Friday, September 6, 2013

Fukushima's Radioactive Ocean Plume to Reach US Waters by 2014

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A radioactive plume of water in the Pacific Ocean from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will likely reach U.S. coastal waters starting in 2014, according to a new study. The long journey of the radioactive particles could help researchers better understand how the ocean’s currents circulate around the world.

Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016. Luckily, two ocean currents off the eastern coast of Japan — the Kuroshio Current and the Kuroshio Extension — would have diluted the radioactive material so that its concentration fell well below the World Health Organization’s safety levels within four months of the Fukushima incident. But it could have been a different story if nuclear disaster struck on the other side of Japan.

“The environmental impact could have been worse if the contaminated water would have been released in another oceanic environment in which the circulation was less energetic and turbulent,” said Vincent Rossi, an oceanographer and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain.

Fukushima’s radioactive water release has taken its time journeying across the Pacific. By comparison, atmospheric radiation from the Fukushima plant began reaching the U.S. West Coast within just days of the disaster back in 2011. [Fukushima Radiation Leak: 5 Things You Should Know]

Tracking radioactivity’s path

The radioactive plume has three different sources: radioactive particles falling out from the atmosphere into the ocean, contaminated water directly released from the plant, and water that became contaminated by leaching radioactive particles from tainted soil.

The release of cesium-137 from Fukushima in Japan’s more turbulent eastern currents means the radioactive material is diluted to the point of posing little threat to humans by the time it leaves Japan’s coastal waters. Rossi worked with former colleagues at the Climate ChangeResearch Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia to simulate the spread of Fukushima’s radioactivity in the oceans — a study detailed in the October issue of the journal Deep-Sea Research Part 1.

Researchers averaged 27 experimental runs of their model — each run starting in a different year — to ensure that the simulated spread of the cesium-137 as a "tracer" was not unusually affected by initial ocean conditions. Many oceanographers studying the ocean’s currents prefer using cesium-137 to track the ocean currents because it acts as a passive tracer in seawater, meaning it doesn't interact much with other things, and decays slowly with a long half-life of 30 years.

“One advantage of this tracer is its long half-life and our ability to measure it quite accurately, so that it can be used in the future to test our models of ocean circulation and see how well they represent reality over time,” Rossi told LiveScience. “In 20 years' time, we could go out, grab measurements everywhere in the Pacific and compare them to our model.”

Journey across the Pacific Rim

The team focused on predicting the path of the radioactivity until it reached the continental shelf waters stretching from the U.S. coastline to about 180 miles (300 kilometers) offshore. About 10 to 30 becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) per cubic meter of cesium-137 could reach U.S. and Canadian coastal waters north of Oregon between 2014 and 2020. (Such levels are far below the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for drinking water.)

By comparison, California’s coast may receive just 10 to 20 becquerels per cubic meter from 2016 to 2025. That slower, lesser impact comes from Pacific currents taking part of the radioactive plume down below the ocean surface on a slower journey toward the Californian coast, Rossi explained.

A large proportion of the radioactive plume from the initial Fukushima release won't even reach U.S. coastal waters anytime soon. Instead, the majority of the cesium-137 will remain in the North Pacific gyre — a region of ocean that circulates slowly clockwise and has trapped debris in its center to form the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — and continue to be diluted for approximately a decade following the initial Fukushima release in 2011. (The water from the current power plant leak would be expected to take a similar long-term path to the initial plume released, Rossi said.)

But the plume will eventually begin to escape the North Pacific gyre in an even more diluted form. About 25 percent of the radioactivity initially released will travel to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific over two to three decades after the Fukushima disaster, the model showed.

Larry Summers and the Secret "End-Game" Memo

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When a little birdie dropped the End Game memo through my window, its content was so explosive, so sick and plain evil, I just couldn't believe it.

The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak's fantasy:  that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of banker big-shots to rip apart financial regulation across the planet.  When you see 26.3%unemployment in Spain, desperation and hunger in Greece, riots in Indonesia and Detroit in bankruptcy, go back to this End Game memo, the genesis of the blood and tears.
The Treasury official playing the bankers' secret End Game was Larry Summers.  Today, Summers is Barack Obama's leading choice for Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, the world's central bank.  If the confidential memo is authentic, then Summers shouldn't be serving on the Fed, he should be serving hard time in some dungeon reserved for the criminally insane of the finance world.

The memo is authentic.

To get that confirmation, I would have to fly to Geneva  and wangle a meeting with the Secretary General of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy.  I did.  Lamy, the Generalissimo of Globalization, told me,

"The WTO was not created as some dark cabal of multinationals secretly cooking plots against the people…. We don't have cigar-smoking, rich, crazy bankers negotiating."
Then I showed him the memo.

