Friday, July 31, 2009

teabagger redux?

Politico | Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety — welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.

On the eve of the August recess, members are reporting meetings that have gone terribly awry, marked by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior. In at least one case, a congressman has stopped holding town hall events because the situation has spiraled so far out of control.

“I had felt they would be pointless,” Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO, referring to his recent decision to suspend the events in his Long Island district. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.”

In Bishop’s case, his decision came on the heels of a June 22 event he held in Setauket, N.Y., in which protesters dominated the meeting by shouting criticisms at the congressman for his positions on energy policy, health care and the bailout of the auto industry.

Within an hour of the disruption, police were called in to escort the 59-year-old Democrat — who has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he was elected in 2002 — to his car safely.

the shale revolution

Nature | The vast reserves of US natural gas must be used judiciously to ease the transition to clean energy.

Several years ago, it looked as though the United States was running short of natural gas. Prices spiked as declining production in old fields collided with increasing industrial demand. Electric utilities shifted from 'clean' gas back to cheap coal, and suppliers began building terminals to import liquefied natural gas from abroad. Yet today, coal-fired power is again on the wane, ports for liquefied natural gas are idling below capacity, and the nation is awash with gas.

So what happened? Clearly, the threat of carbon regulation has curbed industry's appetite for coal, and the sagging economy has depressed energy demand across the board. But just as importantly, natural-gas production is again on the rise. Thanks to advances in drilling technology, including horizontal drilling and more effective rock fracturing, producers have at last unlocked the vast quantities of gas trapped underground in impermeable strata of shale.

The Potential Gas Committee, a volunteer group of industry, government and academic experts headquartered in Golden, Colorado, increased its estimate of recoverable gas reserves by 39% in its biennial report released last month, mostly because of shale gas. The new total, almost 60 trillion cubic metres, is equivalent to about a century's worth of gas at current usage rates.

Policy-makers everywhere should take note. Shale formations similar to those that have upended the US natural-gas market exist all over the world. Early explorations are already under way in Canada and several European countries, many of which are overly reliant on coal and politically risky Russian gas imports. And there is no reason to think the development will stop there.

living in tents, by rules, under a bridge

NYTimes | The chief emerges from his tent to face the leaden morning light. It had been a rare, rough night in his homeless Brigadoon: a boozy brawl, the wielding of a knife taped to a stick. But the community handled it, he says with pride, his day’s first cigar already aglow.

By community he means 80 or so people living in tents on a spit of state land beside the dusky Providence River: Camp Runamuck, no certain address, downtown Providence.

Because the two men in the fight had violated the community’s written compact, they were escorted off the camp, away from the protection of an abandoned overpass. One was told we’ll discuss this in the morning; the other was voted off the island, his knife tossed into the river, his tent taken down.

The chief flicks his spent cigar into that same river. There is talk of rain tonight.

Behind him, the camp stirs. Other tent cities have sprung up recently around the country, but Rhode Island officials have never seen anything like this. A tea kettle sings.

A heavily pierced young person walks by without picking up an empty plastic bottle, flouting the camp compact that says everyone will share in the labor. The compact may be as impermanent as this sudden community by the river, but for now it is binding. The chief speaks, the bottle is picked up.

The chief, John Freitas, is 55, with a gray beard touched by tobacco rust. He did prison time decades ago, worked for years as a factory supervisor, then became homeless for all the familiar, complicated reasons.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

why YOU come here....,

Physorg | New research demonstrates that single neurons in the reward center of the brain process not only primitive rewards but also more abstract, cognitive rewards related to the quest for information about the future. The study, published by Cell Press in the July 16 issue of the journal Neuron, enhances our understanding of learning and suggests that current theories of reward should be revised to include the effect of information seeking.

"The desire to know what the future holds is a powerful motivator in everyday life, but we know little about how this desire is created by neurons in the brain," says lead study author Dr. Ethan S. Bromberg-Martin from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Bromberg-Martin and coauthor, Dr. Okihide Hikosaka, investigated whether dopamine-releasing neurons associated with processing basic primitive rewards, such as food and water, are also involved in processing more abstract rewards.

The researchers focused on a form of cognitive reward that involves anticipation of a substantial future gain. Specifically, people (and animals) do not like to be held in suspense and prefer to receive advance information about the rewards they will receive in the future. In this study, a simple decision task allowed rhesus monkeys to choose whether to view informative pictures that would tell them the size of upcoming water rewards. The researchers recorded the activity of dopamine reward neurons while the monkeys performed the task.

The monkeys showed a strong preference for information about upcoming rewards and preferred to receive the information as soon as possible, even though the information had no effect on the final reward outcome. Importantly, the dopamine neurons that signaled the monkey's expectation of water rewards also signaled the expectation of advance information in a manner that was correlated with the strength of the animal's preference. "The monkeys and dopamine neurons treated information about rewards as if it was a reward itself," explains Dr. Bromberg-Martin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

old population surpasses young

Guardian | The world is about to cross a demographic landmark of huge social and economic importance, with the proportion of the global population 65 and over set to outnumber children under five for the first time.

A new report by the US census bureau highlights a huge shift towards not just an ageing but an old population, with formidable consequences for rich and poor nations alike. The transformation carries with it challenges for families and policymakers, ranging from how to care for older people living alone to how to pay for unprecedented numbers of pensioners – more than 1 billion of them by 2040.

The report, An Ageing World: 2008, shows that within 10 years older people will outnumber children for the first time. It forecasts that over the next 30 years the number of over-65s is expected to almost double, from 506 million in 2008 to 1.3 billion – a leap from 7% of the world's population to 14%. Already, the number of people in the world 65 and over is increasing at an average of 870,000 each month.

oil speculation limits weighed

Washington Post | Federal regulators moved closer on Tuesday to issuing new rules to limit oil speculation, addressing concerns that Wall Street firms may have manipulated the price of oil through financial trading.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission held the first of three hearings to explore ways to keep financial firms from amassing such large positions in energy markets that they have outsized power to affect prices.

