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May 7, 2009

Not sure what a frog sounds like in Malagasy, but scientists have discovered about 200 new species in Madagascar. The good news is there is more biodiversity than previously thought. The bad news is that their natural habitats are still imperiled.

More from ScienceDaily and from Reuters.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Stemella permalink*
    May 7, 2009 1:28 pm

    Wiki rocks…. greek froggies

    The Frogs (Ancient Greek: Βάτραχοι Bátrachoi, “Frogs”) is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus, in 405 BC, and received first place.[1]

    ~
    The Frogs tells the story of the god Dionysus, despairing of the state of Athens’ tragedians, and allegedly recovering from the disastrous Battle of Arginusae. He travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead. He brings along his slave Xanthias, who is smarter, stronger, more rational, more prudent, and braver than Dionysus. The play opens as Xanthias and Dionysus argue over what kind of complaints Xanthias can use to open the play comically.
    ~
    Kenneth Dover claims that the underlying political theme of The Frogs is essentially “old ways good, new ways bad”.[2] He points to the parabasis for proof of this: “The antepirrhema of the parabasis (718-37) urges the citizen-body to reject the leadership of those whom it now follows, upstarts of foreign parentage (730-2), and turn back to men of known integrity who were brought up in the style of noble and wealthy families” (Dover 33). Kleophon is mentioned in the ode of the parabasis (674-85), and is both “vilified as a foreigner” (680-2) and maligned at the end of the play (1504, 1532).

    The Frogs deviates from the pattern of political standpoint offered in Aristophanes’ earlier works, such as The Acharnians (425 BC), Peace (421 BC), and Lysistrata (411 BC), which have all been termed ‘peace’ plays. The Frogs is not often thus labeled, however – Dover points out that though Kleophon was adamantly opposed to any peace which did not come of victory, and the last lines of the play suggest Athens ought to look for a less stubborn end to the war, Aeschylus’ advice (1463-5) lays out a plan to win and not a proposition of capitulation. Also, The Frogs contains solid, serious messages which represent significant differences from general critiques of policy and idealistic thoughts of good peace terms. During the parabasis, Aristophanes presents advice to give the rights of citizens back to people who had participated in the oligarchic revolution in 411 BC, arguing they were misled by Phrynichos’ ‘tricks’ (literally ‘wrestlings’). Phrynichos was a leader of the oligarchic revolution who was assassinated, to general satisfaction, in 411. This proposal was simple enough to be instated by a single act of the assembly, and was actually put into effect by Patrokleides’ decree after the loss of the fleet at Aegospotami. The anonymous Life states that this advice was the basis of Aristophanes’ receipt of the olive wreath, and the author of the ancient Hypothesis says admiration of the parabasis was the major factor that led to the play’s second production.[2]
    ~
    Stephen Sondheim adapted The Frogs to a musical of the same name, using characters of George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare instead of the Greek playwrights.

    That frog is very very green. Glad more are being found. Better than being lost.

    • cometman permalink*
      May 7, 2009 9:26 pm

      I thought you might get the reference :) I never actually read The Frogs, just read a little about it. I did read Lysistrata though, maybe it’s time to try that method to get some of these bad boys to behave. Although if Babs the Battleaxe Bush or Lynn Cheney were to withhold their feminine wiles, would that really be something anyone would miss?

  2. Stemella permalink*
    May 7, 2009 2:27 pm

    Stress tests are out. yadda yadda

    Here’s the Fed Press Release

    Here’s the pdf summary

    This unprecedented exercise‐‐known as the Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (SCAP)‐‐
    allowed supervisors to measure how much of an additional capital buffer, if any, each institution would
    need to establish today to ensure that it would have sufficient capital if the economy weakens more
    than expected. Those BHCs needing to augment their capital coming out of this assessment will have a
    month to design a detailed plan, subject to supervisory approval, for the steps they will take to put the
    SCAP buffer in place, and then implement that plan by early November of this year.

    Can we call it CRAP instead? SCAP?? TARP, TALF, SCAP? CRAP!!!!!

