2:00PM Water Cooler 12/15/2015

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Patient readers, I’m sorry I dropped a stitch yesterday; I was indeed on the road. Pro tip: Never put your power cables in a different suitcase from your machines. I carry my machines with me at all times, but without power, they’re bricks. And there were other excitements.


“Recently there have been news reports that Republicans are going to delay TPP until after the 2016 elections. Do not be misled; this is a bargaining ploy” [Dave Johnson, Campaign for America’s Future]. “They want the Obama administration to make “side agreements” that give corporations even more.” Side deals on tobacco and pharma.



“Unlike most liberals, Sanders recognizes that power relations between the rich and the rest of us determine policy outcomes” [In These Times].

Sanders: “To be truly free you need economic rights” (in discussion with Killer Mike) [The Hill].

“Iowa Poll: Parties deeply divided on national security” [Des Moines Register]. I’m not so sure. American exceptionalism seems like a bedrock assumption for most voters in both parties. So they’re just arguing over price.


“One major donor to [Clinton’s] Super PAC, Priorities USA, is Donald Mullen Jr., [who] while a Goldman Sachs employee, pioneered the trades that allowed the mega-bank to profit from the collapse of the housing market. Mullen’s team utilized financial instruments called collateralized debt obligations to essentially bet against subprime mortgages” [The Intercept]. “In 2012, Mullen left Goldman Sachs to do the opposite of what he did in 2007: He started a hedge fund, the purpose of which was to buy up foreclosed homes and rent them out. Mullen gave $100,000 to [Clinton’s SuperPAC], Priorities USA Action on June 30. According to Federal Election Commission data, this is the largest single contribution he has made to any soft money organization in his giving history.” Ka-ching.

The Trail

Polls: “Most horse-race polling is not terribly predictive precisely because it gives you a snapshot in time, and that time is still many days away from Iowa. The ground is always shifting beneath us” [Down with Tyranny]. Also, “Trumpf.” Personally, I prefer Il Douché, but perhaps that’s too subtle.

Republican Debate: Everything you need to know [Politico]. I recently saw Mad Max: Fury Road… For those of you familiar with the iconography of “road warrior” franchise, you remember the guy chained to the front of the buggie? With the gimp mask on? That would be Jebbie. Unfortunately, I can’t find a proper image… 

Republican Debate: Rand Paul gets to sit at the adult table [Bloomberg].

“Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is the most-covered candidate in the race. In fact, he alone has gotten more airtime (234 minutes) than the entire Democratic field (226 minutes)” [WaPo].

Trump rally “repeatedly interrupted by protesters and marred by several scuffles” [The Hill].

“[F]or Trump to [launch] a serious independent candidacy would require him to get his name on 50 different state ballots, which is ordinarily a tricky endeavor” [Fortune]. But Trump already filed as a Republican in Texas, and to run as an independent there, would have had to change his filing to independnent yesterday, Monday. He didn’t.

Iowa: “Clinton has the support of 49 percent of Caucus-goers compared to 39 percent for Sanders” [Alternet]. Axelrod: “Clinton, as former Secretary of State, is benefiting the most from ‘voters’ growing concerns about international problems, including the rise of ISIS terrorists.'” Never let a crisis go to waste…. 

Stats Watch

Consumer Price Index, November 2015: No change [Econoday]. “This report is in line with the Fed’s outlook, showing an easing, at least to a degree, in deflationary pressures. But still falling fuel prices are definitely a live risk to the Fed’s inflation hopes.” And: “One of the Fed’s mandates. The ‘headline’ number is below target due to the energy impulse, but the ‘core’ rate, led by services, is on target” [Mosler Economics].

Empire State Mfg Survey, December 2015: “Factory activity continues to contract in the New York manufacturing region and especially, unfortunately, employment and the workweek”  [Econoday]. “[T]here are pluses in this report led by a big gain for the six-month outlook…. The gain reflects greater optimism for new orders and shipments but no greater optimism for employment where hiring is expected to be no more than moderate.”

Housing Market Index, December 2015: “Home builders are reporting strong but slowing activity” [Econoday].

Shipping: “The number of 500+ teu [Twenty-Foot Container Equivalent Unit] containerships idled will hit a record high by the end of the year, according to French analysts Alphaliner. [Longshore and Shipping News]. “A total of 329 ships equivalent to 1.4m teu – equivalent to 7% of the global fleet – were laid up by the end of November, up by 23 ships from a fortnight prior. Laid up ships leapt by 400,000 teu in November are on course to break December 2009’s all time record of 1.5m teu soon. This comes despite a marked uptick in the number of ships being sent for scrap.”

Shipping: “France’s competition watchdog fined parcel delivery services including units of Deutsche Post AG’s DHL, FedEx Corp. and TNT Express NV a combined 672.3 million euros ($737 million) for colluding to increase fees” [Bloomberg].

