Monday, March 14, 2011

The World Is Shaking And Quaking In More Ways Than One!

The World Is Shaking And Quaking In More Ways Than One!

Japan Earthquake: Third Reactor at Fukushima Nuclear Plant Explodes 


Nuclear Rods Melting Inside Three Fukushima Reactors, Japan Admits

(Plutonium threat at Japan reactor, expert warns --The Fukushima facility began using MOX fuel last September, becoming the third plant in Japan to do so. 14 Mar 2011 The fuel used in the Japanese nuclear reactor where an explosion occurred today is more volatile and toxic than the fuel used in the other reactors there, a Japanese nuclear expert warned. At a press conference in Tokyo, Masashi Goto, who worked for Toshiba as a reactor researcher and designer, said the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel used in un(it 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant contains plutonium, which is much more toxic than the fuel used in the other reactors. MOX fuel is a mixture of uranium and plutonium reprocessed from spent uranium, and is sometimes involved in the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.) 


Blast Came After IAEA Said Containment Vessels at Fukushima Nuclear Reactors Seem to Be Working

A new explosion at a Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor in Japan early Tuesday may have left the reactor leaking water, according to the company that runs the plant.

A senior U.S. official said the blast -- the third in three days at the plant since a powerful earthquake struck Japan on Friday -- may be more dangerous than the others.
While the two previous explosions -- at Fukushima Daiichi reactors No. 1 and 3 -- were hydrogen blasts caused by a buildup of steam in the reactor units, the new blast at reactor No. 2 has officials unsure of the cause.
In addition, the fuel rods in the reactor were melting, the official said, though the situation was not described as a meltdown.
Half of the fuel rods were exposed, not immersed in water, and the suppression pool, which holds the water used to keep the rods cool, seemed to be damaged, according to Tokyo Electric Co., which runs the plant, and government officials.
The U.S. official said water being pumped in is disappearing faster than it would if it only were caused by evaporation, which suggests there may be a leak in the reactor's containment vessel. But, the official said, it also could be that there is so much pressure inside the reactor that it is hard to pump in water.
A government official said that though the level of radiation rose around the reactor, there was no danger.
"The radioactive level near unit 2 has gone up, but at this juncture, the level is not judged to be immediately harmful to human bodies," said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman in the prime minister's office.
But Japanese news agency NHK reported that the radiation levels at the front gate of the Daiichi plant were so high that a person would receive more in one hour than they would receive naturally in an entire year.
The explosion, which occurred at 6:10 a.m., came shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were shut down.
"There is no longer [a] chain reaction of nuclear material," said IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, according to The Associated Press. "Reactor vessels and primary containment vessels ... stay intact. The release of radioactivity is limited."
During a news conference, the agency's deputy chief, Denis Flory, said that information from Japan "does not show a high increase of radioactivity outside the containment, which means the containment seems to play its role -- to contain."
Officials also reported, according to the AP, that radiation levels around the plant were going down.

Japan Reaches Out to the NRC

The Japanese government formally asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for help in stabilizing its troubled nuclear reactors in the wake of the country's massive earthquake and tsunami.
The NRC sent two boiling water reactor experts to Japan as part of a team of aid workers to help in the recovery efforts.
A number of nuclear reactors continue to deteriorate at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, raising worries of a nuclear meltdown.
Officials had grown increasingly worried about Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Unit 2 after two previous hydrogen explosions in three days occurred at the plant, and the unit lost its ability to cool.
"They continue to work hard to raise the water level to cover the fuel. Let's pray again," Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of Japan's Atomic Energy Commission, posted on Facebook today.
The fuel rods on unit 2 became fully exposed for the second time Monday, a dangerous development in the effort to stop the reactor from melting down. Japanese officials said a closed steam vent has caused a dip in the water levels, allowing the rods to be exposed, The Associated Press reported.
To learn more about nuclear radiation, click here.
The exposure of the fuel rods means that the temperature in the reactor is likely to rise, allowing steam to form. The steam could lead to the creation of hydrogen, which is what caused the explosions at reactors 1 and 3.
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A report in the NY Daily News cited a US military spokesman as saying 17 members of the US Navy had been contaminated with low levels of radiation during their first humanitarian efforts in Japan.

