2:00PM Water Cooler 8/25/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Readers, my medical checkup went fine. I’m going to throw in some more politics links, just for the heck of it. –lambert


“ISDS: THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY’S NAFTA BREAKING POINT: Three major business organizations have a message for USTR and the rest of the Trump administration: If you cut the investor-state dispute settlement provision from NAFTA, you risk losing our support. The Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers and Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this week that any ‘attempts to eliminate or weaken ISDS will harm American businesses and workers and, as a consequence, will serve to undermine business community support for the NAFTA modernization negotiations'” [Politico]. “Joshua Bolten, Jay Timmons and Tom Donohue, who head those three groups, also pushed back in the letter against common criticisms of the provision, including that it infringes on U.S. sovereignty. They said that ISDS ‘upholds the same fundamental due process and private property guarantees protected by our Constitution, and it obligates other countries to uphold these precepts as well.'”

“[M]ajor internet companies pressured United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to include language mirroring Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects third-party platforms that host sites, including Backpage, from liability on content posted by those sites” [St Louis Post-Dispatch]. “Lighthizer did not specifically mention third-party liability in a July statement of ‘NAFTA negotiating objectives.’ But Lori Wallach, director of global trade watch at the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said such details were likely to arise in later negotiations, and that such provisions are often tucked in hard-to-find areas of international agreements. She also said that if future trade deals included third-party liability protection, it would effectively trump congressional action aimed at companies like Backpage. ‘Basically, the trade agreements have become Trojan Horse mechanisms to lock in various … policies unrelated to trade,’ she said.”



“2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Market” [PredictIt] (via). See NC on prediction markets here and here before you put your money down.


Nice to see a race in the Great State of Maine covered by not one but two racing sheets!

“ME-02: Poliquin Moves to Lean Republican” [Cook Political Report]. “For two cycles in a row, [Representative Bruce] Poliquin was able to portray Democrat Emily Cain as an [a] elite liberal funded [b] by out-of-state interests whose voting record in the state legislature was [c] too far left for the district. That could be harder to do with [state Rep. Jared Golden], 35, who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before winning a seat in the state House. Golden served as a staffer to GOP Sen. Susan Collins and unlike Cain, he grew up in the district.” [a] and [b] are correct. [c], one may hope, is not (for a concrete material benefits leftist, and not an identity politics liberal).

“Democrats Score Marine Veteran to Challenge Poliquin” [Roll Call]. “Golden faces an uphill battle against the well-financed incumbent in a district President Donald Trump won last fall. But Democrats are excited about the native Mainer’s chances to connect with white, working-class voters who have moved away from the Democratic Party in recent years… Shortly after announcing, Golden climbed in his truck on Thursday to embark on a four-day tour of the district, part of which will include “Jared on the Job” stints. He’ll work on a farm in northern Maine and haul lobster traps in Jonesport. Golden’s also attending house parties, where he’s hoping to hear from voters about where the Democratic Party has gone astray.” Democrat establishments do love them their military types; Seth Moulton is another one. Golden is from down the road in Lewiston, so I don’t know him well enough to be cynical. But I will say that if Golden goes hauling lobster traps, he’d better keep the dog and pony well hidden away from the dock. How about a full-throated campaign on policy for the Northeast’s (deindustrialized, opioid-ridden) biggest flyover state, instead of focusing on Golden’s personal characteristics?


“United States Senate special election in Alabama (September 26, 2017 Republican primary runoff)” [BallotPedia]. Luther Strange v. “Judge” Roy Moore. Strange is the establishment candidate, with $2,524,170 in contributions; Moore has $308,747. Moore is ahead by four points in the latest poll.

Health Care

“VT settles claims against economist Jonathan Gruber” [Burlington Free Press]. “Gruber submitted two bills for $100,000 in September and October 2014, claiming that he worked 100 hours and that his research assistant worked 500 hours during each period. The state paid the bills but retained a total of $40,000, which was expected to be paid when the work was complete… State investigators later learned that the invoices were inaccurate. Gruber’s research assistant would have had to work 12 to 16.7 hours per day to make the numbers work.” Readers will remember that Gruber — as a good liberal Democrats and single payer opponent — believes that voters are “stupid” and need to be deceived. So the Department of Schadenfreude is collectively overjoyed that he’s a crook, too. [Here envision Bud from legal rushing in, shouting “Alleged! Alleged!” and consider that done.]

