By Lambert Strether of Corrente
“USTR INVITES PUBLIC COMMENTS ON NAFTA 2.0: Mark your calendars: Anyone hoping to make their voice heard in the upcoming renegotiation of NAFTA is invited to testify at a USTR hearing on June 27, according to a notice published in today’s Federal Register” [Politico]. “Anyone wishing to testify must provide written notification and a summary of his or her comments by June 12, the notice says, and written comments provided in place of testimony are due the same day. To enter a submission, go to regulations.gov and search for docket number USTR-2017-0006.”
UPDATE “President Donald Trump has sent Congress a $4.1 trillion spending plan that proposes to eliminate the deficit in a decade while protecting Social Security and Medicare” [AP]. “But to achieve balance, Trump is seeking sharp cuts in a variety of programs for the poor from Medicaid to food stamps and disability payments.” This is a good wrap-up of reactions, and even Republicans are pronouncing Trump’s budget “Dead on Arrival.” Do note, however, that the Democrat Establishment accepts the same premise as the Republicans do: That a balanced budget is good itself, and a goal always worth achieving. So they are trapped in the austerity box, with no way out (that they can see). So instead we get national conversations (see below on universalism) on why we can’t have nice things.
“That is not to minimize the personal challenges faced by people with serious health conditions. But from a political perspective, can a group numbering perhaps 1 or 2 million be the cause for Republicans losing the 23-seat advantage they now hold in the House of Representatives?” [RealClearPolitics]. “That would require more than 5 percent of the voters in at least 23 congressional districts to switch sides and vote for the Democratic candidates 16 months from now. In the 2016 elections, there were only 27 seats where Republicans were elected with less than 55 percent of the vote. In only 11 districts did the Republican candidate have less that a 10 percent margin over the Democratic candidate. It’s not impossible for the Democrats to overcome these margins, of course, but the triumphalism of the Democrats and the media on this is clearly only wishful thinking.” Both authors are from AEI, so their assumption that the “group numbering perhaps 1 or 2 million” are all atomized individuals who affect only their vote is perhaps natural. But “the math,” as they saym is interesting. A Democrat would counter that’s what waves do, but it’s not yet clear that a one-two punch of Putin Derangement Syndrome and policy vacuity will create that wave.
“DNC reports worst April of fundraising since 2009” [Washington Examiner]. True, these things fluctuate, but DNC fundraising should be through the roof, right? Idea: Focus more on Putin.
“In a break from recent tradition, the Democrats are planning to widely expand the number of districts they plan to contest in the 2018 midterm elections. But, in a sign that not every tried-and-true Democratic instinct is being thrown out, they’re planning on dumpster diving for help doing it, with Politico reporting that three House Democrats involved in mapping out the party’s strategy to win in 2018 are going to make a pilgrimage to Chicago to seek out the advice of none other than Mayor Rahm Emanuel” [Fusion]. Please kill me now. (Some fun Rahm anecdotes here, including the one where he calls “liberals” — that is, anybody to his left — “f*#king retards.” So, phase one would be to unify the party, phase two would be to get the left out on the trail campaigning for the Democrat Establishment, and phase three would be to kick the left, which is just what Rahm did after the last wave election (Pelosi, too).
“Florida Democratic Party Exec: Poor Voters Don’t Care About ‘Issues,’ Vote Based on ‘Emotions'” [Miami New Times]. “Last night, the party’s new second-in-command, Sally Boynton Brown, spoke in front of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Broward County. And throughout the exchange, she steadfastly refused to commit to changing the party’s economic or health-care messaging in any concrete way…. Brown, the former executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, was hired last month to take over for the outgoing executive director, Scott Arceneaux. Last night was her first encounter with local progressives, who are already disgruntled after Stephen Bittel — a billionaire real-estate developer, gas station franchiser, environmental dredging company executive, and major political donor — was elected to serve as party chair earlier this year. Many progressives accused him of buying his way into the job via campaign donations.” Read the whole thing. It’s vile.
