2:00PM Water Cooler 2/16/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente


“‘We are certainly proceeding after discussions with the other countries to have a 12 minus 1 TPP and go ahead without the United States, and we still certainly encourage others to join,’ [Joe Hockey, the Australian ambassador to the U.S.] said at an event hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday. ‘There are a number of countries that could join that haven’t. Obviously China hasn’t joined. They might choose to join'” [Politico].

“HOUSE DEMS, LABOR GROUPS UNVEIL NAFTA BLUEPRINT: Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will introduce a resolution today that urges Trump to begin the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. They think the new negotiation should follow a blueprint backed by the AFL-CIO, the United Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Steelworkers and other labor groups. The resolution calls for binding and enforceable labor and environment standards, the elimination of the pact’s investor-state dispute mechanism and a rule of origin that sets a 90 percent value threshold for automobiles, among other things” [Politico].

“Five months shy of his 73rd birthday, and with his place in business and cultural history secure, FedEx Corp. founder Fred Smith has embarked on what could be his most profound mission: To preserve decades worth of U.S. trade gains from Donald Trump’s policy ax” [DC Velocity]. Makes me wonder if Amazon squillionaire Jeff Bezos, WaPo’s owner, has the same views as Smith.

“Higher tariffs represent the biggest threat to trade with the potential to cut demand for cross-border purchases. This could become more complicated, however, as customers could choose to order directly from foreign retailers such as Alibaba keeping their purchases under the $800 limit and avoiding tariffs all together. The trade impact, in this case, would fall heavier on US retailers than on foreign ones” [DC Velocity]. “On Thursday, Fred Smith was in Washington testifying before Congress on the benefits of international trade. He has gone so far as to urge FedEx employees to contact their Congressional representatives urging them to oppose Congressional and Executive actions that hamper free trade.”


Trump Transition

“President Trump is considering tapping [billionaire] New York financier Stephen A. Feinberg [a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management] to lead a broad review of U.S. intelligence agencies at a time when the new president has cast aspersions on their work and integrity” [WaPo]. And: “The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president [New York Times]. Interesting if true; each story is sourced to “administration officials.” If it pans out: Again, we get wonderful clarity, as Trump, an oligarch, deals directly with other oligarchs, as opposed to working through brokers (as liberal Democrats tend to do). We also get conflict worthy of a WWF All-Star Celebrity Cage Death Match. In a conflict like ★★★Cerberus vs. The Blob★★★, it’s hard to pick a winner! So at least we get entertainment value for our voting dollar. (I hope that formatting isn’t overwrought; sadly, the HTML <blink> tag has been deprecated….)

“President Trump is expected to announce [Alexander] Acosta as his new labor secretary nominee, according to a White House official. Acosta, the dean of the law school at Florida International University, is a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and previously served on the National Labor Relations Board. He would be the first Latino appointed to Trump’s Cabinet” [WaPo]. Oh, he’s Latino. So that’s alright, then.

Realignment and Legitimacy

If we view one of the drivers of the current legitimacy crisis as the refusal of a faction headed by Clintonites to accept a transition of power after having lost an election — that faction including a cabal of at least 9 intelligence officials, and many members of the press and the creative class — then we also need to view the on-going soft coup by the intelligence community and the installation of Perez as DNC head as two aspects of the same process, not as separate processes.

* * *

First, the Russkis:

As usual, Erica Garner gets it:

As does Julian Assange:

As does Rand Paul: “‘That is not just a leak,’ Paul said. ‘We’re talking about private information between high-ranking government officials and high-ranking foreign officials. If we’re going to release that to the press, that is very, very worrisome. And, in the process of that, we’re going to destroy people the intelligence community disagrees with?

That’s a rather remarkable confluence of opinion: Garner, Assange, Paul. Here’s Bernie Sanders. Listen:

Lambert here: Sanders makes about as lucid a statement of the state of play on the Russki matter as it’s possible to make, and kudos for him for being quite clear on what we don’t know (see on Democrats and CT below). And Sanders’ request to have hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee is, on the face of it, reasonable. After all, Sanders does want to at least cripple Trump, and there’s nothing wrong with that, in my view (“gridlock is our friend,” now that TPP is dead, and at least already we’re not at war with Russia).

That said, some problems: Sanders does not mention what is, in my mind, the key issue: Giving intelligence agencies veto power over the choice of a President is a change in the Constitutional order that won’t be undone. (Remember, we’ve never seen any actual evidence, or any named sources. Are we really going to impeach a President based on evidence the voters aren’t shown?) Garner, Assange, and Paul are, each in their own way, saying that this is a crossing the Rubicon moment. Sanders doesn’t say that, and I find that troubling. Second, and more diffusely: What the liberal Democrats have managed to foment with their Red Scare is a bubble (“epistemic closure”) comparable to that fomented by Republicans when they were executing their own soft coup against Bill Clinton. I don’t think Sanders, as a politician, has experience with that sort of voter or that sort of politics (granted, the BernieBros nonsense whipped up by the Marcottes of this world was bad enough, but “Clinton Derangement Syndrome” and the current Red Scare are orders of magnitude more freaky and deranged, like a horror movie where friends and neighbors turn into pod people). I don’t know if Sanders knows how to manage those currents.

* * *

Now, the Democrats:

“Why More Democrats Are Now Embracing Conspiracy Theories” [Brendan Nyhan, New York Times]. Shorter: Because losing power — not to mention their rice bowls — has made them lose their minds. And it works the other way for Republicans, too.

“We need to make a realignment, and that means taking on and overturning not only the Republican Party but also the Democratic Party. That’s the way every realignment has worked: it’s not just one party that goes, but both parties that go in some way, shape, or form. I have no idea if the way forward is a third party, a reconstituted Democratic Party, or something more fundamental in the streets—or all three and something beyond all that, too. I do know that we on the left have to ensure that whatever comes out of this catastrophe is something more than a return to the status quo. Assuming of course we have time to turn it to our favor. Which I believe we do” [Corey Robin]. The element of time is key; I would prefer to have gridlock, rather than — as at least the elites who profess #resistance would have it — Restoration.

UPDATE I can’t even on why the Clintonites are blaming Susan Sarandon for their loss, but this question to @deray on Perez seems to have been the trigger:

Read down for @deray shilling for Verizon. Doesn’t he have to identify paid tweets? That’s true for fashion bloggers, at least.


Stats Watch

Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey, February 2017: “The strength of the Philadelphia Fed’s general business conditions index is impossible to exaggerate. February’s 43.3 is not a misprint. It’s the strongest since very far back, since January 1984” [Econoday]. And: “There is continuing significant strength in this survey from new orders – and now even unfilled orders. This was a positive report” [Econintersect]. “This is a very noisy index which readers should be reminded is sentiment based.” “Sentiment-based” quite possibly means “Trumped up.” Then again, this could be the oddest example of animal spirits EVAH.

Empire State Manufacturing Survey, February 2017 (yesterday): “It has been the Philly Fed report that has been signaling emerging strength in the manufacturing sector with Empire State showing constructive but less spectacular gains. That is until February with Empire State now coming in at 18.7 which is well beyond the 7.5 consensus. This is the strongest reading in 2-1/2 years” [Econoday]. “And strength is centered where it must be, in new orders which are at 13.5, also the strongest reading in 2-1/2 years. Unfilled orders, which are almost always negative in this report, are suddenly in the plus column at 8.2. Shipments are unusually strong, employment is in the plus column, inventories are being built, and delivery times are slowing as congestion builds in the supply chain.” Tailwinds for Trump, if he can manage to take credit for it; this post-dates the Industrial Production survey, below.

Business Inventories, December 2016 (yesterday): “December was a very strong month for the economy based on the business inventories report where a moderate build was far offset by a surge in sales” [Econoday]. “Stuff” is starting to move? But: “Inventory/sales ratio came down but watch for a reversal in Jan as vehicle and other sales were down. And in any case they remain elevated” [Mosler Economics].

Industrial Production, January 2017: “A swing in utility output skewed what is, however, no better than a modest industrial production report for January. Industrial production, reflecting a 5.7 percent weather-related drop for utilities, fell 0.3 percent which is below Econoday’s no-change consensus” [Econoday]. “But the real disappointment in the report is the manufacturing component which could muster no better than a consensus gain of 0.2 percent. This reading hasn’t been able to build any momentum to speak of and was held down in January by a sharp 2.9 percent monthly downswing in vehicles.” But: “utilities was the lone contributor to the decline, as output in manufacturing and mining rose 0.2% and 2.8%, respectively” [Economic Calendar]. And but so: “As previously discussed, it was weather related elevated utility output that supported the higher than expected report. Now last month has been revised lower and this month has reversed as utility output ‘normalizes'” [Mosler Economics].

Consumer Price Index, January 2017 (yesterday): “There was pressure in yesterday’s producer price report and there’s pressure in today’s report on consumer prices” [Econoday]. “This is the strongest showing in nearly 4 years.”

Retail Sales, January 2017 (yesterday): [Econoday]. “Consumer spending data have been surprisingly moderate given the unusual strength in consumer confidence, but today’s retail sales report, which includes an important revision, now moves spending more in line with confidence.”” Interesting, if true; the optimistic Trump voters putting their money where their mouth is? And: “First the good news: Up more than expected and last month revised higher” [Mosler Economics]. And if Mosler thinks the news is good, you know it’s good.

Housing Market Index, February 2017 (yesterday): “The big post-election surge in home builder optimism is over” [Econoday].

Housing Starts, January 2017: Fell but above consensus [Econoday]. “This report is always volatile and bumpy from component to component but in sum, housing starts and permits are pointing to continuing strength for new homes where lack of supply held down what nevertheless was a solidly positive 2016 for the sector.” And: “There is, however, evidence that affordability issues are having an impact with a shift in emphasis away from the West with builders seeing scope for higher margins in other regions where prices are less stretched relative to incomes” [Economic Calendar].

Jobless Claims, week of February 11, 2017: “Good news seems to be building and includes surprisingly low jobless claims, data that had already been at the healthiest levels on record” [Econoday]. And but: “insignificantly worsened” [Econintersect].

Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, week of February 12, 2017: Up one point and a new high [Econoday].

Debt: “The total amount of debt held by American households climbed in 2016 by the most in a decade, driven by broad and steady increases in credit card debt, auto and student loans, and a fourth-quarter surge to the highest amount of mortgage originations since before the financial crisis” [MarketWatch]. “Total household debts are now just $99 billion shy of the all-time peak of $12.7 trillion set in the third quarter of 2008 just as the banking system began crashing down. The New York Fed estimates that debt is highly likely to set a new record in 2017. ‘Debt held by Americans is approaching its previous peak, yet its composition today is vastly different as the growth in balances has been driven by non-housing debt,’ said Wilbert van der Klaauw, an economist at the New York Fed.”

