2:00PM Water Cooler 8/29/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente


“Congressional Democrats, unions and other civil society organizations have long demanded a specific set of changes to NAFTA that, ironically, are necessary to deliver on President Donald Trump’s campaign pledges to make NAFTA “much better” for working people. Absent the removal of NAFTA’s investor privileges and Buy American procurement waiver that promote job offshoring, and absent the addition of strong, enforceable labor and environmental standards and tighter rules of origin, a new deal will not deliver on Trump’s promises to bring down the NAFTA trade deficit or create more American manufacturing jobs. But corporate supporters of the trade status quo and Republican congressional leaders oppose those very changes and seek to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership by adding elements of that deal Trump opposes to NAFTA” [Public Citizen]. TPP body parts used for NAFTA…

Here’s a good thread on trade deals (DK):


Readers, I spent so much time writing on comments yesterday that today’s post is a bit of a pantry clearoout on politics. But there is a lot happening!! –lambert


“Michael Moore Says Trump Is On Track To Win Again In 2020” [Fast Company]. “Moore also says we have to get people united behind the most viable candidate–whoever that will be–battling Trump for the presidency in the next election. ‘Eight million Obama voters voted for Trump. We just need to convince a few of them–hold out our hand and bring them back. Can we do that? I think we can do that,’ Moore says. ‘You know, there were seven-and-a-half million that voted Green or Libertarian. I think we can convince a few of them to come back. We don’t need to convince a whole lot here.'”

“Franken seen as reluctant 2020 candidate” [The Hill]. Because this is inevitable:

“Charlie Cook’s Guide to the Political Environment” (PDF) [Cook Political Report]. Lots of handy charts.

2016 Post Mortem

Breakdown of 2016 voters:

Liberal Democrats deploy the Blame Cannons against the firewall:

Wowsers. I dunno…

Liberal Democrats deploy the Blame Cannons against Jill Stein, Russian puppet:

Wowsers. (This would totally explain why Stein inserted the discredited theory that the Russkis actually hacked ballots into at least one of her quixotic post-November lawsuits. Devilish KGB cunning, I suppose.)

Clinton won’t go to Wisconsin to ask for your voter, but she will go to Wisconsin to keep a few copies of her new book out of the remainder bins:

“Did Shy Trump Supporters Bias the 2016 Polls? Evidence from a Nationally-representative List Experiment (PDF) [Yale University Press]. By Betteridge’s Law: “A list experiment conducted on the same respondents yields an estimate 29.6%, suggesting that Trump’s poll numbers were not artificially deflated by social desirability bias as the list experiment estimate is actually lower than direct question estimate. I further investigate differences across measurement modes for relevant demographic and political subgroups and find no evidence in support of the “Shy Trump Supporter” hypothesis.


“The New Front in the Gerrymandering Wars: Democracy vs. Math” [New York Times]. Re Gill v. Whitford:

[I]n 2016, a computer expert hired by the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit found, on another hard drive, spreadsheets that used a powerful new gerrymandering tool, based on sophisticated computer modeling.

The tool was created by Keith Gaddie, a political-­science professor at the University of Oklahoma. Gaddie devised a way to measure partisanship for every precinct, which two Republican aides and a consultant used to draw a series of possible maps. They matched those maps against a regression analysis that Gaddie devised, which showed how the districts would perform, in the aggregate, in the event of any likely electoral outcome. By modeling everything from a typical split between Republicans and Democrats to a big swing toward either party, Gaddie’s techniques allowed the mapmakers to distribute voters with maximum advantage for Republicans, without fear of spreading their own supporters too thinly and thus imperiling safe seats.

When the Wisconsin Legislature enacted the maps into law, the Supreme Court had never struck down a redistricting plan on the basis of partisanship.

