2:00PM Water Cooler 8/22/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Patient readers, this Water Cooler will be shorter than usual because I’m also working up my trip report from Burlington and Montreal, which I should do while everything is still fresh in my mind. –lambert


“NAFTA talks have sparked a war in the produce industry as the Trump administration is expected to push forward with a proposal that exposes a deep regional fault line among growers. That proposal was supposed to hit the table during the first round of talks last week, but it was not formally offered during the first negotiating round, two sources with knowledge of the process told POLITICO. The last-minute changeup was due to congressional discomfort over not having enough time to review language that would have deep implications for U.S. trade remedy law, one source said. It is expected to be submitted during a future round of talks, which resume Sept. 1 in Mexico City” [Politico]. “The Trump administration has already broadcast in its negotiating objectives its desire to see the proposal through. The idea aims to make it easier for American growers to bring a case against Mexico for selling produce at unfairly low prices when crops like blueberries or tomatoes are in season in a particular region. Growers would be able to bring anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases by domestic region and draw on seasonal data, a departure from current trade law that requires a majority of the industry nationwide to wield at least three years of annual data to prove injury.” Here are the top tomato-growing states.



UPDATE “8/20: Return to the Rust Belt: Dismal Job Approval Ratings for Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania, & Wisconsin” [Marist Poll]. Trump’s not delivering. And won’t be able to, if he ever intended to. “President Trump campaigned on the promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, but is he winning or losing on that pledge? In Pennsylvania, a majority of residents, 51%, say Trump is failing on this issue, and nearly half of those in Wisconsin, 48%, and Michigan, 47%, agree.” Hard to spin that. Either you’ve got work, or you don’t. Somehow, I don’t think the Better Dealers proposal for training tax credits will cut it with this crowd, so it remains an open question where these voters will go.


“Texas Redistricting Ruling Mostly Good News for GOP” [Cook Political Report]. “On Tuesday, a three-judge federal panel unanimously struck down two South Texas districts as unconstitutional on the grounds that GOP mapmakers had drawn them with racially discriminatory intent. But upon closer inspection, Republicans have reason to breathe a sigh of relief: the ruling upheld other challenged districts in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston and may at most produce a net gain of one seat for Democrats – close to a best-case scenario for the GOP.”

Trump Transition

Our political class loves them their war:

[runs screaming].

“You Cretins Are Going To Get Thousands Of People Killed” [Deadspin]. “Here’s what you have to understand about the sort of people who become anchors, nonpartisan pundits, centrist columnists, and cable news political correspondents: They didn’t sign up to be the resistance. They don’t want Donald Trump to fail. They want him to ‘pivot’ and ‘act presidential.'” As does Philip Rucker above, WaPo’s White House bureau chief.

But it’s bipartisan!

“Bannon Firing Proves Trump is Winging It” [The American Conservative]. A cri de couer from the paleocons (!!), and rightly so:

In the wake of Stephen Bannon’s firing, it has become almost inconceivable that President Trump can avoid a one-term fate. This isn’t because he sacked Bannon but because of what that action tells us about his leadership. In celebrating Bannon’s dismissal, The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial: “Trump can’t govern with a Breitbart coalition. Does he see that?” True enough. But he also can’t govern without the Breitbart constituency—his core constituency—in his coalition. The bigger question is: Does he see that?….

Trump’s political challenge on Inauguration Day was simple but difficult. He had to galvanize his political base and build from there to fashion a governing coalition that could give propulsion to his agenda. Further, that agenda had to give a majority of Americans a sense that the economy was sound and growing, that unnecessary foreign wars would be avoided, that domestic tranquility would prevail, that the mass immigration of recent years would be curtailed, that the health care mess would be fixed, and that infrastructure needs would be addressed.

He has made little or no progress on any of it. And now, with Bannon banished from the White House, the president even seems to be taking a cavalier attitude toward his core constituency, America’s white working class, beset by sluggish economic growth, the hollowing out of America’s industrial base, unfair competitive practices by U.S. trading partners, unchecked immigration, the opioid crisis, and a general malaise that accompanies a growing sense of decline.