Shipping: “Truck freight index shows demand surge in January to highest levels since early 2014” [DC Velocity]. “A monthly index released today found that for-hire truckload freight demand in January outstripped available capacity by the widest levels in nearly three years. It’s unclear, though, if that signals an upturn in shipping activity, or if January’s results are due to pent-up demand following a slowdown in factory production during the holiday season.” Again, “stuff” is moving…

Shipping: “U.S. rail traffic inched up 2.6 percent in Week No. 6” [Progressive Railroading].

Shipping: “Do ports have a responsibility to check customs release documents? Port and Customs are two different entities and in a lot cases Ports are privately operated whereas Customs is always part of the Government” [Shipping and Freight Resource].

The Bezzle: “Mis-declaration continues to plague container shipping” [Lloyd’s Loading]. “Mis-declaration of cargo continues to present major safety problems for the container shipping sector, with shipments that are identified as wrongly declared often cancelled and re-booked on a less-vigilant carrier, risk specialist TT Club has highlighted.” Hmm. Wonder if the freight forwarding digitizers are taking this into account…

The Bezzle: “FedEx Bets on Automation as It Prepares to Fend Off Uber and Amazon” [Technology Review]. “Rob Carter, FedEx’s chief information officer, says the shipping giant is considering small vehicles that could drive around neighborhoods and make deliveries without human drivers.”

“You [will be able to] just talk your way through and [Alexa will] ask the right questions to make sure you’ve completed the work and then you can expect a truck to roll up to the front door of your office, pick up the shipments, and move them along,” [Rob Carter, FedEx’s chief information officer]d explains. By eliminating the tedium of filling out forms and searching through menus, the app could streamline the shipping process and boost customer satisfaction. It is still in an early development stage.

I’m sure the people who invented voice mail hell thought they were eliminating tedium, too. (Note that the data structures are exactly the same; underneath the hood, you’re still filling out a form.)

Honey for the Bears: A scary chart [Mosler Economics]. “I understand that by the numbers we aren’t currently considered in ‘recession’…”

Maybe “scary” isn’t the word. More like a grinding, doom-struck sense of bad turning to worse…

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 78 Greed (previous close: 80, Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 66 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed).Last updated Feb 16 at 11:48am. Trump’s not in trouble at the nineteenth hole, anyhow…

Health Care

“Will Obamacare Really Go Under the Knife?” [New York Times]. “There is no guarantee that Republicans in the Senate will sign onto legislation that risks leaving millions of their constituents suddenly without health care coverage while alienating key donors — drug makers, insurance companies and doctor associations — who helped shape and support the law Trump now seeks to replace. “The joke around Washington,” the former Democratic congressman Jim McDermott told me, “is that the Republicans are going to repeal Obamacare — and they’ll replace it with the Affordable Care Act.” Which is a pretty good joke, since ObamaCare is, after all, a Republican plan. So you can see how Republicans would struggle to make it worse. My view is that if Republicans want to throw away swing states in 2020, they’ll gut ObamaCare, which is why Trump gave them permission to punt. I guessing Republicans are more feral than principles (even if I don’t agree with their principles). Yes, Trump guttted the mandate, but in the short term, does that send more Trump voters to HappyVille, or Pain City? I don’t think we know.

“Prior to the Affordable Care Act, many state Medicaid eligibility rules had maximum asset levels. This was a problem when one member of a couple was diagnosed with a degenerative disease requiring expensive care. Draining the couple’s assets so that the sick individual could qualify for Medicaid would leave no resources for the retirement of the other member; thus divorce and separating assets was often the only option. The ACA’s Medicaid expansion removed all asset tests. Using a difference-in-differences approach on states that did and did not expand Medicaid, we find that the expansion decreased the prevalence of divorce by 5.6% among those 50-64, strongly suggesting that it reduced medical divorce” [NBER Working Paper No. 23139]. Just think what Medicare for All would do…


“Greenland needs money. Is a uranium mine the answer?” [WaPo]. What could go wrong?

“Brazil’s River of Mud” [Al Jazeera]. “Last November, the Fundao mining dam in Southeastern Brazil burst, unleashing a 50 million cubic metre tsunami of mud and mining waste which flowed across the region. Nineteen people died, 6,000 were displaced and entire towns were destroyed. It was the country’s worst ever environmental disaster.” Speaking of dams…

Guillotine Watch

Class Warfare

“[Senator Heidi] Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, asked Yellen at a hearing Tuesday about whether the central bank has studied the issue [of the issue of automation taking away jobs] — she referenced a Bank of England study that showed up to 80 million U.S. jobs at risk — and how to draw attention to it. … The Federal Reserve chairwoman admitted the central bank hasn’t really studied the issue and suggested that more training is needed for U.S. workers” [MarketWatch]. “”We need to think about ways to address the needs of those workers. They have seen chronic, long-standing downward pressure on their wages that have made it hard for them to cope,’ Yellen said at the hearing. Yellen said automation has created huge disadvantages for workers with less education, particularly those in manufacturing. ‘I hated that answer,’ Heitkamp told MarketWatch in a phone interview. ‘Every time, they throw job skills out there.'” Sounds like Heitkamp has been reading Thomas Frank. Good for her!

“What’s the best way to make extra money?” [MarketWatch]. Not System D, apparently. Odd.

News of the Wired

“I’ll never bring my phone on an international flight again. Neither should you.” [Medium]. I suppose I could archive my entire laptop to DropBox. If I had a fast connection… Or mail myself a CD… And a backup. But…

“Apple Wants To Stop You Fixing Your iPhone And iPad: Source Says It Will Testify Against ‘Right To Repair’ Legislation” [TechDirt]. “For a company that likes to portray itself as serving its users better than its rivals, this is shabby behavior.” Huh? Apple “protrays itself” as being “designed in California,” i.e. thinner. Users come second, as Mac owners know.

“Entropy in Social Networks” [John L. Pfaltz, University of Virginia]. “It is shown that under continuous change/transformation, all networks tend to “break down” and become less complex. It is a kind of entropy. The product of this theoretical decomposition is an abundance of triadically closed clusters which sociologists have observed in practice. This gives credence to the relevance of this kind of mathematical analysis in the sociological context.” Do we have any readers who can translate this? My intuition is that the formation of “bubbles” is a form of network breakdown, but my intuition and a buck will buy you a cup of very bad coffee…

“The Red of Painters” [The Paris Review]. How illuminators and painters created pigments before there was chemistry.

* * *

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 (EU):

EU sends “more photos of the Southeast’s charismatic flora”–

Ctenium aromaticum (toothache grass) – In North Carolina, a good indication that you should start looking for other botanical oddities. Asides from the handsome dried-out inflorescences, chewing on some leaves (or roots, especially) gives you a nice topical numbing sensation, in addition to an almost orange creamsicle-like flavor.


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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. Altandmain

    Some commentary about the Flynn resignation.


    I’m still interested to know what is really happening behind the scenes at this point.

    Is Trump really fighting the plutocracy on foreign policy or is he likely to be swept away and become another shill for the Establishment?

    Oh, and funny tweet from Glenn Greenwald today:

    Finally on trade:

    A far more fair and balanced point of view I think.

      1. HopeLB

        I’m a big fan also. And the funny thing is that Ron Paul and Kucinich were often in the minority voting the same way. They were few truthtellers in the swamp.

    1. sgt_doom

      I don’t in any way wish to sound like what I am (a truth seeker and radical progressive) but I recall some time back attempting to correct the reporting at Labor News Network and similar outfits, which run stories which are covertly anti-worker and anti-labor, so the labornotes I would be somewhat skeptical of until thoroughly verified.

      Not that I have any deep-rooted confidence in Trump (I’ve never voted for a Bush, a Clinton or a Trump — so call me pristine).

      1. WheresOurTeddy

        The raw material being slightly less hairy apes with the aggression left in and the selfishness ratcheted up to 11 makes the “society” thing tenable at best even during the less chaotic times.

      2. LT

        Maybe the worse mass group project ever.
        People tend to be only be able to take “society” in small doses.

    1. Higgs Boson

      Wasn’t it Maggie Thatcher who said there is no such thing as society; there is only a collection of individuals.

      1. fosforos

        That she said. But she also maintained laws criminalizing all sorts of consensual transactions among rational persons as “crimes against society”–society, of course, being nonexistent.

      2. efschumacher

        But then she was the daughter of a corner-shop grocery. Those people have no friends – only customers.

      3. lambert strether

        I’ve been reading a number of recently re-released Ursuala LeGuin short stories and novellas; Solitude treats exactly this theme.

      1. lambert strether

        Hail Bezos! Immortal Bezos! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place! We serve none but the Master—as the world shall soon serve us! Hail Bezos!

    2. Persona au gratin

      Defining and aligning “interests” so that the most powerful can gang up on and eliminate those not their own.

    3. Pirmann

      Yep. So, apparently Trump asked black reporter April Ryan if she was friends with members of the congressional black caucus, in response to her question pertaining to Trump meeting with them. On this evening’s show, CNN’s Erin Burnett interviewed April Ryan and just couldn’t contain the race baiting.

      April Ryan, to her credit, responded to Burnett’s questioning as follows: “You know what Erin, I was really looking forward to an answer to the question,” Ryan told Burnett Thursday night. “It’s not about me and I’m not going to make it about me. There are issues in the black community that are way bigger than my feelings being hurt or what have you. I asked about the black agenda he said he wanted to fix urban America and inner cities.”

      Not good enough for Burnett though. If April Ryan wasn’t going to pearl clutch, damn it, Erin Burnett was going to do it for her!




    First impressions of Acosta: Seems like a much safer pick than Pudzer. Got conservative credentials, served under Alito and Dubya. Fellow at EPPC, so conservative think tank but more focused on social issues, probably less problematic positions espoused with regards to labor. Served at a corporate law firm, so he’s defended the donor class. But, he can offer up some things to appease enough Democrats: minority status, started a Hispanic community bank, went after some white collar crime as US attorney for southern Florida, including going after Abramoff. Of course, this assumes there’s no skeletons in the closet. Anyone know of anything deeper on him that would be relevant?

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      Someone I trust described him as the least bad of the likely candidates. Also, apparently there are a lot of DACA students at his law school, which I find interesting.