This is a case to watch. More on Gill v. Whitford–

“Prior to the most recent redistricting plan adopted by the state, known as Act 43, federal courts in Wisconsin had drawn state legislative district boundaries for every election cycle since the 1980 census. The reason for this was that Wisconsin voters elected a divided government, a situation in which at least one chamber of the state legislature and the governorship were controlled by different political parties. Wisconsin’s elected officials could not agree to a redistricting plan to govern state legislative district boundaries after the 1980, 1990, or 2000 census” [BallotPedia]. “In 2010, Wisconsin’s voters returned a Republican trifecta [and see above]…. [In Gill v. Whitford] the plaintiffs alleged that Republicans employed two gerrymandering techniques when drafting Act 43 in order to dilute the votes of Democrats statewide. The first, known as cracking, occurs when a political party’s supporters are divided across multiple legislative districts such that the party’s supporters cannot attain a majority in any one district. The second, known as packing, occurs when a political party’s supporters are concentrated into a smaller number of districts such that the party’s candidates win by overwhelming margins.”

“In a one-sentence order issued this afternoon, Justice Samuel Alito blocked an order by a federal district court in Texas that had invalidated two congressional districts in that state” [SCOTUSblog]. “The district court’s decision, issued earlier this month, invalidated two districts in the congressional redistricting map, which the Texas legislature had enacted in 2013. The district court reasoned that although the 2013 plan was based on a 2012 plan that the court itself had adopted in the wake of a challenge to the legislature’s 2011 plan, the two districts at issue had remained the same as under the 2011 plan. One of those districts intentionally diluted the votes of Hispanic residents, the court concluded, while the other relied too heavily on race. The district court ordered the state to either call a special legislative session or return to court on September 5 with experts and a proposal for new maps. Today’s order – which came from Alito himself, rather than the full nine-member court – relieves the state of its obligation to comply with the deadlines imposed by the district court.”

North Carolina’s new election board law is part of a series of actions the Republican majority in the legislature has taken to consolidate their hold on power since 2010. They passed aggressive gerrymanders that gave their party 10 of the closely divided state’s 13 congressional seats and super-majoritiesin both houses of the state legislature. They also sought to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning constituencies — especially African-Americans and young people — by imposing sweeping new voting restrictions, including cutbacks to early voting, strict voter ID requirements and reductions in voter registration opportunities. These prior efforts to game the political system have been roundly rebuked by the courts” [Brennan Center]. The Brennan Center is usually pretty measured in its language, so…

And then there’s this:

Republicans in Disarray

“There are two main theories of Trump’s support. One is that a large minority of Americans — 40 percent, give or take — are racist idiots. This theory is at least tacitly endorsed by the Democratic Party and the mainstream liberal media. The other is that a large majority of this large minority are good citizens with intelligible and legitimate opinions, who so resent being regarded as racist idiots that they’ll back Trump almost regardless” [Clive Crook, Bloomberg]. “The first theory, if it were true, would be an argument against democracy. If tens of millions of Americans are racist idiots, how do you defend the popular franchise?” You don’t. Note the tendency of liberal Democrats to always for expert, professional, credentialed opinion: The paradigm being the Supreme Court (see Roe v. Wade and Gill v. Whitford). More: “Refusing to engage, except to mock and condescend, is both anti-democratic and tactically counterproductive. Proof of that last point is the dispiriting tenacity of Trump’s support.” Clive Crook isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s onto something here. And the Clinton campaign, besides being fabulously incompetent, was also grotesquely destructive, since it legitimized writing off half the country as “deplorables.” As I keep saying, I don’t see how that culminates in anything other than some sort of Civil War. Liberal Democrats have deployed a “rule or ruin” strategy, not merely in the Democrat party, but in the nation.

“Recent surveys suggest that roughly 47 percent of Republicans are what you might call conservative universalists and maybe 40 percent are what you might call conservative white identitarians. White universalists believe in conservative principles and think they apply to all people and their white identity is not particularly salient to them. White identitarians are conservative, but their white identity is quite important to them, sometimes even more important than their conservatism” [David Brooks, New York Times]. “When you have an intraparty fight about foreign or domestic issues, you think your rivals are wrong. When you have an intraparty fight on race, you think your rivals are disgusting. That’s what’s happening. Friendships are now ending across the right.”