The US’s 7th Fleet, which is position around 100 miles northeast of Fukushima, had to move its ships further away in order to avoid ‘airborne radioactivity’.
The affected staff had been treated with soap and water, the military said, and “no further contamination was detected.”

Is Anonymous The New WikiLeaks? - Parmy Olson - Disruptors - Forbes - forbes.comIs Anonymous The New WikiLeaks?

After defending WikiLeaks late last year, hactivist collective Anonymous may have just scooped it.
At midnight last night an Anonymous member who goes by the Twitter handleOperationLeakS released aseries of e-mails with an employee at a Bank of America subsidiary, who is accusing the bank of fraud through inappropriately tracking loan documents. (WikiLeaks claimed last year that it had a trove of damaging, and as-yet-unreleased data about Bank of America that could take the bank down.)
The e-mails, between OperationLeakS and the Balboa employee, claim among other things that the bank is run “like a cult.”
How damning is the leak? Forbes’ Wall Street writer Halah Touryalai has taken a look and says it’s “tough to tell if there’s anything truly damning” about them. Meanwhile some of the leaks from bankofamericasuck.comhave been removed, and a Bank of America spokesman told Reuters that the bank is “confident that [the former employee's] extravagant assertions are untrue.”
However inconclusive the e-mails may be, the leak may have wider implications for Anonymous as it gradually proves itself a source of comeuppance for disgruntled employees with damning information about a company or institution. “A lot depends on the impact of this week,” says Gabriella Coleman, a professor at NYU who is researching Anonymous, adding that the online collective could go in a similar direction to WikiLeaks.
Anonymous is not an institution like WikiLeaks. It is global, has no leader, no clear hierarchy and no identifiable spokespeople save for pseudo-representatives like Gregg Housh (administrator and Barrett Brown.
It has some ideals: Anonymous tends to defend free speach and fight internet censorship, as with the DDoS-ing of the web sites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after they nixed funding services to WikiLeaks, and the DDoS-ing of Tunisian government Web sites. It is also great at spectacle. The group’s hacking of software security firm HBGary Federal not only gained oodles of press attention, it inadvertently revealed the firm had been proposing a dirty tricks campaign with others against WikiLeaks to Bank of America’s lawyers.
That hack led, rather organically, to the establishment of, a Web site where the Anonymous hackers posted tens of thousands of HBGary e-mails in a handy web viewer. While it took just five supporters to hack HBGary, hundreds more poured through the e-mails to identify incriminating evidence, leading to more press reports on the incident.
Such is the nature of Anonymous–global, fluid, intelligent, impossible to pin down–that it is could become an increasingly popular go-to for people wishing to vent damaging information about an institution with questionable practices.
The collective already receives dozens of requests each month from the public to attack all manner of unsavoury subjects, from personal targets to the government of Libya, from Westboro Baptist Church to Facebook. It rarely responds to them–as one Anonymous member recently told me, “we’re not hit men.”
Yet for all its facets as both hot-tempered cyber vigilantes and enlighteners of truth, Anonymous is becoming increasingly approachable, as the latest emails between OperationLeakS and the former BoA employee show. Assuming this particular employee doesn’t end up languishing in jail like Manning, more people may now be inclined to follow suit.

Washington Examiner
Then-Sen.-elect Marco Rubio (R-FL) walks through the halls of the US Capitol on November 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. Rubio, a Tea Party favorite from Florida, said he would reject the latest stopgap plan to keep the government operating. ...See all stories on this topic »

Wisconsin Struggle At The Crossroads

“Anonymous” Whistleblower Charges BofA With Large Scale Force Placed Insurance Scheme With Cooperation of Servicers

Ooh, this is ugly.