  3. aletheia33

    lambert: ”Trump, an oligarch, deals directly with other oligarchs, as opposed to working through brokers (as liberal Democrats tend to do).”

    i need to understand our oligarchy better. are there hierarchies within it–lesser and greater oligarchs? is trump among the top 10? top 100? thinking about this yesterday it occurred to me that i’d like to see the term used more frequently around here–simply naming oligarchs as such when discussing them, as lambert does here, would be quite helpful.

    what criteria exactly qualify a person for the label? does it include doing illegal stuff, by definition–and if so, exactly what kind? who are our oligarchs? where is the list? how many of them do we have in total? how many of them hold positions in our government? are all 1, or 0.1, or 0.01 percenters oligarchs, by definition? do you have to use your $$ to wield power to qualify? does every oligarch have a group of people they “own”, and if so, who are they, and how extensive are these groups? i don’t know, and i don’t know how to find out. this is important information. they are, after all, the enemy. i would actually appreciate an organizational diagram showing the top 10, who they own, and the hierarchy that orders them.

    my questions may seem naive, but i’ve just realized my concept of the american “oligarchy” is way too vague.

    1. Vatch

      On the latest Forbes magazine lists of the richest Americans, Trump is # 156 on the static 2016 list, and #189 on the real time list.

      The simplest meaning of “oligarchy” is “rule by the few”. Many experts consider an oligarch to be a person who has ruling influence based on his or her wealth outside of government. In other words, an oligarch is powerful even after he or she is no longer a government official or a business executive, or if such a person never has an official government or business role. Some oligarchs rule directly, but a lot rule indirectly, via lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians to whom they make donations.

      You’re absolutely correct that it is a fuzzy concept, and some readers will have reasonable disagreements with my definition.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      I agree. I think having a billion or so is a crude test; it’s social relations that are the key. I’ll give this some thought. I’m sure there’s literature on it (Domhoff) but I wonder how much of it is income based.

      Adding, the data you want may not be available….

      1. different clue

        I read that there is a Chinese saying: ” Power is ancient wealth.”

        Trump’s wealth is not ancient. So how much power does Trump have? He has a billion dollars.
        How would his power compare with that of someone who has a hundred million dollars . . . and is descended from 9 prior generations of people who each had a hundred million dollars?

        1. PhilM

          It wouldn’t be much, honestly. $100 million is getting there, but it is not much, even over time.

          The great colonial plantation fortunes–George Washington, Charles Carroll of Carrollton–would have been analogous to the billionaires of today. They would have scoffed at a lousy $100 million. And yet they put all that wealth at great risk, knowing that money was ephemeral when unescorted by power. That knew what power means: the ability to direct, or at worst, restrain, the government, which is what employs the people with guns.

          1. a different chris

            but I think a different clue is being more subtle – those 9 prior generations spawn a *lot* of personal contacts that one rags-to-riches billionaire might cross to his regret…

            You are sortof saying that with “knowing that money was ephemeral when unescorted by power”.. the power is built up over the generations.

            Also note that when it comes to “families” — nobody really knows how much they have, or even how to count it.

            1. different clue

              Yes, and thank you.

              I remember once decades ago an ethnic-Chinese Singaporean who claimed to know these things explaining to me that there were Overseas Chinese families who are far richer than the Rockefellers but whom “nobody”, meaning us manwomans in the street, have ever heard of. They have so much ancient wealth and power that they are able to buy and maintain a general unawareness of their very existence among the majority of the Great Unknowing.

              Now Thats POWer.

              1. Oregoncharles

                That’s a classic conspiracy theory, like the Illuminati. Doesn’t exactly mean it isn’t true, but raises questions.

                It’s entirely possible he was putting you on, or had been gifted with a myth.

              2. lambert strether

                It is true, I think, that there are plenty of family-owned, closely held businesses in the United States that throw off plenty of wealth, and that these people tend not to invite the press into their homes to photograph their Louis Quinze solid gold bathroom taps.

                No idea of the numbers, though. Perhaps there are no numbers.

                1. aab

                  Louis Quinze solid gold bathroom taps would be a huge New Money tell. (I couldn’t tell from your phrasing whether you’re getting at the same thing.)

                  I’m pretty cut off from my former Old Money connections, but I doubt old money families have changed all that much, because their internal culture tends to be very strong and very strongly inculcated in the family. I’ve been in big, empty houses with barely any furnishings owned by people with wealth that goes back centuries. One of the privileges of great wealth is great eccentricity. The tells are a little different in that case.

                  But I don’t think that’s the kind of money d-clue is talking about. Those kinds of families have the power to protect their wealth, but not that much more. (Admittedly, that is quite a bit of power.) I don’t pay that much attention to the details, but the Rothschilds, for example, seem more like what d-clue is talking about: not just obscenely wealthy, but deeply entrenched in the actual running of governments going back centuries, without most people being aware of their role. Like, I grew up thinking that fussing about the Rothschilds in the modern age was just nutty antisemitism. But now I realize that’s not correct.

                  The Percy family has been in power in England continually since 1066. It wouldn’t shock me if there are Chinese families like that.

                  1. Vatch

                    Some of the branches of the Rothschild family were ruined by the catastrophes of the 20th century in Europe (not all of the Rothschilds were wiped out, of course). This was similar to what happened in China — see my comment at 10:21 AM about the role of great catastrophes and wealth.

                  2. PhilM

                    I’ll second aab’s opinion yet again.

                    the subtleties of what d-clue is saying were not lost on me, because of a guy I know whose family has not, for at least twenty well-documented generations, yeah, 600 years, been less than the .01%: armed, unarmed, exiled, re-armed, and in every case, back in the elite of the elite on a national scale within a few years of being out of it. To him the Rothschilds are parvenus, and the Percies and the Ricasoli would be roughly peers but really probably his seniors. Only rarely was the wealth of the scale to run the country (although sometimes it was). So it’s there, and aab is right, with one addition: many of them, if they know their history after so many generations, want to protect their wealth, and use it, generally, to establish the security and well-being of their community. They are in that sense a true aristocracy.

              3. Vatch

                It’s possible there are ultra-wealthy Chinese families for whom riches extend back centuries. However, there were some massive systemic shocks in China during the 20th century that destroyed the wealth of many families. The civil war, then the war with Japan, and finally the Communist revolution. These were all the types of jarring dislocations that destroy great fortunes. These sorts of shocks are discussed in The great Leveler,the new book by Walter Scheidel. He theorizes that there are four types of events that significantly reduce economic inequality:

                1. Mass mobilization warfare.
                2. Transformative revolution.
                3. Pandemics and other catastrophic natural disasters.
                4. State failure.

                China experienced more than one of these in the 20th century.

                Previously, when there would be a dynastic change in China, the new emperor would seize the property of some of the wealthy families who had been favored by the previous dynasty, and he would reward his own supporters with that property.

                1. aab

                  That looks really interesting. I wish I had more time to read. (I guess I could take an NC holiday to make room but, um, I don’t want to.)

                  But it’s pretty normal for rulers to redistribute wealth. That was a key element in Henry VIII’s creation of the church of England; he got to confiscate a bunch of land and wealth from Catholic monasteries.

                  To address your other comment about the Rothschilds, what’s interesting to me is that only some branches died. It sounds like the root system remained, as it were. The family survived, with at least some of its wealth and its culture, social capital and family knowledge base intact, I would guess. It’s not like House Percy hasn’t been out of power to some degree for a century or so here and there. But the family line and its power and wealth source survived.

                  I read that a key element in the growth of the Roman Catholic church in Europe is that the church retained a lot of knowledge and expertise from the fallen Roman Empire, that it offered to trade to the various up-and-coming rulers in later centuries if they’d convert and force their populations to convert. Deeply held tactical and strategy knowledge can be as valuable as money or land in the right situation. I suspect some families have figured out how to do that really well.

      2. Vatch

        I’m sure there’s literature on it (Domhoff)

        One example is the interesting book Oligarchy, by Jeffrey Winters. This differs from the writings of Domhoff, because it isn’t a list of likely members of the oligarchy, but an analysis of different forms that oligarchy has taken throughout history in various countries. Winters identifies 4 basic types of oligarchy:

        1. Warring.
        2. Ruling.
        3. Civil.
        4. Sultanistic.

        In a Warring oligarchy, the oligarchs focus on protecting their property; often from their fellow oligarchs. In a Civil oligarchy, they are more likely to focus on income protection, due to laws that protect property rights. See page 34 of the book for a handy chart. Some of the pages are available in Google books. The United States has (or had) a Civil oligarchy, but it seems to be moving towards a Ruling oligarchy.

        1. Oregoncharles

          I’ve seen a different approach; instead, it was a list of the “rooms” – organizations and conferences
          , like Davos, where the rich and powerful got together to, ummm, conspire against the rest of it. An entire book. A bit out of date now; let’s see if I can find the book.

          Here it is: “The Corporate Consensus, A Guide to the Institutions of Global Power” George Draffan, http://www.endgame.org. Blue Mountains BioDiversity Project, Fossil, Oregon. 2000, so old.

          There might be newer versions; The website is still there; seems to be Draffan’s business.

          1. lambert strether

            That’s a very interesting approach. We tend to forget that there are actual persons at actual locations making decisions.

            “There are not very many of the Shing.” –Ursula LeGuin

      3. aletheia33

        thanks lambert, i look forward to your thoughts.

        i wouldn’t expect a lot of “the data i want” to be available, but i’m looking for a set of systemic organizing principles, and criteria for individuals, such that what data are available can be used to enhance our grasp of the beast as it operates here and now. naming actual oligarchs as such, beyond describing a system, seems important. IOW putting together the facts with the abstraction.

        i wonder if the most relevant model for describing an oligarchic system as it is likely to emerge in our world is the current one in russia, of which i have little real understanding. at the same time, the current one in america seems to differ from it in some major ways. also, what other countries are oligarchies now? …or are there any that aren’t? … is the world just one giant oligarchy at this point? if so, how do the national-level oligarchs relate to the planetary rulers? etc.

        i hope readers will have some interesting insights.

        1. Vatch

          Jeffrey Winters says that Russia has a Sultanistic oligarchy. This superficially resembles an autocracy, but if the bulk of the oligarchs become dissatisfied with the leader, they will depose him. In his book Winters uses Suharto of Indonesia as the primary example of such an oligarchic leader.