“The lost cause of the Never Trump Republicans” [The Week]. “Take the example of Peter Wehner, a veteran of three Republican administrations (Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43) who has written a series a blistering attacks on Trump for The New York Times over the past two years… Wehner gestures toward the need for fresh thinking with a call for “a new intellectual infrastructure to address what may prove to be one of the largest economic disruptions in history.” But would this intellectual infrastructure be free to advise breaking from the plutocratic policies favored by Wehner’s long-time ally, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan?… The questions are crucially important because these and similar policies have been at the core of the Republican Party’s domestic agenda since the 1980s, and the failure of that agenda to improve life prospects for the GOP rank-and-file over the past several decades are a big part of the reason Trump was able to triumph over his rivals during the 2016 primaries and ultimately win the presidency against Hillary Clinton. Does Wehner recognize this? Is he prepared to abandon or at least adjust significant parts of the Ryan agenda in light of the populist rebellion the GOP has undergone over the past two years?”

Our Famously Free Press

“Somehow, the NYT’s Maggie Haberman Used Sheriff Joe Arpaio to Smear Bernie Sanders. Seriously” [Paste]. Wowsers, the Times? I’m shocked. “That’s right, folks—Jane Sanders is a huge Sheriff Joe fan who loves his heinous acts of institutional sadism so much that she traveled all the way to Arizona to go full fangirl in his awesome tent cities, and also Bernie is a hypocrite to criticize him since his wife is the dude’s no. 1 supporter. Great investigative journalism, Maggie! Unless…well, unless Jane Sanders visited the tent cities during the primary to essentially highlight their unusual cruelty, and she confronted Sheriff Joe about racial profiling and inhumane conditions, and the “tour” was an impromptu offer from him, and not some planned collaboration. Which, of course, was exactly the case—you can read about it here, and this is what she said afterward.” Query: Would Facebook flag Haberman’s smear as fake news? Somehow, I doubt it.

Charlottesville Aftermath

“Violent Alt-Right Chats Could Be Key to Charlottesville Lawsuits” [WIRED]. “The chatroom transcripts and a related audio recording offer a new window into the mind set of march organizers before and after the August 12 rally. They were obtained and disclosed by Unicorn Riot, which describes itself as a ‘media collective’ focusing on ‘dynamic social struggles.’ Lawyers say the discussions could be useful in the criminal case against James Alex Fields Jr., accused of driving the car that killed Heyer, or civil lawsuits filed by people injured in the confrontation.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

Frankly, I don’t know if this a DSA/Juggalos aligment is significant or not:

UPDATE Important exchange in Democratic Socialists of America (DSA): “Danny should resign, but we need due process” [Medium] vs. “Do the Process: A Legal Analysis of the NPC’s Removal Powers” [Medium] vs. “Respecting Democracy and Due Process in DSA: A respone [sic] to Sam Natale and Ramsin Canon [Medium]. This is important, given the DSA’s explosive growth to 20,000 memmbers in one year. (The model of a membership organization is also important, but that’s a separate topic.)

UPDATE Here is the “Danny” (Fetonte) controversy as I understand it, based on what I read on the Twitter (I basically follow every DSA chapter, and a ton of them sprang up after the very successful DSA convention in Chicago). Fetonte is an organizer for the Austin DSA chapter, and by all accounts a very successful one. At Chicago, Fetonte ran for the DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC), and won a seat. His bio said he organized “state workers,” among others. Immediately after Fetonte’s election, tweets appeared that these “state workers” included the largest police union in Texas (CLEAT), a material fact that would most likely have led to fewer votes for him. (Why DSA members didn’t Google the guy — his work for CLEAT is the first hit, as I found when I Googled “Fetonte” when the controversy began — and, more centrally, why Fetonte’s political opponents in DSA, who exist, didn’t foreground this fact, are both open questions.) Outside the DSA process and structure, on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, calls for Fetonte to step down immediately began. Many, possibly most, DSA chapters passed resolutions calling for the same. Fetonte lawyered up, mediation was tried, and Fetonte secured a resolution from his own chapter supporting him (though, according to the Austin DSA, no vote was recorded (!), and Fetonte himself presided over the meeting (!!)). The night before last, the NPC took up the matter, and narrowly decided not to ask Fetonte to step down for “uncomradely and misleading behavior,” for (summarizing) four reasons: (1) Fetonte issued his deceptive bio before becoming an NPC member, and so there was no malfeasance while he was a member, (2) the DSA bylaws intentionally make overturning the results of an election difficult, (3) bylaws are important to a strong organization, and (4) the DSA is a “big tent” (see @LarryWebsite here for the grim institutional details). Here is the NSA DPC statement.