"I believe that at the core of our mission is to make sure that the markets are fair and orderly," CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said in an interview after the hearing. "It's really central to every American -- from how much you spend for gas at the pump to your heating costs in the wintertime."

Concerns that speculators were influencing oil prices bubbled up last summer when the price of a barrel of oil spiked to an all-time high. At the time, the CFTC leadership was not interested in pursuing new regulations to limit speculation. And the agency issued a controversial report suggesting that the rising oil prices were the result of natural factors of supply and demand.

Gensler, who became chairman in May, has said he thinks speculators have helped to boost the price of oil. In the interview, he said he hopes that his agency could officially propose new rules in the fall to govern energy speculation. The price of oil has increased by about 50 percent this year.

One factor that may play into the debate is a report the CFTC is scheduled to release next month about the types of firms, such as banks and hedge funds, that hold big positions in energy investments. CFTC officials said the report, which will be updated periodically, is not expected to cast judgment on whether speculation is influencing oil prices. If, however, it shows that few players dominate the market, the information could be used by those who support curbs on oil speculation.

Greenpeace study finds oil companies may be doomed

Guardian | Environmental activist network argues that the oil industry might be approaching a tipping point from fall in the price, advances in technology and policies on climate change

A long-term decline in the demand for oil could undermine the huge investments in Canadian tar sands, which have been heavily opposed by environmentalists, according to a report published today.

The report, by Greenpeace, will make uncomfortable reading for the companies that are investing tens of billions of pounds to exploit the hard-to-extract oil in the belief that demand and the price would climb inexorably as countries such as China and India industrialise.

Citing projections from the oil producers' cartel Opec and the International Energy Agency, as well as various oil experts, the report casts doubt on the conventional assumption that consumption and prices will begin gathering pace once the world pulls itself out of recession.

It argues that alongside the cyclical fall in the oil price there are more fundamental structural changes taking place. These are driven by advances in energy efficiency and alternative energy, cleaner vehicles, government policies on climate change and concerns over energy security. Greenpeace has posted the report to 200 shareholders in Shell and BP, including pension funds, in an effort to put pressure on the companies to think again. BP reports quarterly results tomorrow and Shell on Thursday.

Lorne Stockman, the author of the report, said: "A peak in oil demand was barely discussed even a year ago, but now it is a viable idea. When it happens, I wouldn't want to guess, but it will happen sooner than we thought. There has been lots of talk about a supply peak, but it is good to start talking about a demand peak, and that has huge implications for these companies.

"All of the international oil companies as you look beyond 2020 need a high oil price to be profitable, because they are increasingly being pushed to develop expensive resources in not just the tar sands, but in deep water and offshore Arctic sites.

"But there is something more structural going on," he added. "Governments are beginning to act, and not just the Obama administration. In the EU, the policy driver is climate change, and in China and the US, it is about energy security and the vulnerability of the economy to volatility in the oil price."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

opec braces for sharp drop in oil prices

BloggingStocks | Why is OPEC expecting a sharp drop in oil prices? First, much of the rise in oil prices has followed the rally on Wall Street. Investors reasoned that higher stock prices means that business is doing better and hence a need for more oil, and prices rise.

Not so fast. Business demand for oil is weak, and the consumer got clobbered by the recession and is holding back spending money. So the classic relationship between the stock market and oil that investors follow is not there this year.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that stockpiles are at a 24-year high. Distillate demand for gasoline and diesel fuel dropped by 15%. Refiners have cut back production to 85.8%, from 87.9% the previous week. Distillate stocks surged to 160.5 million barrels, the highest level since 1985.

The price of September crude closed at $68.05 per barrel on Friday, up 89 cents. The futures contracts for crude in are a contango. What is a contango? It is a futures market where the prices for distant contracts are higher that those for nearby delivery. For example, the September futures contract closed at $68.05 per barrel while the December contract closed at $72.52 per barrel. This sets up a huge profit margin for oil traders. They simply buy the cash crude oil and sell distant futures contracts against them. The profit spread between September and December is $4.47 per barrel. Figure that profit on say 1,000,000 barrels.

The effect of these factors are that the buyers of nearby oil have no more room to store it. They are using tankers and barges and running out of room. So now we have a glut of oil. OPEC sees this and is bracing for a sharp drop in prices.

This is also how banks are racking up huge profits. They are borrowing money at 0.25% from the Fed and lending it out longer term at much higher rates to businesses and consumers.

Would you sell oil contracts at these levels?

more grain, fewer nutrients

Farmonline | SINCE the Green Revolution of the 1960s, the world has produced a lot more grain—but there may be a lot less in it, a unique experiment in the United Kingdom has revealed.

Recent analysis of 160 years of crop samples from Rothamsted Research Station near London discovered that levels of essential micronutrients remained consistent in wheat grain from 1844 to the late 1960s, but then began a decline that continues to this day.

The nutrient decline began when traditional long-straw wheat varieties where phased out in favour of higher-yielding semi-dwarf varieties.

As wheat plants have grown smaller since the 1960s, grain nutrient density has continued to decrease.

Compared to the old long-straw varieties, Rothamsted’s modern dwarf wheat grain carries on average 20-30 per cent less zinc, iron, copper and magnesium.

For zinc, a critical human nutrient, the decline is even more pronounced if the most recent five years of data are compared, with average nutrient levels in wheat harvested from 1844-1967.

Monday, July 27, 2009

the new reality

Fist tap Dale for making me aware of Loretta Napoleoni

u.s. government completely out of wheat

Barternews | Quietly, the last of the U.S. government’s wheat reserves, held in the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, were sold in late May onto the domestic market for cash. The cash was put in a trust for food aid. With no other government wheat holdings, U.S. government wheat stocks are now totally exhausted.

The following recent statements by Rebecca Bratter, director of policy for U.S. Wheat Associates, provides insights:

“While the U.S. wheat industry strongly supports the administration’s goal of maintaining current food aid programs to prevent rampant hunger worldwide, there is concern regarding the impact of selling reserve wheat on the domestic market and over the lack of commitment from the administration to replenish the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.