Imperial Collapse Watch
I remain stunned by the optics:
the orb photo is unsettling
and the uncropped version is a bit more diabolical
but the reverse shot is just straight out of a bond film pic.twitter.com/3YUORdpW2p
— David Crooks (@CypherSignal) May 22, 2017
Hall of Mirrors
“A North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) spokesperson is denying a report that the Secretary-General of the military alliance said Donald Trump has a 12 second attention span” [Independent]. “Oana Longescu tweeted that Jens Stoltenberg did not, in fact, comment on the US president’s lack of focus. Politico reported that he had, citing a senior White House official who also said Mr Trump was not prepared for his meeting with Mr Stoltenberg.” During 2016, I stopped covering the “Trump said ___” eruptions when it became clear that the press consistently misquoted him. (Ritual pronouncement that I’m not defending Trump when I point out the press has a duty to quote public figures accurately.) So here we are again. Does the press, indeed, have a White House source? If so, was that source telling the truth? Is NATO trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube? Who’s lying, and how are we to tell? If we assume they all are, what then? And speaking of anonymous sources, at this point we might remember that (current) liberal Heroes of the Republic Brennan, Comey, and Clapper are, respectively, Bush and Obama’s torture advisor as well as the architect of Obama’s kill list, pro-torture, and a serial fabricator on mass surveillance and torture as well. (To be fair, fabrication is part of the intelligence community’s stock in trade.) These gentlemen — friends to access journalists everywhere — are all over the telescreen right now, but seems to me unlikely that truth will have been their first concern when there is so much else at stake.
“In the long run, the CIA can’t deceive the Chinese government without also deceiving, in some way, the American public. This leaves us with an obvious problem: Should we believe anything the CIA says?” [RealClearWorld]. “It’s a tough question for a democracy to answer. Trust is built on the tacit agreement that the “bad things” an agency does are good for the country. If the public believes that that is no longer the case – if it believes the agency is acting out of self-interest and not national interest – then the agreement is broken. The intelligence agency is seen as an impediment of the right to national self-determination, a means for the ends of the few.”
Realignment and Legitimacy
“A growing number of House Republicans are facing physical threats from angry constituents in their districts, leading many to fear for their safety” [The Hill (TF)]. They don’t mess around in the Red States, do they?
Interesting ideological formulation: “Gerring writes that universalism started to take hold in the Democratic Party in the postwar era as national Democrats shifted away from an anti-elitist, populist message and toward rhetoric centered on unity, peace and prosperity. Universalists tend to see abstract concepts rather than specific people or institutions as problems — think of the efforts to stop poverty, end racism or reduce income inequality. Universalist Democrats cast themselves as managers of the welfare state rather than crusaders against a powerful elite, and they often championed the rights and causes of a wide array of individual groups. Democrats’ focus on LGBT rights, civil rights protections for African-Americans, comprehensive immigration reform, women’s rights and more can all be thought of as part of as a universalist commitment to the particular needs of groups. Rhetorically, universalist Democrats often end up appealing for a party that offers a space for everyone to voice their concerns. Hillary Clinton is a great example of this” [RealClearPolitics]. “Sanders, however, doesn’t ultimately trace his policy positions to a fight with poverty or for better health care, but to a fight against Wall Street bankers or pharmaceutical companies. His economic narratives have clear and present antagonists…. In these ways, Sanders is more of a populist than many modern Democrats. Populists, according to Gerring’s categories, were the dominant force in national Democratic politics from 1896 to 1948. Their organizing political principle was a moral fight between the common man and a few moneyed elites who exploited the masses for personal gain. Populists often targeted trusts. They used moral language, explicitly calling policies “right” or “wrong” and believed that the government was the only force strong enough to restrain big business, ensure that the basic needs of citizens were met and bring people into a state of true equality.”
“Poll: Most say Trump won’t be impeached” [The Hill]. “[T]he new Harvard-Harris survey, provided exclusively to The Hill, which found that 54 percent of voters said they have not seen evidence to suggest that Trump campaign officials conspired with Moscow to influence the 2016 election…. Respondents were largely split along partisan lines, with 80 percent of Republicans saying there is no evidence of collusion and 74 percent of Democrats saying there is. Only 38 percent of independents said there is evidence of collusion.”
“Trump’s rural voters fighting to keep their land from a growing web of pipelines” [McClatchy]. Deplorable!
Chemical Activity Barometer, May 2017: “The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) rose 0.4 percent in May, following a downward revision of 0.1 percent for April” [Econintersect]. “Compared to a year earlier, the CAB is up 5.0 percent year-over-year, a modest slowing that still suggests continued growth through year-end 2017. All data is measured on a three-month moving average.”