UPDATE Lambert here: This Fetonte story is opaque, being fought out on the Twitter and in mailing lists. In some ways, we are looking at growing pains; a better DPC election process — say, with a panel where candidates could be questioned — and bylaws more appropriate to the new scale of the organization would help. A pragmatist would say Fetonte should immediately have been thrown under the bus for reasons of PR alone. A cynic would say: “Look! A cop managed to split a socialist organization right out of the box!” (This, however, given Fetonte’s very successful organizing, would require an Ohkrana-like degree of manipulation. An optimist would remind us how well the Czar’s secret police thing worked out for him.) A leftist would note the faint odor of anarchism round the gleeful early tweets outing Fetonte, and recall that anarchists don’t think much of bylaws or political parties (hence the immediate resort to Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, virtual refineries for toxic discourse). A realist would note the strong odor of identity politics in anti-Fetonte postings, and wonder if their views were shared by rural chapters. FWIW, I take the “all power to the locals” perspective. If the locals organize a dues strike of some significant fraction of the ~30K membership supports, that should cause a functional DPC to have second thoughts. If membership stalls, ditto. If neither of these things happen, then the more vociferous Fetonte opponents may split. Perhaps that’s a good thing. IMNSHO, a socialist organization would place the material interests of the working class at the heart of its thinking (“We are the many”). I don’t see that style of thought expressed by Fetonte opponents (which is not at all the same thing as saying that the police advance those material interests; see the NOLA brakelight project for a clever and effective way to do that). Oh, and deep-six Fetonte for some other reason. What the heck kind of chapter head doens’t recuse himself from presiding over a meeting that passes a resolution supporting his leadership, and then doesn’t record a vote? All at a time when Austin DSA should be bending every effort to support Houston!

Because this meme is everywhere:

Stats Watch

S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, June 2017: “Home-price appreciation is flat” [Econoday]. “Despite the softening, home prices remain a center of strength in what is a low interest-rate, low inflation economy. Lower prices won’t be adding to household wealth but they will give a boost to home sales and will offer first timers a greater chance at buying a home.” A house is not wealth. Dammit. But and: “Many pundits believe home prices are back in a bubble. Maybe, but the falling inventory of homes for sale keeps home prices relatively high. I continue to see this a situation of supply and demand. It is the affordability of the homes which is becoming an issue for the lower segments of consumers. It should be noted that the rate of year-over-year increased peaked in February 2017 at 5.9 %, and has declined every month since and is currently at 5.65 %” [Econintersect]. And: “in real terms, the National index (SA) is still about 13.3% below the bubble peak” (charts) [Calculated Risk]. “In real terms, prices are back to early-to-mid 2004 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to 2003 – and the price-to-rent ratio maybe moving a little more sideways now.”

Consumer Confidence, August 2017: “August was a very solid month for the Conference Board’s consumer confidence sample as the index moved higher once again” [Econoday]. “[T]he second highest since all the way back in December 2000. The sample showed no ill effects from the rioting in Virgnia and tensions with North Korea.” And: “On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 91st percentile of all the monthly data points since June 1977, up from the 90th percentile the previous month” (charts) [Econoday].

State Street Investor Confidence Index, August 2017: “Global institutional investor appetite for equities waned in August after surging in July” [Econoday]. Europe down, North America down modestly, Asia up. “The August weakness for Europe reflects increased caution despite growth and earnings that have beaten expectations as institutional investors anticipate the potential headwinds of a strong Euro and eventual tapering of central bank asset purchases.”