“U.S. Wheat Associates has shared these concerns with high officials at USDA and on the President’s staff and has asked about the Administration’s intent regarding replenishment of the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust. Staff from the office of the President’s Special Agricultural Assistant noted that while there is no commitment at this time, the administration intends to replenish the Trust once the supply and price scenario stabilizes.”

(Note: U.S. Wheat Associates works in 90 countries promoting U.S. wheat exports.)

The Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust was established in 1980 by an act of Congress and is authorized to hold up to 4 million metric tons of wheat, corn, sorghum and rice, as a reserve for global food crises. The wheat is purchased and managed by the Commodity Credit Corporation and included in the total amount of wheat owned and held by the U.S. government. Holdings by the BEH Trust for corn, sorghum and rice are also zero.

For the decade of the ‘80s, government wheat holdings (including those in the BEH Trust) averaged 358 million bushels. For the decade of the ‘90s, government wheat holdings averaged 133 million bushels. Since 2000, government wheat holdings dropped steadily until recently when the last of the government-owned wheat was sold.

With no formal plan for wheat stocks by the U.S. government, wheat stocks have defaulted to the arena of the private free-market sector. Unfortunately, the private sector has no plans for any kind of minimum wheat stocks that would protect the American public from a price and/or availability standpoint.

Private wheat stocks are divided into two major categories — on-farm wheat stocks owned by farmers, and off-farm wheat stocks owned by warehouses and grain companies. These two together held 305.6 million bushels of wheat as of June 1 (or roughly 1 bushel per person living in the United States) the lowest level in 60 years.

Of these stocks, on-farm wheat stocks are at 25.6 million bushels, the lowest level of on-farm wheat stocks since the USDA started keeping tabs back in 1934. So as you are driving in rural America before wheat harvest, the farmer’s bins have never been so empty.

The USDA, projects America to have a bumper wheat crop in 2008, producing 2.43 billion bushels and consuming and exporting 2.30 billion bushels. This leaves a meager 133 million bushels (5.5 percent of production) as a margin for error. Globally, the USDA projects wheat production to be 24.36 billion bushels, consumption to be 23.74 billion bushels for a relatively smaller margin of 622 million bushels or 2.6% of production.

The recent wheat crises in America was sparked by the nation exporting more wheat than it produced. This means the true 2008 wheat margin for Americans is really the global margin of 2.6%. Any decline from global projections could precipitate greater wheat exports from America and further draw down already low domestic and global wheat stocks.

Food security is emerging as a global focal point. With the U.S. government and the private sector lacking visions for stocks, food security is poised to grow as a grass-roots issue around the nation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

charlie gibson's "the truth about oil"

ABC | From the trail of oil pipelines snaking through Oklahoma to the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, Gibson crisscrossed the country in search of the answer to one salient question -- what is the true cost of oil? He reports from Cushing, Oklahoma, a remote outpost where the price of a barrel of oil there dictates the price nationally. He travels 160 miles off the coast of Louisiana to see one of the deepest drilling oil rigs in America and visits "refinery row" along the Gulf Coast, where a third of America's oil refineries are concentrated.

Despite talk of dwindling oil reserves, new technologies have vastly increased the amount of oil, providing a larger reserve today than a decade ago. Last summer's $147 a barrel price baffled many Americans, but Wall Street insiders tell Gibson that speculators caused the price to skyrocket.

Americans consume a quarter of the world's oil, yet make up only 3 percent of the global population. When confronted by Gibson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu admits "we're headed for a train wreck." Chu explains how a new generation of biofuels could help the U.S. decrease its dependence on foreign oil. In addition to interviews with dozens of experts and industry leaders, Gibson also sat down with General Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander who discussed the role that oil played in the Iraq war.

Friday, July 24, 2009

softening you up for the goldman frontrunning fiasco

NYTimes | Traders Profit With Computers Set at High Speed - It is the hot new thing on Wall Street, a way for a handful of traders to master the stock market, peek at investors’ orders and, critics say, even subtly manipulate share prices.

It is called high-frequency trading — and it is suddenly one of the most talked-about and mysterious forces in the markets.

Powerful computers, some housed right next to the machines that drive marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange, enable high-frequency traders to transmit millions of orders at lightning speed and, their detractors contend, reap billions at everyone else’s expense.

These systems are so fast they can outsmart or outrun other investors, humans and computers alike. And after growing in the shadows for years, they are generating lots of talk.

Nearly everyone on Wall Street is wondering how hedge funds and large banks like Goldman Sachs are making so much money so soon after the financial system nearly collapsed. High-frequency trading is one answer.

And when a former Goldman Sachs programmer was accused this month of stealing secret computer codes — software that a federal prosecutor said could “manipulate markets in unfair ways” — it only added to the mystery. Goldman acknowledges that it profits from high-frequency trading, but disputes that it has an unfair advantage.

Yet high-frequency specialists clearly have an edge over typical traders, let alone ordinary investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission says it is examining certain aspects of the strategy.

“This is where all the money is getting made,” said William H. Donaldson, former chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange and today an adviser to a big hedge fund. “If an individual investor doesn’t have the means to keep up, they’re at a huge disadvantage.”

detroit - the post-apocalyptic future of american cities

AlMartinRaw | Last week I had a chance to talk to a friend who just got back from Detroit and boy did he get an eyeful of America’s Future. After listening to him describe Detroit , it’s obvious that it has all fallen apart. First of all, there’s very little civil authority or regular civil government remaining and in operation. Almost everything has been turned over to these so-called Private Management Companies. And this is how it’s being done. They block out areas, in which 80% or more of the houses have been foreclosed on, which happens to be almost the entire city and county. They have selectively begun to bulldoze the properties which have been foreclosed on. The rest have been boarded up. Then they have turned over management of these 100 block area to private companies which have become defacto governments. They have the literal authority of “governments” and they’re paid a flat fee from the city, county or state to “manage,” as they say, a square block of this urban wasteland.