Banking: “Because the J.P. Morgans and Bank of Americas of the world are sitting on troves of account (i.e. balances, inflows / outflows), spending (i.e. transaction-level purchases), and risk (i.e. delinquency, write-off) data, they’re able to underwrite credit with more predictive certainty and confidence” [Tech Crunch]. “Alternative lenders, on the other hand, have to work with rudimentary datasets that are (1) not comprehensive and (2) non-proprietary.”

Honey for the Bears: “A Pessimist’s Guide to the World in 2016” [Bloomberg]. This is a listicle of memes. And for a double helping…

Honey for the Bears: “Here’s Everything That Could Go Wrong in 2016” [Bloomberg]. This is reportage. However, the memesters under bloomberg/graphics apparently don’t talk to the reporters under  bloomberg/news, since the “guide” does not map to “everything” and vice versa.

The Fed: “Federal Reserve policy makers risk making a mistake that will be difficult to correct if they raise interest rates on Wednesday, according to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and economist Nouriel Roubini” [Bloomberg].

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 35 (-6); Neutral [CNN]. Last week: 38 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). 

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“So then we begin to ask: what visuals are we normalizing in exchange for media coverage from news outlets that don’t view our survival as a priority? How does our grieving process change if we’re forced to do it publicly? How does healing change if the trauma we witness has to be publicized in exchange for sympathy from largely unreliable swaths of the population? What does it mean to fight anti-black violence and advocate for the value of black lives by publicizing visuals of our death?” [Salon]. This is the visual side of the “too many hash tags” coin.

Police State Watch

“A man whose bid to become a police officer was rejected after he scored too high on an intelligence test has lost an appeal in his federal lawsuit against the city” [ABC]. “The court said the policy might be unwise but was a rational way to reduce job turnover.”

Health Care

The headline: “As Health Care Act Insurance Deadline Nears, ‘Unprecedented Demand’,” seemingly due to the “Healthy Communities Challenge,” where cities compete with each other for enrollment [New York Times]. Fourteen paragraphs down: “Administration officials declined to provide enrollment data for the 20 cities they said were participating.” Apparently, the only other data point we have that suggests unprecedented demand is that the site crashed. I can think of other reasons for that.

“While there are areas of the country still significantly challenged, Vietnam has had significant success in controlling so-called third world diseases like malaria. The “western diseases” that we are so used to in the USA—diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease—are sharply increasing, as is the incidence of cancer” [Hippo Reads]. In other words, Vietnam replaced a biological bloodsucking parasite, the mosquito, with a social bloodsucking parasite: Big Food. Good general overview of medicine, globally.

Imperial Collapse Watch

“This day in history: An Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W Bush (2008)” [Vine].

“Global demand for U.S.-made missiles and so-called smart bombs has grown steadily since their use in the first Gulf War. But the United States and a host of allies are now rushing to ensure a stable supply of such weapons for what is expected to be a long fight against Islamic State, whose rise has fueled conflict in Syria and across a swathe of the Middle East” [Reuters]. Ka-ching.

“As American intelligence agencies grapple with the expansion of the Islamic State beyond its headquarters in Syria, the Pentagon has proposed a new plan to the White House to build up a string of military bases in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East” [New York Times]. Ka-ching. Who’ll build them? Halliburton?


“Oil Approaching $35 Final Blow to Greenland’s Exploration Dreams” [Bloomberg]. How sad.

Guillotine Watch

“Eighty percent of the world’s super rich grew richer last year. Anticipating what they want – often before they know it themselves – is now a full-time occupation at some brands” [Telegraph]. “Net-a-Porter has an elite army of 35 multi-lingual personal stylists who travel the globe bringing their expertise and services directly to the client. Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have teams dedicated to ring-fencing large areas of the world’s more scenic destinations for their next Alta Moda or Métiers d’Art shows. All of these brands invite clients for several days of spectacular dinners, private parties and complementary cultural events, be it an exceptional camel tour of the desert or a boat trip to the designer’s residence.” How repellent.

World’s wealthy purchase Los Angeles real estate through straws [New York Times].

Fueled largely by the vast streams of wealth crossing the globe as never before, a new generation of hyper-luxury homes with stratospheric price tags is colonizing the most gilded hillsides and canyons of Los Angeles. In some areas, every third or fourth home has been torn down, leaving gashes of dirt and debris where new mansions will rise.

Here, as in other roosting places of the superrich, the recent influx of foreign money has gone hand in hand with the rising use of shell companies…

And we know what accumulates under roosts….

Class Warfare

“The Hong Kong-based civic group China Labour Bulletin says strikes and labor protests nationwide nearly doubled in the first 11 months of 2015” [Wall Street Journal, “China’s Workers Are Fighting Back as Economic Dream Fades”]. “Behind the strife is an economy decelerating faster than the government expected, sparking layoffs and factory closings.”