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Customer Service Hall of Shame” [MarketWatch] (link to the print version to get everything on one page, instead of the stupid listicle format MarketWatch insists on using). I’m filing this story here because most of the companies are cable or cellphone companies, making it all the more remarkable that Democrats would use mailers like this:

Or maybe it’s not remarkable at all. Spotty service, hatred of the “customer,” “deals” that bundle what you don’t want with what you do, and monopoly status: Democrats really are The Cable Weasels of Politics™.

“Trump is winning the statue war” [USA Today]. “Now here we are with Democrats going all in to refight the Civil War. Well done. A glance at the electoral map shows how foolish this is. Donald Trump triumphed in 2016 by increasing Republican margins in a swath of northern counties stretching from western Pennsylvania across the Great Lakes, netting him Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and the presidency. Voters there are more likely to see this issue as a radical temper tantrum than anything affecting their daily lives. Polling gives reason for skepticism. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll last week found that 62% of respondents thought statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should “remain as a historical symbol.” Only 27% of those polled wanted the statues removed, and presumably they vote Democratic anyway.” Liberal Democrats will do anything to retain their firewall; must do, to retain power. Too bad Indivisible was nowhere to be found in Charlottesville…. So while simultaneously creating a moral panic and gaslighting their base, they radically underperform for anybody who’s paying attention, especially youth (whose attention is more likely to be captured by activism). Indeed, well done. Send out more collection letters!

UPDATE “Liberals, [Mark Lilla] argues, must repudiate the politics of identity because it undermines the pursuit of the common good to which American liberalism is properly directed. Identity liberalism divides Americans into groups—women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and on and on. It nourishes a ‘resentful, disuniting rhetoric of difference’ that defines membership in terms of distinctive narratives of victimhood, and confers status in proportion to the magnitude of the oppression one claims to have suffered under the hegemonic sway of white, male structures of power. Propelled by America’s colleges and universities—which, Lilla observes, have replaced political clubs and shop floors as the incubators of liberal political leaders—identity liberalism has abandoned the political mission of bringing fellow citizens together in favor of the evangelical one of extracting professions of faith and punishing heretics, apostates, and infidels” [RealClearPolitics]. See NC here, here, and here.

UPDATE “The Verge: Reflections on a Second Civil War” [American Civil War]. “A viral video of a citizen, at a town-hall meeting, publicly dressing [here] down a Republican congressman, Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, as ‘the single greatest threat to my family’ for embracing legislation to replace Obamacare, won applause on Facebook from a hard core Democrat who likened the confronter to a ‘modern day John Brown’ delivering a ‘battle cry.'” Hmm. I’m not sure which outrages the author more: the “dressing down” or the subsequent “battle cry” framing.

Stats Watch

Durable Goods Orders, July 2017: “Durable goods orders came in as billed with a steep aircraft-related decline for the headline, at minus 6.8 percent, contrasting with solid gains for ex-transportation at 0.5 percent and core capital goods (nondefense ex-aircraft) at 0.4 percent” [Econoday]. Aircraft are sporty! “A special plus in the report, and one that will lift GDP, is a sharp pickup in shipments of core capital goods, up 1.0 percent in July with June revised 2 tenths higher to 0.6 percent.” More: “Negatives include a 1.2 percent order decline for vehicles that follows a 0.7 percent decline in June and a 1.4 percent decline for machinery orders that belies the month’s strength for core capital goods.” And: “The headline figures for June and July effectively cancelled each other out given distortions triggered by fluctuations in aircraft orders and the underlying picture is still for a gradual underlying strengthening in capital spending” [Economic Calendar]. It’s hard to have a functioning capitalist system without capital spending, eh? And: “Civilian aircraft were the main headwind this month. If one removes aircraft – this is a stronger report. This series has wide swings monthly so our primary metric is the unadjusted three month rolling average which improved” [Econintersect].