These Private Management Companies sell themselves as residual property management firms. Most of these companies, as it turns out, are in fact off-shore subsidiaries of Private Military Contractors (PMCs). They provide a catchall service. In other words, they regulate how much electrical power and natural gas flows through these areas. They also act as police force, and they act as management for local civil government.

However this Urban Wasteland Management has been pretty efficient. They want to protect what remaining wealthy areas that still exist, like Bloomfield Hills. These companies come in and effectively build large barbed wire fences, around these mostly abandoned square block areas. Some people are still living in them, by the way, even though most of them are boarded up because they’re no longer bothering to serve process through the entire foreclosure procedure. Oftentimes once the house has been taken back and is ultimately owned by the city or county or some government, they let the people stay there until it’s abandoned and then taken over by squatters. Then they’re given a 72 hour notice to leave, by this private management company – before they come in and bulldoze the house. If you’re not out, that’s it. The bulldozers run. They can bulldoze the place with you in it – with legal impunity.

the guardian institutions of hierarchy

paulchefurka | One aspect of human culture that seems irresistible to the ancient status-seeking part of our brain is the development of hierarchies. The encoding of personal status and power into social structures is evident in the tribes and troops of all the great apes, but human beings have gone much further. We built an entire globe-spanning civilization on the foundation of hierarchy.

One inevitable effect of social hierarchies (in fact the effect that made our global civilization possible) is the consolidation of power. As new power comes into a hierarchic social system it flows preferentially to the top. As the system develops, even the small amount of power available to those at the bottom of the social pyramid is removed and ends up concentrated at the top in a power elite. This becomes a positive feedback loop: the more power is consolidated at the top, the easier the consolidation becomes.

This consolidation of power is seen in all social hierarchies. As you would expect, our most hierarchic societies, from ancient Egypt to Stalinist Russia to the USA, exhibit it most profoundly.

You can think of this effect as a form of social reverse osmosis, in which power is pumped through a semi-permeable membrane up a gradient from social regions of low power concentration to regions of high concentration, with class boundaries forming the membrane between them.

Physical reverse osmosis requires both a semi-permeable membrane and a pump, so it's logical to look for similar mechanisms in this social metaphor. What drives social power from low to high concentrations? And what keeps the semi-permeable membrane of social class boundaries intact so that the whole system can function?

In our metaphor of reverse osmosis, these mechanisms are provided by what I call the Guardian Institutions. These are the corporate, economic, financial, political, legal, religious, educational and communications institutions that form the structural skeleton of our civilization.

iPS cells yield live mice

The Scientist | Researchers have created live mice from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines, demonstrating iPS cells are as pluripotent as embryonic stem (ES) cells, according to two studies published online today.

"This ability to make a mouse from the cells of a Petri dish is the most stringent standard that mouse embryonic cells are held to, and iPS cells now meet that standard, which has been a lingering doubt," said stem cell biologist George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Children's Hospital Boston, who was not involved in the work. "It assures us that iPS cells can do all the things that ES cells can do."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

subreality mainstreamed?

NYTimes | This week, the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, there’s much talk of exploring other worlds. Which is exciting and grand; such is the stuff that dreams are made on. Yet we don’t need to go abroad to find amazing new life forms. We just need to look at the palms of our hands, the tips of our fingers, the contents of our guts.

The typical human is home to a vast array of microbes. If you were to count them, you’d find that microbial cells outnumber your own by a factor of 10. On a cell-by-cell basis, then, you are only 10 percent human. For the rest, you are microbial. (Why don’t you see this when you look in the mirror? Because most of the microbes are bacteria, and bacterial cells are generally much smaller than animal cells. They may make up 90 percent of the cells, but they’re not 90 percent of your bulk.)

This much has been known for a long time. Yet it’s only now, with the revolution in biotechnology, that we’re able to do detailed studies of which microbes are there, which genes they have, and what they’re doing. We’re just at the start, and there are far more questions than answers. But already, the results are astonishing, and the implications profound.

Even on your skin, the diversity of bacteria is prodigious. If you were to have your hands sampled, you’d probably find that each fingertip has a distinct set of residents; your palms probably also differ markedly from each other, each home to more than 150 species, but with fewer than 20 percent of the species the same. And if you’re a woman, odds are you’ll have more species than the man next to you. Why should this be? So far, no one knows.

But it’s the bacteria in the digestive tract, especially the gut, that intrigue me most. Many of these appear to be true symbionts: they have evolved to live in guts and (as far as we know) are not found elsewhere. In providing their habitat — a constant temperature, some protection from hostile lifeforms and regular influxes of food — we are as essential to them as they are to us.

And they definitely are essential to us. Gut bacteria play crucial roles in digesting food and modulating the immune system. They make small molecules that we need in order for our enzymes to work properly. They interact with us, altering which of our genes get turned on and off in cells in the intestinal walls. Some evidence suggests that they are essential for the building of a normal heart. Finally, it seems likely that gut bacteria will turn out to affect appetite, as well as other aspects of our behavior, though no one has shown this yet. (Imagine the plea: I’m sorry, sir, my microbes made me do it.)

Together, your gut microbes provide you with a pool of genes far larger than that found in the human genome. Indeed, the gut “microbiome,” as it is known, is thought to contain at least 100 times more genes than the human genome. Moreover, whereas humans are extremely similar to one another at the level of the genome, the microbiome appears to differ markedly from one person to the next.

What determines these differences? Good question. Diet has some effect: a diet rich in sugars and fats reduces the diversity of gut bacteria, and shifts the balance towards those that are more efficient at extracting energy. Start eating more plants and you can shift the balance back, and increase the diversity of your gut microbes. Your own genetic background may play a role as well, though we are far from understanding how, or how much. It probably also matters which other microbes are present: as in any ecosystem, relationships among different inhabitants are likely to be complex.