“Under an employment model, by contrast [to the precariat model], the company has a much more reliable and knowledgeable work force, one that can be held to a specific standard of quality and a more consistent schedule. Company executives said the additional 20 to 30 percent in costs have more than paid for themselves” [New York Times].

“[U]pper-income families, which had three times as much wealth as middle-income families in 1983, more than doubled the wealth gap; by 2013, they had seven times as much wealth as middle-income families” [Pew Research Center]. 

“The number of female billionaires is growing faster than the number of their male counterparts. …. [T]he report also highlights the fleeting nature of great wealth, finding that only 126 billionaires or 44% of the class of 1995 are billionaires today. It underscores the strategies these prevailing billionaires have employed to build and preserve lasting legacies” [UBS/PwC Billionaire Report]. I’ll bet.


“‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ premiere looks backward with nostalgia — and forward with a new hope” [Los Angeles Times]. Ugh. Read this if you think Los Angeles isn’t a company town.

“On the morning of Jan. 1, 2016, anyone with a cell phone more than five years old will be unable to access the encrypted web — which includes sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — according to a new plan to upgrade the way those sites are verified” [Buzzfeed]. “[I]n some parts of the developing world up to 7% of internet users could find themselves suddenly cut off from the world’s most popular sites,” adding up to around 40 million people.

“The [Telegraaf] says the Ukraine secret service SBU, which is delivering a large part of the [MH17] evidence, is currently surrounded by rumour and potential corruption which may have an impact on the reliability of key material in the case” [Dutch News]. Nobody could have predicted… 

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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 (RS):


Readers, you know I love food forests, so I hope you’ll indulge me with one more from RS. (And if you have projects like this of your own, please send them along!)

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If you enjoy Water Cooler, please consider tipping and click the hat. Winter has come, I need to buy fuel, and I need to keep my server up, too.


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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. Jim Haygood

    Des Moines Register:

    NYC poll: Gambino, Bonanno families deeply divided on racketeering

    America’s MSM: always good for a hearty laugh.

  2. willf

    “So then we begin to ask: what visuals are we normalizing in exchange for media coverage from news outlets that don’t view our survival as a priority? How does healing change if the trauma we witness has to be publicized in exchange for sympathy from largely unreliable swaths of the population? What does it mean to fight anti-black violence and advocate for the value of black lives by publicizing visuals of our death?”

    This a good expression of an issue also raised by students at the University of Missouri when they sought to create a safe space on campus which safe from the press, as well.

  3. LeeD,Detroit

    “On the morning of Jan. 1, 2016, anyone with a cell phone more than five years old will be unable to access the encrypted web — which includes sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — according to a new plan to upgrade the way those sites are verified” [Buzzfeed].
    Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t be much of a loss. But Google?

  4. SufferinSuccotash

    Also, “Trumpf.” Personally, I prefer Il Douché, but perhaps that’s too subtle.

    Trumpolini? You have to admit it has a certain bounce to it.

      1. cwaltz

        I’m thinking he’s the Hitleresque candidate, considering he wants a registration database for muslims.

  5. Clive

    Re: TPP and Possible GOP Big Business Favourmongering

    I’m hoping here that republicans do indeed try to re-wire the jumbo jet in-flight. While putting new or revised clauses out to tender for the highest bidder in pharma or tobacco or whatever will be almost irresistible, other TPP participants (like Japan) have gone on the record to say that “a deal is a deal is a deal” and if anyone gets clever and tries to tweak things, they’ll walk away.

  6. Carolinian

    Here’s another LA Times article about the new Star Wars–ignoring the boring entertainment angle and instead concentrating on the exciting money angle.

    “We know how to leverage or mine value from [intellectual property] probably better than any media company out there,” Disney Chief Executive and Chairman Robert Iger told The Times in an interview earlier this year. “And we have the ecosystem to do it, worldwide.”


    1. jrs

      True enough and Disney has unlimited $ it seems. And they’ll lock the ability to mine it in with trade agreements as well. Supporting these folks is supporting our own destruction. At least pirate the movie if you want to see it.

      1. Carolinian

        You mean like on Seinfeld? You can go to jail for that now–camcording movies. Our IP overlords have gotten very uptight about such blatant nose thumbing. They are also trying to take control of the web itself with a lot less success.

  7. ProNewerDeal

    “[T]he report also highlights the fleeting nature of great wealth, finding that only 126 billionaires or 44% of the class of 1995 are billionaires today.”

    I would guess that a big, probably majority faction, of the 1995 Billionaires turned 2015 Mere Multimillionaires, voluntarily reduced the fortune, by say dying & splitting the fortune into 2+ heirs, or voluntarily donating 50%+ of the fortune to charity ala Warren Buffet’s promise.

