2:00PM Water Cooler 8/23/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Readers, I had a lot of stuff appear late in my feed, so I’m going to add it in. Do check back! –lambert UPDATE 2:45PM. All done!


“President Donald Trump might dust off that executive order to withdraw from NAFTA sooner than we thought. On Tuesday night during a campaign-style rally in Arizona, Trump said that ‘we’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point, OK, probably'” [Politico]. “The threats could serve to harden Canadian and Mexican positions at the negotiating table. When Trump threatened to withdraw from the deal in April, Mexican officials said the government would not negotiate “with a gun to its head.” Trump was poised to pull the U.S. out of the deal, with an executive order at the ready months ago. He was eventually talked down from that action after massive pushback from business leaders, Congress and his own Cabinet.” Just spitballing here, but why limit NAFTA to North America? Why not sign up, say, Afghanistan?

“At the start of the NAFTA talks last week, Lighthizer said he wants dispute settlement provisions “designed to respect our national sovereignty and our democratic processes.” But that could have been a reference to the administration’s desire to rid NAFTA of a separate dispute process that allows a country to independently challenge a trade remedy decision. So far, the U.S. has not finalized an ISDS proposal” [Politico]. “The European Union, facing overwhelming opposition to [ISDS], pledged to seek in its future deals, including its completed agreement with Canada, the formation of an international investment court as opposed to the ad hoc panels that usually hear disputes.”

“Government approves negotiating mandate for revamped TPP” [New Zealand Herald]. “”TPP 11 ministers have committed to moving forward with the agreement as quickly as possible,” [Trade Minister Todd McClay] said. In May, all countries agreed to present a proposal to TPP leaders by November this year, when they meet in Vietnam as part of the APEC leaders week. McClay said New Zealand will be pushing for the minimal number of changes possible to the original TPP agreement, something that the remaining TPP 11 countries have agreed on, he added.”

“The beginnings of new bilateral trade agreements are springing up left and right between countries that may never have otherwise given each other a second look. And as a result, the United States’ role as a framer of global trade rules may be slipping from its grasp as Europe and China look to step in” [Sourcing Journal]. “Since last year, a slew of free trade agreements have been signed globally and none of them by the United States, according to Jeff McCauley, vice president of global accounts for U.S. trade management software company Integration Point. ‘We’re seeing a lot more demand on the free trade agreement side,’ McCauley said speaking at a recent Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America Footwear Sourcing Intelligence Summit in New York City. ‘Governments are signing trade agreements with each other and not the U.S.’.. According to the World Trade Organization’s count, 279 trade agreements are in place as of June 2017, with quite a lot more still under negotiation. Between last January and now, 27 agreements have been signed—China and Australia, Turkey and Malaysia, EU with Colombia and Peru, the EU and Ghana, India and Thailand—and none of them are with the U.S.”



UPDATE “Establishment Democrats count on Trump’s grotesqueries to unify and mobilize Democrats. But if Hillary Clinton’s campaign taught us anything, it is that simple opposition or “resistance” to Trump is not enough. Democrats can’t even mobilize their own base to vote — particularly in off-year elections — unless they champion a bold program that offers a credible promise of change to the vast majority of Americans. Pelosi and Schumer have recognized that. The resulting debate is not only long-overdue, it is also utterly necessary if Democrats are to begin winning elections again” [Katrina vanden Heuvel, WaPo]. “Bold,” another bullshit tell I’m surprised vanden Heuvel deployed. If you have to say it’s bold, it isn’t. Worse, all “bold” promises is typical Democrat “fight for” rhetoric; plenty of bold generals lose wars, after all. Even worse, bold is a personal characteristic; it says nothing about what the party stands for, or what the boldness is in aid of. The whole article is surprisingly squishy, and seems designed to push yet another umbrella coalition (“Millions of Jobs,” “A project of The Advocacy Fund“) that nobody’s ever heard of (but seems to be an offshoot of the Tides Foundation). Well-meaning, I’m sure, but at the end of the day, all about the grants.