It begins with Summers’ flunky, Timothy Geithner, reminding his boss to call the then most powerful CEOs on the planet and get them to order their lobbyist armies to march:

"As we enter the end-game of the WTO financial services negotiations, I believe it would be a good idea for you to touch base with the CEOs…."
To avoid Summers having to call his office to get the phone numbers (which, under US law, would have to appear on public logs), Geithner listed their private lines.  And here they are:

Goldman Sachs:  John Corzine (212)902-8281
Merrill Lynch:  David Kamanski (212)449-6868
Bank of America, David Coulter (415)622-2255
Citibank:  John Reed (212)559-2732
Chase Manhattan:  Walter Shipley (212)270-1380
Lamy was right: They don't smoke cigars.  Go ahead and dial them.  I did, and sure enough, got a cheery personal hello from Reed–cheery until I revealed I wasn't Larry Summers.  (Note:  The other numbers were swiftly disconnected. And Corzine can't be reached while he faces criminal charges.)

It's not the little cabal of confabs held by Summers and the banksters that's so troubling. The horror is in the purpose of the "end game" itself.

Let me explain: 

The year was 1997.  US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was pushing hard to de-regulate banks.  That required, first, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to dismantle the barrier between commercial banks and investment banks.  It was like replacing bank vaults with roulette wheels.

Second, the banks wanted the right to play a new high-risk game:  "derivatives trading."  JP Morgan alone would soon carry $88 trillion of these pseudo-securities on its books as "assets."

Deputy Treasury Secretary Summers (soon to replace Rubin as Secretary) body-blocked any attempt to control derivatives.

But what was the use of turning US banks into derivatives casinos if money would flee to nations with safer banking laws?

The answer conceived by the Big Bank Five:  eliminate controls on banks in every nation on the planet  in one single move.    It was as brilliant as it was insanely dangerous.

How could they pull off this mad caper?  The bankers' and Summers' game was to use the Financial Services Agreement, an abstruse and benign addendum to the international trade agreements policed by the World Trade Organization.

Until the bankers began their play, the WTO agreements dealt simply with trade in goods–that is, my cars for your bananas.  The new rules ginned-up by Summers and the banks would force all nations to accept trade in "bads" – toxic assets like financial derivatives.

Until the bankers' re-draft of the FSA, each nation controlled and chartered the banks within their own borders.  The new rules of the game would force every nation to open their markets to Citibank, JP Morgan and their derivatives "products."

And all 156 nations in the WTO would have to smash down their own Glass-Steagall divisions between commercial savings banks and the investment banks that gamble with derivatives.

The job of turning the FSA into the bankers' battering ram was given to Geithner, who was named Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

Bankers Go Bananas

Why in the world would any nation agree to let its banking system be boarded and seized by financial pirates like JP Morgan?

The answer, in the case of Ecuador, was bananas.   Ecuador was truly a banana republic.  The yellow fruit was that nation's life-and-death source of hard currency.  If it refused to sign the new FSA, Ecuador could feed its bananas to the monkeys and go back into bankruptcy.  Ecuador signed.

And so on–with every single nation bullied into signing.  

Every nation but one, I should say.  Brazil's new President, Inacio Lula da Silva, refused.  In retaliation, Brazil was threatened with a virtual embargo of its products by the European Union's Trade Commissioner, one Peter Mandelson, according to another confidential memo I got my hands on.  But Lula's refusenik stance paid off for Brazil which, alone among Western nations, survived and thrived during the 2007-9 bank crisis.

China signed–but got its pound of flesh in return.  It opened its banking sector a crack in return for access and control of the US auto parts and other markets.  (Swiftly, two million US jobs shifted to China.)

The new FSA pulled the lid off the Pandora's box of worldwide derivatives trade.  Among the notorious transactions legalized: Goldman Sachs (where Treasury Secretary Rubin had been Co-Chairman) worked a secret euro-derivatives swap with Greece which, ultimately, destroyed that nation.  Ecuador, its own banking sector de-regulated and demolished, exploded into riots.  Argentina had to sell off its oil companies (to the Spanish) and water systems (to Enron) while its teachers hunted for food in garbage cans.  Then, Bankers Gone Wild in the Eurozone dove head-first into derivatives pools without knowing how to swim–and the continent is now being sold off in tiny, cheap pieces to Germany.