    I am not convinced maintaining a Billion fortune is “fleeting”, if the particular Billionaire’s goal is to maintain it. Put at least half the fortune in a mechanical asset allocation (for instance 50% stock index, 50% bond index, rebalance quarterly if 1 asset exceeds 60%), would easily accomplish this, word to John Bogle. Perhaps the mechanics of maintaining it are more difficult than say “regular” IRA investors, since such behavior of buy/sell trades may be enough to move the market price, but I’d guesstimate it isn’t that difficult. Perhaps for expertise, they could hire a worker experienced in hiding China Gov’s US Treasuries buy/sells through smaller transactions with many 3rd party broker accounts?

  8. steelhead

    No excuses necessary. The entire NC crew are to be commended for their dedication, insight and making this reader most grateful for the site.

    1. edmondo

      I totally agree! And if anyone else agrees, there’s a teeny, tiny “Donate” button in the upper righthand corner. Just saying.

    1. tejanojim

      Yes, but the quality of available prospects has declined a lot in 20 years. Inflation adjusted cost of producing oil is way up.

      1. Optimader

        As well production efficiencies have improved.
        The economics of production falls on the investment that was made. Some ME production remains less than $10.00 bbl. iirc around 2003 Exxon was around$20.00bbl across their portfolio, has it gone up 50%? I don’t think so.

        Long and short of it is that these lows will revert to the mean, the big players have reserve portfolios that will allow them to prevail, and the investment in the most expensive production will be written off and the assets deferred til they are economically justified. That includes artic resources.

  9. Jim Haygood

    Macri delivers on an election promise:

    Argentina’s new President Mauricio Macri has announced he is signing a decree slashing the country’s steep taxes on agricultural exports.

    He said he would lift export taxes on Argentine wheat, corn, sorghum and beef and cut the tax on soya by 5%.

    Farmers … have been stockpiling their crops hoping for better sale conditions.


    More agricultural exports in turn will raise foreign exchange reserves, which had fallen to critical levels.

    Amazing that someone didn’t think of this before!

    1. Johnnygl

      And with plenty of inflation already baked into the economy, food price increases with likely gallop ahead and cause 2nd round effects. We’ll see how popular this move is once the full effects are felt.

  10. edmondo

    Axelrod: “Clinton, as former Secretary of State, is benefiting the most from ‘voters’ growing concerns about international problems, including the rise of ISIS terrorists.

    She was wrong on Iraq. She was wrong on Algeria. She was wrong on Afghanistan. Let’s promote her!

    1. cwaltz

      Now, now you’re forgetting her stellar job of supervising Victoria Nuland on Ukraine? Hillary Clinton ought to lead by telling us how she understands our international problems because her “expertise” helped create some of them.

  11. steelhead23

    I long ago dismissed Mrs. Clinton’s run for prez, simply because she is clearly a war-monger, while I am a confirmed peacenik. And I knew she was Wall Street’s girl. But whoa, she is taking money from one of GS’s ABACUS pioneers, Donald Mullen, Jr. – the arranger of the trades that caused the global financial crisis? This is outrageous. And the howl from our vaunted “liberal” media? Crickets. Thanks Lambert.

  12. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    Could Trump possibly end up like Mosley in Britain? His bully boys savagely beat some protesters and his popularity took a dive. Whatever the many faults of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, they generally don’t go all in for fascism as such. Trump’s base loves putting the boot in but even amongst hard-right conservatives, there’s probably still a limit to how far they’ll go with it.

    1. LifelongLib

      Trump is a lot like Romney was in 2007 — a candidate that splits the Republican base and can’t win the general election. Look for somebody to come out of nowhere in early 2016 and derail Trump like McCain did Romney in 2008. I’ll bet the big-money guys are already setting it up.

      1. cwaltz

        I believe they are trying- although I suspect the big money guys would be okay throwing the election to Clinton, if Trump were to somehow pull out a primary win.

        I really don’t think they want to supply the pitchforks to Trump’s crazies.

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          It wouldn’t be a “throw”, it would be a big win for the RedBlue team. I mean look at her: top donors Goldman Sachs, Grandpa “carpetbagger” Buffett, and Rupert Murdoch keeping the press in line. Dream team for Permanent War, Permanent Corporo-Fascism, and just in time for the next set of Wall St bailout giveaways on the backs of working stiffs.

  13. JTMcPhee

    Here’s what AARP that is happy with chained CPI offers to us Olders as a way to survive if we have a house, car and internet access:


    As the decline progresses, will it be possible to gig out your tent/cardboard refrigerator carton/spot under the “freeway flyover?”

    We shall all become los espositos…

Comments are closed.