Commodities: “A historic hurricane wreaking havoc on offshore Gulf of Mexico oil production isn’t the rally maker it once was. Energy traders say it’s mostly due to the shale revolution” [MarketWatch].

Commodities: “A whole new world for rare earths” [Chemical & Engineering News]. Report on the 28th Rare Earth Conference (in Ames, Iowa). Fascinating stuff, well worth a read.

Retail: “Flytrex drone delivery system has been deployed in Reykjavík, Iceland, delivering online food orders across the city” [Supply Chain 247]. “Using Flytrex’s drone delivery system, AHA is now delivering goods between two parts of the city that are separated by a wide river, dramatically cutting delivery times and costs. Flytrex’s system operates alongside AHA’s existing vehicle-based delivery network, increasing its daily deliveries capacity, without increasing manpower.”

Retail: “Best Buy’s Earnings Pushing Stock to All-Time High” [247 Wall Street]. “The big change in product mix in the company’s domestic segment was sales of entertainment gear. Same-store sales rose 15.4% (from a very low comparable last year) and entertainment contributed 6% of Best Buy’s quarterly revenues compared with 5% in the year-ago quarter. Same-store sales of appliances rose 5.8% year over year, and appliances contributed 11% to total domestic revenues in the quarter.” So whatever Best Buy is doing to counteract “the Amazon Effect” is working (so far). I know that for me, electronics are like groceries, in that I want to see and touch the goods before buying (and watch the salesperson’s body language). Best Buy is good at delivering that experience. Or maybe they’re just the last retailer left standing?

Retail: “Amazon doesn’t need to make money from Whole Foods yet, and it has a history of prioritizing market share over profits as it enters a business. Over time, Amazon is likely to seek to lower its costs by pressing suppliers for leaner wholesale pricing, however” [Wall Street Journal]. How does Amazon out-Walmart Walmart? Except by being even more ruthless and evil, in every phase of its operation, from product to staff? It’s like a second wave of locusts assuming the first wave didn’t eat everything there was to be eaten… Maybe just go for the plastic sacks of Soylent and get UBI in there to pay for it all? And as for Amazon’s valuation: Isn’t the story Amazon and its boosters are telling weirdly similar to conglomerate “synergy”? First time as farce, second time as tragedy, since the fundamentals of “the economy” aren’t so good as they were in the Go-Go years….

Shipping: “What makes Harvey so frightful is its slow-moving nature and its trajectory over a massive body of water rather than land. Nearly all storms depart after a day or two and then weaken rapidly as they move over land and are deprived of sources of moisture. Harvey, by contrast, is in an elongated meandering phase and will spend the next two days recharging its batteries over the Gulf. Once it returns to Houston and Galveston, Texas, 50 miles from Houston, it may stall there for two or three additional days” [DC Velocity].

Shipping: “Large parts of the US Gulf’s transport system were still in shutdown mode today as ports, roads, railroads and airports remained closed, or were operating at reduced capacity at key choke points, following the catastrophic flooding delivered by Hurricane Harvey over the last three days” [Lloyd’s Loading].

Shipping: “The impact on transport runs from package carriers to freight railroads and big shipping lines, and one analyst says the storm has affected up to 10% of the nation’s trucking capacity. Truckstop.com economist Noel Perry says shipping costs will likely rise across a wide area far from Houston, based on the market’s response to previous natural disasters. In the meantime, freight operators say they expect an onslaught of demand, both from relief supplies and commercial freight that’s been held back, once waters recede and shipping channels and roads are cleared for traffic” [Wall Street Journal].

Shipping: “The media pays great attention to the point of landfall; however, serious impacts of Harvey will be felt more than 200 miles from the eye of the storm” [Supply Chain 247]. “Even hundreds of miles away from the center of the storm, wind gusts capable of tipping a LTL trailer will be present. Shelter your trailer against a building, or park alongside other full trailers if you are close enough to the impacts of this storm.”