Housing: “Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in July was at 0.85%, unchanged from 0.85% in June. Freddie’s rate is down from 1.08% in July 2016” [Calculated Risk]. “Freddie’s serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. This ties last month as the lowest serious delinquency rate since April 2008.”

Retail: “E-commerce is wreaking more havoc on retailers. Sears Holdings Corp. will close another 28 Kmart stores after reporting an 11.5% drop in sales at stores open at least a year in the fiscal second quarter” [Wall Street Journal]. “The company’s sales drop is accelerating, even as other department stores, including Kohl’s Corp. and Macy’s Inc., are seeing narrower declines. All face the same intractable problem: shoppers are spending more online and cutting back on trips to the mall.”

Shipping: “Tanker becomes first to cross Arctic without icebreaker” [CNN]. “A Russian tanker carrying natural gas has become the first merchant ship to sail across the Arctic without the help of an icebreaker, finishing the journey in record time. The ship, the Christophe de Margerie, traveled from Norway to South Korea in 19 days, about 30% quicker than the regular route through the Suez Canal, its Russian owner, Sovcomflot, said this week.”

Rail: “CN and CP operated largely linear networks, with trains flying across hundreds or thousands of miles of flat terrain, often through wilderness with no physical impediments in sight. The climate was ideal for Harrison to execute his model of “precision scheduled railroading,” which adds fluidity to a network by pinpointing exactly how and when trains move from start to finish. This enables the operation of fewer but longer trains moving freight faster” [DC Velocity]. “When Harrison bolted CP in March to become president and CEO of Jacksonville-based eastern railroad CSX Corp., he took over a different operation. CSX’s network was more challenging, running shorter distances through congested areas, or through small, one stop-light-type towns where trains would be required to slow their speeds. Moreover, CSX was the amalgamation of multiple railroads that were involved in various mergers over the past 30 to 35 years, and were all not natural fits. Through the decades, various management teams poured massive amounts of capital into restructuring efforts to realize the vision of simplifying a network that had become known, without affection, as the ‘spaghetti bowl.’… So far, precision railroading on the CSX system has been the rail equivalent of a square peg in a round hole…. About 40 percent of the [Cowen & Co survey] respondents have switched some of their shipments to CSX rival Norfolk Southern Corp., and 67 percent have moved shipments to truckers, a viable modal alternative in many of CSX’s northeast and southeast markets, [Jason Seidl, managing director at investment firm Cowen & Co] said. About 24 percent of the respondents described CSX’s service as “poor,” Seidl said. … CSX’s problems have also raised the ire of the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the federal agency that regulates the railroads.”

The Bezzle: “Ex-Uber Engineer Asks Supreme Court to Learn From Her Ordeal” [Bloomberg]. “In what’s called a friend-of-the-court brief, [whistleblower Susan] Fowler last week petitioned the Supreme Court to consider her experience as it confronts other cases that turn on whether employees can be forced to forgo the right to pursue class-action lawsuits when they’ve agreed in their contracts to resolve grievances through one-on-one, closed-door arbitration.” It looks to me like the venture capital fish rots from the sexist head, and if that’s the needle that pops the valuation bubble — as opposed to business models that can’t show a path to profit, for example — then so be it. All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection

The Bezzle: “Stock Handouts to Drivers Could Help Steady Uber” [New York Times]. [laughing as I type this].

UPDATE The Bezzle: The “Pitch Economy” in action (click through all the images):

Political Risk: “Donald Trump Is Finally Going To Deliver That Volatility You Always Wanted” [MarketWatch]. “[E]ven now, with the odds of shutdown being drawn primarily from @RealDonaldTrump hermeneutics, markets have already grown noticeably more volatile.”