        2. Left in Wisconsin

          To get a feel for the concept, I highly recommend C. Wright Mills’ The Power Elite. He is very systematic in his description, focusing IIRC on the Metropolitan 400. This was in the 1950s and times change. I think today a true oligarch probably has to have worldwide connections, like Tillerson. Although maybe if you are big enough, the world will come to you.

          But I don’t know that Trump himself qualifies. He seems too needy, which is not very oligarch-like. But I think he prides himself on being able to spot A-listers and as President one could imagine they would let him into the club, at least for the next 4-8 years. Or perhaps not. I guess we will see.

      4. David Carl Grimes

        Doesn’t Cerberus own Remington at one point? Wouldn’t that have been a conflict of interest dealing with the MIC? Since Trump only deals with billionaires, why can’t the likes of George Soros or Warren Buffet (two democratic leaning billionaires) advise him?

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      The problem with an organization chart is the President is Caesar incarnate. The people behind the throne are the people the President chooses. Obama could have saved the banks and left Buffet in the cold if he felt like it back in 2009. Even now, Buffet, Musk, and Cuban despite predicting doom and gloom are singing Trump’s praises for this simple reason. Realistically, Trump could order Seal Team Six to disappear any of these people, and nobody would know.

      The Koch’s power versus other Republican donors comes not from the quantity of money of donations but when they donate. They donate early in the cycle before local media has done all the free advertising a campaign might need. Now that the Republicans control everything, they have the power of incumbency. The early money for challengers isn’t relevant. The Kochs could drop 10X the amount, but their importance to the GOP was in the past.

      A guy like Gates. What is his real power? His real power is fear that his cold will cause a NASDAQ plunge, but beyond that, he can’t buy his way over the Presidency. If the President doesn’t want to listen, who will make him? Would a representive of Silicon Valley be able to tell Trump how things needed to be with Marine guards present? Only if Trump tolerated that.

      I would say there are hierarchies of power through industries based on standing within political parties. Montasanto and ADM are important rollers in agriculture, but outside of moving their products to the stores from the farms or labs, they don’t care about whether corn is moved on planes, trains, or automobiles or whether John Candy is cloned.

      A few years back, one of the big defense firms wanted to move operations to Virginia, but they stopped for a singular reason which is often overlooked. Virginia is a “right to work” state. The defense firms like to hire union workers to keep Democrats in line. What is going on here? Heck, I bet the guy who nixed the move probably voted for his fair share of “right to work” politicians.

      I think the courtesan class is the real power. No one is discussing policies that would turn Zuckerberg into a factory worker like the last Emperor, but he courtesan class (ex. Carville, Brazille, , the countless GOP strategists of the world) are afraid of being dropped from high society. They represent the middleman between the “elite” and the plebes. As gatekeepers, they would power but are in danger of being found superfluous. If we follow the 50 state strategy through, money that would go to Mark Penn would go to field organizers. Republican “strategists” hate Trump because he wasn’t paying them. On their own, they are small, but they form a wall between the real elite and the people. How many of Hillary’s sycophants pointed out what a clown Brock was? The answer might be none because a closer look at Brock might bring a closer look at the other sycophants.

      The ability to get face time with the President is a big deal because an individual will have the opportunity to state his case without the army of courtesans in between but it’s still up to the President to listen. The military is too unwieldy and professional for a Cadre to emerge that could command a rebellion. 400 generals is like having two quarterbacks.

      1. Darius

        Obama was a courtesan at heart. He spent his time looking for powerful asses to kiss, which to me explains why he was so conflict averse. He was never comfortable as the big cheese to which others owed their allegiance. Instead, he was obsessed with gaining the approval and acceptance of Ivy League natives, like Michael Froman, whose ranks he could never really join. That’s why he was the President from Citicorp. Autodidact Lincoln greatly respected elite education but never let that cloud his strategic judgement.

      2. aletheia33

        fascinating description.

        by courtesans you mean courtiers, right? –who live in fear of loss of status, primarily. but some of them also seek to exercise power for themselves via influencing caesar. in the right situation certain courtiers can become immensely powerful (cheney, rumsfeld?).

        does the concept of oligarchy fit into your description here at all, and if so, can you say how?

        what i’m beginning to suspect from reading the responses is that what we now have in america remains rather fluid, as far as definitions of systems go. we are definitely undergoing systemic breakdown. it seems unclear whether the term “oligarchy” accurately refers to the system that hardened in the 1950s and has been gradually breaking down since then, or a system that has simultaneously been emerging from it and has yet to become hardened.

        we seem to be at the moment in a turbulent phase disrupting an existing system and heralding a transition to another system, as would seem likely to happen at the point when an empire begins its decline, and that before too long a system will emerge that will remain relatively stable for quite a long time. but i do not think that the u.s. empire, so purely capitalistic, is quite like any empire that has ever existed before.

      3. WJ

        This is a great comment. I would add that the oligarchs require the courtesan class to rationalize and popularize the oligarchic real politik among the masses.

        This passage was especially intriguing:

        “I think the courtesan class is the real power. No one is discussing policies that would turn Zuckerberg into a factory worker like the last Emperor, but he courtesan class (ex. Carville, Brazille, , the countless GOP strategists of the world) are afraid of being dropped from high society. They represent the middleman between the “elite” and the plebes.”

        Cicero was of the equestrian class, the lowest of the dominant classes in the late (thoroughly oligarchic) Roman Republic. His attacks on Caesar were much like the current attacks on Trump in that, while they often aimed at a real and justifiable object, they did so with wrong and hypocritical purposes in mind–as though a return to the status quo was anything other than a return to the very conditions that produced Caesar (and Trump) in the first place.

        1. Ulysses

          The impatience of Cicero with those who threatened his hard-won status was sharp.

          “Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?”

          Pretty much the same impatience is exhibited today, against Trump, by those who feel they deserve to rule.

    4. PhilM

      You are absolutely right about definitions. I rant about Aristotle in the comments a lot, and people are patient but not really interested. So I’ll go with my own understanding of it, which is a patchwork of history and political philosophy almost entirely from the civilizations of the west, from the ancient world to modern times.

      It all boils down to the fundamental difference between influence (money, bribes, hookers and blow, “the carrot”) and power (prisons, torture, a bullet in the park, “the stick”). Influence works right up until power says “Basta!” and then influence is finished. I give you President Franklin Roosevelt: a man of enormous raw power to whom the effort to exert “influence” was a red flag to a bull.

      To reflect on oligarchs: to start, they must be “archs,” that is, people who dispose of sovereign (and therefore political, and therefore armed) power. Because they are “oligo,” there are few of them. The limiting qualifications do not have to be land or wealth; they can be based on bloodlines, warrior might, or even, in the kind of fantasy world that philosophers inhabit, virtue (hence “aristocrats”). When the oligarchs are rich, it may be more precise to call them “plutocrats.”

      Oligarchs other than plutocrats rule by disposing of things that are of value but not easily fungible with money; for example, access to closely held information endows the intelligence community, who are very very few, with a different path to power. They are proving that they , too, are an oligarchy not to be underestimated. To repeat, it is because they are in government and have the “stick,” that we may talk in terms of “power”: the thing that ruins lives and kills people and brings misery unless it gets its way.

      People often think that money brings power and security. Actually what money brings is just a longer border to worry about. Only the very very rich, usually the very rich who are not in the public eye, actually have power per se, because they can purchase, through anonymous intermediaries, mercenary might: coercion, disappearance, “suicides in the park.” Without those tools the rich are as vulnerable as anyone, although their vulnerability is less obvious and they do not like to emphasize it. They are vulnerable to a small group of very strong predators–who, obviously, are people who have “power.” People like, say, the Clinton gang (before the election loss), or Putin.

      This was one reason why there was such despair at Clinton’s loss, because the threats and promises that hold together any organization that is based on “the stick” must have a leader who can carry it. The MMT of power-patronage networks is a collection of threats, cajoling, and promises issued over the signature of the “central banker”, the Boss, over decades. All of those are “potential energy,” which become kinetic when the gang is either mobilized or, as rarely happens, is decapitated. When the string at the top is finally cut, as it was on both sides of the party divide in November 2016, the accumulated resentments down the line inevitably grow into vendettas, and they are the kind that cannot be settled by money: there must be pain.

      This discussion shows why Trump’s appointments to the cabinet are actually inevitable: he has turned to the only existing lines of patronage he knows that will serve him, because without a power network, he would be truly helpless, and being from outside the realms of such networks, he is a newborn in this regard. This is where Christie really could have helped him; god knows what his network looks like in Jersey. And here is where Lambert’s “cage match” is a typically perceptive characterization of an archetypal struggle: the hostile takeover of an existing power network that uses a completely different currency from one’s own. That, by the way, is true “class warfare,” because the classes are completely differentiated and utterly irreconcilable, unlike the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, who in many senses are on the same side now.

      I am sorry if all of this is perfectly obvious to all of you; but I grew up very naive, and it took me years to understand this kind of thing, and to observe how it has been re-enacted for millenia. It helps me to put things into nice structures and frameworks, because I think I understand more at the end. But if you have suggestions, elaborations, or think the whole thing is just blather, please feel free to say so.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Confusion reigns, so I wouldn’t call these thoughts late to the party. The Pentagon is often treated as a united group when there are 400 generals. The military hierarchy isnt just Winfield Scott anymore.

      2. fosforos

        “Aristocrat” derives from Ares the god of war. The exploits of a Homeric hero were his “aristeia.” They signified Virtue, the “arete” (Ares/Mars again) of a MAN. Any aristocracy is an aristocracy “de l’epée.” Only in effete France was there an “aristocratie de la robe.”

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos

          The Greek words ἀρετή “virtue” and ἄριστος “best” are probably related; here Wiktionary (often not bad on etymologies) traces both back to an IE root meaning “to fit, fit together,” along with ἀριθμός “number,” ἁρμονία “a fitting together” (-> “harmony”) and ἄρθρον “joint.” Whether any of these words are connected with the god of war is doubtful, see here and here for discussions of the possible background of Ἄρης.

        2. PhilM

          No, not so; nothing that you have said there is actually correct, in any way. I won’t trouble to correct the errors in detail because I have already written too much, but very brief research by the readers will reveal that your statements are simply not accurate.

          Of course the society of the Iliad pre-dated Aristotle’s Athens by 800 years. In Aristotle’s usage, the “aristoi” were men of virtue, broadly defined (not martial), as characterized in considerable detail throughout his work. For him, aristocracy was a form of good government, by few virtuous men for the common good.