Hotels: “Whether you want to call it late-cycle, or ‘deep in the cycle,’ the consensus seems to be that these are ‘uncharted waters,’ according to a roundtable of hotel deal-makers assembled to discuss the state of the hotel industry and transactions climate” [Hotel News Notes]. “Most cycles last eight to 10 years, said Arthur Adler, managing director and CEO of the Americas division for Jones Lang LaSalle’s Hotels & Hospitality Group, and ‘we are nine years in … so we’re deep. But this one, I truly believe, is different.’ What stands out as unique, Adler said, is that from the previous cycle peak to this one, gross-domestic-product growth has been steady but ‘less than in any other cycle we’ve ever seen.'”

Mr. Market: “2017 Mid-Year Activism Update” [The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation]. “This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving NYSE- and NASDAQ-listed companies with equity market capitalizations above $1 billion during the first half of 2017. Activism has continued at a vigorous pace thus far in 2017.” Sounds like grist for somebody’s mill…

Mr. Market: “Right, so I’ve got a theory I like to call the ‘wave paradox'” (charts) [DealBreaker]. “The concept is simple: market participants of all stripes are no longer able to discern whether they are capitalizing off the prevailing dynamic or creating the dynamic that they’re capitalizing on…. [C]urrently, this is taking place at the aggregate level. That is, the entire market is subject to this phenomenon. And everyone from the whales to the minnows are unwittingly participating in it…. ‘The combination of global credit growth and QE has created such a sustained bull market in many asset classes that investors are inevitably concluding that their best trade is simply to close their eyes and go long the market in the cheapest way possible,’ the above-mentioned Matt King goes on to write, in the same note mentioned above. ‘ETFs in principle offer a panoply of potentially uncorrelated factors, but in practice trading volumes have been overwhelmingly concentrated on the major indices.'” Apply a dose of salts before reading because I know very little about investment and am attracted by bright shiny objects. Nevetheless…

Mr. Market: “Have investors lost their minds? Has the entire financial world gone completely mad?” [Brent Arends, MarketWatch]. “Few things illustrate the surreal, disconnected, comfortably numb mind set of investors in the era of quantitative easing and free money than investors’ reaction to Tuesday’s North Korea missile launch over northern Japan. Or, rather, the lack of reaction…. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep buying those ETFs.” Or maybe gaslighting is in the price. (Note that I’m not saying the North Korean crisis is gaslighting; I’m saying that Mr. Market might think it is, not unreasonably, given the enormous quantity of gaslighting that is, in fact, going on.)

The Fed: “Yellen’s Odds of Being Reappointed Get Slimmer” [Tim Duy, Bloomberg]. “In her speech, Yellen gave a clear defense of greater financial regulation by detailing the response to the vulnerabilities exposed by the financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession. In fact, she sees it as a work in progress in what can only be called a refutation of the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory approach… Yellen’s position is that a well-regulated financial system will yield higher growth over time by reducing the frequency of financial crisis.”

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 23 Extreme Fear (previous close: 29, Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 23 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 29 at 12:07pm. Back to extreme fear!

Apple’s Tim Cook Barnstorms for ‘Moral Responsibility’ Andrew Ross Sorkin, NYT. Sycophancy, unworthy even of Deakb%k.



“When there is extensive flooding in areas with widespread industrial infrastructure, particularly when it is oil & gas related like refining, petrochemical and chemical manufacturing, there are likely to be spill-like clean-ups once the storm surge has passed and the water recedes. Flooding leaves behind enormous amount of debris, reconstruction and repair work. All of that leads to huge volumes of waste that end up in solid waste landfills” [247 Wall Street]. Every cloud has a silver lining!

“Why was there no evacuation order issued to Houston ahead of Hurricane Harvey? For one answer, look to the past and more specifically, the city’s roadways” [MarketWatch]. “In 2005, as the photo below shows, Houstonians fled Hurricane Rita, gridlocking highways. At least 120 people died, according to the Houston Chronicle, including 23 who were killed in a bus crash near Dallas.”

