2:00PM Water Cooler 10/7/14

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

America the petrostate

Pennsylvania pursues a record $4.5 million fine against a gas driller with a “leaky waste pit” [AP]. We can’t drink the fine, unfortunately.

Railroad trade groups have asked the U.S. DOT to drop its requirement that rail carriers transporting large volumes of Bakken crude oil notify state emergency officials [McClatchy]. What could go wrong?

The headline: “More efficient fracking means more oil and natural gas” [McClatchy]. But now read the body:

The new techniques are more expensive but worth it to the drillers because they can make money faster, [Energy Information Administration] analyst Sam Gorgen] said.

The growth in the drilling boom has environmental downsides, with complaints about industrial sand mining and the huge amounts of water used in fracking. Fracking wastewater disposal wells have been linked to earthquakes, and university researchers last month found drinking water contamination from badly constructed natural gas wells.

It’s also not clear whether the more efficient drilling techniques are going to mean more total oil and gas pumped from each well, or just make the wells run dry faster.

“The engineering isn’t certain because we don’t have any wells that are 20 years old yet, and few that are even five years old yet,” Gorgen said. “So it’s hard to say what the long term effect is going to be.”

Bubble? Well, it’s complicated.

Annals of Financial Probity

Two directors of HSBC’s UK arm are poised to quit in protest at new Bank of England rules that pave the way for lengthy jail sentences to be imposed on senior managers of failed lenders [Sky News]. “In protest.” My. Will they lose their pensions or homes?

San Francisco’s pension fund may rely on the counsel of its consulting firm, Angeles, and shift investments into hedge funds, when Angeles itself runs a fund that invests in hedge funds [International Business Times]. How cozy.

Kevin Drum: “I think we might all have an easier time from now on if we wrote stories explaining which areas of banking aren’t under investigation for collusion and gobsmacking levels of fraud and corruption'” [Mother Jones]. Drum shows the limits of irony in career “progressive” circles. Surely the more appropriate reaction is blistering outrage at the lack of criminal prosecutions?

Marc Andreesen, bald-headed tech shill: “Financial transactions are just numbers; it’s just information” [Bloomberg]. Yeah, like MERS. I mean, what’s accounting control fraud? A Boolean value?

An interesting long form psychological study of an insider trader’s sociopathic career at Steven A. Cohen’s shop in Stamford, CT [New Yorker]. Read it for the insight into the cultural mores and business practices of the people who, through their decisions on how to allocate capital, are in effect running the country.

The New Yorker, sadly, being no longer the New Yorker of Hiroshima, stacks several distracting functions in this well-written and atmospheric piece: (1) It produces a narrative that focuses on a small network of “bad applies,” along with a Svengali figure (Cohen), and while it throws out coy hints of systemic collusion and corruption, it takes those hints no further; (2) it implies by omission that the real problem in finance today is insider trading, and not accounting control fraud, reinforcing the self-serving conventional wisdom of financial elites; (3) it’s coy about the ludicrous inadequacy of Preet Bharara’s settlement with Cohen on other matters; Cohen is limited to investing only his personal fortune of $9 billion dollars (!!). So does this mean Cuomo will skate?

Now, I realize I’m putting myself in the position of the reviewer who pans a book about penguins on the grounds that seagulls are the more interesting bird, but if the New Yorker is going to invest a ton of editorial time in a long-form piece like this, surely there should be a better outcome than a damp squib? From a magazine named after the world center of finance?

2014 and 2016

Panetta, a Democrat, says Obama’s “red line” comment on Syria was “damaging,” staking out Hillary’s position job security of the national security factions in the political class for 2014 [The Hill]. Poor Obama. FWIW, I think he was trying to thread the needle between nutball natsec schemers  like Panetta (and Nuland (etc.)) and a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for war in those pesky voters, and then Putin simultaneously handed him a lifeline and deked him on Assad’s chemical weapons. The natsec schemers found that unforgivable, because they will have their war, are outraged that they couldn’t have it when they wanted it, and here we are. No doubt “Who lost Iraq?” will be a big theme in 2016. What fun.

Buffet bets in Hillary to win [Business Insider].

The UK’s NHS

I’ve been remiss in not following this story closely; the neoliberal infestation is of course global, and assaulting the public delivery of health care globally.

TTIP would lead to the privatization of the NHS [Independent]. We might remember that Obama gave Serco, a corrupt UK firm, a big ObamaCare contract, one might imagine to prepare them for this purpose.

“Live counter: Watch how much NHS money is going into private hands” [Daily Mirror]. “And how much is being pocketed by Conservative supporters. “That’s the ticket. Fleet Street doesn’t mess around.

Experts say a funding crisis threatens the principle of free healthcare [Daily Mail]. Elites keep pulling “Shock Doctrine” out of the playbook because it works.

