2:00PM Water Cooler 7/27/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente


“President Donald Trump got elected last year railing against NAFTA and other trade agreements. But a new letter from the 32 Republicans who were elected to the House for the first time last year shows that is a lonely position within the party…. Twenty-seven of the 32 signatories are from parts of the country that Trump won in last year’s election, including Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Michigan where his anti-NAFTA message seemed to resonate the most. The letter was led by Reps. Roger Marshall of Kansas and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, whose states Trump also won” [Politico].

“British officials have discussed with their U.S. counterparts the possibility of negotiating a plurilateral agreement on services, preparing for a scenario in which the Trade in Service Agreement negotiations remained unfinished because the European Union could not rectify internal divisions over data flow provisions, sources said. The UK, however, could not formally take part in negotiating such a deal until it formally leaves the European Union, a process that is expected to extend into mid-2019” [World Trade Online].

“AFL-CIO PROMISES NAFTA OFFENSIVE SIMILAR TO TPP: The AFL-CIO’s Executive Council issued marching orders to members on Wednesday promising to “mobilize with the same level of intensity as our campaign to defeat the TPP” [Politico]


Health Care

“Senate Republicans don’t just have to write a “skinny repeal” bill that can get at least 50 Republicans. They also have to write one that meets their savings targets under budget “reconciliation” rules — and they’re not there yet, as of this morning. The Congressional Budget Office estimates released yesterday suggest that the bill, at least as originally described, could be as much as $55 billion short of the savings target, according to Loren Adler, a budget expert at the Brookings Institution” [Axios]. Apparently, they’re writing the bill over lunch, with the vote-a-rama this evening. (Presumably, however, the deals being cut behind the scenes include language, so this isn’t quite as random as it seems.)

“Here’s what’s in ‘skinny repeal'” [Axios]. Even if all this is the functional equivalent of a professional wrestler’s feather boa:

Senate Republicans are still editing their “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, but it’s changed since yesterday to include slightly more than the law’s mandates but no repeal of the law’s industry taxes, per two senior GOP aides.

Here’s what’s now in it:

  • Individual mandate repeal
  • Partial repeal of the employer mandate
  • A one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood
  • More money for community health centers
  • A provision addressing the ACA’s 1332 innovation waivers. The Senate replacement bill would have made them much more flexible, allowing ACA regulations like essential health benefits to be waived. It’s unclear how much more flexible they’ll be under skinny repeal, especially because it remains unclear whether the original expanded waivers complied with budget rules.
What’s not in it: A repeal of the ACA’s medical device tax.

Caveat: They’re still working. Leadership needs to see how much money is available and what members want to do. It’s going to be a long day.

The community health centers item is new. I wonder who that bribes? (CNN says the money comes from defunding Planned Parenthood.)

UPDATE “Senate Republicans predict their ‘skinny repeal’ of Obamacare will never become law if they pass it through their chamber. But their colleagues in the House — and their own leaders — aren’t making any promises” [Talking Points Memo]. Good Senate cops pass the bill to a conference committee, where Bad Freedom Caucus cops gut it. “There’s no reason to think a conference committee will have any better luck finding a bill that 50 GOP senators and 218 GOP congressmen can support. At that point, there’s a real possibility that whatever the Senate passes would be passed into law by desperate House Republicans before the Senate ever gets to touch it again.”

“All of the reconciliation bills listed below — those that went to conference committee after being passed in some form by both chambers — were subsequently approved by both chambers, after coming out of the conference committee. Not all of them became law — a few were vetoed by the president — but the vast majority did. Still, successful passage in the past doesn’t mean that the same thing will happen this year, with potentially major differences between the two chambers’ bills” [FiveThirtyEight].

“Killing Obamacare Softly” [Thomas Edsall, New York Times]. “[T]he Trump administration has conducted a sustained war of attrition designed to inflict fatal damage on Obamacare. This war, often operating below the radar, entails the use of a quintessentially conservative strategy, and the cooperation of Congressional Republicans. In a way, it’s pretty simple: You cut the budget, impose debilitating regulations, track the subsequent missteps and then attack the program as a failure.” For example:

Most recently, with little fanfare, the Trump administration terminated contracts for health care “in person assisters” in 18 cities, including Chicago, Dallas, Cleveland, Miami and Philadelphia. These “assisters” are personnel trained to guide Obamacare applicants through the multipart A.C.A. enrollment process

Can we agree that a law that requires a whole new job category to explain it to people probably has real problems?

UPDATE Democrat Establishment: There is never a good time to support single payer [Vox]. From The Department of How Stupid Do They Think We Are:

But there’s still not much appetite in the party to talk about single-payer right now. Instead, Senate Democrats say their focus has to be on defending the Affordable Care Act. “I’m optimistic the people of our country could rise up and demand a single-payer system, but right now we’re still fighting the battle of making sure they don’t succeed in repealing Obamacare,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told me outside the Capitol on Tuesday. “I support single-payer — but in this environment? In this environment?”

Added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a separate interview: “Single-payer will happen — if you’re talking in 10 or 20 years.”

“It would not be good to spend our time focusing on what happens a few years from now,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told me on Tuesday when I asked about single-payer. “We’ll have plenty of time to debate what bill we’ll craft once we get control back.”

Right! Just like in 2009, when Democrats had control of the the Presidency, the Senate, the House, and Max Baucus wouldn’t put single payer advocates on his panel, and had them arrested when they protested!


UPDATE Sounds legit:


“We are a million years away from the midterms. A whole lot can–and will–happen between now and then. Most of what will happen is completely out of the control of candidates and the parties–regardless of their best laid plans and messaging strategies. The most important factor in the fate of Democratic candidates in 2018–as well as Republican ones–is the President’s approval rating. Popular presidents hold/gain seats (see Clinton 1998 and Bush 2002), while unpopular ones lose them (Bush 2006 and Obama 2010/2014). About the only thing candidates can control is their own campaign and their own message. It really is that simple” [Cook Political Report]. And here’s CAP’s view on Schumer’s “Better Deal”: “The strategic imperative for progressives should be reassembling the Obama coalition and re-inspiring African Americans to turn out in the ways they did in 2012, and both of those things are more achievable than changing the minds of people seduced by Trump’s nationalistic appeals to racial resentment.” Keep digging.

“As of the end of June, 209 Democratic challengers had registered with the FEC and raised at least $5,000. That more than doubled the previous high mark since 2003. In 2009, the Republicans had 78 challengers with at least $5,000. The early GOP challengers in 2009 foreshadowed the party’s regaining majority control. The question is whether the same will hold true for the Democrats in 2018” [Brookings]. “The number of challengers at six months is truly remarkable. And the candidates are not simply bunching up in a few primaries…. So the Democrats are putting themselves in a strong position to take advantage of a national tide in their direction, if there is one. This is important. No matter how strong a tide may be nationally, congressional elections are decided in districts. The party riding a wave cannot win in a district unless it puts up a credible candidate. You cannot beat somebody with nobody. Finding a credible candidate has to come first.”

2016 Post Mortem

“Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Have a Black Problem—He Has a Pundit Problem” [Paste Magazine]. “But the dog whistling that once only suggested that Bernie was anti-black (because his supporters were allegedly mostly white) has blossomed into the explicit accusation that Bernie ‘dismissed‘ black voters and that he is ‘bad for blacks.’ Given the importance of Sanders’ economic message to future of black America, that is an accusation that I have difficulty ignoring.” Whoever in the liberal Democrat axis that’s paying for this messaging should stop.

“Hillary Clinton’s book, ‘What Happened,’ makes for hilarious R-rated internet” [MarketWatch]. A twitter compilation, where “R-Rated” means some non-family blog appropriate verbiage. At the end: “‘In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net,’ Clinton says in the book’s introduction. ‘Now I’m letting my guard down.'” I can hardly wait. What Happened hits the stands on September 12. I can hardly wait.

“Wasserman Schultz kept paying tech expert suspected of stealing House computers” [McClatchy]. “[Imran Awan] was well-paid during his time in Congress. He made $164,000 in 2016 and $170,000 in 2015, according to congressional payroll records.”