And then this, which was written before Trump’s Afghanistan speech:

Trump railed against George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion, the ongoing and seemingly pointless war in Afghanistan, Barack Obama’s actions to help overthrow Libya’s President Muammar Qaddafi, and the previous administration’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave office even though his toughest enemies, ISIS and al-Nusra, were also our enemies. He sought to sooth the tensions then gaining momentum between the United States and Russia, and he did so in the face of widespread hostility from most of the foreign policy establishment. In all this he signaled that, as president, he would formulate an entirely new grand strategy designed to align U.S. policy with U.S. power and avoid foreign wars with little connection to U.S. vital interests.

It took The Blob eight months to get Trump back in the box (and it all started when Trump defenestrated Flynn and showed he was weak). Impressive!

“Ex-Breitbart spokesman: Breitbart will push to impeach Trump if he ‘goes the other way'” [The Hill]. Pass the popcorn (?). “Bannon’s departure as the president’s chief strategist on Friday was followed almost immediately with the announcement that the former Goldman Sachs investment banker and Hollywood executive producer would be returning to Breitbart as its chairman.” Ya know, it would be nice if Golden Sacks alums didn’t run, like, everything.

And speaking of Goldman (hat tip, Neera Tanden):

Yeah, me too.

2016 Post Mortem

“Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?” [Douglas L. Kriner and Francis X. Shen, SSRN]. The abstract:

America has been at war continuously for over 15 years, but few Americans seem to notice. This is because the vast majority of citizens have no direct connection to those soldiers fighting, dying, and returning wounded from combat. Increasingly, a divide is emerging between communities whose young people are dying to defend the country, and those communities whose young people are not. In this paper we empirically explore whether this divide—the casualty gap—contributed to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November 2016. The data analysis presented in this working paper finds that indeed, in the 2016 election Trump was speaking to this forgotten part of America. Even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump. Our statistical model suggests that if three states key to Trump’s victory – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House. There are many implications of our findings, but none as important as what this means for Trump’s foreign policy. If Trump wants to win again in 2020, his electoral fate may well rest on the administration’s approach to the human costs of war. Trump should remain highly sensitive to American combat casualties, lest he become yet another politician who overlooks the invisible inequality of military sacrifice. More broadly, the findings suggest that politicians from both parties would do well to more directly recognize and address the needs of those communities whose young women and men are making the ultimate sacrifice for the country.

Health Care

“Govs. Hickenlooper, Kasich Ready To Release Health Plan ‘Within A Week'” [Colorado Public Radio]. Centrist Democrats allying with Republicans against the left, their true enemy. I’ve been saying that for months; here it is, as the Democrat establishment works hard to deep-six #MedicareForAll. Obviously, it’s good to keep the Medcaid expansion in place. But these clowns think that’s enough to bering American up to world standards, and it isn’t.

Realignment and Legitimacy

Democrats in disarray:

“Op-Ed Are we headed for a second civil war?” [Los Angeles Times]. “A cliché is haunting America — the cliché of a second civil war.” Ha. More: “[A] near-future war with two clear sides and Gettysburg-sized casualty counts is about as likely as a war with the moon.” Those seem like unnecessarily restrictive conditions. More: “[T]he two purportedly warring sides don’t command as much loyalty as those red/blue maps imply. Think back to last year’s election again. Both of the big parties were shaken by insurgent candidates, and one was unable to block the insurgent from winning.” And: “That’s not a nation of would-be warriors. It’s a nation of would-be deserters. What if they started a second civil war and nobody came?” But that assumes first that both parties continue to exist in their present form, and that any Civil War would be between those partisans. But maybe not.

“Days of Rage” [Peter Turchin, ClioDynamica]. “The wave of political violence in America of the 1970s followed a fairly typical course, familiar to me from reading the histories of disintegrative periods in past societies. In my research I have used models of epidemics and forest fires to understand these dynamics… Weather Underground (and other terrorist organizations of the 1970s, especially BLA) were like fish flopping on the shore. The overwhelming majority of Americans were against them. The radicals’ supporters numbered only in thousands, and by the end of the decade in hundreds. Ordinary Americans readily reported any suspicious activities to the authorities. When a policeman was down, passing motorists stopped to give them aid and called for help on the police radios. The BLA, a much more violent organization than the WU (they robbed banks and killed cops), was ground up in a matter of months by the FBI with the help of broad popular support. All this history is very relevant to us today. Currently we are going through Phase I, “the Days of Rage.” There are also significant differences between the coming violence spike of 2020, and the 1970 one…”