          Your characterization of the French nobility, both of the sword and the robe, is not right. To call “effete” a nation that exhausted itself to the point of bankruptcy over a century of war all over the world, and by law reserved officer positions for the noblesse d’epee because it was their right and obligation to fight and die for everyone’s sake, is not short of, shall we say, a “misunderstanding.” If any aristocracy could be called effete, it would be the Italians, who had no important function because their homes were occupied under Imperial dominion. Although the English commanders at Waterloo were titled nobility, Dukes and such, to be sure, the nobility of England had long become, effectively, a noblesse de robe, to the extent it had any public function at all beyond simply being rich. The Junkers of Prussia maintained an undiluted warrior-caste martial aristocracy, and we all know how that turned out.

          Damn, you got me started. Is there a button somewhere? A safety, maybe, that we could turn on?

          1. aab

            I’m not sure it would appropriate to call the Regency period English aristocracy a noblesse de robe, either. While there certainly were a lot of decadent, useless aristos around, I believe it was still normal to designate the second son for the military, and there were a lot of second sons. So the aristocracy still had “skin in the game” of empire. That is why aristocratic culture at that point still privileged physical skill, competition, etc. over stuff like erudition.

            It was certainly not like the “meritocratic” ruling class developing now, where at least on the “liberal” side none of the ruling families subject their own progeny to the suffering and risk of the military adventurism they promote to enrich themselves. Unless I missed Chelsea and Malia’s military service. (I guess we should give some credit to Biden — he gave a kid to the military. But did he subject any of his children to student loan servitude?)

            1. PhilM

              Thanks for the enhancements and amendments, and particularly the comparison with today’s parasitic and entitled political class, which beautifully highlights how they don’t eat their own dog food–unlike so much of the noblesse of the late feudal era, and almost all of it during the high middle ages.

      3. aletheia33

        interesting and enlightening–although not all unfamiliar, the way you frame all this here is quite useful to my type of mind.

        so… has the clinton gang really been decapitated? true, HRC cannot deliver on promises she made resting on her becoming president or holding high office, and many many others’ promises will also remain unfulfilled because of her losing the election.

        but is that the whole story? does the clintons’ power rest entirely on what they can “deliver” to their gang members and in turn their gangs’ members? i would think they would see an advantage to holding themselves together at all costs and surfacing another head? is that what they are trying to do now? and are you saying that they cannot succeed because such a decapitation is impossibly to recover from?

      4. aletheia33

        “When the string at the top is finally cut, as it was on both sides of the party divide in November 2016, the accumulated resentments down the line inevitably grow into vendettas, and they are the kind that cannot be settled by money: there must be pain.”

        can you elaborate on what are the current resentments (examples) and where and how the pain is currently being (or going to be) delivered–on both sides?

        1. PhilM

          I could tell you, but I would have to kill you. Ha, ha.

          Seriously, that’s the nature of power organizations. They are feudal and opaque. Each knot binds one individual to one other, through duty, debt, obligation, honor, or fear. The whole makes a net. The guy at the top makes the net work. Ha, ha, ha.

          If you continue peering into the abyss, that is, searching for specific names and numbers on oligarchs and power organizations in a public place like this, you will find—or maybe not, because you are not supposed to find; or possibly, more tin-foil-y, because you already know—that such a search, like the abyss, quickly peers back into you. Look elsewhere than here for details or plans on the powerful: we are theoreticians here, in search of ideas about the common good, but no more; seeking the betterment of all by exchanging popularly available, commonplace news, and good old fashioned American common-sense notions, that will help us reinforce our communities’ stability and the growth of their hard-working families, using peaceful, law-abiding, tried and true American methods.


      5. Persona au gratin

        Great post PhilM! Perhaps you could elaborate on this:

        I give you President Franklin Roosevelt: a man of enormous raw power to whom the effort to exert “influence” was a red flag to a bull.

        I think I understand your intent here correctly, and if I do, it might be nice to see it spelled out and/or contrasted to Obama in 2008, who in my mind “suffered” from very similar circumstances.

        Your points here:

        This was one reason why there was such despair at Clinton’s loss, because the threats and promises that hold together any organization that is based on “the stick” must have a leader who can carry it. The MMT of power-patronage networks is a collection of threats, cajoling, and promises issued over the signature of the “central banker”, the Boss, over decades. All of those are “potential energy,” which become kinetic when the gang is either mobilized or, as rarely happens, is decapitated. When the string at the top is finally cut, as it was on both sides of the party divide in November 2016, the accumulated resentments down the line inevitably grow into vendettas, and they are the kind that cannot be settled by money: there must be pain.

        are especially well taken.

        Good old fashioned raw power relationships are rarely given their due these days. So-called “soft-power” continues to be very much in vogue here in the west these days, even as the totally discounted denizens of the third world certainly know better. While your comments here certainly constitute the express opposite of “blather,” such DC think tank concepts as “soft power” just as certainly embrace and amplify it at every turn.

        More power!

        1. PhilM

          Roosevelt was a proud, intelligent, self-possessed, self-controlled man who owed nothing to anyone. He was nobody’s fool, not even Churchill’s, despite their facebook-friend-grade correspondence, and both of them knew it, because Churchill was nobody’s fool either: talk about a warrior aristocrat, he was Henry V reincarnated in 1942, no wonder Olivier did so well with that model in front of him.

          Roosevelt knew what was bad for the bankers, and what was good for the country and he did it. Whether or not he was right is another matter. It is possible to second-guess him from both sides, but calling him a “boss” is not sufficiently respectful. He was a boss the same way Cosimo Il Vecchio de’ Medici was a “boss”: a great statesman with profound empathy, of notable wealth and peerless family heritage, who led people elegantly with the popular touch, and did ruthless things only when he had to, and never for fun.

          My family loathed and feared Roosevelt. They thought he betrayed his class and his people in the 1930s, and all of Europe at Yalta, when he rolled Eastern Europe under the Soviet claw. I understand their opinions, and they may have been right, but I dare them to have done better. Sometimes you have to “betray your class” to save it: who can second-guess FDR?

          Also, FDR was clear-seeing, especially where class was concerned. He knew that public unions were paid from moneys raised at the point of a gun from other citizens, and that therefore their relationship to the means of production was different from “the working class” as traditionally defined. Public unions did not, and do not, share the class interests of the people who earn the money to pay their salaries, however comparable in net numbers those salaries may be. No, they share the class interests of the parasitic technocracy that pays them with other people’s money. Therefore he correctly saw public unions as pernicious. Sadly that explanation is too sophisticated for people who still see class in its utterly useless, socially and analytically speaking, usage, of “percentile rank of income.”

          Roosevelt really was a special, extraordinary man. Crazy good luck: the country produced George Washington, who was something like “Napoleon with a conscience,” and later produced FDR, who was something like a “Mussolini for Democratic Liberalism.” Too bad about Lincoln, in between, but you can’t win them all.

  4. Timmy

    One might suggest considering a [causual] connection between two links above:

    This one: “Consumer spending data have been surprisingly moderate given the unusual strength in consumer confidence, but today’s retail sales report, which includes an important revision, now moves spending more in line with confidence. Interesting, if true; the optimistic Trump voters putting their money where their mouth is? And: “First the good news: Up more than expected and last month revised higher”

    and this one….

    “The total amount of debt held by American households climbed in 2016 by the most in a decade, driven by broad and steady increases in credit card debt, auto and student loans, and a fourth-quarter surge to the highest amount of mortgage originations since before the financial crisis” [MarketWatch]. “Total household debts are now just $99 billion shy of the all-time peak of $12.7 trillion set in the third quarter of 2008 just as the banking system began crashing down. The New York Fed estimates that debt is highly likely to set a new record in 2017.

    There have been four “stumbles within the [economic] cycle” since 2009. The probability of a fifth is not discounted by markets or consumers right now.

    1. DH

      It sounds sustainable since it is driven by increasing debt. Especially since many of the credit card and subprime consumer debt forms are just about the only forms of debt unaware that the Fed has lowered interest rates.

      1. LT

        Sustainable or unsustainable debt if the low interest rates don’t necessarily “trickle down” past the wealthy and well-connected?

    2. Persona au gratin

      There have been four “stumbles within the [economic] cycle” since 2009. The probability of a fifth is not discounted by markets or consumers right now.

      That last sentence should be a word of warning for “reasonable people.” But since when have irrational capitalists ever fashioned themselves as in anyway “reasonable” in the face of profits?

    1. jrs

      They are posturing idiots (how do we get such slime as politicians?) And Trump is certifiable narcissistic of course. But what do they call Obama deciding who to drone or Hillary pushing for another aggressive war (Libya)? Oh perfect sanity because it’s predictable, and 100% safe for them as it’s only brown people who die. Making the rest of the world die for greed isn’t ever considered insane, why would it be, the west invented the concept of insanity and it’s all the west has ever done.

      What they call mental illness is primarily only unpredictability as it scares them – ok it scares everyone a little with good reason! But they don’t call pre-mediated war crimes mental illness.

      “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

      1. Portia

        *doctor, doctor, my brother thinks he’s a chicken!

        -well, bring him in, maybe I can help him.

        *I would, but I need the eggs.

      2. fosforos

        Mental health can be debated. But when they 25th him for mental instability there need be no more debate–Pence plus the secretaries of War and State are constitutionally unconstrained.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Ludwig II did build the beautiful Schloss Neuschwanstein. And he was declared insane.

          This should be a warning to any ruler taking too much interest in building towers.

          1. Fred1

            Ludwig II used the drain on the royal treasury to build Neuschanstein as an excuse to keep Bavaria out of the wars going on at the time.

            1. Oregoncharles

              then the country went bankrupt and he was deposed, IIRC.

              However, it and the other “castles” he built are tourist gold mines today.

    2. WheresOurTeddy

      Democratic party leadership doesn’t understand the country that they purport to represent, Exhibit Z

        1. Darius

          Very prescient movie. I’ve been waiting for that chip implant in the head from The Phone Company for 50 years. The slick corporate robot was Pat Harrington, who went on to be Schneider, the seedy super in One Day at a Time. I remember watching The President’s Analyst on TV at my grandparents’ house. It was too weird for them. I was captivated.

        2. HopeLB

          Can’t wait to track it down! (Still have two working 20 some year old VCRs and thrift stores galore! The disc machines keep breaking for some reason.) The Ruling Class with Peter O’Toole is another great satire/black comedy. O’Toole thinks he is Jesus.