(At this point, I’d like to introduce a caveat. We know that the diversity of microbial species differs between your gut and mine, and that the less related we are, the more that will be true. Family members tend to have more similar gut microbes than nonrelatives, and preliminary evidence suggests that geography matters, too. So the gut microbes of people in China are different from those of people in the United States — though whether this is due to diet, human genes or geography is entirely unknown. But despite this variation at the species level, we don’t yet know how much variation there is at the genetic level. It may be that different sets of gut microbes provide broadly equivalent sets of genes.)

Naturally, a huge effort is now under way to see whether differences in gut bacteria are responsible for differences in health. But what interests me most about all this is that it suggests another mode of human evolution. Bacteria evolve quickly: they can go through many thousands of generations for every human one.

This has two potential consequences. First, during your lifetime, your bacteria can change their genes even though you cannot change yours. (You do have some flexibility: your immune system has a built-in capacity to change.) It may be that gut bacteria evolve in response to short-term changes in the environment, especially exposure to food-borne diseases. They may thus act as an evolving supplement to the immune system.

The second potential consequence is further reaching. Because bacteria can evolve so fast, it may be that some of what we think of as human evolution — like the ability to digest new diets that accompanied the invention of agriculture — is actually bacterial evolution. We know that hostile bacteria — those that cause diseases in ourselves and our domestic plants and animals — have undergone dramatic genetic changes in the last 10,000 years. Perhaps our friendly bacteria have, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

why personal change does not equal political change

Orion | WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”

is the sun missing its spots?

NYTimes | The Sun is still blank (mostly).

Ever since Samuel Heinrich Schwabe, a German astronomer, first noted in 1843 that sunspots burgeon and wane over a roughly 11-year cycle, scientists have carefully watched the Sun’s activity. In the latest lull, the Sun should have reached its calmest, least pockmarked state last fall.

Indeed, last year marked the blankest year of the Sun in the last half-century — 266 days with not a single sunspot visible from Earth. Then, in the first four months of 2009, the Sun became even more blank, the pace of sunspots slowing more.

“It’s been as dead as a doornail,” David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said a couple of months ago.

The Sun perked up in June and July, with a sizeable clump of 20 sunspots earlier this month.

Now it is blank again, consistent with expectations that this solar cycle will be smaller and calmer, and the maximum of activity, expected to arrive in May 2013 will not be all that maximum.

For operators of satellites and power grids, that is good news. The same roiling magnetic fields that generate sunspot blotches also accelerate a devastating rain of particles that can overload and wreck electronic equipment in orbit or on Earth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

gothic alchemy

Science Alert | Stained glass windows that are painted with gold purify the air when they are lit up by sunlight, a team of Queensland University of Technology experts have discovered.

Associate Professor Zhu Huai Yong, from QUT's School of Physical and Chemical Sciences said that glaziers in medieval forges were the first nanotechnologists who produced colours with gold nanoparticles of different sizes.

Professor Zhu said numerous church windows across Europe were decorated with glass coloured in gold nanoparticles.

"For centuries people appreciated only the beautiful works of art, and long life of the colours, but little did they realise that these works of art are also, in modern language, photocatalytic air purifier with nanostructured gold catalyst," Professor Zhu said.

He said tiny particles of gold, energised by the sun, were able to destroy air-borne pollutants like volatile organic chemical (VOCs), which may often come from new furniture, carpets and paint in good condition.

"These VOCs create that 'new' smell as they are slowly released from walls and furniture, but they, along with methanol and carbon monoxide, are not good for your health, even in small amounts," he said.

"Gold, when in very small particles, becomes very active under sunlight.

"The electromagnetic field of the sunlight can couple with the oscillations of the electrons in the gold particles and creates a resonance.

"The magnetic field on the surface of the gold nanoparticles can be enhanced by up to hundred times, which breaks apart the pollutant molecules in the air."

Professor Zhu said the by-product was carbon dioxide, which was comparatively safe, particularly in the small amounts that would be created through this process.

He said the use of gold nanoparticles to drive chemical reactions opened up exciting possibilities for scientific research.

"This technology is solar-powered, and is very energy efficient, because only the particles of gold heat up," he said.

"In conventional chemical reactions, you heat up everything, which is a waste of energy.

"Once this technology can be applied to produce specialty chemicals at ambient temperature, it heralds significant changes in the economy and environmental impact of the chemical production.

peeling back pavement to expose watery havens

NYTimes | For half a century, a dark tunnel of crumbling concrete encased more than three miles of a placid stream bisecting this bustling city.

The waterway had been a centerpiece of Seoul since a king of the Choson Dynasty selected the new capital 600 years ago, enticed by the graceful meandering of the stream and its 23 tributaries. But in the industrial era after the Korean War, the stream, by then a rank open sewer, was entombed by pavement and forgotten beneath a lacework of elevated expressways as the city’s population swelled toward 10 million.

Today, after a $384 million recovery project, the stream, called Cheonggyecheon, is liberated from its dank sheath and burbles between reedy banks. Picnickers cool their bare feet in its filtered water, and carp swim in its tranquil pools.

The restoration of the Cheonggyecheon is part of an expanding environmental effort in cities around the world to “daylight” rivers and streams by peeling back pavement that was built to bolster commerce and serve automobile traffic decades ago.

In New York State, a long-stalled revival effort for Yonkers’s ailing downtown core that could break ground this fall includes a plan to re-expose 1,900 feet of the Saw Mill River, which currently runs through a giant flume that was laid beneath city streets in the 1920s.

Cities from Singapore to San Antonio have been resuscitating rivers and turning storm drains into streams. In Los Angeles, residents’ groups and some elected officials are looking anew at buried or concrete-lined creeks as assets instead of inconveniences, inspired partly by Seoul’s example.

Monday, July 20, 2009

economics and the american revolution

NYTimes | When Benjamin Franklin returned to America in 1762, after almost five years in London, he was shocked at the housing prices.

“The expence of living is greatly advanc’d in my absence,” he commented. “Rent of old houses, and value of lands ... are trebled in the past six years.”

Franklin, it seems, had come home to a real estate bubble. It eventually popped — bringing on a credit crunch and deep recession that was the macroeconomic backdrop to the American Revolution.