Trump Transition

“Trump is quietly moving at a furious pace to secure ‘the single most important legacy’ of his administration” [Business Insider] (and see link immediately below). One of the reasons I wish the press and liberal Democrats would turn the outrage knobs down from 11 is that really important stories like this get lost in the noise. Also: An administration that can set this process in motion so effectively is not “incompetent.” Stop that meme.

“Circuit Court Nominees In The Trump Administration: The Latest News And Rumor (Part 1)” [Above the Law]. And part 2.

“The Trump administration and lawmakers will issue “guiding principles” for tax reform on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence told a business group. Pence told the National Federation of Independent Business that details will continue to be worked out, “but rest assured: we’re going to cut taxes, and we’re going to cut taxes this year.” Top congressional Republicans and Trump administration officials have been meeting for months on a tax overhaul” [MarketWatch].

“Here’s Trump’s dilemma. His tax reform must be revenue neutral. That’s a political imperative: with corporations sitting on trillions of dollars in cash while ordinary Americans are suffering, lowering the average amount of corporate taxation would be unconscionable — and more so if taxes were lowered for the financial sector, which brought on the 2008 crisis and never paid for the economic damage” [Joseph Stiglitz, Project Syndicate]. “Moreover, Senate procedures dictate that to enact tax reform with a simple majority, rather than the three-fifths supermajority required to defeat an almost-certain filibuster by opposition Democrats, the reform must be budget-neutral for 10 years.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

UPDATE “Redneck Revolt: The Armed Leftwing Group That Wants to Stamp out Fascism” [Alternet]. “Wooly liberals, they’re not. Redneck Revolt is a nationwide organization of armed political activists from rural, working-class backgrounds who strive to reclaim the term “redneck” and promote active anti-racism. It is not an exclusively white group, though it does take a special interest in the particular travails of the white poor. The organization’s principles are distinctly left-wing: against white supremacy, against capitalism and the nation-state, in support of the marginalized…. Redneck Revolt began in 2009 as an offshoot of the John Brown Gun Club, a firearms training project originally based in Kansas. Dave Strano, one of Redneck Revolt’s founding members, had seized upon what he saw as a contradiction in the Tea Party movement, then in its infancy. Many Tea Party activists were fellow working-class people who had endured significant hardships as a result of the 2008 economic crisis which, in his eyes, had been caused by the very wealthy. And yet, Tea Partiers were now flocking in great numbers to rallies funded by the 1%.” This is such an enormous country, with so much going on beyond the Acela Corridor…

“[T]here is ample cause to scrutinise Mr Trump’s history of business dealings with Russian counterparts…. The further Mr Mueller progresses, the more Mr Trump panics. His reactions betray his motives. No reasonable observer could conclude that Mr Trump is willing to open his books. Having refused to release his tax returns, he risks a constitutional crisis to stop US law enforcement officers from looking into his business dealings. The two are obviously connected. Sooner or later, serious investigators end up following the money. Mr Mueller is nothing if not thorough. Mr Trump is nothing if not ruthless” [Ed Luce, Financial Times].

“Our Revolution, the group that grew out of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, along with the National Nurses Union, Fight for 15, People’s Action, and others launched the “Summer for Progress,” an activist push to get at least half of the Democratic House caucus to endorse the “People’s Platform,” another stab at an economic agenda for Democrats [besides Chuck Schumer’s “Better Deal”]. The contrast between the two documents reveals the both the scope and the limits of the new Democratic consensus” [Robert Borosage, The Nation]. “Many popular progressive policies that are not in the “Better Deal” can be found in the “People’s Platform”—like Medicare for all, tuition-free public college for those with family incomes under $125,000 a year, and a financial speculation tax to help pay for it. One helpful feature of the People’s Platform is that the proposals are attached to a real piece of legislation that has already been introduced, or will be soon. The People’s Platform includes other reforms that are outside the boundaries of the leadership’s document, including automatic voter registration, elimination of private prisons (Justice is Not for Sale Act), and protection of equal access to abortion in public and private health insurance (the Each Woman Act)…. The People’s Platform lacks the “Better Deal”‘s initiative on monopoly and antitrust, however. Many of its authors would have surely supported it, but it didn’t make it into the document.”

“The Real Civil War in the Democratic Party” [New York Times]. “As Democrats try to unite around their new “Better Deal” agenda, the supposed battle between the “socialist” left and the “corporatist” center seems to have collapsed into a bland but serviceable slogan, with a reasonably progressive economic agenda that both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Schumer can get behind. So much for that overhyped party civil war.” Ha ha. See above. But more: “I did find one area of notable discord between Clinton and Sanders supporters — their degree of disaffection with political institutions. Support for the political system correlated with positive feelings toward Mrs. Clinton, while voters who felt negatively toward the political system tended to feel positively toward Mr. Sanders… What if, instead of spending billions on consultants, TV ads and mailers engineered to stoke zero-sum partisanship, party leaders and affiliated funders invested in increasing the paid staff of local party organizations, and then sought their input and advice?”

Stats Watch

Chicago Fed National Activity Index, June 2017: “Production made for a roughly as expected 0.13 point gain in the national activity index for June, helping to offset a downwardly revised 0.30 fall in May” [Econoday]. ” The 3-month average best distills the overall direction of the economy right now, rising but only very modestly by 0.06.” And but: “The report sounds strong on the surface, but the ratio of improving to deteriorating might still signal some slack to some readers” [247 Wall Street]. “All four broad categories of indicators that make up the index posted improvements from May, and the three production-related indicators led the way to the monthly recovery. Of Thursday’s report, 40 of the 85 individual indicators made positive contributions to the index in June, and 45 individual indicators made negative contributions. Of the 85 in all, 56 individual indicators showed an improvement and 28 deteriorated from May to June (with just one unchanged). Of the indicators that improved, 21 made negative contributions.”

Chemical Activity Barometer, July 2017: “The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), ticked up 0.1 percent in July following a flat reading in June and a 0.2 percent gain in May. Gains during the second quarter averaged 0.2 percent following average gains of 0.5 percent during the first quarter. Compared to a year earlier, the CAB is up 3.6 percent year-over-year, an easing from recent year-over-year gains” [American Chemistry Council].

Durable Goods Orders, June 2017: “when excluding transportation equipment that includes a 131 percent surge in civilian aircraft, orders could manage only a 0.2 percent gain which is below the 0.4 percent consensus and just making the low estimate” [Econoday]. “core capital goods [are] moving back into the negative column at minus 0.1 percent. Other areas of weakness include motor vehicles which have been suffering and where the June decline is a sizable 0.6 percent…. But for forward momentum, the weakness in June doesn’t point to building strength for July. Durable orders have not been consistently strong this year though there are more favorable aspects to today’s report than unfavorable with the second-half outlook for the up-and-down factory sector now a bit more upbeat.” And: “Civilian aircraft were the main headwind this month. If one removes aircraft – this is a soft report. This series has wide swings monthly so our primary metric is the unadjusted three month rolling average which improved” [Econintersect].

International Trade in Goods, June 2017: “Net exports in second-quarter GDP look to get a break as June’s goods deficit is a smaller-than-expected $63.9 billion vs expectations for $65.0 billion” [Econoday]. “Exports surged 1.4 percent in June led by food products but also including a big gain for capital goods exports and also vehicle exports. Imports of goods fell 0.4 percent with sizable declines for industrial supplies and consumer goods…. The burst in exports is a positive not only for GDP but for a factory sector which, as reflected by this morning’s durables report, is still mixed but looking better.”

Retail Inventories [Advance], June 2017: “Retail inventories will be adding to second-quarter GDP, rising 0.6 percent in both June and May. Rising inventories are a plus for GDP but a challenge for retailers where sales have been flat and suggest that the inventory build may be unwanted” [Econoday].

Wholesale Inventories [Advance], June 2017: “Wholesale inventories in June are a plus for second-quarter GDP, rising a sizable 0.6 percent following May’s revised 0.4 percent build” [Econoday].

Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, week of July 23, 2017: “The consumer comfort index has been unusually bumpy, rising 1 point in the July 23 week to a 48.6 level that is now safely above the 9-month low of 47.0 that was hit back in the July 9 week” [Econoday]. “Readings on consumer spirits all show optimism but have been mixed including this report and a falling consumer sentiment report that is offset by outstanding strength in the consumer confidence report.” So the surveys don’t match the data any more, and contradict each other, too?

Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index, July 2017: “Manufacturers in the Kansas City region are reporting strong conditions” [Econoday]. “New orders are also at 10 and are being fed by domestic orders as export orders remain weak, at minus 2 in July. Total backlog orders are also weak at minus 1 following June’s minus 6. But most other indications are solid with employment at a very strong 15 for a second straight month and with both inventories rising and delivery times slowing.” And: “The Kansas City region was hit hard by the sharp decline in oil prices, but activity started expanding last year when oil prices increased. Now growth is moderate with oil prices mostly moving sideways” [Calculated Risk].

Jobless Claims, week of July 22, 2017: “The outsized 14,000 decline in the prior week is reversed by an outsized 10,000 rise in the July 22 week for initial jobless claims which, at 244,000, came in 4,000 higher than the Econoday consensus” [Econoday].

Housing: “California homeowners are getting older and taking homes into the grave. Property turnover has fallen substantially since 2000” [Dr. Housing Bubble]. “The Taco Tuesday baby boomer crowd is dominating the ranks of homeowners. This trend is new and because of key items like Prop 13 and Millennials living with parents, very few homes are turning over. The first time home buyer in California is simply getting older and older contrary to the house humping cheerleaders talking about the days of “sucking it up” and having to save to buy a home. Of course many were not contending with hot global money, limited inventory, artificially low interest rates, and a delusion of crap shack grandeur. ” See this handy chart:

Retail: “Amazon increased the number of apparel and accessory products on its site by 87 percent last year and its apparel sales reached $16.3 billion, according to an Internet Retailer report. What’s more, Amazon will add $50 billion in apparel sales in the next five years” [Sourcing Journal].

Supply Chain: “Another example of Amazon’s innovation machine: more jobs” [Logistics Management]. Who wrote that headline? Marty Baron? More: “Amazon is hiring for tens of thousands of full-time opportunities at its fulfillment centers across the U.S. for employees who will pick, pack and ship customer orders. More than 10,000 of these opportunities will be part-time jobs at the company’s sortation centers throughout the US. These positions will sort and consolidate customer packages to enable superfast shipping speeds and Sunday delivery for customers. Part-time positions offer flexibility for individuals looking to earn money during windows of availability in their schedules. Employees who work more than 20 hours per week receive benefits, including life and disability insurance, dental and vision insurance with premiums paid in full by Amazon, and funding towards medical insurance.”

The Bezzle: “As the world grows more connected, freight does too. The first stop, according to many of the experts, is truly global sales, with technology bridging language and legal obstacles. It also means better connectivity, with IOT drivingseamless real-time network integration across the ecosystem players,’ according to AllCargo’s chief digital officer Amol Patel” (allow me to helpfully underline the bullshit tells) [Splash 247]. “But as digital transformation extends beyond internal IT systems, it will require partner and customer integration. As Troels Stovring, Twill Logistics (Damco) CEO says, ‘Ports will start connecting and sharing, containers will start getting tracking devices, truckers will have a standard to share real-time tracking features.'” The globalist elite’s utopian dream… And speaking of IoT “driving” “seamless real-time network integration across the ecosystem players”:

The Bezzle: “Autonomous trucks could spell the end for railroads’ intermodal cost advantages. But the jury on self-driving vehicles is still out” [DC Velocity]. “For any number of reasons, the image of driverless trucks rumbling down the nation’s highways doesn’t sit well with many folks. For the nation’s railroads, whose intermodal operations do battle each day with truckers for shipper dollars, the notion of autonomous vehicles could be well nigh intolerable….” More: “The use of an autonomous vehicle with no driver—known in federal safety lingo as a “Level 5” operation—is years away, if it ever happens at all. A more feasible near-term scenario is the adoption of a “Level 3″ threshold, where a driver turns over control of a vehicle but remains ready to take over its operation should problems with the system arise. Or it could be something less technologically daring such as a driver-assisted platoon system where trucks travel in close formation and communicate electronically to coordinate vehicle speed and braking, technology that platoon supporters say will reduce drag and save fuel. As it is tentatively envisioned today, platoons would assemble near a highway on-ramp for the tandem move and then disengage at pre-arranged exits for the vehicles to deliver locally. Marc Althen, president of Reading, Pa.-based third-party logistics service provider Penske Logistics, reckons platooning could become a reality within two to three years.” Very interesting article.

The Bezzle: “The Drone Company That Fell to Earth” [Wired]. “The story of Lily [Drones] is about two ambitious college students with smarts and personality who wanted to change the world—or at least photography. But they didn’t have the right tools, and didn’t listen to those who did.”

The Bezzle: Various bitcoin tree and graph structures over time [Map of Coins].

Earnings: “Beyond cutting spending and selling more expensive ads, Facebook must start finding revenue from its younger properties to offset any slowing growth in the core social network, as it may be doing already with Instagram. Facebook’s earnings call was dominated by analyst questions about how and when the social media giant will see revenue from its other properties, especially its messaging apps, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp” [MarketWatch]. “Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg both pointed out that it will be a few years before the company starts to see real revenue from those properties.”

Earnings: “The social-media platform reported second-quarter earnings Tuesday morning, beating earnings and revenue expectations, but it was their user numbers that disappointed, as Twitter reported 328 million monthly active users, the same number as last quarter. Additionally, it reported 12% year-over-year growth in daily active users, which is less than the 14% increase it reported in the prior quarter” [MarketWatch].

Earnings: ” In another first since the crisis, Citi’s market price finally inched past its book value, making it the last of the major banks to do so” [DealBreaker].

The Fed: “Following its latest policy meeting, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) left interest rates unchanged with the Fed Funds rate still in the 1.00-1.25% range” [Economic Calendar]. “There was a unanimous 9-0 vote for the decision which was also in line with market expectations with no significant expectations that the Fed could decide to lift interest rates once again.”

The Fed: “FOMC Snoozefest” (chart) [Tim Duy’s Fedwatch]. “[P]ay attention to the ’12-month’ language that first appeared in the May statement. Pay close attention. They Fed is telling us to stop paying attention to all those year-over-year inflation charts we like to make. They have accepted that level effects from inflation shortfalls in the first half of this year will live in the year-over-year numbers until next year. Pay attention to the path of the month-over-month numbers.”

Five Horsemen: “Facebook soars off the chart on earnings news, as Bezos of Amazon becomes the richest person on the planet” [Hat tip, Jim Haygood].

Five Horsemen July 27

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 80 Extreme Greed (previous close: 81, Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 74 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Jul 26 at 12:21pm.


“News Feature: Can animal culture drive evolution?” [Proceedings of the National Academy of Science]. “Animal populations essentially have two streams of information, genetic and cultural, explains ecologist and whale researcher Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Canada. In the case of the cultural stream, he says, “things are being learned, sometimes from the mother, possibly from the father, as well as from peers and unrelated adults.” Whitehead and others want to understand how these streams interact. Lactose tolerance in humans is a classic example. Studies suggest that adult production of lactase—the enzyme necessary for digesting the sugar lactose in milk—coevolved with the cultural practice of dairy farming in Europe in the last 10,000 years.”

“Supreme Court quashes seismic testing in Nunavut, but gives green light to Enbridge pipeline” [CBC]. Because Enbridge conducted its process with with indigenous groups appropriately, it seems.

Class Warfare

“This regime, in which corporate executives have essentially been granted immunity, is relatively new. After the savings-and-loan crisis of the nineteen-eighties, prosecutors convicted nearly nine hundred people, and the chief executives of several banks went to jail. When Rudy Giuliani was the top federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, he liked to march financiers off the trading floor in handcuffs. If the rules applied to mobsters like Fat Tony Salerno, Giuliani once observed, they should apply “to big shots at Goldman Sachs, too.” As recently as 2006, when Enron imploded, such titans as Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay were convicted of conspiracy and fraud” [The New Yorker].