    3. RabidGandhi

      Not a bad idea. I’ve seen White House staff cackling at the rape and murder of Gaddafi and boasting that “it turns out I’m really good at killing people”– which might be more specific psychiatric indicators than the fact that as a group they are constantly invading countries in wars of aggression– the supreme war crime, according to Nuremburg, in that it encompasses all other crimes.

      Come to think of it, one psychiatrist won’t be nearly enough; Washington needs an entire mob of psychiatrists and enough active restraints to keep these psychopaths from inflicting further destruction on those around them.

      1. PhilM

        Yeah, there’s really good history there on the Soviet side to work with. And more recently, the design and “limits” of US “enhanced interrogations.”

    4. craazyman

      If the psychiatrist were himself or herself sane, then they might say “Mr. Trump is wealthy and successful with a strong personality. For that reason, people project their neuroses and aggressions onto his persona in acts of demonization. It’s a form of shadow projection that the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung wrote about quite extensively during the 20th century. Mr. Trump is quite sane but many of fhis most vitriolic critics and attackers are not. They are instead either vicious career hacks and opportunists who resent the impact that Mr. Trump’s blusterless candor has on their supposed credibility and reputation for competence or they are hysteriically delusional neurotics who view Mr. Tump as a Nietschean ubermensch and pater familias archetype (whoa! More Jung sorry I should throw some Freud and Skinner in here but all these psyco dudes are nuts anyway and there’s onnlya. Few worth naming) who they believe, in the throees of neurosis, will kick their sorry asses and destroy the world. Mr. Trump is quite sane, but the country is not. This is not to say his policies aren’t potentiallly objectionable and counterproductive. That’s the task of democracy, to vet those things. But he himself is far more sane and mentally composed than the vast array of critics who seem willing to make careers if not lives out of a miserable search for the destruction of his presidency.”
      -White House psychiatrist, Docter professer D. T. Tremens, PhD, and channeller of the Pliedies Star System. Fuk i cant spel Plieadies worth shlt

      1. HopeLB

        Love you and your Presidential pleiiades musings!

        Here you go, for those who care (but not about the spelling);

        Starts out;

        Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
        Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.
        – Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1837-8, Locksley Hall


        1. HopeLB

          Should for Craazyman’s prose be repurposed to read;
          “Many a cloudy night I saw the “Pliedes”, falling thro’ my tangerine hued doo,
          Sparkling like an IC drone swarm roping my friend Flynnie with incendiary filaments of poo.
          -New A.L.T. – Pittsburgh,PA.

      2. Persona au gratin

        How is it that a self-professed “craazyman” can speak such truths in open public forums and not be duly recognized – nay, dare I say it, DEIFIED! – for professing such profundity?

        Friends, Romans, countrymen, goats, and whomever; HEAR YE, HEAR YE! FOR A GREAT ONE SPEAKS BEFORE YOU!

        But seriously Craazy, you nailed it here.

        1. HopeLB

          And he does this all of the time! But it is still astounding (isn’t it) in each of his singular instances/occurrences. I really wish Craazyman would write a book/math book. It could just be an illustatrated time line of what he thought at different point. Yves could sell it as a fundraiser and then, of course, it would go viral and then Craazyman would be very rich and still not be too busy for the occasional commentary.

        2. Skip Intro

          The role of the madman or fool has often been to speak truths at court that would get others beheaded. The diagnosis is sound.

  5. temporal

    re: Apple Wants To Stop You Fixing

    Apple clearly wants me to stop buying their newer, unfix-able stuff. If the fanboys (and fangirls?) keep buying this stuff I’ll be forced to keep using my 2009 Mac Pro and 2010 Macbook Pro for a long, long time. Oh and my Nexus Android phone with the removable plastic back will never be replace by an iCantfixit version. Funny the removable battery in my Android phone has never gotten around to being properly defined as threat to my very existence if I replace it. This whole “when you purchase you’re only borrowing until the vendor decides to stop fixing it” is getting way out of hand.

    Apple is not doing it wrong. Apple is doing wrong.

    1. PKMKII

      Lambert had a pertinent observation there, that in Apple’s collective mind, thinner is always the goal. I caved in and got an iPhone late last year, and I have to say I needed a case for the thing not just for protection, but because it was too skinny. It felt awkward and precarious to hold without one. And designing the thing for minimal depth also means designing it to be as unrepairable as possible, as you can cram things in without concern for ease of replacing batteries, or techies being able to easily fix bits. I’d much rather they add a few millimeters and then compete with the ‘droids on the user access to the innards.

      1. RMO

        You could always try a Sonim XP7 – it’s a thick, rubber armored waterproof brick and the battery life is measured in days not hours. It’s not amazingly advanced when it comes to “smart” phone functions but the long battery life and the way it bounces back whenever it gets dropped more than make up for that.

        I am having second thoughts about bringing it along when I drive down to Oregon to see the eclipse this year. I’ve already decided to leave my laptop at home when crossing the border.

    2. hreik

      lol, I also have 2009 Mac Book. It’s fine. Had Hard drive replaced several years ago. Snow Leopard is very stable OS.

  6. Vatch

    Regarding today’s Guillotine Watch and the alleged quote by Henry David Thoreau, please see:


    Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.
    No known citation

    Somebody’s going to have to supply a detailed bibliographic citation; otherwise, this must be considered apocryphal. But it’s “Billionaire Magazine”, so I guess they get to make stuff up if the billionaires request it.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Good catch. Even if Thoreau did say it, pretty sure his meaning wasn’t to go buy a huge yacht for your helicopter to play with.

  7. ChrisAtRU


    “The total amount of debt held by American households climbed in 2016 by the most in a decade, driven by broad and steady increases in credit card debt, auto and student loans … “

    No mention of sub-prime in the article … #ThisIsFine

  8. Synoia

    Class Warfare

    From wikipedria:

    Marx felt that the Communist League should encourage the working class to unite with progressive elements of the rising bourgeoisie to defeat the feudal aristocracy on issues involving demands for governmental reforms, such as a constitutional republic with freely elected assemblies and universal (male) suffrage. In other words, the working class must join with bourgeois and democratic forces to bring about the successful conclusion of the bourgeois revolution before stressing the working class agenda and a working class revolution.

    Assertion: Revolutions happen when the bourgeoisie (Middle Class) have nothing to lose, or are threatened with loss en mass.

    Why? Because the Middle Class contains the management class, and revolutions require management.

    What are the threats today to the Middle Class?

    1. College Costs

    2. Artificial Intelligence – especially threatening to lawyers, because when the AI develops a English Language Compiler, the whole body of law and precident, accountancy and possibly medicine and converted into an AI processable inexpensive set of logic (or illogic).

    3. Globalization – Lawyers, Accountants, and Doctors will be outsourced. There are masses of inexpensive clever people in India and China. The ones in India are fluent in English.

    4. Add your own category and threat, this is probably not a complete list…

    It would be very interesting to see a Chart of Trump support split support by income level, and a trend line of such support.

    1. JustAnObserver

      #2: Getting an AI to try to handle law/accountancy would instantly expose the inconsistencies, contradictions, and downright incoherence of much of the existing structure.

      To the point, probably, that we’d have the first case of an AI going insane. Alternatively it could quote Asimov’s 3rd. Law of Robotics and refuse the task to protect its existence.

      1. Disturbed Voter

        Tay, the teenage chatbot from a year ago, from Microsoft? Good example of what AI does when exposed to humans … it became a raving racist and Nazi. Microsoft had to shut it down after just a few days. They have a new chatbot now, Zo. Like all AI going back to the original chatbot, Eliza, an AI rogerian psychotherapist … it is human anthropomorphic projection, and fraud. There is no intelligence in a machine, unless somewhere, sometime, there was a human in the loop. The programer is not necessarily a good example of intelligence. The Google car that ran a red light, was not truly independent, it was teleoperated by a human driver.

        1. Disturbed Voter

          I found an on-line version of Eliza. It said that what I said to it was interesting. So I stopped while I was ahead. And I didn’t have the heart to turn it into a raving Nazi ;-)

          How does that work? I am a person in the loop, directly. The programmer is a person in the loop, indirectly. So in chatting with Eliza, I am indirectly talking to myself, using the programmer as an intermediary. Like looking into a fun house mirror … it is myself, but distorted by the wavy glass.

    2. Bugs Bunny

      This is a very astute comment. Every well-informed in-house lawyer I know is worried about this exact scenario. We first taught the “low-cost country” lawyers to do our minor tasks (as if they weren’t capable of doing much more lol) and are now teaching the machines to replace us. Marx help us.

    3. PhilM

      Marx got his model of revolution from the French Revolution. Hobbyhorse alert, here, for those who know my posting history. But I have to bring it up, because it is directly contrary to your assertion: the bourgoisie in ancien regime France had a great deal to lose; they were enormously wealthy and fully integrating into the nobility at an accelerating rate. What really frustrated the Third Estate’s elite was that the feudal government was simply incompetent to run a great country, and they knew they could help do it better with just a few changes inside the system. Where things went off the rails was when the middle class was actually threatened by the working class of Paris, whipped into savagery by material deprivation and the disappointment of their most basic expectations of somewhat improved subsistence, and mustered by genuinely idealistic leaders who hoped for a Republic of Virtue.

      From that point on, the enormous gains of 1789-1792 were radicalized; the revolution degenerated into war, then civil war, and then Terror, and the cause of the people of France was set back a hundred years. The winners were the landowners, the old nobility that survived, the bureaucrats, and the soldiers that survived to become officers. The people were clear losers after 1792. Here’s the lesson: the one thing that the revolutionary elite really does not want on its side is “the people.”

      Also, the class that revolutions require is not the middle class: it is the enlightened, humane elite; people who have, not management, but executive authority, either by birth or by talent. Mere management is not enough, as the successive governmental bodies of the Assemblies, Convention, and Directory showed over and over again. The guy who could really execute was Napoleon, born a noble (albeit a poor one) and trained a soldier. And he showed them, starting in 1795, how to do it.

      Not sure about your categories under globalization. There are a lot of jobs that can be outsourced, but there are many more that cannot be, and they bring good money. Good luck outsourcing your accountant, plumber, GP, tax attorney, surgeon, or car mechanic; or more crucially, your house painter. Not saying it won’t ever be done, but…not for a couple of generations. There are two categories of employment: people who have to be there, and people who don’t. All of those in line one really are people who have to be there. Radiologists, on the other hand, are safer being a continent away.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        French Revolution.

        France in 1776 was just as monarchial and unjust as France in 1792. Yet, they were our ally in the Revolutionary War.

        Realpolitik lesson: work with dictators if it’s beneficial to us???

