT

Though it seems impossible, everyday we hear newer and more inane arguments for why the torturing Bushies and economy-busting Wall Streeters shouldn't have to answer all our pesky questions and, you know, live with the consequences of all their besting and brightest-ing.

At Salon, Michael Lind (a former colleague) dispenses quickly with this latest argument, of which he offers the following examples: 

Government service already asks a lot of individuals. It entails sacrifice, pays little, and often violates privacy. Adding risk of prosecution to the mix will make recruiting the best and brightest that much more difficult.

 

Iraqi Militias and a Hideous New Torture for Gays: Say It Aint So!

| Tue May 5, 2009 7:52 PM EDT

 Please, please tell me I'm being punked. Please. From ThinkProgress:

Relying on an International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission translation of a recent Al Arabiya story, the blog Towleroad reports that Iraqi militias have been engaging in some particularly brutal tactics toward gay men in Iraq:

"A prominent Iraqi human rights activist says that Iraqi militia have deployed a painful form of torture against homosexuals by closing their anuses using 'Iranian gum.' ...Yina Mohammad told Alarabiya.net that, 'Iraqi militias have deployed an unprecedented form of torture against homosexuals by using a very strong glue that will close their anus.' According to her, the new substance 'is known as the American hum, which is an Iranian-manufactured glue that if applied to the skin, sticks to it and can only be removed by surgery. After they glue the anuses of homosexuals, they give them a drink that causes diarrhea. Since the anus is closed, the diarrhea causes death. Videos of this form of torture are being distributed on mobile cellphones in Iraq.'"

OK. It's a punkin'. Has to be.

The Alarabiya.net link leads to something or other in Farsi or Arabic (I guess?) which gives the vast majority of us ig'nent 'Mericuns any idea of what's going on.

For once, I'll be ecstatic to learn that I was gullible beyond belief. 'Cuz I just can't believe this shite. But these days, it's hard to calibrate our once-reliable bullshit-o-meters.