Trump Transition

“Will Steve Bannon’s war tear apart the Republican party?” [Corey Robin, Guardian (Martha R)]. “By the standards of modern presidential history, Trump and Bannon have remarkably little to show for their wild ride of revanchism. There’s one supreme court justice, whose ascension owes far more to the savvy maneuvering of Mitch McConnell than to any right-wing populism of Trump or Bannon, and a host of regulatory measures that can be overturned by a Democratic successor. These measures can do great damage, but as an index of presidential accomplishment, they’re unimpressive…. Virtually none of the signature elements of the populism Bannon claimed to be fighting for – the border wall, massive infrastructure, higher tax rates on the wealthy, trade wars with China, higher tariffs – is anywhere near coming to fruition.” Trump combined the Republican suburban base with marginal voters (among them, those who flipped from Obama to Trump). To win, Trump needs not only the base, who will vote for him or any Republican no matter what — see under Jon Ossoff [sheds tear] — but those marginal voters. He’s not delivering for them on policy. That does not augur well for him.

“In a bombastic, angry and divisive speech to his core supporters, President Donald Trump said Tuesday night in Phoenix that he was ready to shut down the government in order to secure funding for a proposed border wall and that Nafta will probably be eliminated. Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass a funding deal, and Trump could veto a budget that does not include funds for a border wall, causing a government shutdown” [MarketWatch]. What fun. That said, I love that word “divisive.” Because, as we all know, American politics is never, and should not be, divisive. See “The Stroking of Sumner,” for example.

“Already the Trump presidency has delivered big-time on one promise: it has shaken up the status quo. Like the Trump candidacy that had vilified the competence and performance of establishment practitioners in both major parties en route to a victory that few predicted, the Trump administration has made it abundantly clear that no personage, organization, bureaucratic office, process, policy or funded program is sacred” [The National Interest]. “In response, a chorus of negative commentary has been the soundtrack to the forty-fifth president’s early tenure…. But Trump never ran as an agent of continuity…. A strategy designed to shape, for as long as necessary, the most consequential adverse trends must inform and guide all of America’s policy exertions. Five such threats rise to the level of long-term strategic concern.” Followed by a long list of nice things, or things that are at least nice to the author, Lincoln Bloomfield, a fully paid up member of The Blob. However, there’s no indication that Trump, or any other person of stature proposed by the political class has any prospect whatever of achieving these nice things. For example: “At the core of any strategy to defeat a seditious ideological movement is the need to impose a suffocating sense of futility.” How’s that working out for us? Did setting the Middle East and Mediterranean and Black Sea littorals on fire advance or retard this objective? And so forth. Utterly crazypants, but delivered in soothing tones, without bombast, so good. Great!

“Is Trump’s Agenda Being Eclipsed?” [Patrick Buchanan, RealClearPolitics]. “Trump, however, was elected to end America’s involvement in Middle East wars. And if he has been persuaded that he simply cannot liquidate these wars — Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan — he will likely end up sacrificing his presidency, trying to rescue the failures of those who worked hardest to keep him out of the White House.” Making Buchanan’s assumption of good faith, the old reprobate has a point.


UPDATE “Charlottesville votes to shroud statues after the violence” [AP]. “Covering the statues is intended to signal the city’s mourning for Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car slammed into a crowd protesting the rally.” The state of North Carolina has, if I have this right, removed the monuments from local control. But apparently covering the statues — as opposed to removing them — is legal. So why not leave the shrouds in place permanently? Or better yet, why not enclose the bronze Confederate statues in larger, hollow, polymer statues, perhaps of slaves? That way, the law would be satisfied, and everybody would be happy!

2016 Post Mortem

“Black voter turnout fell in 2016, even as a record number of Americans cast ballots” [Pew Research]. (As I said.) I blame Putin. Or, wait: Black voters are racist, sexist bros.

UPDATE Important! From the 2016 CCES Common Content dataset (which which I am not familiar, though it seems well-attested):

And this:

“The people who can destroy a thing, they control it.” — Frank Herbert, Dune

I’d expect a lot more controversy over this data, and its intrepretion, in the coming days. But note this is national data. To draw conclusions regarding election outcomes, you need to drill down state-by-state.

UPDATE “U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Tuesday that nothing has happened to change her belief that she did the right thing by keeping an information technology aide on the payroll long after other members of Congress fired him when they learned he was under investigation” [Orlando Sentinel]. “During the back-and-forth with reporters on Tuesday, she was careful to try to avoid providing sound bites that could show up in future ads against her. Examples: — Asked if she could vouch for Awan’s innocence, she responded: ‘I have been concerned throughout this process that like any other American that he is given due process and that the system be allowed to work and once that process occurred, once he was arrested and charged with a crime, then I was certainly satisfied that he was getting the due process that he needed, and I terminated [him]. But before that, when he was not, I wanted to make sure that I stood for making sure that someone’s rights were protected. It was important for me to do that.'” Due process does not protect Awan in this case.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“To the Left: stop resisting resistance” [Grassroots Economics Organizing]. “Fighting resistance reinforces resistance.” The left won’t win with pink pussy hats or witty signs.They might just win with DSA-like tactics of free tail-light replacement, a concrete material benefit of great value to those who need it.