The charge made in this Anonymous release (via BankofAmericaSuck) is that Bank of America, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Balboa Insurance and the help of cooperating servicers, engaged in a mortgage borrower abuse called “force placed insurance”. This is absolutely 100% not kosher. Famed subprime servicer miscreant Fairbanks in 2003 signed a consent decree with the FTC and HUD over abuses that included forced placed insurance. The industry is well aware that this sort of thing is not permissible. (Note Balboa is due to be sold to QBE of Australia; I see that the definitive agreement was entered into on February 3 but do not see a press release saying that the sale has closed)

While the focus of ire may be Bank of America, let me stress that this sort of insurance really amounts to a scheme to fatten servicer margins. If this leak is accurate, the servicers at a minimum cooperated. If they got kickbacks, um, commissions, they are culpable and thus liable.

As we have stated repeatedly, servicers lose tons of money on portfolios with a high level of delinquencies and defaults. The example of Fairbanks, a standalone servicer who subprime portfolio got in trouble in 2002, is that servicers who are losing money start abusing customers and investors to restore profits. Fairbanks charged customers for force placed insurance and as part of its consent decree, paid large fines and fired its CEO (who was also fined).

Regardless, this release lends credence a notion too obvious to borrowers yet the banks and its co-conspirators, meaning the regulators, have long denied, that mortgage servicing and foreclosures are rife with abuses and criminality. Here’s some background courtesy Barry Ritholtz:

When a homeowner fails to keep up their insurance premiums on a mortgaged residence, their loan servicer has the option/obligation to step in to buy a comparable insurance policy on the loan holder’s behalf, to ensure the mortgaged property remains fully insured….

Consider one case found by [American Banker's Jeff] Horwitz. A homeowner’s $4,000 insurance policy, was paid by the loan servicer, Everbank via escrow. But Everbank purposely let that insurance policy lapse, and then replaced it with a different policy – one that cost more than $33,000. To add insult to injury, the insurer, a subsidiary of Assurant, paid Everbank a $7,100 kickback for giving it such a lucrative policy — and, writes Horwitz, “left the door open to further compensation” down the road.

That $33,000 policy — including the $7,100 kickback – is an enormous amount of money for any loan servicer to make on a single property. The average loan servicer makes just $51 per loan per year.

Here’s where things get interesting: That $33,000 insurance premium is ultimately paid by the investors who bought the loan.

And the worst of this is….the insurance is often reinsured by the bank/servicer, which basically means the insurance is completely phony. The servicer will never put in a claim to trigger payment. As Felix Salmon noted,

This is doubly evil: it not only means that investors are paying far too much money for the insurance, but it also means that, as both the servicer and the ultimate insurer of the property, JPMorgan Chase has every incentive not to pursue claims on the houses it services. Investors, of course, would love to recoup any losses from the insurer, but they can’t bring such a claim — only the servicer can do that.

Note there are variants of this scheme where insurance is charged to the borrower (I’ve been told of insurance being foisted on borrowers that amounts to unconsented-to default insurance, again with the bank as insurer; this has been anecdotal with insufficient documentation, but I’ve heard enough independent accounts to make me pretty certain it was real)

One reason I am predisposed toward taking this at face value is I have been hearing widespread complaints from readers about forced place insurance. And the industry experts I consulted with thought BofA was a likely candidate since it already owned a large insurer. The narrative from BankofAmericaSucks is a bit wobbly on the roles of some of the parties:

Balboa Insurance Group, and it’s largest competitor, the market leader Assurant, is in the business of insurance tracking and Force Placed Insurance (aka Lender Placed Insurance, FOH, LPI, etc). What this means is that when you sign your name on the dotted line for your loan, the lienholder has certain insurance requirements that must be met for the life of the lien. Your lender (including, amongst others, GMAC, Aurora Loan Services [a subsidiary of Lehman Bros Holdings], IndyMac Federal Bank [a subsidiary of OneWest Bank], Saxon, HSBC, PennyMac [a collection agency started by former Countrywide Home Loans executive Stan Kurland after CHL and Balboa were sold to BAC], Downey Savings and Loans, Financial Freedom, Select Portfolio Services, Wells Fargo/Wachovia, and the now former owners of Balboa Insurance themselves…Bank of America) then outsources the tracking of your loan with them to a company like Balboa Insurance.