The Great Game

Panetta prepares the way for more war under a Clinton administration [The Intercept]. Obama rationalized and consolidated everything Bush did. Now Clinton will put Obama’s apparatus to use.

Stats Watch

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, September 2014: 39% of Americans said the economy is getting better. 55 percent said it is getting worse. “This resulted in an economic outlook score of minus 16 — the best outlook score since May, when it was minus 14” [Bloomberg]. Boom times. Check this quote, which shows again how averages conceal:

Upper-income Americans had an index score of minus 6 in September, down four points from August. Lower- and middle-income Americans, meanwhile, averaged minus 18 — the same as in August.

The differential suggests that “economic inequality” (i.e., class warfare) is getting no better, exactly what we would expect from Obama’s track record. One might also wonder what a decrease in the “animal spirits” of upper income Americans portends.

Redbook, week of October 4: Retail sales strong on apparel. Winter is coming [Bloomberg].

Greed and Fear Index: Fear still extreme, down 2 to 3 [CNN].

Rapture Index: Steady [Rapture Ready].

News of the Wired

  • GT Advanced, to supply Apple with sapphire screens, shocks with bankruptcy filing [Reuters].
  • Government forces in Iguala, Mexico find a mass grave of 28 burned bodies, and think they might have found some of the 43 students missing since January [New York Magazine]. Whenever I read stories like this, I think how our elites have a demonstrated historical preference for such tactics. #FirstWorldProblems.
  • A special issue on Piketty [Real World Economics, PDF]. Yanis, among other.
  • Classic: Another day at the office [Long Form].
  • Walmart shoves 30,000 part-timers into ObamaCare [AP]. Or possibly they’ll sell their employees the insurance that used to be a benefit, taking a cut? [Forbes]. Wages will, naturally, rise to compensate for the benefit cut. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! I crack myself up sometimes.
  • The history of the eraser [Atlantic].

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, and (c) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. And here’s today’s plant:


The moral is winter is coming… But also the incredible complexity of the natural world.

Talk amongst yourselves!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Miller-Modiggler

    Erasers go much further back in history. I believe the ancient Egyptians used chisels….

  2. Mark P.

    Re. the NEW YORKER, editor Remnick has rendered it the official upcale house organ for unrelenting Obama idolatry.

    The angle of the Cohen piece is consistent with that party line. Look at those terrible inside traders; don’t look at the hand-glove ‘progressive’ meat-puppet president whose back end Wall Street has its hand pushed right up.

  3. diptherio

    If NC doesn’t meet it’s funding goals, the (financial) terrorists win! Dig deep, peeps. An upgraded comment system with editing functionality, a custom mobile version…talk about “ask and ye shall receive”! Now give a little back or you’re just encouraging the neo-libs, who’ll call us a bunch of free-riders. Prove ’em wrong.

    1. psychohistorian

      A bit over the top Dip but well intentioned.

      I don’t want more or less of NC. I want NC to survive and produce whatever they can in the way of “truth” in relation to the obvious lies we are being told. I want the shining light of Yves’s prose to be the spark of example to others struggling to break free of the yoke of ignorance about our forms of social organization.

      And I want a continued comment section where community may thrive and grow internationally to discuss our shared condition and potential solutions. While the realist in me calls our discussion textual white noise the dreamer in me wants to believe better about what his specie’s history in the cosmos will be.

      Thanks for the continued efforts Yves and Lambert. My contributions will be forthcoming via snail mail…..here is hoping Lambert’s is working now.

  4. dearieme

    “the principle of free healthcare” was breached by the very government that introduced the NHS, by charging for prescriptions and glasses (and, I think, dentistry).

    My own guess is that the structure of the NHS is so daft because the Labour party was the last of the three major parties to adopt the policy of having an NHS at all. Consequently Labour hadn’t had the sort of internal debates that might have led to a more intelligent structure. Hey ho. I presume that it’s still true, as it was late in the Thatcher government, that NHS expenditure has increased in real terms in every year of its existence, except for a spell under the late-70s Labour government. By contrast the original promise to the electorate was that costs would soon fall after a back-log of ill health was cured. Ho ho ho.

    1. nony mouse

      how can expenditure on health care ever fall?

      it is one of those envelopes that are constantly being pushed by scientific and technological development. it requires ever-more-highly-skilled practitioners at all levels (6 years for a pharmacist now). new diseases, treatments, and machines for all things are constantly being developed. every time I go into a health care facility (not all are in hospitals), I notice how energy-intense all of the equipment and supplies are (nearly all single use and in need of specialized disposal often), how new all of the specialized the machinery is, how much energy it all takes, and can only wonder how much money is going into all of this, and am thankful that I don’t have to pay for the real costs, as the artificial ones are high enough. one can’t keep pushing that envelope and expecting better and more with less and less money.

      granted, whether we need all of that ‘better and more’ is its own debate.