Brilliant tactics from DSA:

First, this is a concrete material benefit (and not identity politics-related or -driven). Second, traffic stops, as in Ferguson, feed directly into neoliberal “law enforcement for profit” strategies. Very well done indeed. More like this please. Oh, but don’t assume everybody has email…

Stats Watch

Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index, August 17: “Manufacturing activity in the Fifth District expanded for the tenth consecutive month in August,” exceeding consensus [Econoday]. “While still exceptionally optimistic, the expectations portion of the survey showed modest declines in all categories except vendor lead time.” Of course, surveys are no more data than anecdotes are.

Chemical Activity Barometer: “Chemical Activity Barometer Shows Modest Slowing in August” [Calculated Risk]. “This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production.”

FHFA House Price Index, June 2017: Very soft, well short of consensus [Econoday]. “This is both good news and bad news, as slowing price appreciation should help affordability for home sales but will also limit growth in household wealth.” Ye gods. A house isn’t “wealth,” unless it’s some squillionaire’s “cottage” in Newport, and even then it’s only “wealth” because of its owner.

Real Estate: “CoreLogic has determined the regions of the U.S. that have the highest correlation with the National Mortgage Fraud Risk index, based on a tracking score1. The regions that are most highly correlated with fraud risk are areas that will be the best predictors of nationwide mortgage fraud” [Econintersect]. “California and Maryland have the highest correlation with the national trend for risk.. . The two states have tracking scores of 0.49 and 0.47 respectfully. To put this in perspective, the next highest correlated state is Massachusetts with a tracking score of 0.1…. However, combining only three CBSAs [core-based statistical areas] provide a strong correlation to the National Fraud Risk Trend. The three CBSAs are Baltimore-Columbia-Townson with a tracking score of 0.43, San Francisco-Oakland-Heyward with a tracking score of 0.26, and San Diego-Carlsbad with a tracking score of 1.6…. Understanding the highly correlated regions will help to identify the contributing factors that lead to fraud. When looking across the nation, the number of potential factors is large and with the combination of the factors, the number becomes very large. This make it almost impossible to find the contributing factors. It is exciting to see that the correlated regions are limited to just a couple of CBSA because it might reduce the number of potential factors to the point that we can identify the contributing factors.” Well, you can’t put a “contributing factor” in jail, so hopefully in future we’ll be able to achieve even greater precision.

Employment Situation: “Tech Employment Returns to Dot-Com Heights” [Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis].

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 21 Extreme Fear (previous close: 15, Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 36 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 22 at 1:08pm.

Class Warfare

“I went to a pop-up orgasm boutique, and all I got was this free vibrator—and enlightenment” [Daily Dot]. I’m filing this under class warfare, obviously, because this market-driven, individualized approach — Is there a vibrator branded TINA™? If not, why not? — is in great contrast to this story: “Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism” [New York Times]. “Although gender wage disparities and labor segregation persisted, and although the Communists never fully reformed domestic patriarchy, Communist women enjoyed a degree of self-sufficiency that few Western women could have imagined. Eastern bloc women did not need to marry, or have sex, for money.” What a concept!

News of the Wired

UPDATE “But since we’re Ad Age, we remember Lewis in another manner: For his role in print and TV advertising. During his life, he was pitchman for many products, including Royal Crown Cola, Chesterfield cigarettes, KFC and more. Below is a sample of some of his ad work” [Ad Age]. Speaking of the pitch economy…

Joe Strummer would have been 65 years old yesterday. “A public service announcement. With guitars!”

Because Strummer’s diction isn’t noted for clarity, I append lyrics:

… Know your rights
All three of them

Number one
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a crime
Unless it was done
By a policeman
Or an aristocrat…

And number two
You have the right to food money
Providing of course
You don’t mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers

Number three
You have the right to free speech
As long as
You’re not dumb enough to actually try it…

It has been suggested citizens in some quarters
That these are not enough

“What to Do With Your Solar Eclipse Glasses Now That It’s Over” [Time]. You can donate them!


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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 allergic 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 (MQ):

From Florida. 20 feet high!

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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.