Yves here. Um, he names a long list of servicers, not lienholders, but we’ll continue.

Balboa makes some money by charging these companies to track your insurance (the payment of which is factored into your loan). If you do not meet the minimum insurance requirements set by your lienholder, Balboa Insurance places a force placed insurance policy on your loan. You are sent a letter telling you that you do not have insurance, and your escrow account is then adjusted for the inflated premium of a full coverage policy placed by Balboa’s insurance tracking group, run by Steven Ramsthel, Sr Vice President of Loan Tracking Operations & Customer Care at Balboa Insurance Group….

The release also alleges that regulators were complicit (click to enlarge):

And if these allegations are indeed accurate, they make a mockery of the settlement charade underway among 50 state attorneys general, Federal regulators, and what amount to banking industry crooks, aka servicers.

The writing style of the author (some typos, not that yours truly is one to make much of that sort of thing) and the errors regarding the roles of key parties will lead to questions regarding validity. But as indicated, previous abuses in this area, the past behavior of underwater servicers, and the complaints I have been hearing make this all too credible.

More on this topic (What's this?)

Why Buffett’s Right About Bank of America and What to Do About It (Investment Underground » Page n..., 2/17/11)

West Asia policy hostage to ‘Muslim vote'

The United Progressive Alliance government's policy towards West Asia is dictated by its anxiety to keep the “politically influential Muslim vote bloc” in good humor, thus forcing it to walk a “tight rope” and refrain from engaging “too deeply” with the region. This is the recurring assessment sent to headquarters by confidential U.S. Embassy cables, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks. New Delhi's reactions to Hamas's election victory in 2006, to Israel's attacks on Lebanon later that year, and to its air strikes on Gaza in 2008 are all interpreted through this lens.


Communications to Washington from senior American diplomats in the New Delhi Embassy constantly portray India's West Asia policy as being hostage to the Muslim factor in domestic politics. In its bid not to antagonise Muslim voters, the cables explained, the government was forced to play down its “strategic relationship” with Israel.

In one raw cable dated March 31, 2006 (58913: confidential), Ambassador David Mulford characterized India's public position on its relations with Israel as “gutless” and lacking in “moral clarity.” “The underlying straddle of meek statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict combined with full-steam-ahead engagement with Israel on practical and strategic matters,” he wrote scathingly, “is unlikely to change. We should not expect any public courage from India anytime soon when it comes to condemning Hamas or reacting on [Ehud] Olmert's recent victory. Pragmatism trumps moral clarity in Delhi's Middle East policy.”

In Mr. Mulford's view, India had “chosen to remain silent” on Mr. Olmert's victory in order “to avoid ruffling Muslim sentiments.” He added: “India will wait until other nations voice their opinions and only then may decide to speak up, if forced or if advantageous to do so, a feature typical of the GOI when it comes to reacting particularly about Middle Eastern issues, given the importance of the Muslim vote bank to the ruling Congress party.”

In a cable dated August 4, 2006 (73697: confidential), a senior U.S. diplomat, Geoff Pyatt, wrote that Indian condemnation of Israeli military actions in Lebanon and Gaza was an attempt to “manage” the Muslim anger over the issue, “conveniently overlooking the increasingly tight security and technology relationship between the two countries.” Another cable, dated December 29, 2008 (184997: confidential), attributed India's strong reaction to Israeli attacks in Gaza to “public consumption.” It was in keeping with “India's past practice of publicly condemning Israeli actions for public consumption, yet privately protecting healthy bilateral relations.”

“The Government of India again walks a tightrope influenced by its election cycle,” the Embassy cable summed up. “It must convey to Israel that it understands Israel's current plight while doing its diplomatic duty to condemn what is seen by many here as oppressive tactics. From time to time Muslim leaders in India organize protests when they feel the GOI has not taken a strong enough stance against Israel during heightened periods of violence, and it is likely that by quickly condemning the air strikes, the Indian government felt it could preempt such demonstrations.”

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