2:00PM Water Cooler 8/4/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

I got started a little late this morning, so I’m going to throw in a bit more. –lambert. 2:57PM Done.


“‘Repeal’ and ‘replace’ are terms often used in the health care debate, but they also apply to trade. The decision by the Trump administration to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) repealed the deal for the U.S., but we are still waiting for the bilateral deals to replace it” [AgWeb]. “The pressure on the Trump administration increases as other countries form trade alliances without the U.S. As we have seen with healthcare, it’s one thing to criticize the current plan but you need to have something better to take its place.”

“Canada, Mexico, and the United States are preparing for the formal launch of negotiations to upgrade the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – a process that is due to begin in less than two weeks” [International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development]. “The 16-20 August round will be held in Washington, with reports from the Canadian Press citing unnamed sources in suggesting that this will be the first of seven rounds planned for this year alone, whose locations will alternate among parties.”

“Though the so-called border-adjusted tax had circled the drain for months, its last gasp on Thursday greatly increased the chances that any tax cuts Congress delivers will be shallower than President Donald Trump and other GOP leaders want, or shorter-lived, experts said. Without the proposal’s estimated $1 trillion in new revenue, a resulting bill may look more like the temporary tax cuts of 2001 than the once-in-a-generation overhaul of 1986 on which Trump and lawmakers have set their sights” [Bloomberg].

“A SECTION 301 DREAM DEFERRED: President Donald Trump had been planning to announce today the start of an investigation into China’s violation of U.S. intellectual property rights and forced technology transfers. Now, that has been postponed, two people familiar with the issue said Thursday. There was no explanation immediately given, but sources said it was now rescheduled for next week with the substance still intact” [Politico]. Then why delay it? “‘There is a real cost to the all the overhyped rhetoric, when the follow-through isn’t there,’ [Senator Ron] Wyden said. “This episode demonstrates how tough talk without a real strategy hurts American workers,” he added, complaining that the administration now seems to be “backing off” plans to restrict steel imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.”

“[Representative Bill] Pascrell, the ranking member on the House Ways and Means’ Trade Subcommittee, and Dingell are circulating a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter asking for signatures on a separate letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that calls for, among other things, access to negotiating texts for personal congressional staff of any member and not just those on the committees of jurisdiction; the public release of U.S. negotiating proposals; access to other documents that don’t fall into the category of a U.S. proposals or the consolidated negotiating text; and the appointment of a chief transparency officer” [Politico]. Seems like that level of access should apply to any trade deal, no?



UPDATE Please kill me now:

UPDATE “Why Newark Turned From Booker to Baraka” [The Root]. “‘We voted for [Booker] for Senate to get him out of here,’ she said with such seriousness that I couldn’t keep from laughing. Since there are no power brokers or bourgeoisie to offend, Newarkers—virtually all either poor or working-class Northerners—tend to be quite blunt and direct. So I believed every word she said.'” The whole article is well worth a read.


“Bad News for GOP: Trump Isn’t Changing” [Charles Cook, Cook Political Report]. “Given that midterm elections are pretty much a referendum on the incumbent president, Trump’s average Gallup job-approval rating to date of 40 percent is very disconcerting, especially when you consider that really bad things have happened to the party holding the White House when the president has a job-approval rating below 50 percent” (see the post for the list of bad things, which are indeed bad). tl;dr: Jon Ossoff really won. A longer way of saying that is that the exceptions to Cook’s bad things come recently, so one wonders if a new normal is struggling to be born.

“Mixed Messages on Enthusiasm and Engagement” [Amy Walter, Cook Political Report]. A more balanced, dynamic approach than the previous. I want to call out this paragraph:

Exhibit C: The Missing Obama Coalition. The coalition that helped put–and keep–Barack Obama in office has been unreliable for Democrats. A recent study by the Voter Participation Center–a 501c3 group “dedicated to increasing the share of unmarried women and other historically under-represented groups in the electorate,” warned that participation among the so-called Rising American Electorate or RAE (non-white, younger, and unmarried women), will drop off more significantly in 2018 than non-RAE voters. They predict that “35.1% of those who voted in 2016, or 25.4 million RAE voters, will stay home. The predicted drop-off among non-RAE voters is only 22.1% or 14.4 million voters. In fact, of the nearly 40 million Americans predicted to drop-off from 2016, two-thirds will come from the RAE.” The challenge for Democrats, says the Center’s pollster, Josh Ulibarri of the Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners, is that Democrats ‘have to persuade our voters to turn-out.”‘This is going to require both a message that resonates with these voters, says Ulibarri, as well as a serious – and early – effort to register new voters and engage with them throughout 2017-18, not just in October of the mid-term year.