Sound familiar?

The parallels between the current economy and the one Franklin saw highlight a debate among historians: how big a role did economics, as opposed to ideas, play in fomenting revolution?

“I think there’s reason to doubt the Revolution would have happened as it did if it weren’t for these economic conditions,” said Ronald W. Michener, an economics professor at the University of Virginia, in a radical departure from today’s popular notion that the Revolution was a product primarily of grand ideas about self-government.

smart people are on top of this, right?!?!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

financial ruin of the western world beckons

Telegraph | Events have already forced Premier Brian Cowen to carry out the harshest assault yet seen on the public services of a modern Western state. He has passed two emergency budgets to stop the deficit soaring to 15pc of GDP. They have not been enough. The expert An Bord Snip report said last week that Dublin must cut deeper, or risk a disastrous debt compound trap.

A further 17,000 state jobs must go (equal to 1.25m in the US), though unemployment is already 12pc and heading for 16pc next year.

Education must be cut 8pc. Scores of rural schools must close, and 6,900 teachers must go. "The attacks outlined in this report would represent an education disaster and light a short fuse on a social timebomb", said the Teachers Union of Ireland.

Nobody is spared. Social welfare payments must be cut 5pc, child benefit by 20pc. The Garda (police), already smarting from a 7pc pay cut, may have to buy their own uniforms. Hospital visits could cost £107 a day, etc, etc.

"Something has to give," said Professor Colm McCarthy, the report's author. "We're borrowing €400m (£345m) a week at a penalty interest."

No doubt Ireland has been the victim of a savagely tight monetary policy e_SEmD given its specific needs. But the deeper truth is that Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, the US, and Japan are in varying states of fiscal ruin, and those tipping into demographic decline (unlike young Ireland) have an underlying cancer that is even more deadly. The West cannot support its gold-plated state structures from an aging workforce and depleted tax base.

As the International Monetary Fund made clear last week, Britain is lucky that markets have not yet imposed a "penalty interest" on British Gilts, given the trajectory of UK national debt – now vaulting towards 100pc of GDP – and the scandalous refusal of this Government to map out any path back to solvency.

"The UK has been getting the benefit of the doubt, both in the Government bond market and also the foreign exchange market. This benefit of the doubt is not going to last forever," said the Fund.

France and Italy have been less abject, but they began with higher borrowing needs. Italy's debt is expected to reach the danger level of 120pc next year, according to leaked Treasury documents. France's debt will near 90pc next year if President Nicolas Sarkozy goes ahead with his "Grand Emprunt", a fiscal blitz masquerading as investment.

why we must ration healthcare

NYTimes | You have advanced kidney cancer. It will kill you, probably in the next year or two. A drug called Sutent slows the spread of the cancer and may give you an extra six months, but at a cost of $54,000. Is a few more months worth that much?

If you can afford it, you probably would pay that much, or more, to live longer, even if your quality of life wasn’t going to be good. But suppose it’s not you with the cancer but a stranger covered by your health-insurance fund. If the insurer provides this man — and everyone else like him — with Sutent, your premiums will increase. Do you still think the drug is a good value? Suppose the treatment cost a million dollars. Would it be worth it then? Ten million? Is there any limit to how much you would want your insurer to pay for a drug that adds six months to someone’s life? If there is any point at which you say, “No, an extra six months isn’t worth that much,” then you think that health care should be rationed.

In the current U.S. debate over health care reform, “rationing” has become a dirty word. Meeting last month with five governors, President Obama urged them to avoid using the term, apparently for fear of evoking the hostile response that sank the Clintons’ attempt to achieve reform. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published at the end of last year with the headline “Obama Will Ration Your Health Care,” Sally Pipes, C.E.O. of the conservative Pacific Research Institute, described how in Britain the national health service does not pay for drugs that are regarded as not offering good value for money, and added, “Americans will not put up with such limits, nor will our elected representatives.” And the Democratic chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus, told CNSNews in April, “There is no rationing of health care at all” in the proposed reform.

Remember the joke about the man who asks a woman if she would have sex with him for a million dollars? She reflects for a few moments and then answers that she would. “So,” he says, “would you have sex with me for $50?” Indignantly, she exclaims, “What kind of a woman do you think I am?” He replies: “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling about the price.” The man’s response implies that if a woman will sell herself at any price, she is a prostitute. The way we regard rationing in health care seems to rest on a similar assumption, that it’s immoral to apply monetary considerations to saving lives — but is that stance tenable?

pandemic 2

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Global Banking Economist Warned of Coming Crisis

interview: fusion in a cold climate

New Scientist | For most researchers, any mention of cold fusion brings back memories of a shameful period in modern science. Now, 20 years after Martin Fleischmann instigated this field, he tells Jon Cartwright that he could not have done anything differently, and that if we cannot get fusion of some sort to work on a large scale soon, we're doomed

MARTIN FLEISCHMANN can still remember the morning he entered his lab and saw the terrific hole in the workbench. It was about the size of a dinner plate. Beneath, nestled in a shallow crater in the concrete floor, were the remains of a chemistry experiment that had been fizzing idly for several months without incident. "It had obliterated itself!" he recalls.

It happened overnight, so no one witnessed the meltdown that took place in a basement lab at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, in 1985. But for Fleischmann and his longtime colleague Stanley Pons, there could be only one cause: room-temperature or "cold" fusion. If they were right, the chemists had made a reaction that nuclear physicists had thought next to impossible, one that potentially held the key to almost limitless clean energy. Yet four years later, and just weeks after they had announced their discovery at a now infamous press conference on 23 March 1989, their work was dismissed from mainstream science. Cold fusion became a pariah field, and Fleischmann and Pons fell under the shadow of disrepute.

At his home near Salisbury, UK, 82-year-old Fleischmann looks too beaten to entertain suggestions that, after two decades, cold fusion might actually be gaining acceptance. He has Parkinson's disease, and although he still speaks in his usual measured phrases and Czech accent, he is slow and often loses his train of thought. "All my activities are devoted to giving up," he laughs, glancing at his coffee cup performing another involuntary rattle on its saucer.