    After taking account of losses, revenues and reserve build requirements, in the aggregate, these
    firms need to add $185 billion to capital buffers to reach the target SCAP capital buffer at the end of
    2010 under the more adverse scenario. There are two important things to note about this estimate.
    First, the $185 billion accrues to 10 of the 19 firms, meaning 9 of the 19 firms already have capital
    buffers sufficient to get through the adverse scenario in excess of 6 percent Tier 1 capital and 4 percent
    Tier 1 Common capital. Second, the vast majority of this $185 billion comes from a shortfall in Tier 1
    Common capital in the more adverse scenario, with virtually no shortfall in overall Tier 1 capital. This
    result means that while nearly all the firms have sufficient Tier 1 capital to absorb the unusually high
    losses of the more adverse scenario and still end 2010 with a Tier 1 risk‐based ratio in excess of 6
    percent, 10 of these firms had capital structures that are too strongly tilted toward capital other than
    common equity. Thus, each of the 10 firms needing to augment their capital as a result of this exercise
    must do so by increasing their Tier 1 Common capital.

    • cometman permalink*
      May 7, 2009 9:29 pm

      Sounds like CRAP to me too. The firms get to design their own plan????? Haven’t their own plans done enough damage already?

    • cometman permalink*
      May 8, 2009 7:51 am

      Here’s more on the stress test results from McClatchy. A rundown of the damage, if you actually believe the report:

      Based on this information, regulators decided which banks needed to raise more capital for worse-case scenarios. Those companies, and the amounts they must raise, are as follows:

      * Bank of America $33.9 billion

      * Wells Fargo $13.7 billion

      * GMAC $11.5 billion

      * Citigroup $5.5 billion

      * SunTrust Banks $2.2 billion

      * KeyCorp $1.8 billion

      * Morgan Stanley $1.8 billion

      * Fifth Third Bancorp $1.1 billion

      * PNC Financial Services $600 million

      Companies in the clear, freed from having to raise more capital, include Goldman Sachs, Bank of New York Mellon, J.P. Morgan Chase, BB&T, State Street, U.S. Bancorp, insurer MetLife, and credit card companies American Express and Capital One Financial.

      But apparently if you look at things critically, as opposed to just regurgitating the figures that the banks themselves spoonfed to regulators/bank stenographers, things aren’t quite so good:

      Critical analysts, however, see a glass half empty in Thursday’s stress-test results. “It’s a very educated guess, based on a lot of information, but they can’t see the future,” said Douglas Elliott, a financial analyst at the Brookings Institution, a center-left research center. “If they were off by just 3 percent in 2010, that’s $300 billion in additional capital (needed). I give them a lot of credit and it’s a useful exercise . . . but prediction is extremely difficult.”

      Elliott projected capital needs from $100 billion to $200 billion, and wonders how accurate the regulators’ projections are for losses that are expected on commercial and industrial loans and defaults on commercial mortgages.

      “At least with residential (mortgages) the bad things that have happened are already in the numbers. These loans to businesses, we’re just starting to see them, so there is a fair amount of uncertainty,” he said.

      Offering a grimmer projection, the International Monetary Fund in its April Global Financial Stability Report said that U.S. banks needed $275 billion in additional capital as of the end of 2008 and projected that $2.7 trillion in write-downs on U.S.-originated assets will be needed through the end of 2010. Under worse scenarios, the IMF said, losses could top $4 trillion, two thirds of them borne by global banks.

      And here’s the crux of the matter -the real reason why the stress tests were run in the first place:

      The stress tests are as much about politics as they are about economics. They bought the Treasury Department roughly three months to put off tough political decisions such as how to conduct the auction of toxic assets through a public-private partnership now expected to begin in June.

      ~snip~

      The stress-test exercise also deflected attention from the problem that hasn’t gone away: How to value the trillions in toxic assets that are polluting bank balance sheets.

      There it is. This whole exercise is just a way to postpone any real accountability until the geniuses who caused this problem can figure out a way to convince the gullible that they should pay billions for assets that aren’t worth a dime. As Galbraith said in the interview I posted a couple days ago, these assets were created by fraud from the outset and because of that they have no worth. If this were made clear however, it would also become clear that these banks are essentially insolvent.