I would argue, strong form, that the so-called “Obama Coalition” is “unreliable” because that it never existed in the first place; it’s a figment of the fevered yet well-funded brains of Democrat strategists and consultants (and strangely resembles them, demographically and ideologically). Further, if Democrat consultants like Celinda Lake — of anti-single payer fame — thinks Schumer’s New Dealer message will drive turnout, they’re dreaming. Finally, if the Democrats were going to “register new voters and engage with them” in 2018, that would already have happened in 2017, which it hasn’t.

New Cold War

“Chambers Blows Lid Off Communist Spying” [RealClearPolitics]. “On Aug. 3, 1948…” At some point, the “drip drip drip” will pivot to a reveal. Which will be an interesting moment.

“Hunt for Trump dossier author inflames Russia probe” [Politico]. Apparently, liberal Democrats pricing sketchy oppo packaged from dubious Russian sources isn’t foreign interference in our elections. It’s a funny old world.

Obama Legacy

“10 Most Inspirational Obama Quotes” (video) [Teen Vogue]. Oddly, “I stand between you and the pitchforks,” “got the little single payer advocates up here”, and “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion” aren’t in there. Or “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”

Trump Transition

“Can Kelly Conquer the White House Chaos?” [Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal] (from RCP). Begins with a ton of “Kelly” hagiography, ends like this: “Mr. Trump, whatever his public statements, doesn’t need to be told things haven’t gone well; he knows. He has nowhere else to go, and the clock’s ticking. Mr. Kelly has the power of the last available grown-up. Another advantage: He doesn’t need the job. He’s trying to help, as a patriot would. But this is not the pinnacle for him. His whole career has been pinnacles.” Well. Accepting Noonan’s premise, and modifying it slightly, that “generals among the most impressive people in our country elites,” how high a bar is that, anyhow? Generals are supposed to win wars. Can somebody point me to the last war our generals won? (And don’t go all, “we really won Iraq because oil dimensions” on me. If the political class really believed — if the political class thought they could make the American people believe — that “we” won Iraq, there would have been a victory parade, and politicians rushing to take credit for it. No such luck.)

“For Presidents, August Is the Cruelest Month” [NBC]. “Whether it’s because key allies are out of town and unplugged, because the White House support network is thinner or because the nation’s woes seem a little more acute in Washington’s swampy August weather, presidents often get mired in controversies or crises — and often mishandle them — in the dog days of August.”

UPDATE “Why Leaking Transcripts of Trump’s Calls Is So Dangerous” [David Frum, The Atlantic]. “Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous. It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence…. Trump’s violation of basic norms of government has driven people who would otherwise uphold those norms unto death to violate them in their turn. Contempt for Trump’s misconduct inspires counter-misconduct.” I hate to agree with Frum on the merits, but there it is. (Of course, diplomacy would be a good deal easier to conduct if we didn’t go abroad to seek monsters to destroy, and decided to cauterize The Blob.) But I think Frum gives liberals far too much credit with “otherwise uphold those norms unto death (!).” If you want to see how flexible liberals can be on norms, and how much the high-mindedness is a cover for trivial and abortive power seeking, just watch the identity police in action, because their enforcement is extremely selective. Or review the 2016 primary.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“In Minneapolis, Liberal Isn’t Good Enough for the Left” [Governing]. “The Trump dystopia is clearly motivating people to do something, and at the local level that means running for office, even against your own party.” This is dumb. If it were “my” party, I wouldn’t be running against it! (And “Trump dystopia” is mere hysteria; we’re looking at a multi-layered, decades-long sundae of angst, even if Trump is the cherry on top.)

“West Virginia’s governor is switching parties. And Democrats just hit a new low” [WaPo]. To my mind, West Virginia governor Jim Justice switching parties is the biggest domestic politics story of the week, far more important than [fill in knobs-all-the-way-to-11 “frightening” headline here]. This means that the count of states with a Republican legislature and a Republican governor increased to 26, important for redistricting, and even more important for the ugly prospect of a Constitutional Convention. Here are the states with a Democrat legislature and a Democrat governor:

Are the Democrats even a national party anymore? Yes, they have a major presence in DC, but last I checked, we live in a Federal system.

UPDATE “A group of well-known local Democrats will collect campaign cash later this month — for a Republican.” [Miami Herald]. “The sophomore congressman has campaigned as a moderate — an image that can only be bolstered with Democratic financial support. Among the Democrats co-hosting the fundraiser are Ira Leesfield, a major Hillary Clinton donor, and attorney Roland Sanchez-Medina. Last year, Sanchez-Medina served as campaign treasurer for Curbelo’s Democratic rival, Joe Garcia.” The Democratic Governor’s Association gave Jim Justice $1.5 million dollars. How’d that work out?