New Home Sales, April 2017: “[A m]ixed report that confirms a reputation for unusual volatility” [Econoday]. March and February were revised upward, but “April was a bad month for all regions especially the West. One month is never enough to judge new home sales which eases the negative signals from April. But the report does follow last week’s housing starts which also showed significant April weakness.” And: “below expectations” [Economic Calendar]. And but: “This month the backward revisions were up and the rolling averages significantly declined. Because of weather and other factors, the rolling averages are the way to view this series – and the rolling averages were within the levels seen in 2017” [Econintersect]. And: “New home sales for April were reported at 569,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was well below the consensus forecast, however the three previous months combined were revised up significantly. Overall this was a decent report” [Calculated Risk].
Purchasing Managers Index Composite Flash, May 2017: “A noticeable pick-up in the services sector offset continued softness in manufacturing to lift the PMI composite” [Econoday]. “New orders are at their best level of the year and employment is improving. Costs in the service sample are rising due to higher wages and higher costs for raw materials. And service providers, in further evidence that demand is strong, are passing these costs through with output prices also at their highest level of the year. Manufacturing is a different story with new orders, output and employment all subdued and slowing… Of special note in the report is a subdued year-ahead outlook in the service sector, one that contrasts with strong optimism at the beginning of the year. This report is mixed with manufacturing continuing to run behind other advance reports though services are mostly positive.”
Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index, May 2017: “Manufacturing activity in the Fifth district did expand for the seventh consecutive month in May, but just barely, with the index falling sharply by a surprisingly large 19 points to an almost flat reading of 1” [Econoday]. “The big decline from the lofty levels of the two previous months was a surprise to most analysts, who expected a more modest decline… Looking ahead, manufacturing executives are still very optimistic, and while expectations measures did fall from the exuberant readings of the prior months, the declines are much less pronounced than in the current conditions part of the survey.” And: “The Richmond Fed subcategories were weak, This was not a good report.” [Econintersect]. “Of the three regional Federal Reserve surveys released to date, one is in contraction with the rest in expansion.”
Household Income: “According to new data derived from the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS), median annual household income in April 2017 was $59,361, an increase of $590 (or 1.0 percent) over the March 2017 median of $58,771” [Econintersect]. “Median household income at the beginning of the great recession in December 2007 was $58,155, so the current median is 2.1 percent above that level. The Sentier Household Income Index (HII) for April 2017 was 100.9, higher than the March 2017 reading of 99.9 (January 2000 = 100). .” Best economy EVAH!
Energy: “Peak oil demand is coming, and energy companies and investors are becoming increasingly obsessed with predicting when the world will hit that milestone. Oil consumption hasn’t declined when economies are growing since the early days of commercial petroleum production in the 1850s” [Wall Street Journal]. “Oil companies and analysts say the moment could come as soon as 2025 or well into the 2040s. The precise date depends on how quickly automakers can ramp up production of electric vehicles and whether large manufacturers and retailers continue to push for improved energy efficiency in their supply chains even as oil and natural-gas prices remain low. But the consequences are likely to be so vast that many in the energy industry are already starting to prepare, factoring waning consumption into long-term forecasts and investment plans.”
Commercial Real Estate: “For the first time since the third quarter of 2010, when the sector began its historic multi-year run after emerging from the Great Recession, leasing demand in the first quarter fell short of new construction, according to data provided on Friday by Los Angeles-based real estate and services giant CBRE Group Inc. The firm added, however, that the gap between the two was narrow and that it had minimal impact on industrial availability.” [DC Velocity]. “The net rent index—which calculates rents excluding expenses and is considered the best gauge of market forces that drive pricing—rose 1.6 percent sequentially in the first quarter, and 6.7 percent year over year to $6.24 per square foot, the highest levels since 1980, CBRE said. In many U.S. markets, vacancy rates have dropped to as low as 2 percent. Because of this, most of the new industrial deliveries are speculative construction, an indication that developers are so confident in the continuation of current trends that they will begin work on a project without any firm buyer or tenant.”
The Bezzle: “The jobs of as many as 3.1 million U.S. truck drivers are at risk as autonomous (self-driving) technology for the big rigs continues to be developed. That’s about 2% of the total current U.S. workforce” [247 Wall Street]. “The switch won’t happen immediately, but slowly over the next decade or so, according to a report from Goldman Sachs Economics Research. U.S. truck drivers could see jobs disappear at a rate of about 25,000 a month as autonomous vehicles become more mainstream.” So I take it that means Government Sachs will be pushing for infrastructure spending (and legal changes) to support this? (Just because it’s a bezzle doesn’t mean people won’t bet on it.)