      Even the American Enterprise Institute admits that these tests are nothing but PR and smoke and mirrors:

      …the results signal a profitable future but paper over the present. “In that sense, they are doing it in part to build confidence, because if markets are more confident about banks, markets and the economy will do better. And if markets and the economy do better, banks do better,” said Reinhart, now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization.

      The tests, he added, are “designed to build up market confidence and create the most favorable response as possible. I think they are trying to manage the media.”

      So as long as Timmy the Elf can keep the media from mentioning the emperor has no clothes, everything will be just fine!

      • cometman permalink*
        May 8, 2009 8:14 am

        William Greider isn’t buying the rosy scenario. From The Nation:

        Barack Obama’s wholesome optimism is doubtless sincere, and so was Herbert Hoover’s. But in Hoover’s day, people did not believe him. They could see for themselves it wasn’t true. In time, Americans came to revile Hoover for his repetitious happy talk.

        President Obama is now flirting with the same fate. He and his lieutenants, much like the Bush administration before them, are convinced that the nation’s crisis can essentially be reversed by restoring “confidence” among investors, producers and buyers. So they talk up every budding blossom as proof. So did Hoover.

        Reality is unlikely to cooperate, because the core of this crisis is not psychological. It is about real breakdown and real loss–trillions of dollars lost to the collapsing financial values, thousands of businesses and banks deeply damaged by collapsing balance sheets and markets. Wishing does not necessarily make it so. Talking up the economy prematurely may actually yield an opposite result–deepening cynicism and mistrust, a sense that the authorities do not know what they are talking about or, even worse, are concealing the truth.

        Evidently Timmy wasn’t the only one running stress tests lately, and the others run by people who have actually been right in the past don’t look so good.

        More bearish analysts look beyond the good talk and they see deepening troubles for the banking system. While Obama’s technocrats captured the big headlines with their encouraging “stress test” results, a private firm produced its own “stress test” on the very same day and it told an opposite story. The Institutional Risk Analytics Bank Monitor produces quarterly reports for investors on the health of individual banks and the system as a whole. IRA has gained enormous prestige in financial markets during the last few years because it has consistently been far ahead of government regulators and economists in warning about big trouble ahead.

        Contrary to the government’s claims, IRA’s analysis is not brightening. IRA crunches the internal numbers that all banks report to the FDIC. It finds “a dramatic climb in the stress in the US banking industry.” More and more financial institutions, large and small, are losing stability or capital cushions as net incomes turned turned negative for 1,575 of them. IRA’s Bank Stress Index jumped from 1.8 at the end of 2008 to 5.57 in the first quarter of 2009.

        “Our overall observation is that US policy makers may very well have been distracted by focusing on 19 large stress test banks designed to save Wall Street and the world’s central bank bondholders, this while a trend is emerging of going concern viability crash taking shape under the radar,” IRA explained. That is a polite way of saying Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Obama’s economic guru, Larry Summers, are so fixated on trying to save their old Wall Street colleagues they do not seem to recognize the deterioration underway broadly in banking. The trend, as IRA has noted in the past, is that “US banks have been migrating down the quality slope taking an average of nine months to complete the journey from A to F on the stress scale.” That trend accelerated in the first quarter, the Bank Monitor said.

    • cometman permalink*
      May 8, 2009 11:28 am

      Ha! Somebody else liked your choice of acronyms:

      Now we have the White House and Treasury Department assuring us that all 19 of the country’s biggest banks are going to survive the credit crisis and the economic slump, and that they are all basically sound. Okay, so some of them, like Bank of America which has to come up with $35 billion in new capital, need cash infusions or need their books juggled—a total of $100 billion for all 19 banks–but as Fed Chairman and Chief of Rehabilitation and Promotion (that’s CRAP) for the banking industry Ben Bernanke, is assuring us, “All the banks in the stress tests are solvent.”

      Really. Forget about all those troubled assets folks. They are solvent. Honest.