  5. Banger

    I recommend a number of recent articles on the Counterpunch site. Yesterday Mike Whitney, who writes as well as anyone on National Security Issues wrote “America’s “Terrorist Academy” in Iraq Produced ISIS Leaders

    Quoting from a source:

    Former detainees had said in documented television interviews that Bucca…was akin to an “al-Qaeda school,” where senior extremist gave lessons on explosives and suicide attacks to younger prisoners. A former prisoner named Adel Jassem Mohammed said that one of the extremists remained in the prison for two weeks only, but even so was able to recruit 25 out of 34 inmates who were there. Mohammed also said that U.S. military officials did nothing to stop the extremists from mentoring the other detainees…
    No doubt, we will one day discover that many more leaders in the group had been detained in Bucca as well, which seems to have been more of a “terrorist academy” than a prison.” (“The mysterious link between the US military prison Camp Bucca and ISIS leaders“, Alakhbar English)

    I think there is a lot of “accidentally on purpose” in this crisis. My guess is that fully investigating the Iraq War and the actors in that war would begin to allow us to peep into the Deep State. Anybody want to try?

    1. sufferin succotash

      Congressional investigations, anyone? Thirty years ago, maybe. Now? Just as soon expect the Supreme Soviet to defy Stalin. Not gonna happen, folks.

  6. David Lentini

    “Now, I realize I’m putting myself in the position of the reviewer who pans a book about penguins on the grounds that seagulls are the more interesting bird . . . .”

    No, I think it’s more like panning a book about penguins because you know the author ignored all the penguin raping going on all around.

  7. Banger

    The Panetta story is interesting–it shows several things: 1) Obama has little power or these members of the permanent state wouldn’t be dissing him; 2) Obama had very little say in who he appointed to government–it was done for him–Obama is a political lightweight and he was appointed because of that–no one had to worry about him going off the rez. This should be increasingly obvious.

    What should also be obvious has been dragging his feet a lot particularly on War. His most vocal critics, as presented to us by the MSM, tend to be those who want major escalation in all conflicts and a kind of General War. Why? Because the Deep State depends on War to keep secrets intact and funds flowing to certain key players.

    My guess, from a lifetime of observing Washington politics, is that this is part of a general struggle between various factions congregating around the finance oligarchs, the tech sector, and those clustered around the National Security State. It’s as complicated a struggle as the confusing picture in the Middle East because Washington has become a Byzantine mess with plots within plots and vast conspiracies spanning generations. For me this is the most breath-taking moment in the history of great powers what a show! And are the stakes ever high!

    1. Bill Smith

      It’s mostly $hit happens with some agenda pushing that takes advantage of the $hit that happens.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      In addition to the National Security State, we also have the National Corporate State or the Naco state.

      Yes, Virgina, you are in a Naco state.

      1. psychohistorian

        And the Naco state is a front for the trust funds of the Global Plutocrat FAmilies or the Gpfa world.

        Yes, 99.9%, you are in a Gpfa world.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      Via Occam’s razor, if you have factional model of the ruling class in state and civil society, the notion of a “deep state” becomes superfluous. After all, every faction has their people…

      1. Banger

        The Deep State is in disarray–but the disarray is going on below the surface–that’s all I mean by “deep.” We don’t know the sorts of conflicts that are going on because the MSM cannot cover it. But this “state” still exists and functions or lurches from one crisis to the next.

  8. lightningclap

    I think O was playing along as planned, but perhaps has some reservations at this point now that it’s sunk in where this is all headed. Perhaps he doesn’t want WWIII, but then another knife-weilding intruder makes it inside the WH and keeps him on his toes.

    1. hunkerdown

      It should have been obvious to me that “Secret Service stops White House intruder” headlines are in fact a public threat intended for POTUS consumption, but it never quite dawned until now.

  9. lightningclap


    But as one of the often-referenced “discouraged workers”, I come up short on funds. I just raised over $1000 for NPR this weekend and I still have a bad taste in my mouth (my local program costs nothing, but we must appease the gods). You guys are worth at least $1k to me, but alas. Unless you like vinyl records, I’m your man. I sent a few to Maron for his WTF podcast!

    1. Petter

      I want more NC too, so I’ ll tell you what. You can’t give, I can. I live in Norway, retired, don’t have to worry about health care, have a comfortable pension(s) and live frugally. So I’ll kick in your share of what it would take to meet the final goal.

  10. trish

    mishmash on fracking links…

    So…make the money faster before anything the public might do that could get in the way of their profits and any potential fines if they ever occur just a cost of doing business aside from that we can’t drink those fines not to mention any individuals criminally responsible rarely if ever pay themselves, financially or behind bars…
    “Hard to say what the long term effect is going to be” Not these guys’ worry, is it. Ever.
    And: the company “responded aggressively.” I’m afraid that’s what’s to come. Here, globally. Because it works.