“Something has changed in the past decade, however, and federal prosecutions of white-collar crime are now at a twenty-year low.” Thanks, Obama!

“This Is the Way the College ‘Bubble’ Ends” [The Atlantic]. “The higher-education market is not bursting, like a popped soap bubble; but it is leaking, like a pierced balloon. What’s going on? The explanation is a little bit of weak demand, a little bit of over-supply, a big crackdown on for-profit colleges, and, perhaps, a subtle shift in culture.” Leaving behind a massive debt overhang…

News of the Wired

“Doing Mathematics Differently” [Inference Review]. I can’t even see the author’s dust on this, but some NC readers may discuss and enjoy!

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allegic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please put it in the subject line. Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (b1whois):

b1whois writes: “This picture taken from my 10th floor Airbnb in the city of Montevideo, Uruguay shows bare trees, which perfectly communicates the intense cold this week. Even though the temperature is only in the 40s, it is a wet (read saturated) and windy cold. Piercing to the bone: a bone which feels as bare as these trees.”

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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. Bill Smith

    If we are going to have driverless trucks why don’t we have driverless trains? Seems there should be less stuff to worry about for a computer driving a train.

    1. visitor

      Automated trains have already been deployed for many years. There is a fair number of them in service at present.

      In fact, to operate properly, automated vehicles (trucks, cars) require that the roads they drive on be maintained ship-shape, with distinctive markings, have a stable topology, remain uniformly lit without undue flare and reflections, be kept isolated from elements that may create obstacles of confuse driving algorithms (i.e. no covering with water, snow, sand, mud), be enclosed so that unwanted entities (animals, human beings, other machines) do not suddenly enter the traffic in unexpected ways, and that all road participants drive in a predictable, controlled manner.

      Basically, the road network should have characteristics similar to railway tracks…

    2. Edward E

      Smart, let’s launch billions of driverless heavy equipment at the beginning of a magnetic polar reversal when charged particles from the sun are getting through. Brilliant!

    3. wilroncanada

      All of the Vancouver, BC Canada Skytrain system is driverless. Of course, they ride on TRACKS. If only we could put millions of kilometers of tracks on our streets and highways, eh?

    4. Terry Flynn

      The Victoria Line on the london Underground was designed to be driverless – IIRC this was back in the 1960s. The public was uneasy about the concept so drivers are on Vic Line trains – though they effectively do “nothing”. They could now be removed – the Docklands Light Railway was built to be driverless decades later and there was no public outcry – attitudes have changed. I am guessing the Unions have pressed to keep ‘drivers’ on the Vic Line as a bargaining chip for when management are intent on introducing something that is some whole magnitude worse for workers than any previous “reform”.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks. Medicaid cuts + community health centers still net out negative for WV, which has enormous Medicaid numbers (29% of the population). “Didn’t come to Washington to hurt people” is going to come back to haunt Capito if this figleag buys her vote (if fig leaves buy things…)

        1. ChiGal in Carolina

          nope, but the process is so effed, who knows what gets done in conference with the House?

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          So far, no — I don’t know what happened at lunch — but wait ’til the Freedom Caucus gets hold of it in conference.

          I’m very dubious about the idea of “Let’s just pass it so the other guy solves the problem for us by deep-sixing it.” Seems like that might not play out as “planned” (or not!).


          And then there’s this:

    2. Elizabeth Burton

      Among those “community health centers” will be a fair number of “pregnancy counseling centers,” which the right-wingers catering to their religious constituents have wanted to replace Planned Parenthood with for at least a decade. These “centers” usually have no medical personnel on staff and do not, in fact, provide medical services. Instead, young women are bombarded with Christian fundamentalism and misinformation about the “dreadful consequences” of abortion.

    3. justanotherprogressive

      Perhaps we need a discussion about what the term “community health centers” means. It seems to mean different things to different people.

      Is it the clinics that hospitals were supposed to provide in order to keep their tax-exempt status? If so, now that the hospitals are in no fear of losing that tax status, those seem to be drying up rapidly. Are these politicians now telling us that they want the government to take over and run these clinics? That hardly seems possible given their stance on getting the government out of medical care and not doing anything for anyone who can’t pay……and why would funding these “community health centers” be better than extending medicaid coverage to more people?

      Is the clinics that provide primary and preventative care? We have lots of “community health centers” in my neck of the woods, but, unfortunately if you don’t have an insurance or medicaid card, you aren’t going to get anything from them….they are most definitely for profit businesses. Do we really need more of them? How do they help Americans who currently can’t afford to pay for medical care?

      Or is it just another euphemism for “we’re selling you a pig in a poke” so that you will get off our backs….

      So could someone please tell me what these “community health centers” are and why anyone thinks that they are in some way a better way for Americans who can’t afford medical care now to get better healthcare?

      1. RUKidding

        That’s a good question, and one that I had, as well.

        Like your experience, the so-called “community health centers” in my area are for-profit businesses that only accept Insurance or Medicare/caid. I fail to see how more of these types of services would do much of anything to alleviate health care issues.

        Seems to me that it’s just fancy language that’s essentially meaningless when push comes to shove. Like something that Rush and Fox will give lip service to in order to make it seem like, somehow, health care will be provided to those in need, when, in fact, nothing will be provided.

        Would be nice to be wrong, but color me skeptical.

  2. Louis Fyne

    —Wasserman Schultz kept paying tech expert suspected of stealing House computers—

    Keep scratching my head about the Dems’ dealings with the Awan family. Out of a country of 325+ million people, they couldn’t find better IT help?

    Either House Dems. are incredibly incompetent or something more sinister is going on and it’s high noon for conspiratorial right-wing broken clocks. And I wouldn’t be surprised if both were true.

  3. Jim Haygood

    David Stockman delivers a heartfelt eulogy for the Trump admin, before it’s even over:

    Unfortunately, the Donald seems content to root around the White House attic banging his Twitter account from time to time rather than attempting to govern. A better term for what he is actually doing is brawling with his media and political enemies—a foolish course of action that can have no other end game than his eventual removal from office.

    But the real tragedy is that in the interim, Donald Trump is home alone. He does not even have the rudiments of a government committed to his agenda—as vague, inchoate and shape-shifting as it mainly was.

    For instance, he ran his campaign under a slogan of “America First” with respect to foreign policy. If that term had any meaning it was the opposite of the “Empire First” policy on which the beltway’s self-importance and ungodly prosperity depends.

    But he has loaded his national security team with a gaggle of Empire Firsters—including H.R. McMasters, Mad Dog Mattis, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley, among countless others. All of them give obeisance to the obviously obsolete and destructive institution of Greater NATO, which now threatens the peace as it stands unnecessarily and provocatively cheek-by-jowl on Russia’s borders.


    *wipes away a tear*

    He coulda been a contendah …

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Trump’s recent boy scout speech was said to feel like a Third World authoritarian’s youth something.

      Before all these kids in brown shirts, he told them to not give up in life..,’Never ever give up. Never quit.’

      That is, our TV watcher must not give up too soon. The empire came in second in Syria, a few days ago.

      Maybe America-First is not built in one day, nor can the builders take a shortest route…it could be a long, circuitous journey.

      This contrasts with the many times I have read from people who were not Trump that Trump was going to either, 1. quit the race or 2. resign from the White House.

      1. sierra7

        Running a country (gov) is not like running a business. Businesses are dictatorships at best; governments are supposed to be a civil contract between the “gov” and the people. Pres Trump would have done well in a dictatorship until he couldn’t.
        (I’m neither major party supporter)

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          How chaotic would it be if we abolished all laws? There is a bit of anarchist in all or most of us…and a bit of dictator as well.

          And that civil contract was suspected in 2001 or maybe even earlier.

          You will find a lot of people here who aren’t enamored of the duopoly either, who never quit the lack of faith in both parties.

          We persist in being skeptical at the very least.