“Pushing the People’s Platform: An Interview With the President of “Our Revolution”” [Truthout]. Nina Turner:

When you look at wages, for example, people might not see the $15 minimum wage as a racial justice issue, but when you look at wages in this country and the fact that African American women make about 63 cents on every dollar that a white man makes, when you look at the fact that most African American households are led by women, then there is an economic and racial and social justice component to wanting to raise the wage. Now, as we talk about those issues, we are going to talk about those through that lens.

“How the alt-right spread from a think tank to the Internet” [WIRED].

“If you’re going to punch Nazis, first make sure they’re actually Nazis” [Salon]. Moral panics make people stupid.

“State of Sanctuaries: [The Intercept]. Sounds like a Nullification Crisis in the making, to me.

Stats Watch

New Home Sales, July 2017: “Overstating weakness, July’s headline for new home sales fell to a far lower-than-expected annualized rate of 571,000. This is offset, however, by upward revisions totaling 33,000 in the two prior months which now stand at 630,000 and 618,000” [Econoday]. “This series, where sample sizes are low, is often volatile… The strength in pricing is good news for residential investment but not for first-time buyers who are being priced out of the new home market.” But: But: “US new home sales declined 9.4% in July to an annual rate of 571,000. This was well below consensus forecasts of 610,000 and the weakest reading since December 2016 with an 8.9% annual decline” [Economic Calendar]. “The number of available unsold houses increased to 5.8 months’ supply from 5.2 the previous month and significantly higher than the levels seen during the past 12 months which suggests that supply constraints have eased slightly with a build in inventory. The median sales price index increased to $313,700 from $295,000 in July 2016 while the average price increased to $371,000 from $355,000 the previous year. [Yikes! –lambert] The data will tend to undermine confidence in the housing outlook and markets will be looking to assess whether improved supply conditions help underpin sales conditions over the next few months.” And but: “This month the backward revisions were moderately up, but the rolling averages significantly declined. Because of weather and other factors, the rolling averages are the way to view this series – and the rolling averages are at the lower levels seen since the beginning of 2016” [Econintersect]. “The median sales prices were moderately down whilst the average price was moderately up. This data series is suffering from methodology issues which manifest as significant backward revision – and this month the revisions were up.” And: “Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically” [Calculated Risk]. “The inventory of completed homes for sale is still low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is also low.”

Architectural Billings Index, July 2017: “The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the July ABI score was 51.9, down from a score of 54.2 in the previous month. This score still reflects an increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings)” [American Insittute of Architects]. “As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.” (“This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment” [Calculated Risk].)

Purchasing Managers’ Index Composite Flash, August 2017: “Weakness in manufacturing, at 52.5, is being offset this month by strength in services, at a very strong score of 56.9. The two make for a PMI composite of 56.0” [Econoday]. “These results are mixed with the slowdown in manufacturing a concern especially following last week’s surprise dip in manufacturing production… Input costs for service providers are up as are, in especially positive news, selling prices which are at a nearly 3-year high. Selling prices for manufacturers are also higher this month with input costs also up.” And but: “The data will reinforce expectations of strong growth in the services sector and the inflation data should lessen concerns within the Federal Reserve that inflation will remain significantly below target. In this context, there should be greater confidence that the Fed will be able to push ahead with policy normalisation” [Economic Calendar].

MBA Mortgage Applications, week of August 18, 2016: “Purchase applications for home mortgages fell a seasonally adjusted 2 percent in the August 18 week, but applications for refinancing rose 0.3 percent” [Econoday].

Shipping: “Having been dormant for over 18 months the containership orderbook could be about to jolt back to life as CMA CGM is reportedly on the verge of signing an order for nine 22,000 teu ships, reports Drewry” [Lloyd’s Loading List]. “One of the two conditions for sustainable liner industry profitability that Drewry only last week laid out in a whitepaper is already in danger of being compromised. Despite a long period of sobriety, it appears that carriers’ addiction to big new ships still remains in the blood stream, with news that CMA CGM is preparing to order up to nine 22,000 teu units.”