      • Stemella permalink*
        May 8, 2009 1:39 pm

        Yeah, they are solvent just like olive oil is solvent in balsamic vinegar. Their Crap programs pretend to be emulsifiers blending two unblendable things, but they still end up with viable commercial banks joined to bankrupt investment banks and the twain are still fucking incompatible.

        They’re just blowing more Oz smoke and rattling rattles hoping the sheeple will believe the ruse while over time the crisis will ease, until the next shoe or ten drops that is. They aren’t solving the problems. They are faking it with poor quality dayglo bandaids. There’s still an infection that’s causing gangrene under there and they’re pretending they can hide it. (all these bad metaphors are in retaliation for your bad credit pun!!) ;)

  3. Stemella permalink*
    May 7, 2009 2:35 pm

    Apparently we can post youtubes in comments now according to WordPress Overlords by pasting in the url directly. Not photos yet, though.

    Testing:

    • cometman permalink*
      May 7, 2009 9:38 pm

      Let’s see:

      • Stemella permalink*
        May 8, 2009 9:28 am

        That song and performance is delightfully twisted!

  4. Stemella permalink*
    May 7, 2009 2:47 pm

    Oooh! Breaking scathing! According to Reuters Stephen Friedman is resigning from NY Fed (Timmy’s former job) immediately. No explanation.

    Might have something to do with this Fed Directors’ Ties to Banks Spur Calls for Changes

    Corporate-governance practices at the regional Fed bank system faced criticism this week following a page-one article Monday in The Wall Street Journal detailing how Stephen Friedman, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director, was granted a waiver that allowed him to hold Goldman shares even after Goldman became a Fed-regulated bank-holding company in September.

    This week, some other regional Fed banks, including Kansas City and Dallas, said they wouldn’t have allowed such a situation. And some banking executives criticized the actions of the New York Fed, which declined to comment on Tuesday but previously said it couldn’t afford to lose Mr. Friedman at such a critical time.

    No director of a regional Fed bank appointed to represent the public, as Mr. Friedman was, should have any connections with regulated financial institutions, said Cam Fine, chief executive of Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade association. “That, to me, is a blatant conflict of interest. That should be a very bright line.”

    Mr. Friedman didn’t return calls for comment Tuesday, but previously said he didn’t believe holding Goldman shares was a conflict.

    When Congress formed the Federal Reserve in 1913, it required that each of the 12 regional banks have a nine-member board. Six of the directors are elected by local banks; three are appointed by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington. The regional Fed bank boards recommend changes to the Fed’s discount rate to the board in Washington, offer advice on the economy and hire and set the salary for the banks’ presidents, subject to the approval of the Fed in Washington.

    Just last night I was bitching about this very sort of conflict of interest. Looks like just maybe someone else is getting tired of defending the idea that Goldman Sux is running our government, fascismo style.

  5. cometman permalink*
    May 7, 2009 9:34 pm

    Nice article frim William Greider at The Nation about getting our priorities straight in this country. He reminds us that not everything has to be about money.

    Here is the grand vision I suggest Americans can pursue: the right of all citizens to larger lives. Not to get richer than the next guy or necessarily to accumulate more and more stuff but the right to live life more fully and engage more expansively the elemental possibilities of human existence. That is the essence of what so many now seem to yearn for in their lives. People–even successful and affluent people–are frustrated because the intangible dimensions of life have been held back or displaced in large and small ways, pushed aside by the economic system’s relentless demands to maximize yields of profit and wealth. Our common moral verities have been trashed in the name of greater returns. The softer aspects of mortal experience are diminished because life itself is not tabulated in the economic system’s accounting.

    ~snip~

    More important than all the other losses is that people are also denied another great intangible–the dignity of self-directed lives. At work, at home and in the public sphere, most people lack the right to exercise much of a voice in the decisions governing their daily lives. Most people (not all) are subject to a system of command and control over their destinies. They know the risks of ignoring the orders from above. Not surprisingly, many citizens are resigned to this condition and accept subservience as “the way things are,” and their lives are smaller as a result. Many find it hard to imagine that these confinements could be lessened, even substantially removed, if economic organizations were informed by democratic principles.