          Never ever quit.

    1. jrs

      In which nothing real that maybe might have played in to her loss gets any examination, including voter disenfranchisement. But I don’t know, something about Russians? Hillary Clinton apparently has 9 political lives.

    2. TK421

      It’s such a shame that the politician who used white hoise to mask her meetings from the public doesn’t feel known by the public.


    1. kgc

      Haven’t spent the time to go through the associated conditions, regulations and so on: but what if the amount of the refi used to repay student loans isn’t dischargeable in bankruptcy any more than the loans were? Similar to the way credit card payments of taxes are only dischargeable if the taxes were? IIRC in all cases – I haven’t checked the law

  4. hemeantwell

    The People’s Platform lacks the “Better Deal”‘s initiative on monopoly and antitrust, however. Many of its authors would have surely supported it, but it didn’t make it into the document.”

    Can somebody convince me this isn’t a typo? I thought Schumer’s concoction was mute re finanz. Sanders certainly hasn’t been.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      With so many Democratic promises, its short on details and misses the mark. The illiterate “centrist” class would compare it to Lenin being reanimated, but they are so right wing even vaguely reasonable language will be compared to Trotsky.

      There is no plan to break up monopolies except to agree monopolies produce bad deals. Healthcare was ignored where over 90% of the local markets are in monopolies. Actions, not words. Schumer is largely dedicated to preventing the good intentioned but local Democratic committee doofuses who are facing the reality that the “political strategists” of the Democratic Party are crooks.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > monopoly and antitrust

      It’s not mute on that, but I’ve got to say that the details of Schumer’s “competition advocate” seem a little bit sketchy to me. In any case, I feel that a focus on “corporate power” is misplaced. “Corporations are people, my friend” and in particular the 0.01% who actually own them. Certainly breaking up large corporations is one way to make sure that the C-suite millionaires in the 1% take a hit in their options, bonuses, and salaries. However, it seems to me that the 0.01% would simply adopt more complicated ownership structures. Does it matter that much if Warren Buffet owns “the Burlington Northern Santa Fe,” as opposed to owning The Burlington, the Northern Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe? I’m not sure it does. (One could argue that three railroads would be weaker than one vis a vis unions, but Schumer doesn’t make that argument and AFAIK, the “Better Deal” has nothing to say about unions.)

      1. djrichard

        Maybe this is in the vein of unwinding the “synergies” that are supposed to happen when corporations are consolidated. So in that vein, corporations that are divested would have to form new C-suites and the management chains beneath that. But at some point, are they still just outsourcing the rest of what’s needed to the “global supply chain”?

        If they really wanted to do something that would help labor, they would get behind balanced trade. But since Trump has already claimed that, it’s at best unmentionable and at worse something to “resist”.

      2. Allegorio

        When Standard Oil was broken up John D. Rockefeller just got richer. Rather than break up monopolies why not just nationalize them and save all the synergies?

  5. JTMcPhee

    I’m curious why the executives at “Planned Parenthood,” since its name and brand have become such lightning rods, do not do what much more horrible corporate persons have done, like Blackwater-Xe-Academi. I’m sure a good PR firm could put some focus groups together and come up with an different corporate brand — a starting point might be “Community Medical Services,” maybe?

    1. dcblogger

      It is a lightning rod because it is a direct challenge to the patriarchy. A name change would not help with that. Also Planned Parenthood is a beloved organization will millions of supporters, who support it with their money. Just ask the Susan Komen Foundation how popular PP is.

      1. JTMcPhee

        So in other words, “stay the course…” In the larger public mind, name changes have done yeoman service for actually evil organizations in helping deflect attention and criticism.

        Challenge to the patriarchy, because of birth control/family planning advice and related medical service, less so because of the other medical services provided? And I do know what PP does and how deservedly popular it is. With the less powerful.

        Just a modest proposal, I should have added the /sarc tag.

        How are things inside the Beltway these days?

        1. CitizenSissy

          Why the hell should PP change its name? It absolutely should wear the Repub contempt as a badge of honor. I just shake my head at the so-called “pro-life” (/sarc) hypocrites falling over themselves to strip away often lifesaving coverage for political gain.

          I am reminded of an otherwise old-school aunt who was an ER nurse in the good old pre-Roe days, and an unwavering supporter of PP’s work.

    2. Arizona Slim

      Or RJ Reynolds. ISTR that it became Altria.

      And then there’s poor old US Steel. Changed its name to USX. In its HQ city of Pittsburgh, it quickly became known as USux.

  6. justanotherprogressive

    Re: Doing Mathematics Differently

    Seems to be a lot of interest in trying to simplify mathematics these days (mostly because of the desire to use computers to do the tedious work, I think….). I was just introduced to Homotopy Type Theory, which is another method to try to unify and simplify mathematics based loosely on how Topology (definitely not my strong suit) types particular spaces. It also suffers from Goedel’s incompleteness theorem but it does show promise in allowing computer-checking of proofs…..
    Vladimir Voevodsky won the Fields Medal for his work in this area in 2002.
    P=NP anyone? It may be just a matter of time…..

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Not me. I’m stuck trying to figure out if Van Wijngaarden grammars are more properly described as a projection than intersection. If so, it may open up onto that space. But not today. Sigh. That is, I’m hanging onto my Cinderella Book.

      1. justanotherprogressive

        +1 I think I’m going to watch “Traveling Salesman” again to remind myself where this all leads…..

    2. craazyman

      If youze guys compress it all the way down to zero it won’t be there anymore.

      Be careful because maybe it never was. Whoa what a waste of time that woul have been! Whoa That’s a deep thought. Whoa it’s stoner time in the philosophy department. The department of abstractions to zero.

      Waht if there’s a proof that mathematicians can’t agree on before the universe ends. Was it ever true or not? Whoa it’s deep thought stoner time.

      There’s three types of mathematicians — those who can count and those who can’t. Whoa! That’s hilarious. Hahahah. I heard that joke in a math lecture but it was two types. I changed it to three because it’s funnier. At least to me.

      The dogs on main street howl cause they can’t understand
      How you can take one moment in to your hands
      Mister I’m not a boy, no, i’m a man
      And I believe in a promised land
      And I believe in a promised land

      -Bruce S. “Promised Land”!!!! (Almost)

    3. ChrisPacific

      He is not trying to simplify mathematics (although as he is an academic, you have to read through all the way to the end before he finally makes his point). He is in fact arguing that mathematics is fundamentally complex, that many things are unprovable including some that are much more fundamental than we realize, and that mathematicians should give up on proofs as the basis for everything and embrace empirical methods as they are practiced in the other sciences.

      The rest of the article is devoted to presenting specific types of Goedel-undecidable arguments that he feels illustrate this point. I didn’t really follow them too closely, but they reminded me a lot of Cantor set theory and the uncountability of the real numbers (like that argument, they illustrate that bad things can easily happen when you are dealing with self-referential definitions).

      For my part, I tend to think that if a statement is neither provably true nor provably false, that means that either of those propositions (true/false) can be taken as an axiom and used as a foundation for a theory. So there is not just one theory of mathematics, but two, and in fact a whole infinite fractal universe of them when you take all the other undecidable questions into account. The task then becomes to decide which of those infinitely many theories are interesting and worthy of further study. Which probably looks pretty similar to empiricism in practice, but I imagine would be more palatable to most mathematicians.

      1. Disturbed Voter

        I am very impressed with your comment. Some things have an infinite number of parts. Since infinity is allowed in most mathematics, inevitably there have to be theorems that require an infinite number of steps … and that is disallowed in proof theory for obvious reasons, but it has to be true. So not just Goedel-undecidable arguments are bug-bears (think of very slowly converging series) but an infinity of theorems that are Goedel-arithmetized as transcendental non-computable numbers ;-) Only Goedel-arithmetized as transcendental computable numbers are … in principle tractable, but in practical terms, the subset is much much smaller, no more than the set of finite positive integers!

  7. jsn

    There are three kinds of people in the world:
    those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those like Hillary who say “What Happened” and don’t even realize they’re asking a question.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Wait a minute. Let’s be sure that I’m understanding this correctly.