Commodities: “Germany brings home $28bn worth of gold reserves” [Mining.com]. “Germany’s central bank completed Wednesday its plan to bring back home 54,000 gold bars it had in vaults located in New York and Paris to beneath its Frankfurt headquarters, three years ahead of schedule… The lender said it ‘thoroughly and exhaustively’ tested all of the bars after they arrived back in Frankfurt and ‘no irregularities came to light with regard to the authenticity, fineness or weight of the bars.'”

Labor Power: “U.S. workers have low hopes for higher pay: Fed survey” [Reuters]. “US. workers see little hope for higher paychecks, and while they are increasingly searching for new jobs, they expect fewer offers to fall into their laps, according to a Federal Reserve survey published on Monday. The first-of-its-kind* New York Fed study, to be published three times per year, paints a gloomy picture of U.S. workers’ aspirations. Even though the unemployment rate, at 4.4 percent, is near a 16-year low after more than eight years of economic recovery, national measures of wages have shown only modest growth. Survey respondents on average said in July that the lowest annual salary they would accept in a new job would be $57,960, down from $59,660 only four months earlier. This measure has declined since November, with most of the changes coming from older and higher-income Americans.” $59,660 – $57,960 = $1700. That’s rather a big downdraft, I would guess, and sudden, too. The dollar stores better get back to prices that really are a dollar! Hard to tell how volatile the survey is, since it’s new, but still… * The Fed tried their employment situation index and then junked it. Maybe this time they’ll do better.

Shipping: “Headline data for truck shipments improved in July” [Econintersect]. “I tend to put heavier weight on the CASS index which continues to show a moderate improvement year-over-year. The ATA data continues to wander all over the map – and is likely a result of seasonal adjustment issues and a smaller share of shipping now going to ATA members. It should be pointed out that although the data seems to be improving, it is nothing to write home about. It is also interesting that the current trucking employment pattern is now showing a short term improvement trend which supports the CASS index.”

Concentration: “Google and Walmart have entered into a partnership to make hundreds of thousands of Walmart products available to purchase through the Google Home voice-controlled listener speaker, the tech giant’s answer to the Amazon Echo” [Supply Chain 247]. “A Google assistant, which is tantamount to an online personal shopper, will be assigned to each customer to fulfill the order and set it up to be delivered to their homes.” I suppose the next step will be Google listening in to all my conversations to “anticipate” my “needs,” or even, through its dominance of the Search function, shape and create them. Synergies! Not that I’m foily. (Includes interesting press release from Walmart e-commerce VP.) And note the oddly identical wording in the next article–

Concentration: “Google and Walmart have entered into a partnership to make hundreds of thousands of Walmart products available to purchase through the Google Home voice-controlled speaker, the tech giant’s answer to the Amazon Echo” [Recode]. “On both sides, the partnership seems like a smart hedge in the event that shopping by voice actually takes off. For Google, Amazon has already emerged as an unlikely foe as more and more online shoppers start their product searches on Amazon instead of on the traditional search engine, where Google is used to placing lucrative ads alongside those type of search results. A study last year found that 55 percent of U.S. adults start their online shopping trips on Amazon.” Of course we do. Amazon is where the best reviews are! In other words, one of Amazon’s moats was dug by the free labor of millions and millions of people. Imagine that! Perhaps I should have filed this under The Bezzle. Or Class Warfare.

Concentration: “The EU has opened an in-depth probe into Bayer’s proposed acquisition of Monsanto over concerns that the merger may reduce competition in pesticides, seeds and traits” [EU Business]. “The proposed acquisition of Monsanto (US) by Bayer (Germany) would create the world’s largest integrated pesticides and seeds company. It would combine two competitors with leading portfolios in non-selective herbicides, seeds and traits, and digital agriculture.”

The Bezzle: “After passing through stages of shock, guilt, anger, bargaining and hope, the poor schmucks who subjected themselves to Blue Apron’s IPO finally reached the ultimate stage in any grieving investor’s emotional journey: class-action lawsuit” [DealBreaker].

The Bezzle: “Influencer Peddler: Jen Atkin” [Womens Wear Daily]. The pitch, the hit, the score:

WWD: Where’s your line between how much of your real life you’ll put on social versus what you keep private?