Climate Risk: “Offshore operators, Texas refineries hunker down as Harvey approaches” [Workboat]. “Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted as of 11:30 CDT today, personnel have been evacuated from a total of 39 production platforms, 5.29% of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, BSEE said… From operator reports, it is estimated that approximately 9.56% of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in, which equates to 167,231 bbls. per day. It is also estimated that approximately 14.66% of the natural gas production, or 472 million cubic feet per day in the Gulf of Mexico, has been shut-in.”

The Fed: “Jackson Hole Fed conference live blog: Yellen defends bank-reform efforts” [MarketWatch]. “‘Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s passionate defense of the post-crisis tightening of financial regulation isn’t going to go down particularly well at the White House. Donald Trump has made rolling back regulation the centerpiece of his presidency,’ said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. ‘That might just make the National Economic Council head Gary Cohn the favorite to become the next Fed Chair, when Yellen’s current term expires next February,” he added.'”

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 28 Fear (previous close: 22, Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 17 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 25 at 3:02pm (dammit!).

Health Care

“‘Voluntary’ workplace wellness programs dealt setback by U.S. court” [STAT]. Good. Great! ObamaCare incentivizes wellness programs, but as the article points out, they have no proven health benefit (and hence, like so much of ObamaCare’s complex machinery, are really a jobs guarantee for the Democrats’ base in the 10%.)


“Remote detection of widespread indigenous water in lunar pyroclastic deposits” [Nature Geophysics]. “These enhancements suggest a widespread occurrence of water in pyroclastic materials sourced from the deep lunar interior, and thus an indigenous origin.” Translation: “Water inside the moon is widespread, and that volcanic rocks may be a valuable resource for future explorers” [National Geographic]. Good. Great! If Elon can come up with the transport, maybe we won’t have to invade Canada!

Class Warfare

“Peter Miller writes, “Hundreds of thousands of students leave school each day without a home to which they can return.” In 2015 and 2016, a staggering 32,000 college applicants were designated essentially homeless; that excludes primary school children, high schoolers, undergraduate and graduate students” [JSTOR Daily].

News of the Wired

“When my youngest child was born in 2002, the flip phone was still the coolest piece of tech you could get” [WaPo]. Net, it still is!

“This tool builds recipes for making everyday tasks easier’ [Poynter]. I thougth If This Then That (IFTTT) had been killed off, but I was wrong. This looks like fun, and could be useful.

“The fragile peace established in portions of northern Iraq and eastern Syria has allowed archaeologists and conservators to make preliminary assessments of what can be saved and how. Artists, too, are responding; through diverse styles and media they are actively exploring the horizon of affect and meaning that stretches beyond loss and salvage” [Document Journal]. Interesting interview. One such piece:

“You’re a completely different person at 14 and 77, the longest-running personality study ever has found” [Quartz]. “If your patterns of thought, emotions, and behavior so drastically alter over the decades, can you truly be considered the same person in old age as you were as a teenager? This question ties in with broader theories about the nature of the self. For example, there is growing neuroscience research that supports the ancient Buddhist belief that our notion of a stable ‘self” is nothing more than an illusion.”

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NOTE Some readers have expressed a desire for a small meetup in the Bangor area. My dance card for September is pretty full, but Friday, September 15 would work for me. (I realize I’d be “outing” myself to any locals who haven’t made the connection, but at this point my online identity is sufficiently gauzy — certainly to a professional — that it probably doesn’t matter much anyhow.) If anybody wishes to contact me on this topic, here’s my email: lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com; I’ll go by responses to see whether it’s worth doing. I think attendance of one or two would be discouraging, so there would be no point going ahead, but if we ended up with five or six, as in Portland, that would be great.

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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 (SV):

SV writes: “A White Russian fig. First ripes of the summer–a month ‘late’ meaning there will probably be many unripe fruit when first frost shuts it down in late October.”

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Readers: Do feel free to use the dropdown and click the hat to make a contribution today or any day. Here is why: Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of small donations helps me with expenses, and I factor that trickle in when setting fundraising goals. So if you see something you especially appreciate, do feel free to click the hat! (Don’t go overboard, though :-)


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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.