“What comes after the #resistance? Who knows. It’s best not to think about it too much” [The Outline].”When Trump took office, the better part of the American commentariat was convinced that he was a fascist…. What is strange is that nothing in the past six months of Trump’s ineptitude has done anything to curb any of this hysteria…. The purpose of the #Resistance is to collapse all political questions into a single binary: are you with us, or with the fascists?… When the choice is to be a fascist or to #resist, it hardly matters what the #resistance really stands for. Asking is suspect. Demanding that it stand for more is treason. Criticism of the #resistance or, more essentially, of its well-positioned and self-professed leaders, amounts to giving aid and comfort to the enemy — the Nazis! — and so the only acceptable course of action is to fall in line.” Or goodthinking liberal Democrat Neera will get you fired.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation, July 2017: “The second half of the year opens on a strong note as nonfarm payrolls rose 209,000 in July, far above Econoday’s consensus for 178,000. The unemployment rate moved 1 tenth lower to 4.3 percent while the participation rate rose 1 tenth to 62.9 percent, both solid positives” [Econoday]. “Factory payrolls are coming alive, up 16,000 in July following a 12,000 increase in June. This points to second-half momentum for manufacturing and is a positive wildcard for the economy in general. A similar standout is professional & business services, up 49,000, and within this temporary help services which rose 15,000. Gains here suggest that employers, pressed to find permanent staff, are turning to contractors to keep up with production.” Wages, year-on-year, are flat. And: “The headline jobs number was above expectations, and there were slight combined upward revisions to the previous two months. And the unemployment decreased slightly” [Calculated Risk]. “Note that July has been the second strongest month for job growth over the three previous years, exceeded only by June, and just ahead of November.” But: “The household and establishment surveys were poorly sync’d this month. This month there is a significant discrepancy between the adjusted and unadjusted data – and strangely the unadjusted data backward revisions were down whilst the adjusted data were up. This suggests a change in the seasonal adjustment (and not a real change in employment). The year-over-year employment growth still marginally declined from last month. Nothing here suggests the economy has changed for the better or worse” [Econintersect].

UPDATE Labor Market Conditions Index: “As of August 3, 2017, updates of the labor market conditions index (LMCI) have been discontinued; the July 7, 2017 vintage is the final estimate from this model. We decided to stop updating the LMCI because we believe it no longer provides a good summary of changes in U.S. labor market conditions. Specifically, model estimates turned out to be more sensitive to the detrending procedure than we had expected, the measurement of some indicators in recent years has changed in ways that significantly degraded their signal content, and including average hourly earnings as an indicator did not provide a meaningful link between labor market conditions and wage growth” [Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System]. Boy, the labor market stats are dropping like flies, aren’t they? Gallup yesterday, now this.

International Trade, June 2017: “At $43.6 billion, the nation’s trade deficit came in below Econoday’s consensus for $44.4 billion which will prove a plus for second-quarter GDP revisions. The goods gap fell 3.2 percent to $65.3 billion (vs the advance reading of $63.9 billion) while the services surplus, which is the economy’s special strength, rose 2.9 percent to $21.6 billion” [Econoday]. “Exports show a bounce higher for capital goods despite a dip in aircraft.” And: “Exports are 18% above the pre-recession peak and up 6% compared to June 2016; imports are 3% above the pre-recession peak, and up 5% compared to June 2016” [Calculated Risk]. “In general, trade has been picking up.” But: “Removing oil, our monthly analysis using unadjusted data showed growing strength in both exports and imports relative to last month. But the data in this series wobbles and the 3 month rolling averages are the best way to look at this series. The 3 month averages are improving (if one removes oil)” [Econintersect].

Retail: “Retailer Uniqlo is trying to put its clothing in front of customers in the real world without investing in more brick-and-mortar stores. The apparel seller owned by Fast Retailing Co. is rolling out vending machines at several airports and shopping malls that will dispense Uniqlo’s apparel to people who may need a quick addition to their outfits” [Wall Street Journal]. “It’s part of a retooled expansion after the company stumbled in its early efforts to move into the U.S., and the latest sign of imaginative strategies retailers are undertaking to find consumers without investing in big storefronts.”

Shipping: “FedEx is raising charges, but… the operator is focusing its increases on the weight and size of shipments, adding hefty penalties for oversize boxes and odd-shaped goods that fall outside the company’s handling guidelines. UPS, by contrast, is basing new surcharges on the timing of shipments, making it more expensive to deliver to homes around the peak periods. Both companies are trying to manage the surge of e-commerce shipments that strains operations and profit margins, and UPS with its surcharge strategy aims to convince retailers to spread out shipments. FedEx is gambling it can cover the extra costs of a demand spike while ensuring that bigger shipments pay a hefty price for slowing down operations” [Wall Street Journal].