J.A.: There’s no boundary, which is kind of good and bad. When I get recognized at a mall or the airport it’s so funny to me because I don’t register that people actually watch what I’m doing. My husband was at the Women’s March and said like 40 girls came up to him like, “Oh my God, you’re Jen’s husband.” And that was weird for him. It’s so weird that people know who we are. I snap like nobody’s watching, I guess.

Two years ago we made the decision as a family to freeze embryos because we weren’t ready to have kids, and I talked to my girlfriends about it and was like, “I want to share this.” The minute I started opening up about it, so many people came forward and were like, “Oh, I did that two years ago,” or “Best thing I ever did,” and I was like, “Why did no one tell me this?” I told our story on social, I even snapped at the doctor’s office. I’m really glad I did because so many women came forward and said, “Thank you so much for talking about it.”

Obviously, I don’t take my phone into the bathroom, but there are so many things in my life I’m still figuring out and I’ve never felt weird about sharing stuff. It’s hard not to post political things sometimes. I get yelled at by people who are like, “I’m unfollowing you,” but at the end of the day I’m a human being with opinion and I feel like I need to be honest about every aspect of my life. I don’t like to be filtered.

I hate that phrase, “open up,” and whenever I see it, I think “carefully crafted by public relations consultants.” Then again, maybe it’s PR all the way down, with Jen. OTOH, maybe this level of, er, authenticity is what kidz these days will expect of political candidates. (I also hate “social” used as a noun.)

The Bezzle: “[T]eenagers are abandoning [Facebook] in large numbers. According to a new study by retail analysts at eMarketer, Facebook usage by teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will decline by 3.7% this year, the first time the analysts have reported a decline in usage by any age group” [247 Wall Street]. “That’s the bad news. The less-bad news is that Facebook-owned Instagram is picking up some of the defectors. That’s only less-bad because Instagram is running behind Snap Inc.’s Snapchat in corralling the defectors.” Time to re-run one of my favorite videos on tech:

The Bezzle: “Sonos says users must accept new privacy policy or devices may ‘cease to function'”
[ZDNet]. More extortion.

UPDATE, oopsie: Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 19 Extreme Fear (previous close: 23, Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 32 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 23 at 4:19pm.

Big Brother Is Watching You Watch

“Justice Department Drops Request for IP Addresses of 1.3 Million Visitors to Anti-Trump Site” [Gizmodo]. “[US Attorney Channing Phillips wrote] argues that the government didn’t mean for its warrant to be so broad [nods furiously] but didn’t have any way of knowing how much information DreamHost had—including the millions of IP logs, as well as draft blog posts and email messages of the site owners—until the company spoke up and complained about the over-broadness of the warrant.”

Health Care

UPDATE Still going:

Class Warfare

“Bad Jobs And No Welfare Give Rise To A New Type Of Charity: The Diaper Bank” [HuffPo].

News of the Wired

That eclipse:

Rather like the new homes lottery for those lost their apartments in the Grenfell Tower fire. Just feral. Designed to set people against each other, creating winners and losers where there shouldn’t even be a game.

“ESPN under fire for removing announcer Robert Lee from Virginia football game” [MarketWatch]. “Lee” is, of course, Asian. Reminds me of the Cannes Film Festival announcer’s flub: Gong et Mike Lee….

Regarding “The HERE IS key” [Dave Cheney], linked to last week, alert reader Propertius writes:

Cheney doesn’t go back nearly far enough to illuminate the origin of the “here is” key and answerback on the ADM3A. The key doesn’t originatewith the DEC VT100. It was present on earlier Teletype devices long before they were actually connected to computers (back to the early models that still used Baudot encoding). The answerback was used to identify a station on a physical teletype line back when ttys were used in telegraphy. Since the network wasn’t switched, there had to be some way of identifying individual stations. Back in more innocent days, many people programmed their passwords into the answerback.

Also “Home” was not a label – it was a cursor control. Hitting ctrl+HOME returned the cursor to the upper left-hand corner of the screen (the “home” position) when the terminal was in full screen mode (scrolling disabled).

Damned kids.

Here’s what I want to know: Why doesn’t the iOS virtual keyboard have cursor keys? That mal-affordance makes correcting typos very hard. It’s a UX fail of the first order.

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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 (MG):

MG sends in this link — “‘Unprecedented’ — 3 corpse flowers to bloom in DC” — and writes: “You have to document the blooming corpse flower.” (For our British readers, that translates to “bleedin’ corpse flower.”) I think there’s a metaphor here, somewhere…

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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.