      The book title is What Happened. With no question mark at the end.

      Just wait ’til we start seeing Photoshopped versions of the cover. With a question mark prominently featured.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Oops. My bad. Didn’t read the link before commenting.

        Looks like the Internet Photoshopping Team is already on the case. And the Marketplace article is hilarious!

    2. Jim Haygood

      Had her book been titled Sh*t Happened, sales would have tripled … into the dozens.

  8. Pelham

    “A more feasible near-term scenario is the adoption of a ‘Level 3’ threshold, where a driver turns over control of a vehicle but remains ready to take over its operation should problems with the system arise.”

    Someone should talk to the airlines about this kind of arrangement. Human pilots who have to take over when autopilots go haywire often end up committing rookie mistakes, making things even worse and sometimes crashing the plane. The apparently unalterable fact is that unless a human being is actively and continually engaged in flying the plane (or driving the truck), his brain shuts down no matter how well-trained he is and how hard he tries to remain in the loop. It’s just human nature, an all-or-nothing proposition.

    1. Mo's Bike Shop

      Passing three would be murder, a half dozen? Might as well give them their own roads.

      Meanwhile, I’m still at the “pigs fly” stage about self driving. Why not develop light rail in the medians with a build for light freight? Put the container on a self driving bogey if that’s what everybody thinks is the future.

    2. VietnamVet

      Yes, co-pilots suddenly forced to take control of the Airbus planes caused Air France 447 and AirAsia 8501 to fall out of the sky. No surprise, this is under reported. There is a corporate drive to get rid of those pesky humans in the transportation system. Ultimately, there won’t be any workers to supply or transport, just aristocrats and their servants.

  9. JohnnyGL

    I read that article from the Root that is cited by the Paste Magazine article linked above about Bernie’s problem with black people. I noticed a very large Wells Fargo ad came up while I was reading it. I’m confident that those an anti-Bernie smear combined with a bank ad was completely coincidental.

    After all, Wells Fargo wouldn’t want to endorse the smearing of someone who’d like to break them up into several smaller companies, would they?

    Really, we all know it was Hillary Clinton who rolled up her sleeves post-election and marched deep into the Republican heartland with a largely black workforce of union organizers in Mississippi at the Nissan plant there. She really took the message of how she stands with the voiceless, powerless, ordinary workers far, far away from where any precious swing state votes could be won. She did all that because….well, it was the right thing to do!!! Oh wait…..my bad, that was Bernie!!! HRC didn’t do a {family blogging} thing, that’s RIGHT!!! My mistake!!!

    Hillary was the one that thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of prison labor while living in the governor’s mansion in Arkansas! Now, I remember!!!

  10. Altandmain

    The Myth of American Exceptionalism

    In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone (Part Two)

    For those who haven’t read it, a good rebuttal to the New Yorker article on neoliberalism

    Why you may not get grandchildren: Millennials are too worried about climate change to reproduce

    1. Massinissa

      As a millennial, my parents probably aren’t getting any, but its not because of Climate Change. I don’t feel like I could ever afford a kid. Probably the same for some other millennials, and probably more a direct problem than ‘fear of climate change’. Basically similar to the article the other day on Japans low birth rate being the byproduct of Japanese economic insecurity for many people.

      1. sierra7

        If you are afraid to have any kids because you probably can’t afford them; Who in their right minds ever can believe they can “afford” to have any kids? We had 7 (4 boys; three girls all middle aged now) and couldn’t afford ANY!! Of course it means you do what you have to ………you work your AS#$ off for the next 20 years and hope everything goes decently. Not extraordinarily, but decently. Will go to my oldest grandchild’s wedding in September….he’s now 28! Holy Crap! Where did the years go????
        As an aside, all that hard work must have kept me going well….I’ll be 87 this year!

        1. The Rev Kev

          By my calculations, you came of age as a hard-working young man in the early 1950s. That was when the American economy was booming and a much enlarged middle class was spreading into out into suburbs across the American landscape, there was money to build an intercontinental highway system as well as a mass of other infrastructure, all foreign economic competitors had either been destroyed or debilitated in the war, wages were increasing and jobs were protected by unions.
          Take a look at the film clip at https://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b43_1500239741 which is called “A Day In Small Town America In 1952” to see how much has changed since then. You would have been 22 years old at the time this film came out. Ask yourself what your life would be like if you were born only 17 years ago and not 87 years ago and how you would be leading your life now.

      2. UserFriendly

        For me it’s both the debt and the climate change. I’m even trying to talk my sister into having less kids. It will not be a good life for anyone unless there are some absolutely huge lucky breaks.

        Re In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone (Part Two)
        It is a spot on criticism of Jeffrey St. Clair and of the left more broadly. Like Mark Fisher pointed out in Exiting the Vampire Castle (a MUST read), criticism on the left is never just I disagree with this one thing you did, it always gets rounded up to you are a ____ist followed by a shaming of how un woke you are just so they can feel morally superior.

        The third law of the Vampires’ Castle is: propagate as much guilt as you can. The more guilt the better. People must feel bad: it is a sign that they understand the gravity of things. It’s OK to be class-privileged if you feel guilty about privilege and make others in a subordinate class position to you feel guilty too. You do some good works for the poor, too, right?

        The fourth law of the Vampires’ Castle is: essentialize. While fluidity of identity, pluarity and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members – partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged or bourgeois-assimilationist background – the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy.

        The fifth law of the Vampires’ Castle: think like a liberal (because you are one). The VC’s work of constantly stoking up reactive outrage consists of endlessly pointing out the screamingly obvious: capital behaves like capital (it’s not very nice!), repressive state apparatuses are repressive. We must protest!

        She wrote a final response.

  11. Elizabeth Burton

    RE: Amazon’s job perks.

    The fact is that dental and vision services are almost never included in company insurance coverage packages these days, and for people who work for less than $25/hour offering full coverage for those plus help with medical would not be considered that bad a deal. The real catch is that they have to be working 20 hours per week. And notice how the call mentions working Amazon hours into their schedule?

    The interesting thing is that Amazon seems to be doing the hiring directly—although I confess I didn’t read the article, so I may be wrong. In the past, they worked with temp agencies, and it was clear in all the articles about the appalling working conditions in their centers that those agencies were complicit in, if not the source of, many of the abuses perpetrated on the workers.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      Yes, it appears that low UE if finally forcing Amazon into the direct hiring game. The local rag (definitely not to be trusted) claims Amazon will make 40K of its 50K new hires full-time Amazon employees – with a starting wage of $12.50. The ploy is apparently to lock up seasonal help early and then let attrition deal with the post-Jesus-buying aftermath.

  12. Matthew Saroff

    Don’t forget the roll of Prop 13 in the elderly in houses.

    If you bought a house in California in 1977, the median price was $62,290.

    Taxes can only increase at 2% a year, because of Prop 13, passed in 1978.

    Max tax went is 1%, which would $623/year.

    In 2017, the maximum assessed value and assessed tax would be $134,841 and $1348.

    The median assessed value of a house in 2017 is around $550,000 with a tax of $5,500.

    Even if you buy a house at 2/3 of that, the value of the house would be $367,000, with a tax of $3670.

    So, paid off house, no mortgage save $2300 a year versus downsizing.

    So our septuagenarian couple stays in their old home, even though the do not need the additional bedrooms.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Perhaps Prop 13 prevented a second High Speed Rail debacle, we will never know.

      On the other hand, 40% money for education seem a big too high. At any given moment, few than 40% of people in California are going to school.

      And we know the government is more likely to be needed to spend, and spend more, on a 89 year old than a 17 year old, on average.

    2. Jess

      Okay, now compare that $3,670-$5,500 a year in property taxes with $14,500 a year in average Social Security monthly payment. Even at the low end, that’s 1/3 of your income going to property taxes. Even with two SS checks, that’s still a tough row to hoe. And many elderly outlive their mate by considerable. My mom outlived my dad by 26 years.

  13. Altandmain

    Your reminder that Trump is terrible.