    And the understatement of the day? “The growth in the drilling boom has environmental downsides”

  11. Silicon Valley will rule the world

    Re: Marc Andreesen interview

    Andreesen wants to re-invent the financial industry. One of his ideas is to create another credit reporting agency/ies that can provide an instantaneous credit score based on your “credit card bills, social-network behavior, potentially even search history.”

    I can hear the echo – What could possibly go wrong?


    Protect us from these earnest factophiles without much sound judgement or prudence.

    1. Dirk77

      As another commenter on this blog wrote recently: “these days 90% of Silicon Valley is self-parody.”

  12. Fool

    I’m surprised this hasn’t been said…the “possible” conclusion made by the author of the New Yorker piece on Martoma — that he didn’t turn on Cohen because that would require an admission of his own guilt — is intuitively impossible. It presupposes that Martoma’s family has all along always believed him to be an honorable man, which means that their corroboration of his account of the Harvard transcript incident were genuine and uncoached — itself almost impossible. (If Martoma’s version of the incident was a lie, so too was his family’s corroboration on which his story was predicated). So, if indeed Martoma is an innocent and honest guy with a kafkaesque case of really bad luck, once the incident was released to the public, they would have fought its veracity with (rightful) indignation, sued for libel, etc.. Instead, they tried to simply have the evidence dismissed in court.

    1. Roland

      Don’t worry, the Canadian Parliament just approved its own programme of air strikes. Grofaz Harper is on the warpath. ISIS will soon surrender when faced with the mighty “Me Too!” legions of the Secular Liberal West!

  13. Jeff W

    Hmm, no Hong Kong links today.

    Here’s a piece in today’s Asia Times “Hong Kong tries talking, not gassing” by Peter Lee, who was featured on the Real News Network story in today’s Links.

    Lee writes

    The student curtain-raiser in Hong Kong appears to be over for now. A few hundred diehard students remain on post at the three main demonstration sites. In some places there are more journos than demonstrators.

    But don’t get the impression the movement has petered out. The grown-ups have appeared to take this political exercise to the next level.
    The struggle for Hong Kong isn’t just students speaking truth to power with umbrellas and Cantopop. This is a prolonged, sophisticated multi-stage political battle between two resourceful and capable adversaries.

    Who’s on the pro-reform side? Lee says

    Not just students….Educators from the eight universities and other schools…; professionals (500 legal professionals have already issued a statement); the pro-democracy bloc in Legco; a nice chunk of the financial sector…; segments of the government that are not Chief Executive C.Y. Leung; and a carefully stroked and enticed tycoon or two [i.e., Jimmy Lai].

    That might not be enough of the “co-option of élites” that University of Denver professor of political science Erica Chenoweth says is an essential part of the strategy for non-violent protest to succeed but it’s something.

  14. ewmayer

    Georgia deputies cleared after stun grenade injured toddler | Reuters

    “County Sheriff Joey Terrell has called the boy’s injuries “devastating” but unavoidable, saying police who tossed the grenade to distract the suspect did not believe children were in the home.

    The suspect, a relative of the child, was not in the house during the raid but was later arrested nearby, police have said.”

    So, the SWAT thugs missed both the fact that the suspect was not in the home and that a toddler lived there … lemme guess, they observed the place for all of 5 minutes before deciding to play Call of Duty stormtroopers? See, old-fogey police tactics like “stake out and observe” require patience, not something our latter-day Roid Rage Warriors are known for.

    Funny how in so many of these incidents the cops sound like more like the “really dangerous meth heads” than the people they’re going after, innit?

  15. Paul Tioxon

    The opening lines of the first article on PIKETTY show the prevailing political mindset of the dominating power elite. Poverty is a subject of concern and study for nearly all of the social sciences. However, inequality is seen by the mainstream as the necessary consequence of the motivation by those who, for lack of a better phrase, create jobs. The rewards of industrious, goal oriented striving to make something out of nothing results in some getting wealthy and those who do not strive for such greatness or lay about for that matter, get just enough to get by in order to show up for work. This attitude was covered in the article with the usual suspects from bank economists to Ayn Rand fans. My personal favorite summed this all up in a pithy phrase: “Wealth needs to be created, not distributed”. It was blurted out in an email by a long gone biz writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer. So, that sums up our fate, we work for others, never for our selves. What we take for compensation is simply the input cost of labor, a necessary evil in the production of wealth. Whatever PIKETTY does to piss off other economists, other than the ideologues, I will read and think upon in the paper all about him and his research on income inequality. All well and good to be armed and forewarned and all of that. But at this point, the need to be lead by the light of truth so when we reconstruct the social order out of the wrecked lives and politics of the times we live through is not so much the problem as overcoming the people with power who will stop at nothing in continuing to create wealth, and then see to it that is never distributed.

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