    What’s needed in American life is a redefinition of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Given the nation’s great wealth, the ancient threats of scarcity and deprivation have been eliminated. Yet people remain yoked to economic demands despite wanting something more from life–freedom to explore the mysteries and bring forth all that is within them. Collectively, Americans need to take a deep breath and reconsider what it means to be rich.

    The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes wrote long ago, is how “to live wisely and agreeably and well” once desperation and deprivation are no longer the driving forces of our existence. As the British economist predicted, the old economic problems of scarcity and survival have been solved, at least for developed nations. People should put aside the old fears, Keynes suggested, and learn how to enjoy life. Free of want and worry, we face a new challenge: to discover what it means to be truly human.

    • Stemella permalink*
      May 8, 2009 9:27 am

      I like the ideas there (essentially a retake on small is beautiful) to live wise, agreeably and well. Unfortunately I’ve grown to see that as impossibly idealistic. Until the tendency for greed is handled somehow – managed or regulated or educated away, if even possible, I just don’t see Americans on the whole as ever being willing to be fair and accepting of settling for reality instead of pursuing a advertising based fantasy.

      Most people will never embrace loftier goals than I’m gettin mine, at least of the current crop of Americans. Maybe in future generations when the oilygarchy eventually collapses, maybe then there will be a chance for the world Greider envisions. I like his ideas, but don’t see how to get there from here.

      • cometman permalink*
        May 8, 2009 10:09 am

        I don’t think we’ll reach those ideals any time soon either.

        That’s why I read so much scifi – at least some of them are about discovering what it means to be truly human and it’s nice to think about even if it won’t happen soon.

        But even in that genre, it’s often not the humans who have learned to handle their greed and live free from want and fear. In the Algebraist the humans have to learn from the Squiddies :)

  6. Stemella permalink*
    May 8, 2009 9:34 am

    First it was the cane frogs, now it’s the giant furry spiders…. Giant spiders invade Australian Outback town

    Australia is known around the world for its large and deadly creepy crawlies, but even locals have been shocked by the size of the giant venomous spiders that have invaded an Outback town in Queensland.

    Scores of eastern tarantulas, which are known as “bird-eating spiders” and can grow larger than the palm of a man’s hand, have begun crawling out from gardens and venturing into public spaces in Bowen, a coastal town about 700 miles northwest of Brisbane.

  7. cometman permalink*
    May 8, 2009 11:42 am

    Lots of good stuff from Mike Whitney today. He actually gives Bernanke a small amount of credit (pardon the pun :P) for keeping the economy from going into freefall, but not much love for Timmy or Obama either, especially on the latter’s failure to help with the cramdown legislation:

    It would have been easy for Obama to twist a few arms in the Senate and push through the legislation, but he didn’t lift a finger. Instead, he’s focused on expanding the war in Pakistan and pushing through his pay-your-own-way health care boondoggle. Obama’s pattern of backing-away from his campaign promises suggests that he’ll cave in when the critical union organizing bill, The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) comes up for a vote. Obama, no friend of labor, will be AWOL once again.

    Bernanke may have saved the country from another Great Depression, but he’ll have a tough time putting the economy back on track. The Fed’s ideological bias keeps it from addressing the root problem of flagging demand. What’s needed are policymakers who understand that the endless debt-expansion is not sustainable, and that maintaining a healthy economy requires higher wages and a narrowing of the income gap. Inequality leads to falling demand and boom-and-bust cycles. Fiscal stimulus can take up the slack in demand on a temporary basis, but eventually, wages and compensation need to be increased to rebalance the system.

    He goes on to quote Galbraith. Worth reading the whole thing.

    • Stemella permalink*
      May 8, 2009 1:43 pm

      Thanks, will read that soon. I like Galbraith very much. Yes they stopped the freefall, this time. But, as I mentioned in previous comment, unless they deal with the inherent rot and corruption, the opportunity for freefall will ultimately present itself again. Shock and awe, swindle and reset, shock and awe.

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