    Trump says upstate New Yorkers should move, leave homes behind

    Colonialism and Greed: Trump Considers Afghan War Expansion to Exploit Minerals

    The neoliberals and Trump are both awful. Actually Trump is more like a neoliberal in terms of his economic policies than one thinks.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      States competed for that huge new factory with lots of jobs for Americans.

      Some offered more and some offered less.

      It will be in Wisconsin. That’s where jobs will be. People who are interested should move there. Where else do they go?

    2. RUKidding

      So much for Trump telling upstate New Yorkers that he’d bring them jobs. That didn’t take long.

      Color me unsurprised.

      Eh? Trump’s kicking around Libruls & hating the gays, so it’s all good in upstate NY, I guess.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        In the case of the new Wisconsin plant, that corporation didn’t like upstate New York as much.

  14. will

    From the story on killing Obamacare “softly”:

    In a way, it’s pretty simple: You cut the budget, impose debilitating regulations, track the subsequent missteps and then attack the program as a failure.

    So, the same play they ran against public schools, then the post office, and lately the Social Security administration.

  15. ChiGal in Carolina

    Can anyone recommend a good history of health care in this country? I have now become active with a local NIMA group and reading the Shadowland piece Lambert linked to the other day has got me curious about going a little deeper into what it will take to effectively counter those opposed.

    I was very surprised to learn that for-profit health insurance only became legal in 1973 with the advent of HMOs? Is there some connex to the passage of Medicare shortly before?

    I was under the impression the insurance companies were the big bad bogeymen, but this piece from the doubtless suspect Institute for New Economic Thinking claims that their profits are a tiny percentage of the increased costs.


    Rather they finger hospital networks and big pharma for the lion’s share, along with how high-tech and complex interventions are now along with the desire both of providers and patients to maximize care whether it is effective or not.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      You would want to start here:

      -https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Transcript_of_taped_conversation_between_President_Richard_Nixon_and_John_D._Ehrlichman_(1971)_that_led_to_the_HMO_act_of_1973: (This whole bit is important)

      The regulations made For-Profit operations difficult to establish effectively making them illegal which is why so many hospitals are named after saints, religious groups, or simply are called “general.” They were founded as non-profit entities with boards of trustees who were often donors and received preferential treatment. This isn’t perfect, but its lightyears better than what we have today. Hey, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good…right?

      You will also notice the presence of Ted Kennedy. This was his baby. The fetishization of Democratic personalities didn’t start with Obama.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      The Insurers are a red herring of sorts. The insurers have the resources to lobby and demand better pricing from the hospitals, but I suppose the two issues are:

      -Wall Street/movement conservatives; these groups don’t care except about short term profit or kicking poor people
      -I suspect its a domino theory. Why continue with the insurers for something which could be done even cheaper? If you beat the HMOs who hide behind nurses (they aren’t complicit, but you are blaming the insurers), what chance do the insurers have?

    1. RUKidding

      Should we panic? Probably. I’m certainly not sanguine with Doofus Perry pretending to be in charge of anything.

      As they say: what could go wrong?

  16. Lambert Strether Post author

    Senate plans vote on ‘skinny’ healthcare bill in marathon session Reuters

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the other Republican leaders held a lunchtime meeting lasting more than two hours with his party’s senators to try to reach a consensus.

    The skinny bill is expected to eliminate requirements under the 2010 Affordable Care Act that individuals obtain health insurance or face a fine and that businesses with more than 50 employees provide medical coverage. There was also discussion about abolishing a tax on medical device manufacturers, but it was unclear whether that provision would be included.

    Eliminating the mandate won’t help the ObamaCare marketplace (even if the mandate is pretty porous).

    1. Oregoncharles

      I would love to see the Mandate eliminated. For one thing, it’s deeply offensive, and in my opinion unconstitutional. For another, and more to the point, I question whether it matters. That’s the accepted wisdom, that it’s necessary for the system to work; but I’ve never seen any actual evidence. It’s all a priori, basically presumption.

      If its advocates are right, eliminating the Mandate will crash the exchanges. I thought Trump had already done that, de facto, by instructing the IRS not to enforce it anymore (if they were – does anyone know?) Then a new system will have to be developed. It’s the teachable moment for single-payer.

      In short, win-win, unless your priority is saving Obamacare..the part that really mattered was the expansion of Medicaid, not the exchanges.

    1. Vatch

      For those of us who are very unhappy with the Trump administration, in a twisted sense, Scaramucci is better than we ever could have imagined.

    2. ChrisPacific

      From the comments on the locally syndicated version today: The White House fandango will be led by a little silhouette of a man.

  17. EGrise

    File under Good Grief:

    Louis Tramunti’s Wife Thought He Was Having a Heart Attack. So Why Did the Police Break His Back?

    In short, the guy had a stroke that his wife took for a heart attack, she called 911, paramedics saw him get up and lurch around, she had a stress-induced nosebleed, so they called the cops and they beat the crap out of him for being a suspected spouse abuser, breaking four of his vertebrae in the process.

    The most interesting part to me is the quote from the (white) victim at the end of the story:

    “It’s insane. I have to see doctors and a physical therapist and also someone for PTSD now. I’m back at work, but I can’t talk about it with anyone there. There’s no support group for this. And when I tell my black friend, he just says ‘that’s how it is.’

    “That’s not right. That’s not how it should be. I’m trying to tell white people: They’re coming for you, too, bro.”

    1. Oregoncharles

      Yes, I posted that one under Links. Very illuminating. To be clear: I think it was an epileptic seizure, rather than a stroke. That’s why he was so out of it. Police have trouble coping with those, as with insulin shock, but EMTs should have known almost immediately. Their mistake, as well as the cops’. But they didn’t break his back. Apparently that’s standard procedure. And there is no evidence anybody asked his wife what was going on.

  18. MoiAussie

    Thanks for the Gregory Chaitin piece. This guy is undoubtedly a genius, and AIT is tremendously challenging to wrap your head around unless you’re a card-carrying complexity theorist. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a seminar about 20 years ago in which he spoke mainly about Omega, the halting probability. It was clear that almost the entire audience was baffled, despite their expertise in other areas of Maths and Comp. Sci. What he needs is a Simon Singh or Ian Stewart to take readers by the hand and lead them chapter by chapter to an understanding of Chaitin’s extraordinary discoveries.

    1. Filiform Radical

      I admit I don’t know much about Chaitin, but at first glance I’m not convinced. He seems to be long on talking about how groundbreaking his work is and short on breaking any actual ground, and his arguments that his incompleteness theorem is anything more than a mildly interesting rephrasing of Gödel ring hollow to me.

      With regard to this article specifically, I’m not sure that the people he’s railing against exist, or at least that they’re particularly numerous. The mathematicians I know are pretty uniformly aware of incompleteness and its implications, and I doubt any of them would object to publishing something on a conjecture verified in finitely many cases by computer (the example he uses to argue that the current approach to math is flawed).

      1. MoiAussie

        You’ve got to remember that the piece is an “in honour of Liebniz” talk, not a serious article. If you pay attention to his real work and get your head around it your opinion of him may change.

          1. MoiAussie

            I don’t know your background and I haven’t found much freely available on the web yet, but if you’re up for it the 3rd edition of his 236 page book “Algorithmic Information Theory” is here on his former website.

  19. Oregoncharles

    Trade: a constituent letter (by email) from Rep. Peter DeFazio, state of play on NAFTA:

    Dear Friends,

    It was over 20 years ago that I cast my vote against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Economic advisers to President Clinton predicted that if the U.S. passed NAFTA we would enjoy trade surpluses of between $9-12 billion, and create thousands of new jobs every year. Fast-forward to today and the reality is grim.

    Since its passage, NAFTA has resulted in almost one million family-wage jobs leaving our country according to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, while Public Citizens reports the U.S. faced a combined goods trade deficit of $173 billion with Mexico and Canada in 2016. As a result, Americans across the country continue to struggle to find work, put food on their tables, and take care of their families.