Of course, it was not just threats that sold the FSA, but temptation as well.  After all, every evil starts with one bite of an apple offered by a snake.  The apple:  The gleaming piles of lucre hidden in the FSA for local elites.  The snake was named Larry.

Does all this evil and pain flow from a single memo?  Of course not:  the evil was The Game itself, as played by the banker clique.  The memo only revealed their game-plan for checkmate.

And the memo reveals a lot about Summers and Obama.

While billions of sorry souls are still hurting from worldwide banker-made disaster, Rubin and Summers didn't do too badly.  Rubin's deregulation of banks had permitted the creation of a financial monstrosity called "Citigroup."  Within weeks of leaving office, Rubin was named director, then Chairman of Citigroup—which went bankrupt while managing to pay Rubin a total of $126 million.

Then Rubin took on another post:  as key campaign benefactor to a young State Senator, Barack Obama.  Only days after his election as President, Obama, at Rubin's insistence, gave Summers the odd post of US "Economics Tsar" and made Geithner his Tsarina (that is, Secretary of Treasury).  In 2010, Summers gave up his royalist robes to return to "consulting" for Citibank and other creatures of bank deregulation whose payments have raised Summers' net worth by $31 million since the "end-game" memo.

That Obama would, at Robert Rubin's demand, now choose Summers to run the Federal Reserve Board means that, unfortunately, we are far from the end of the game.