The Bezzle: “Madoff Fund Paid Millions to Breeden Firm, Zero to Victims” [Bloomberg].
Five Horsemen: “Alphabet and Amazin’ move to new highs” [Hat tip, Jim Haygood].
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 50 Neutral (previous close: 50, Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 66 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated May 23 at 12:18pm.
Dear Old Blighty
“Support for the Labour party in Wales has surged in the last two weeks, while the Conservative momentum in Wales appears to have gone into reverse. These are the key messages to come out of the new Welsh Political Barometer poll, the very latest measure of where the parties stand in the general election battle” [Cardiff University].
“Jeremy Corbyn pays tribute to victims of Manchester terror attack” [Telegraph]. The Torygraph seemed to play a straight bat on this story. Odd.
“Theresa May must do more than just say she’s not Jeremy Corbyn” [Guardian]. Seems familiar. And Democrat Jim Messina is running her campaign…
“John Prescott has a change of heart over ‘useless’ Jeremy Corbyn” [The Spectator]. It’s always a good sign when opportunists flip.
“Maine Is Drowning in Lobsters” [Bloomberg]. “The market is booming, but it’s not making anybody rich.” Thank gawd. Yves here: Hush your mouth! Lobstermen barely make a poverty level income even in good times.
“‘My worst nightmares are coming true’: last major primeval forest in Europe on ‘brink of collapse'” [Guardian].
“Members of the McConnell-led working group charged with writing the repeal bill have been meeting twice a week in a room just off the Senate floor, airing ideas and sharing their positions on issues like how and when to wind down the health care law’s Medicaid expansion or how to make the replacement plan’s tax credits more generous. The House passed its own legislation to repeal and replace the law earlier this month” [The Hill]. “Despite that, Republican leadership has faced criticism for the manner in which the legislation is being crafted. Several members say the bill is not expected to go through the formal committee process. GOP leaders defend their methods and say all Republican senators will have the opportunity to contribute to the measure, but some members are warning that the conference as a whole will need ample time to review any final product.”
“The New Corporation Man” [Harvard Crimson]. An excellent article on the Harvard Corporation, foused on new board member and Caryle Group founder David M. Rubenstein.
Rubenstein, whose estimated net worth tops $2.6 billion, chairs the boards of trustees of the Kennedy Center and the Brookings Institution, serves as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and sits on the boards of Duke University and the University of Chicago. He’s the vice-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a trustee of the National Gallery of Art, and he’s on the board at Johns Hopkins Medicine. That’s just a sampling. And this summer, he’ll become the newest member of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s most powerful governing body.
“Class Struggle Still Gets the Goods” [Jacobin]. “Piketty’s account of how wealth builds over time centers on savings. In his telling, the capitalist is prudent, dutifully investing large amounts of his income every year into capital goods. As these investments steadily accumulate, so too does the national wealth (which, according to this account, is the sum of all the previous years of savings minus depreciation). When the quantity of total past savings becomes very high in relation to the country’s annual income, the seemingly permanent 5 percent rate of return on wealth drives up the capital share. ”
News of the Wired
“Instagram is the most harmful social network for your mental health” [Quartz]. “A growing body of research suggests social media is contributing to mental-health problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and body-image issues in young people, who are the heaviest users of social media. And Instagram, which now has 700 million users globally, appears to be the social network having the greatest negative effect, according to a new report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity focused on health education. Only YouTube had a net-positive effect among the respondents. Every other social network came back with a net-negative effect. (In order from least negative to most, they were: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.)” So it stands to reason Twitter is the one everybody beats up on. Here’s the original report.
“For years, Yahoo Mail has exposed a wealth of private user data because it failed to update widely used image-processing software that contained critical vulnerabilities. That’s according to a security researcher who warned that other popular services are also likely to be leaking sensitive subscriber secrets” [Ars Technica].
“Introducing the Blockstack Browser: A Gateway to a New, Decentralized Internet” [BlockStack]. Interesting if true. And no Mac *.dmg file yet.
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Readers, feel free to contact me with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, and (c) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here.
And here’s today’s plant (AM):
AM writes: “A bee busy at work in Bodnant Garden” (Wales).
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