“To this day, Galveston, Texas, gets millions less in federal funding because of a 2008 storm. It’s a cautionary tale of how long it takes to financially recover from disasters” [Governing]. “Case in point: After Ike, Galveston lost more than 15 percent of its population, and the city fell victim to a quirk in federal rules that caused it to lose more than $1 million in annual transit funds. Galveston depended on federal grants that go to communities with 50,000 or more residents. In the 2010 Census, the island’s population dropped below that, changing its official transit designation to a “rural area.” Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show the population back over 50,000, but Galveston has to wait until the 2020 Census for its status to be revisited.”

Guillotine Watch

Gary Cohn: “Only morons pay the estate tax” [New York Times]. Kidding, but funny not-funny. Remember Leona Helmsley: “Only the little people pay taxes.” For historical context:

Of course, these are different times…

Class Warfare

“The contention that America’s workers lack the skills employers demand is an article of faith among analysts, politicians, and pundits of every stripe, from conservative tax cutters to liberal advocates of job training. Technology enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are among the loudest voices declaiming this conventional wisdom” (including liberal Democrats, who felt compelled to put “Better Skills” first in the so-called “Better Deal”). [MIT Technology Review]. “Although much research touches on this topic, almost none of the existing studies directly measure skills, the key quantity of interest. I have conducted a series of nationally representative skill surveys covering a range of technical occupations… So what are the skill requirements most consistently associated with hiring difficulties? In manufacturing, it’s higher-level reading, while for help-desk technicians it’s higher-level writing.” Reading and writing…

“Truck drivers are having their moment, according to data released Tuesday from job analysis site Glassdoor.com. Indeed, in August, they topped the list of workers who got the biggest pay raises, as compared to a year prior, with a 5.7% uptick in pay to $52,079 a year. That’s higher than the median pay in America” [Moneyish]. Hence robot trucks.

“Public pensions have played a crucial role in ensuring retirement income security over the past few decades. But for the millennial generation coming of working age now, the prospect is that public pensions won’t provide as large a safety net as they did to earlier generations. As a result, millennials should take steps to supplement their retirement income” [International Monetary Fund]. “The prospect is.” Classic lack of agency.

“We’ve become used to manufacturing companies offering jobs as a form of magic beans to rust-belt towns trying to replace jobs lost to other jurisdictions or robots. Now, we are seeing new economy companies sup at the public trough as well as their old economy counterparts, as they pursue a massive wave of data centers to power the world’s expanding cloud needs. The size of the data-service industry would double over the next five years, the commercial real estate and investment management firm JLL estimated last year” [RealClearPolitics]. Of course the metropolis will put its data centers in the colonies. I mean, where else? More: “While data centers are capital intensive during the construction phase, they have a light employment footprint after the plant is put up. Seven companies – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon and Switch – received over $2 billion in return for fewer than 1200 jobs, at an average subsidy of almost $1.7 million per permanent job, in megadeals between 2006 and 2015 tracked by the organization Good Jobs First.”

“[D]ue to social expectations around sex, men seem to have fewer acceptable pathways than women for saying ‘no.’ As we have seen, a lack of desire is an invalid excuse. Getting out of a situation comes with reputational risks. As Ford shows in a forthcoming paper, it can be easier to just ‘go with the flow’ and have unwanted sex, which may be detrimental to their wellbeing. It is important to understand the nature of the various pressures on men to engage in sex if we want to reduce unwanted sex” [Contexts]. “The data come from a study done by Jessie Ford in 2015 and 2016 at an elite private university.”

News of the Wired

“U.S. Home Broadband Penetration By State” (map) [Econintersect]. A familiar pattern.

“On internet privacy, be very afraid” [Harvard Gazette]. Interview with Bruce Schneier: “Surveillance is the business model of the internet. Everyone is under constant surveillance by many companies, ranging from social networks like Facebook to cellphone providers. This data is collected, compiled, analyzed, and used to try to sell us stuff. Personalized advertising is how these companies make money, and is why so much of the internet is free to users. We’re the product, not the customer.”

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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 (DB):

DB writes: “Some pretty Veronica Spicata plants in full bloom.”

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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.