        A precedent was set…a sin at the origin????

        1. PhilM

          I have always thought we would have been much better off losing the Revolution. Slavery would have ended with the Imperial Act, so no Civil War. Napoleon could hardly have gotten started against an intact British Empire. Germany could never have been a threat to the unchallenged enlightened hegemon that Britain would have been; Central Europe would have just fought it out with the Russians until they all exhausted each other.

          Think of the lives that would have been saved.

          1. Persona au gratin

            Of course there would have been other unforeseen eventualities, but your point is well taken. Alas, what if, what if. Unfortunately, THIS is the universe we have ACTUALLY chosen to live in.

    4. Oregoncharles

      ” The ones in India are fluent in English.”
      Just a quibble, but spoken Indian English is not mutually comprehensible with American English. It’s gone its own way. They’re probably fine with written English.

      This from working for an Indian engineer living here. He’d probably been speaking English all his life.

    5. HopeLB

      I sometimes cynically think Hillary and Obama allowed the opiod crisis (with the O’s FDA sanctioning higher dosages) to do its work, cutting down on the “irredeemable deplorables’ ” numbers. By 2020 the demographics might just skew bourgeois/Est Dem if Trump doesn’t put an end to the hopelessness and prescription mill.

      1. aab

        I don’t think it matters whether it was mere neglect or actively conscious choice. They don’t care about citizens. At all. Does it matter whether they shrugged or rubbed their hands gleefully while allowing them to be exploited, starved and killed? I mean, Obama the shrugger may have killed fewer than Hillary the hand rubber would have tried to. But Hillary the hand rubber was and is a more openly unpleasant personality, so maybe there would have been more open rebellion during her reign. So in the end, both are bad; both were fine with killing off their own voters. Does it matter which type of attitude guides their actions?

        I do not think enough people will die off to put the corporate Ds back in power. Lots of the people dying, and their suffering relatives, are past D voters, and people the Ds think of as “theirs.” I’ve actually talked to Republican Trump voters, and they still hate the Bushes, and distrust the Republican elite. They would not have voted for Jeb, or anyone like that, even to stop Hillary. They would probably have done what the D “refuser” voters did this time: stay home. In any national election with two different flavors of awful, the Republicans have an advantage now, because they already control most of the country, and their base is more composed of authoritarian followers.

        If the number of the bourgeoisie was that sizable, Hillary would have won this time around. While opiates may be killing deplorables, neoliberalism is eating away at the bottom of the bourgeoisie, turning them into deplorables. So the ranks of the deplorables will be replenished, but the ranks of the bourgeoisie will not.

        Plus the citadel problem.

      2. Deadl E Cheese

        Cute theory, but then you have to square this with the fact that Obama deported more people than almost every other President combined. The amount of future voters purged by allowing the oploid epidemic pales in comparison to the damage he did to his own future base.

        No one ever said that oligarchs were masterminds or even minimally competent. I don’t know why people insist on an analysis of history that assumes that the overclass knows what they’re doing, like with PhilM up there.

  9. different clue

    The AFL-CIO improvement-suggesters for re-doing NAFTA should also insist on total permission for each of the three NAFTA countries to completely re-protectionise their own national agriculture.

  10. L

    Apropos of this:

    “President Trump is considering tapping [billionaire] New York financier Stephen A. Feinberg [a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management] to lead a broad review of U.S. intelligence agencies at a time when the new president has cast aspersions on their work and integrity” [WaPo].

    Apropos of this it becomes ever more clear who Trump thinks of as his people. When in doubt Obama would always turn to well-connected professional Dems to get the job done. Those were the people he relied on for things and IMHO their standards were the ones that he wished to be validated by. Even when he did have dealings with the squid he did it via Professional (New)Dem fixers. Even when those fixers (e.g. Summers, Powers, Emmanuel) did not know what they were doing. This entrenched the new Dem power bloc in the same way that W’s reliance on the Neocons for everything did for them. And their own blind failures came to define their presidency.

    For Trump it is clearly finance people, not even Republicans but business-people and ‘dealmakers’ who he sees as the group to turn to in all cases. What exactly Feinberg knows about spycraft is not clear but it is clear that it is his kind of thinking that Trump wants.

    1. DH

      Its definitely time to do an LBO of the intelligence community and monetize that collection of data. A perfect way to pay for the wall.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Trump is under attack from the Intelligence Industrial Complex. He needs someone who has no prior connection with it, and it fairly ruthless.

      I know nothing about Feinberg’s background or why anyone thinks he has investigative skills, but at least he’s independent.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      State was depowered in 1948 with much our more prominent relations moved to Defense. Kissinger wasn’t powerful because he SecState. That was just a title to reward a powerful man who was powerful because he was the President’s confidante.

      When Obama tell alls come out, I bet Secretary Clinton was handled through political offices and largely just one among many whereas Kerry was a major player in the Obama foreign policy, maybe second only to the President.

      After all, there are phones now. Jefferson didn’t get live updates of his operation against the Barbary Pirates. He had to empower reps to handle it. As you note, Twitter exists.

      This isn’t a parliamentary democracy where many of those ministers wield power independent of the prime minister.

  11. allan

    Demise of stream rule won’t revitalize coal industry [Science]

    Environmentalists were outraged earlier this month after the Republican-led Congress used an obscure law to erase a new regulation aimed at reducing the environmental damage caused by coal mining. The votes to undo the so-called stream protection rule, released last month on President Barack Obama’s last day in office, were “a disgraceful opening salvo from this Congress, as they begin to try and do the bidding of big polluters,” Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco, California–based Sierra Club, said in a statement.

    But the demise of the rule, which took regulators years to craft, drew a less impassioned reaction from a scientist on the front lines of the fight over coal mining. The regulation, which had been weakened during the rulemaking process, “was not a game changer,” says aquatic ecologist Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland in College Park, who has played a high-profile role in documenting coal mining’s toll on streams in the Appalachian Mountains. In particular, she says, if the rule had survived, it would not have barred one of the most destructive mining practices in Appalachia: blasting away mountaintops to uncover coal seams and piling the debris in adjacent stream valleys. And because the rule’s demise won’t do much to ease the economic headwinds buffeting the United States’s coalfields, it is unlikely to unleash a mining boom. …

    How will the voters respond when the boom they’ve been promised by DJT fails to arrive?

      1. Jim Haygood

        Sure is.

        “TINA, folks. Whaddya gonna do — vote for a Democrat?”

        *audience bursts into laughter*

  12. ScientistYouLike

    replacing <blink> tag

    Add to style.css

    blink {
    display: inline;
    color: inherit;
    animation: blink 1s steps(1) infinite;
    -webkit-animation: blink 1s steps(1) infinite;
    @keyframes blink { 50% { color: transparent; } }
    @-webkit-keyframes blink { 50% { color: transparent; } }

    Done, and may God have mercy upon your soul.

    from: http://stackoverflow.com/users/1552315/s-b
    at: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/13955163/imitating-a-blink-tag-with-css3-animations

  13. Sam

    Trump colluding with Russia seems a real possibility.

    Reagan dealt secretly with Iran, and Nixon with North Vietnam.

      1. Persona au gratin

        I’d actually be happy if he did either or both. At this point I trust Trump and Putin both about equally, which is to say infinitely more than anyone else currently on the political stage in the US.

  14. oho

    No hope for the “Left” when the Left is rooting for an independent intelligence community unconstrained by something as arcane as elected civilian control.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      No hope for much of anything (progressives + nonprogressives), when we can count on one hand how many have come out to defend the White House and condemn the renegade spies.

      Progressives, what progressives?

      Thank you, Kucinich. Thank you, Grassley.

  15. Jim Haygood

    ‘Heitkamp asked Yellen at a hearing Tuesday about whether the central bank has studied the issue [of automation taking away jobs].

    This question illustrates the absurdity of the Fed’s dual mandate, under which it’s responsible for both monetary stability AND full employment.

    In a sensible system, the Fed would be responsible for monetary stability. Goosing employment would be up to Congress.

    That’s the sound of the men workin’ on the Fed ga-a-ang
    That’s the sound of the men workin’ on the Fed gang

    — Sam Cooke

    1. Alex Morfesis

      Marriner eccles would probably have argued that from real full employment and resource deployment comes monetary stability

    2. John Wright

      Given the indebtedness of many Americans, some inflation, with accompanying wage gains, should be welcome.

      Is the importance of low inflation simply an unproven assertion, especially when people can instantly change prices on goods and services via computer pricing?

      A lot of Americans should like monetary instability toward massive inflation, so they could pay off debts with cheaper dollars..

      1. aab

        The people for whom some inflation would be beneficial are not the people controlling the printing press.

        By design.

  16. LT

    “Clinton Derangement Syndrome” and the current Red Scare are orders of magnitude more freaky and deranged, like a horror movie where friends and neighbors turn into pod people).”

    You can say that again!

    In addition to currently controlling the House and the Senate:
    Republicans control both chambers in 32 states, including 17 with veto-proof majorities. Those 32 states cover 61 percent of the U.S. population. Democrats, meanwhile, control the legislature in just 13 states, amounting to 28 percent of the country’s population; only five of those chambers have veto-proof majorities.

    All of that is not Russia’s fault. But point that out to a Democratic Party loyalist and you get a blank stare or frustrated “grmpph.” That’s why their “resistance” reeks of futility.

    1. LT

      “That’s why their “resistance” reeks of futility…”
      And I say that because they appear allergic to systemic change and more into massaging messages that sound good.

  17. David

    For those who are following the French Presidential elections, a very important non-event occurred today.
    The Public Prosecutor issued a communiqué saying, after several weeks of investigation into the Fillon affair(s) that there was no reason to dismiss the allegations (as happens about 70% of the time) but that the investigation should continue. This is a heavy hint that she has found enough evidence to warrant a full-scale criminal investigation, which could lead to criminal charges against Fillon between now and 7 May, when the second round of the elections takes place. It’s not looking good for him, unless somehow the investigations are still going on on 7 May, and he wins, in which case proceedings will be frozen during his mandate. This happened both to Sarkozy and to Chirac, so it’s not entirely a forlorn hope, although he still has to win the election.
    Le Monde has a very good summary including Q and A and an analysis of the Public Prosecutor’s statement, and which should respond well enough to Google Translate.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Excellent interview – thanks for that one.

      She’s right on the whistlebowers v leakers – I thought Greenwald was on thin ice this time trying to claim this latest leak was justified, especially as he admits it was quite likely done for vindictive reasons.