Even so, he regrets not having resolved his past dealings with the mainstream science community, who he thinks behaved in a "very unscientific" manner. "When we wrote this up I said [to Pons] we had to write exactly what we had done and how we analysed the results, which is what we did," he says. "Is it wrong? Where's the mistake? And that has never been answered really."

Friday, July 17, 2009

scenario 12-d

A tiny clip from Lone Gunmen Episode 1: Pilot, Aired on March 4, 2001. Written By: Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz Directed By: Rob Bowman Copyright: XFiles/21st Century FOX. All Rights Reserved

unspeakable truths

Professor Ehrlich discusses the changes in the environmental situation forty years ago and today, telling how humanity took over the planet, and how it is now using its dominance to destroy its own life-support systems. He emphasizes the critical issues facing the world that are getting almost no attention in the current presidential race.

Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Biological Sciences, Bing Professor of Population Studies and president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford, is an internationally prominent ecologist and evolutionist and the recipient of numerous national and international scientific awards.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

cut population by a third say crowded britons

Dailymail | One in four Britons would like to see the population reduced by up to a third to ease overcrowding.

A survey has revealed deep anxiety about pressure on the environment and the impact
of migrants on public services and social cohesion.

Nearly seven out of ten adults believe the best way to curb population growth is to cut immigration, the poll showed.

The findings, gathered in a YouGov survey for the environmental pressure group Optimum Population Trust, suggest there is widespread unhappiness over official projections that the population will rise to 70million in the next 20 years.

The number of British citizens has grown by around two million in the past decade.

The exact figure is unknown because of the difficulties in precisely measuring immigration. This has brought the population to around 61million.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas has promised that the Government will not allow numbers to reach 70million, a pledge that has provoked mockery from political opponents.

Yesterday’s poll showed that the greatest support for cutting population levels was found in regions where immigration has been the highest.

In London, where one in three of the population was born abroad, 54 per cent think there should be fewer people.

In the East of England, 49 per cent support a lower population and 48 per cent support it in the South.

The survey, which questioned 2,000 people, found that 24 per cent want the population to be between 40million and 50million, and 51 per cent would like numbers brought below 60million.

In Scotland, where recent levels of immigration have been minimal, only 22 per cent want the population reduced.

According to the poll, three quarters thought over-population was responsible for transport congestion and two thirds blamed it for lack of affordable housing or environmental degradation.

A total of 53 per cent thought that too many people meant a lower quality of life.

Reducing immigration was the most popular method of lowering numbers, and was supported by 69 per cent.

washington's dilemma: this isn't a recession, it's a collapse

SeekingAlpha | Washington is bluffing that it will not bail out California, and every other state suffering from collapsed revenues and massive job losses. If cuts in police and schools don’t force DC off from its current position, then the math will. Because in many states the aggregate revenue losses and looming cuts to state payrolls will largely render the intended effects of federal stimulus as moot. Frankly, unless Washington prints money and bails out every state that needs capital, including California, federal power will decline amidst this severe economic recession, and the process of a soft American devolution will begin. If you think this idea is outrageous, then you’ve still not come to terms with a core reality of our current situation: the structure of this financial crisis is wholly different than any in our post-war era. This isn’t a recession. This is collapse.

In Recession vs. Collapse

The internal composition of the US economic and financial system when it hit 2007/8 was very different than in previous recessions, even the severe recession of 1980/82. It’s this internal composition that’s now determinative, to the outcome. The sawdust of debt, and the monetization of assets rather than the production of goods, continually came to define the internal composition of the system. The economy cannot, therefore, express the same kind of resilience it has done so often, since WW2.

This is the core problem of this collapse and why the prospect for recovery is dim. Americans can’t actually rebuild the savings that the banking system needs to escape from the current mess. Individually, Americans are trapped by debt and cannot spend. In The Seigniorage Curse, I explain that one of the primary mechanisms for the hollowing out of the American economy over many years was the dollar advantage, which at first was earned. And then, came to be un-earned. By the time the US reached the 21st century, our primary manufactured product was debt, and dollars. Is it any wonder that once that system collapsed, that we quickly gave up 100% of the phantom job growth that had been sitting on top of the debt bubble? The current level of employment in the United States has now published in March, this blog explained that in a normal recession existing savings are used to support government debt issuance and that those who remain employed increase their savings to also support government debt issuance. Neither phenomenon is at work today. Yes, the savings rate has soared in the US. But this has not resulted in any actual accrued savings. Because private sector debt came to define the internal structure of the US system, savings currently is little more than debt service. Also, bank purchases of US Treasuries are really just a result of the circularity of monetization. It’s just money from the FED being recycled into Treasuries. There is no privately driven growth of bank deposits, in the aggregate. Americans as a class are broke. What the savings rate more accurately measures is a collapse of consumer spending.returned to the levels of June 2000. Enough said.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

boiling the frog

NYTimes | Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more.

To head off this outcome — and remember, this isn’t what economic Cassandras are saying; it’s the forecasting consensus — we’d need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act. Now that the free fall is over, all sense of urgency seems to have vanished.

This will probably change once the reality of the jobless recovery becomes all too apparent. But by then it will be too late to avoid a slow-motion human and social disaster.

Still, the boiled-frog problem on the economy is nothing compared with the problem of getting action on climate change.

Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models — not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome — is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time.

But it isn’t, because climate change is a creeping threat rather than an attention-grabbing crisis. The full dimensions of the catastrophe won’t be apparent for decades, perhaps generations. In fact, it will probably be many years before the upward trend in temperatures is so obvious to casual observers that it silences the skeptics. Unfortunately, if we wait to act until the climate crisis is that obvious, catastrophe will already have become inevitable.

goldman sachs earnings easily surpass expectations

Washington Post | Goldman Sachs yesterday reported the largest quarterly profit in its history as a public company, $3.44 billion between April and June, as the decimation of its Wall Street rivals allowed the investment bank to romp across the financial landscape, buying low and selling high.