The Leveraged Buyout of America

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Giant bank holding companies now own airports, toll roads, and ports; control power plants; and store and hoard vast quantities of commodities of all sorts. They are systematically buying up or gaining control of the essential lifelines of the economy. How have they pulled this off, and where have they gotten the money?
In a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dated June 27, 2013, US Representative Alan Grayson and three co-signers expressed concern about the expansion of large banks into what have traditionally been non-financial commercial spheres. Specifically:
[W]e are concerned about how large banks have recently expanded their businesses into such fields as electric power production, oil refining and distribution, owning and operating of public assets such as ports and airports, and even uranium mining.
After listing some disturbing examples, they observed:
According to legal scholar Saule Omarova, over the past five years, there has been a “quiet transformation of U.S. financial holding companies.” These financial services companies have become global merchants that seek to extract rent from any commercial or financial business activity within their reach.  They have used legal authority in Graham-Leach-Bliley to subvert the “foundational principle of separation of banking from commerce. . . .
It seems like there is a significant macro-economic risk in having a massive entity like, say JP Morgan, both issuing credit cards and mortgages, managing municipal bond offerings, selling gasoline and electric power, running large oil tankers, trading derivatives, and owning and operating airports, in multiple countries.
A “macro” risk indeed – not just to our economy but to our democracy and our individual and national sovereignty. Giant banks are buying up our country’s infrastructure – the power and supply chains that are vital to the economy. Aren’t there rules against that? And where are the banks getting the money?
How Banks Launder Money Through the Repo Market
In an illuminating series of articles on Seeking Alpha titled “Repoed!”, Colin Lokey argues that  the investment arms of large Wall Street banks are using their “excess” deposits – the excess of deposits over loans – as collateral for borrowing in the repo market. Repos, or “repurchase agreements,” are used to raise short-term capital. Securities are sold to investors overnight and repurchased the next day, usually day after day.
The deposit-to-loan gap for all US banks is now about $2 trillion, and nearly half of this gap is in Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo alone. It seems that the largest banks are using the majority of their deposits (along with the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing dollars) not to back loans to individuals and businesses but to borrow for their own trading. Acquiring a company or a portion of a company mostly with borrowed money is called a “leveraged buyout.” The banks are leveraging our money to buy up ports, airports, toll roads, power, and massive stores of commodities.
Using these excess deposits directly for their own speculative trading would be blatantly illegal, but the banks have been able to avoid the appearance of impropriety by borrowing from the repo market. (See my earlier article here.) The banks’ excess deposits are first used to purchase Treasury bonds, agency securities, and other highly liquid, “safe” securities. These liquid assets are then pledged as collateral in repo transactions, allowing the banks to get “clean” cash to invest as they please. They can channel this laundered money into risky assets such as derivatives, corporate bonds, and equities (stock).
That means they can buy up companies. Lokey writes, “It is common knowledge that prop [proprietary] trading desks at banks can and do invest in a variety of assets, including stocks.” Prop trading desks invest for the banks’ own accounts. This was something that depository banks were forbidden to do by the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act but that was allowed in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed those portions of Glass-Steagall.
The result has been a massively risky $700-plus trillion speculative derivatives bubble. Lokey quotes from an article by Bill Frezza in the January 2013 Huffington Post titled “Too-Big-To-Fail Banks Gamble With Bernanke Bucks“:
If you think [the cash cushion from excess deposits] makes the banks less vulnerable to shock, think again. Much of this balance sheet cash has been hypothecated in the repo market, laundered through the off-the-books shadow banking system. This allows the proprietary trading desks at these “banks” to use that cash as collateral to take out loans to gamble with. In a process called hyper-hypothecation this pledged collateral gets pyramided, creating a ticking time bomb ready to go kablooey when the next panic comes around.
That Explains the Mountain of Excess Reserves
Historically, banks have attempted to maintain a loan-to-deposit ratio of close to 100%, meaning they were “fully loaned up” and making money on their deposits. Today, however, that ratio is only 72% on average; and for the big derivative banks, it is lower yet. The unlent portion represents the “excess deposits” available to be tapped as collateral for the repo market.
The Fed’s quantitative easing contributes to this collateral pool by converting less-liquid mortgage-backed securities into cash in the banks’ reserve accounts. This cash is not something the banks can spend for their own proprietary trading, but they can invest it in “safe” securities – Treasuries and similar securities that are also the sort of collateral acceptable in the repo market. Using this repo collateral, the banks can then acquire the laundered cash with which they can invest or speculate for their own accounts.
Lokey notes that US Treasuries are now being bought by banks in record quantities. These bonds stay on the banks’ books for Fed supervision purposes, even as they are being pledged to other parties to get cash via repo. The fact that such pledging is going on can be determined from the banks’ balance sheets, but it takes some detective work. Explaining the intricacies of this process, the evidence that it is being done, and how it is hidden in plain sight takes Lokey three articles, to which the reader is referred. Suffice it to say here that he makes a compelling case.
Can They Do That?
Countering the argument that “banks can’t really do anything with their excess reserves” and that “there is no evidence that they are being rehypothecated,” Lokey points to data coming to light in conjunction with JPMorgan’s $6 billion “London Whale” fiasco. He calls it “clear-cut proof that banks trade stocks (and virtually everything else) with excess deposits.” JPM’s London-based Chief Investment Office [CIO] reported:
JPMorgan’s businesses take in more in deposits that they make in loans and, as a result, the Firm has excess cash that must be invested to meet future liquidity needs and provide a reasonable return. The primary reponsibility of CIO, working with JPMorgan’s Treasury, is to manage this excess cash. CIO invests the bulk of JPMorgan’s excess cash in high credit quality, fixed income securities, such as municipal bonds, whole loans, and asset-backed securities, mortgage backed securities, corporate securities, sovereign securities, and collateralized loan obligations.
Lokey comments:
That passage is unequivocal — it is as unambiguous as it could possibly be. JPMorgan invests excess deposits in a variety of assets for its own account and as the above clearly indicates, there isn’t much they won’t invest those deposits in. Sure, the first things mentioned are “high quality fixed income securities,” but by the end of the list, deposits are being invested in corporate securities [stock] and CLOs [collateralized loan obligations]. . . . [T]he idea that deposits are invested only in Treasury bonds, agencies, or derivatives related to such “risk free” securities is patently false.
He adds:
[I]t is no coincidence that stocks have rallied as the Fed has pumped money into the coffers of the primary dealers while ICI data shows retail investors have pulled nearly a half trillion from U.S. equity funds over the same period. It is the banks that are propping stocks.
Another Argument for Public Banking
All this helps explain why the largest Wall Street banks have radically scaled back their lending to the local economy. It appears that their  loan-to-deposit ratios are low not because they cannot find creditworthy borrowers but because they can profit more from buying airports and commodities through their prop trading desks than from making loans to small local businesses.
Small and medium-sized businesses are responsible for creating most of the jobs in the economy, and they are struggling today to get the credit they need to operate. That is one of many reasons that we the people need to own some banks ourselves.  Publicly-owned banks can direct credit where it is needed in the local economy; can protect public funds from confiscation through “bail-ins” resulting from bad gambling in by big derivative banks; and can augment public coffers with banking revenues, allowing local governments to cut taxes, add services, and salvage public assets from fire-sale privatization. Publicly-owned banks have a long and successful history, and recent studies have found them to be the safest in the world.
As Representative Grayson and co-signers observed in their letter to Chairman Bernanke, the banking system is now dominated by “global merchants that seek to extract rent from any commercial or financial business activity within their reach.” They represent a return to a feudal landlord economy of unearned profits from rent-seeking. We need a banking system that focuses not on casino profiteering or feudal rent-seeking but on promoting economic and social well-being; and that is the mandate of the public banking sector globally.