    President Trump stated that he was going to renegotiate NAFTA to get a deal that was much better for the U.S. or else withdraw us from the agreement altogether. However, the president and his administration have offered few specifics on just what they intend to include in a new agreement.

    Below is an update on what I’ve been doing to fight for fair trade practices and hold President Trump accountable:

    Negotiating a New NAFTA

    The president told the American people he would begin negotiating a new deal within his first 100 days in office that would benefit American workers. On the first day of this Congress I led a coalition of my House colleagues and fair trade advocates in calling on the president to begin NAFTA negotiations. On January 30th the president missed the deadline to give Congress the notice necessary to begin negotiations within his first 100 days.

    In February, I introduced a resolution formally calling on the president to begin negotiations on a new NAFTA and outlining the most essential provisions necessary to ensure we reach a deal that will truly benefit American workers, the environment, our economy, and consumers. I worked with labor and environmental stakeholders as well as fair trade advocates to create my bill’s ten-point framework called the ‘21st Century Worker’s Bill of Rights.’ These core principles should serve as a starting point for NAFTA negotiations as well as an outline of what a successful trade agreement for the U.S. should look like.

    On May 18, the administration finally announced their intent to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico, and on July 17 they published their negotiating objectives. I am pleased to see the administration fulfill my call to eliminate NAFTA’s unconstitutional Chapter 19 which allows foreign tribunals to overrule U.S. trade protections against heavily subsidized foreign imports. However, the remainder of the 17-page proposal contains little-to-no specifics about what we can expect to see in a new agreement, leaving Congress and the American people in the dark.

    Of particular concern was the clear parallel between these NAFTA objectives and those of the disastrous Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the very trade deal the president claimed credit for ending on his third day in office. Working Americans have been waiting for more than two decades for the opportunity to fix NAFTA’s failed policies—making only minor changes, or worse re-creating the disastrous TPP, could leave American workers and our economy in worse shape than ever before.

    That’s why last week I led 17 other House Members in sending a letter to President Trump encouraging his administration to use my 21st Century Worker’s Bill of Rights as the starting point for negotiating a new NAFTA. The letter also states we intend to use my framework as the measuring tool to determine whether the administration’s new NAFTA is successful or not. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity which is more than 20 years in the making. We must ensure these most basic provisions are included in any U.S. trade deal in order to ensure we protect our workers, the environment, and U.S. sovereignty.

    Keeping American Highways and Drivers Safe

    As the original NAFTA negotiations were concluding in 1993, President Bill Clinton added little-known provisions to the agreement that would have opened the U.S.-Mexico border to trucks and drivers that do not meet rigorous U.S. safety standards. Allowing access to Mexican trucks poses a safety threat to U.S. highways. Mexico does not require drug and alcohol testing of its commercial drivers, leaving carriers who cross the border to self-certify compliance with U.S. testing standards, nor does it have a substantial database of commercial driver licenses and driving offenses. Mexico also does not enforce any laws regarding hours of service—sometimes Mexican truck drivers are forced to drive 24 hours straight. When Congress moved to block this unfettered access to U.S. roads, Mexico imposed extortionate tariffs on the U.S. in retaliation. Ultimately, I believe the previous administration caved to these politically-driven tariffs and initiated a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to drive in the U.S. in 2011.

    In May, I sent a bipartisan letter to the Trump Administration urging them to prioritize elimination of NAFTA provisions that give Mexican trucks equal access to U.S. roads. We must prioritize the safety of American highways and the families that utilize them from trucks and drivers that do not meet our standards.

    Protecting America’s Softwood Lumber Industry

    A key determining factor in measuring the success of NAFTA negotiations is the elimination of Chapter 19. This unconstitutional provision, which is entirely unique to NAFTA, allows foreign tribunals to overrule and challenge U.S. trade laws and our application of antidumping and countervailing duties against heavily subsidized imports. Chapter 19 has severely hurt numerous U.S. industries, including the U.S. softwood lumber industry on which many Oregonians rely for their livelihood.

    For years American communities who depend on the softwood lumber industry have been threatened by heavily-subsidized Canadian lumber increasingly being imported into the U.S. Timber produced in the U.S., whether from private or government land, is sold in a competitive free market system, while Canadian timber is heavily subsidized and sold or contracted at pennies on the dollar. These massive subsidies have decimated U.S. suppliers and allowed Canada to take over roughly one-third of our market.

    I was pleased to see that the Department of Commerce recently announced preliminary decisions to impose duties on Canadian softwood lumber imports. The duties came after a Department of Commerce investigation determined Canadian exporters receive subsidies of up to twenty-four percent, while subsequently dumping their lumber into the U.S. at below fair market prices. While these duties are an important step to level the playing field, the U.S. could potentially be prevented from imposing them if the administration is not successful in eliminating NAFTA’s Chapter 19.

    The last Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) between the U.S. and Canada expired in 2015. Despite efforts by the U.S. to reach a new agreement, Canada has delayed any substantive talks from happening while Canadian exporters increasingly flooded the U.S. market. I am hopeful that we can reach a new SLA with Canada, and I have been working closely with the Trump Administration and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to ensure we reach a new deal that protects our U.S. suppliers and helps the U.S. softwood industry grow to its full potential.

    Looking Ahead

    As a senior Member of Congress and the Ranking Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I serve on the House Advisory Group on Negotiations (HAGON), which is responsible for advising the administration throughout the NAFTA negotiation process. I have now met with both Secretary Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer regarding NAFTA where I raised my 21st Century Worker’s Bill of Rights as well as the issue of Ch. 19 and Mexican trucks with them directly.

    Amb. Lighthizer has scheduled the first round of NAFTA negotiations to take place in Washington from August 16 through August 20. I encourage you to watch these negotiations carefully and to remember that in order to fix the decades of trade damage the U.S. has endured this administration must negotiate an entirely new NAFTA, not just make minor tweaks and claim victory.

    You can be sure that I will continue to hold this administration accountable for securing a new NAFTA that will actually protect our workers, the environment, consumers, and America’s sovereignty while bringing jobs back to the U.S.

    Peter DeFazio

    And me: DeFazio looking good. He’s reliable on this issue.

  20. ewmayer

    o “Hillary Clinton’s book, ‘What Happened,’ makes for hilarious R-rated internet” [MarketWatch]. … ‘In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net,’ Clinton says in the book’s introduction. ‘Now I’m letting my guard down.'” — Next thing you know she’ll be assembling a campaign 2020 staff, having them learn the ropes in the trenches and getting ready to coordinate with the MSM to blackball any hint-of-progressiveness Dem candidates. All we need now is an appropriate “I’m with Her mixed metaphors” app.

    o “Redneck Revolt: The Armed Leftwing Group That Wants to Stamp out Fascism [Alternet]” — The streets of the progressive caliphate shall flow with the blood of the fascist unbelievers! Extremists must be crushed mercilessly!

    1. Alex Morfesis

      What happened…cant get the henry mancini theme song out of my head…the ghost of rerun ripping her apart on some mockumentary…


    2. Oregoncharles

      White Panthers. We’ll see how that works out. Remember Waco? Whites. Just don’t build any “compounds.”

      In all seriousness, it’s a very appealing movement. I wish them well. But the more successful, the more danger.

  21. Oregoncharles

    From b1whois commenting on the Plantidote: ” though the temperature is only in the 40s, it is a wet (read saturated) and windy cold.” That’s normal winter weather here, though apparently unusual in Uruguay.

    Great shot of the spotlit trees. I love traceries like that.

  22. allan

    With the blockchain boom, we have finally reached Peak Tulips:

    Digital currency start-ups shrug off SEC warning on fund raising [Reuters]

    Technology companies looking to raise money by issuing digital coins are moving forward with their plans despite a U.S. regulator’s decision that their offerings may be subject to tough securities laws. …

    Some industry participants and analysts had thought such a decision would have a chilling effect on the ICO market. But 20 new ICOs were announced since the SEC’s decision, with more than 120 scheduled to launch this year, according to ICO tracker tokendata.io. …

    Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather took to Facebook on Thursday to say he was participating in the ICO of a company called STX technologies Ltd next week. …


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