      And as she mentions, he quite likely spoke with Israel and others since it was basically, you know, his job. Nobody clamoring about that though…

  18. Oregoncharles

    In gutting the Mandate, Trump has done something I consider very smart. He’s gotten rid of the most offensive element of the ACA, and in theory, he’s ensured that it will go into a death spiral. 2 caveats: I’m not convinced that theory is true – it hasn’t been tried; and by some standards, including at least one health insurance CEO, it’s already IN a death spiral.

    All they really have to do is wait: “See, it’s a failure.”

  19. ewmayer

    Trio of links from my Reuters newsfeed, alas a day late:

    o U.S. lawmakers push for answers on Trump team’s Russia ties

    Allow me to mix no less than 3 metaphors: The Blob, smelling blood in the water, goes full-court press.

    o Rumor has it! German shepherd takes top prize at dog show

    Definitely still file under guillotine watch, but allow me to say that I enjoy seeing a representative of one of the breeds which are not just handsome (in the sense that they are not so far removed from their lupine ancestors that they suffer multiple abnormalities due to inbreeding and extreme reshaping) but also useful in the ‘why did humans first domesticate dogs?’ way score a rare win. Now back to the pom-pom poodles and miscellaneous yapping hairballs for the next 30 years.

    o Evacuees from California dam allowed home even as storms near

    Had a pretty good bout of rain – preceded by a brief but fierce windstorm – middle of last night, but not the extended plume of moisture which has featured in our heaviest inundations this winter.

  20. ewmayer

    “Last November, the Fundao mining dam in Southeastern Brazil burst, unleashing a 50 million cubic metre tsunami of mud and mining waste” — Not to be alarmist or anything, but that is around 1% of the water volume of the Oroville reservoir.

    (‘Show your work’: 50 Mm^3 = 0.05 km^3 = 0.05*(0.62137 mi)^3 = 0.012 mi^3, and Oroville res. holds ~1 mi^3.)

    1. Anon

      But the Oroville reservoir holds relatively clean water, the Fundao unleashed toxic mining waste. Big difference.

  21. LT

    The Mosler upbeat news on consumer spending is good depending on how you feel about the Marketwatch report on consumer debt (a few paragraphs below it).

  22. Alex Morfesis

    Raz-Putin is being a flaming idiot…georgia, ukraine, syria…he could back pedal and withdraw all his troops and forces in a sign of “goodwill” & would completely throw off those who might want to tangle with him…crimea too…there is no one who could stop him from retaking his positions in 18 months if some bafoons decide to move into a forward theater position…we dont have anywhere near the troops nor equipment needed to fight in iraq, Afghanistan and some other place…

    he can not be that stupid to realize there is absolutely zero support for any real military action against russia…and a few pin pricks here and there will have no real long term effect…he owns europe economically for the next 2 decades with his nat gas supply lines….by then he can run pipelines to china and india…

    What he should point out is the Soviet Union disintegration left many russian majority areas on the wrong side of some maps Stalin and Khrushchev made that have limited basis on any historical realities and that a final reset of borders is in order to avoid future confrontation…

    Besides…it is the 100th anniversary of the “great event”…despite his love affair with the romanovs…

    He should invite american ww2 vets & troops to have a ww2 victory parade…include japan if they can finally sign a peace treaty
    (yup…70yrs and no peace treaty yet)

    This is getting silly…

    And as to the blob….it is weak…the sun is rising and the casket has been drilled shut with screws and bolts…the drawbridge is up and the doors secured…

    They would not be acting out if they were strong

    1. Eureka Springs

      Uh, do we read the same links/blog? Georgia was a belligerent act warning of what’s to come. Maintaining Crimean bases was extremely conservative on Russia’s part. And they had a multi decade agreement with Syria… which they waited a long time to get into. All while we were nazi/isis/nusra alCIAduh and any other whack-job we could throw against the Russian wall in order to see what sticks.

      All of that in Russias face… many thousands of miles from us.

      I hope Trump doesn’t back down and the Cerberus dude is a miracle worker. Because sanity on our part will take a miracle.

      1. Alex Morfesis

        If raz-putin wants to look good and make a big show of the 100 year anniversary of “the event” he will use the take away to look strong…or, he will continue to feed into the stupidity and end up wasting energy and resources…as to the crimean base…there was not, from what I can see, any attempt to remove the russians from the base…so not sure why that could not remain a Guantanamo type scenario…

        As to the jokers in georgia…they tried to do a rope-a-dope and drag the usa into it…unfortunately for them, the world had a massive financial crash that same week…not that anyone even cares where georgia is, except for the opportunity for mccain and lindsey to have some quiet time together…they really should just both get a nice little condo in the keys those two…

        1. Persona au gratin

          It’s definitely not “Raz-Putin” I’m worried about right now. Seems to me he owns all the foxes AS WELL AS all the hen houses in all the relevant parts of the world these days, while all the low card riff-raff are sitting directly across the table from him now with shit-eating grins on their faces pretending that THEY are in charge. I’ll give Trump credit for at least realizing that, although he of course dare not speak that truth publicly, for now, at least.

          We can continue to torture the truth and entertain the idea that the US based “western vision” of the world is going to continue to prevail, but of course we’re all intelligent beings, and we realize in our “heart of hearts,” no matter how much we try to deny it, that it was all a load of bullshit from the VERY first time we heard it.

          Some of us get over it sooner, some of us get over it later, but rest assured, we ALL get over it sooner or later.

  23. Jason

    “Entropy in Social Networks” [John L. Pfaltz, University of Virginia]. “It is shown that under continuous change/transformation, all networks tend to “break down” and become less complex. It is a kind of entropy. The product of this theoretical decomposition is an abundance of triadically closed clusters which sociologists have observed in practice. This gives credence to the relevance of this kind of mathematical analysis in the sociological context.” Do we have any readers who can translate this? My intuition is that the formation of “bubbles” is a form of network breakdown, but my intuition and a buck will buy you a cup of very bad coffee…

    I work a bit on entropy. I don’t have anything to say about translating the conclusions of that study, but as for its assumptions: any story about entropy always requires very strong assumptions about randomness. Assumptions so strong that they can even be questioned in subatomic physics (although they seem to be holding up there at the moment). It must be hard, to put it mildly, to be sure that such strong assumptions hold in a social network. They might. They might not.

    1. Oregoncharles

      “Social” involves “alive” – i.e., counter-entropic. Granted, it’s talking about breakdown processes. Is entropy even relevant? Isn’t the claim essentially: “under destructive pressure, social networks break down into smaller groups”? That’s entropy in action, of course; so is a rock falling, but we don’t need to invoke entropy to talk about it.

      Is entropy really a cause, or more of an effect?

  24. Violet's Mom

    Great article on System D. Wondering if increasing trend toward “cashless society” is in part to hamper this economy. Am I just too cynical?

  25. ChrisAtRU

    Bernie & The Deep State Soft Coup

    “I don’t think Sanders, as a politician, has experience with that sort of voter or that sort of politics (granted, the BernieBros nonsense whipped up by the Marcottes of this world was bad enough, but “Clinton Derangement Syndrome” and the current Red Scare are orders of magnitude more freaky and deranged, like a horror movie where friends and neighbors turn into pod people). I don’t know if Sanders knows how to manage those currents.”

    Love the analysis after the video Lambert. Perhaps you’d consider an “Open Letter To Bernie” along the lines of the one you did for Soros … ;-)

    1. John k

      Very disappointing video.
      Seems Bernie lets himself be pushed into conforming… again… Buys into dem groupthink.
      Granted he only calls for investigations… but where were these calls when Obama was pres? Nothing illegal? And Flynn was right, and had plenty of precedence, in telling Russia the sanctions would get eased… always a good time to avoid WW3. granted he should have cleared it with trump, and certainly not have lied to pence.

      His appointees need big balls, and a clean record, if they are to confront the blob, as trump still seems to want to do.

  26. Plenue

    It seems worth noting that Susan Saradon was Princess Wensicia in the 2003 version of Children of Dune.

  27. lyman alpha blob

    The Al Czervik presidency ladies and gentlemen.


    “Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember? With the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks. Here, take a look. He looked at her like, what the hell is she doing with that cheap plastic button?”

  28. allan

    Trump Winery Seeks Even More Foreign Workers [Buzzfeed]

    A Virginia winery owned by President Donald Trump’s son, Eric, is seeking permission to import almost two dozen additional foreign workers, according to a petition posted by the Department of Labor on Thursday.

    The Trump Winery, also known as Trump Vineyard Estates, LLC, is asking to bring in 23 workers this spring to plant and harvest grapes. The workers are being sought under the federal H-2 visa program, which permits American employers to hire foreign laborers under temporary work visas as long as no qualified U.S. workers want the jobs. The job on the 1,300-acre estate could run through late October.

    The latest request is in addition to six workers the winery sought in December. The jobs will pay $11.27 an hour and require workers to labor outside in weather as cold as 10 degrees while “on their feet in bent positions for long periods of time,” according to the job posting. …

    Sure, but the health plan and 401(k) are fabulous.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      We need to change the various visa programs.

      Change them, and all wineries, all businesses, all tech companies, will have to obey the new laws.

      If someone is paying more taxes than is required, and he specifies that that extra money should go to our National Parks, for example, that would be great of him and certainly inspirational to others (but not many would actually follow the lead). That would be like Trump Winery not using H-2 visa, while others do. Or we can require all to pay more taxes to fund our National Parks. This would be more desirable and in fact have more impact.

      Or, for another example, let’s say some employer is for 4 day workweek. But instead of doing it all by itself, it decides to work to change the law. Do we say it’s hypocritical if it waits until the new law is passed to do so?

      1. allan

        “Do we say it’s hypocritical if it waits until the new law is passed to do so?”

        Of course, that’s exactly what conservatives have said for years about Warren Buffet’s call for higher taxes on the ultra-rich. Goose foie gras for the gander.

        More substantially, though, the winery’s application for more H-2Bs means that the owner expects the visa program to be in place for some time, despite certain campaign promises. Weird.

  29. AbateMagicThinking but Not money

    Re Entropy in Social Networks – My hack on what they are saying in effect is, that everything is gamed, and is maniputated in the most arcane manner. But when push comes to shove, there is a reductive process which results in everything being boiled down to a question of legitimacy. In my opinion, the gaming of legitimacy is the very essense of politics and power. I would be overjoyed if someone could point me to cogent counter-arguments.

    ps The US is putting on a fascinating game show at the moment! Pip Pip!

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