The New York firm is only months removed from a federal rescue that included emergency approval to become a bank holding company, $10 billion in direct federal aid and help to borrow billions more to finance its operations. But Goldman's earnings of $4.93 a share, up from $4.58 during the comparable period last year, made clear that the company has emerged stronger than other survivors, allowing it to seize opportunities in the aftermath of the crisis.

The results may cheer investors, offering further evidence that the strongest financial companies can once again be trusted to generate massive profit. Goldman's stock closed basically flat yesterday at $149.66, but its share price has climbed 77 percent this year.

Goldman's success also risks a political backlash, as the company is now on track to pay record bonuses in the midst of a recession that many Americans -- including President Obama -- have blamed in part on Wall Street's lavish pay practices. Goldman said yesterday that it set aside 48 percent of its total revenue, or $6.65 billion, to reward employees for the company's performance. That share is the same as Goldman set aside in 2007, before the crisis.

automated front-running on an unfathomable scale

GreenLight | For the past several years Street operators have assumed that the computer jockeys who were being employed by proprietary trading departments on The Street were developing algorithms that would find other algorithms that represented buyside orders so prop desks could trade against those orders.

Another trading prop that has been occurring for years is certain firms feed their electronic trading systems into prop desks so traders can see in real time money flows into and out of stocks and groups.

However recent revelations are forcing the Street to consider the possibility of automated front-running on an unfathomable scale. The two “front-running” issues are: 1) “queuing” [of orders] - finding orders loaded into a system, particularly limit orders, and trading against them; and 2) “latency” - discovering and then front-running electronic orders by a penny or more by exploiting the latency or lag in execution.

HFT (high frequency trading) is being done on every electronically traded item on a global basis. Ergo, firms could be making pennies a few billion times per day … It was imperative for the NYSE and other exchanges to price securities in pennies to disguise “HFT” and to provide ample trading opportunities.

grabbing goldman's golden goose?

Bloomberg | Never let it be said that the Justice Department can’t move quickly when it gets a hot tip about an alleged crime at a Wall Street bank. It does help, though, if the party doing the complaining is the bank itself, and not merely an aggrieved customer.

Another plus is if the bank tells the feds the security of the U.S. financial markets is at stake. This brings us to the strange tale of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Sergey Aleynikov.

Aleynikov, 39, is the former Goldman computer programmer who was arrested on theft charges July 3 as he stepped off a flight at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. That was two days after Goldman told the government he had stolen its secret, rapid-fire, stock- and commodities-trading software in early June during his last week as a Goldman employee. Prosecutors say Aleynikov uploaded the program code to an unidentified Web site server in Germany.

It wasn’t just Goldman that faced imminent harm if Aleynikov were to be released, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti told a federal magistrate judge at his July 4 bail hearing in New York. The 34-year-old prosecutor also dropped this bombshell: “The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways.”

How could somebody do this? The precise answer isn’t obvious -- we’re talking about a black-box trading system here. And Facciponti didn’t elaborate. You don’t need a Goldman Sachs doomsday machine to manipulate markets, of course. A false rumor expertly planted using an ordinary telephone often will do just fine. In any event, the judge rejected Facciponti’s argument that Aleynikov posed a danger to the community, and ruled he could go free on $750,000 bail. He was released July 6.

Market Manipulation

All this leaves us to wonder: Did Goldman really tell the government its high-speed, high-volume, algorithmic-trading program can be used to manipulate markets in unfair ways, as Facciponti said? And shouldn’t Goldman’s bosses be worried this revelation may cause lots of people to start hypothesizing aloud about whether Goldman itself might misuse this program?

Here’s some of what we do know. Aleynikov, a citizen of the U.S. and Russia, left his $400,000-a-year salary at Goldman for a chance to triple his pay at a start-up firm in Chicago co- founded by Misha Malyshev, a former Citadel Investment Group LLC trader. Malyshev, who oversaw high-frequency trading at Citadel, said his firm, Teza Technologies LLC, first learned about the alleged theft July 5 and suspended Aleynikov without pay.

frontrunning and tailgating

Wikipedia | Front running is the illegal practice of a stock broker executing orders on a security for its own account while taking advantage of advance knowledge of pending orders from its customers. When orders previously submitted by its customers will predictably affect the price of the security, purchasing first for its own account gives the broker an unfair advantage, since it can expect to close out its position at a profit based on the new price level. Front running may involve either buying (where the broker buys for their account, before filling customer buy orders that drive up the price) or selling (where the broker sells for its own account, before filling customer sell orders that drive down the price).

Allegations of front running occasionally arise in stock and commodity exchanges, in scandals concerning floor brokers and exchange specialists.

For example, suppose a broker receives an order from a customer to buy a large block of 400,000 shares of some stock, but before placing the order for the customer the broker buys 20,000 shares of the same stock for his own account at $100 per share, then afterward places the customer's order for 400,000 shares, driving the price up to $102 per share and allowing the broker to immediately sell his shares for, say, $101.75, generating a significant profit of $35,000 in just a short time. This $35,000 is likely to be just a part of the additional cost to the customer's purchase caused by the broker's self-dealing.

This example uses unusually large numbers to get the point across. It is, however, highly uncommon for brokers to process buy orders totaling $40,800,000 in a single transaction. In practice, computer trading splits up large orders into many smaller ones, making front-running more difficult to detect. Moreover, the 2001 change to pricing stock in pennies rather than fractions of no less than 1/8 of a dollar facilitated front running by reducing the extra amount that must be offered to step in front of other orders.

By front-running, the broker has put his or her own financial interest above (or in front of) the customer's interest and is thus committing fraud. In the U.S. he or she might also be breaking laws on market manipulation or insider trading.


A practice similar to front running is called "tailgating". Tailgating means the action of a broker or adviser purchasing or selling a security for his or her client(s) and then immediately making the same transaction in his or her own account. This is not illegal like front running, but it is not looked upon favorably because the broker is most likely placing a trade for his or her own account based on what the client knows (like inside information).

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