Labor Power: “A new generation of robots is heading into warehouses with a new message for workers: we want to collaborate, not compete. Several automation companies are designing robots meant to work alongside people rather than to completely replace manpower” [Wall Street Journal]. “Robotics firms pitch them as a way to boost productivity during busy times, such as the holidays, when extra labor is harder to find. That’s not as ambitious as automating an entire warehouse, of course, but developers say the lower cost makes them easier to insert into existing operations—and find the common ground between robots and humans.” To serve man

Retail: “Etsy the company was not capable of pleasing ETSY the stock because one was out to create the notion of a thriving public B Corporation, which was hard for Wall Street to really comprehend because it was distracted by all that red it was looking at all the time. But then, a few months ago, Etsy decided to overhaul its leadership and become a real company that cares about stuff like operations and profit, with less focus on using its money to do some good” [DealBreaker]. “And what’s even more incredible to us is that Etsy – long our favorite exemplar of how tech startups should not behave after going public – is now perhaps a shining example of how to pivot and save your own a** if you’re a tech startup that should never have gone public. What is even real anymore?”

UPDATE The Bezzle: “Smoke, Then Fire: Uber Knowingly Leased Unsafe Cars to Drivers” [Wall Street Journal]. Well, that’s appalling. “Rather than buy most new vehicles from authorized Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. dealers, Uber’s LCR unit bought new sedans and SUVs from more than a dozen auto importers, the emails show. These small dealers operate in the gray market—a legal channel outside manufacturers’ authorized networks—where safety, service and legal contracts are difficult to enforce. The Singapore team calculated it would be able to buy cars for 12% less than at authorized Honda dealers, according to the emails.” They just can’t help themselves!

UPDATE The Bezzle: “This isn’t your typical Uber-is-a-sh*tty-company story, either. If these claims are true, it seems Uber actually put people’s lives at risk in order to save money. The company reportedly gambled with minivans that could spontaneously combust, because it would be a big pain to fix them, and well, the drivers and passengers would probably be fine. Then it had a party while these explode-y cars were still driving people around!” [Gizmodo]. “Had a party.” Of course they did.

The Bezzle: “Uber Freight said it is adding features to its app that are designed to memorize drivers’ preferences and proactively make load recommendations. The app will analyze drivers’ personal histories and suggest loads to each driver based on which routes they like to drive, what types of loads they prefer, and where they want to go, the company said. By providing personalized recommendations, Uber Freight said it intends to “level the playing field” for truck drivers, who have traditionally had no leverage in choosing the loads or routes they prefer” [DC Velocity]. “Uber Freight said it would rely on the personalized features and ease of use of its software, according to [Eric Berdinis, Uber Freight’s product lead]. ‘We’ve found that drivers are very savvy about choosing the app that gives them a better lifestyle, lets them earn more, and lets them earn quickly,’ he said. ‘We know that drivers will find the app that works best for them, and that they are very loyal once they find an app that gives them attractive payment terms and access to easy-to-haul freight.'” Do we have any truck drivers in the commentariat who can explain whether this makes sense?

The Bezzle: “If you’re a hedge fund analyst looking over a public company’s numbers and you see a troubling financial trend making itself evident in the data (like a company burning through cash while booking revenue for a product that is seems perhaps incapable of delivering in the volume promised in the timeframe laid out), you will feel the natural urge to short that company’s stock and wait quietly for the money and praise to roll in” [DealBreaker]. “But we want you to pause for a moment and look at the top of that file. Does it say ‘Tesla Motors, Inc. (TSLA)’?… At this point, R Kelly has nothing on Elon Musk. And the notion that a short squeeze might put a shudder in Tesla’s rise seems – like all other rational ideas that come in contact with Tesla – to be neutered by whatever Tesla investors think of Tesla.”

The Bezzle: “Tesla Warns Already Burnt-Out Workforce Of Model 3 ‘Production Hell'” [Jalopnik]. Union organizer letter to the board: “We have raised these issues repeatedly, but they remain unresolved. Your guidance navigating them would be invaluable as we work to become the most profitable and productive auto company in the U.S.” Musk: “Frankly, we’re going to be in production hell. For at least six months, maybe longer.” Whenever I see the word “we,” I ask “who”? But the UAW letter to the board answers that.

The Bezzle: “Ethereum Scam Database” [Github].

The Bezzle: “A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is introducing legislation that seeks to address vulnerabilities in computing devices embedded in everyday objects — known in the tech industry as the “internet of things” — which experts have long warned poses a significant threat to global cyber security” [Reuters]. “‘We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible,” [Democrat Senator John] Warner told Reuters in an interview. He added that the legislation was intended to remedy an ‘obvious market failure’ that has left device manufacturers with little incentive to build with security in mind.” “We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible.” Of course they are.

The Bezzle: Party on!

Supply Chain: “Amazon.com Inc. never arrives in towns empty-handed. Whether it be pre-payment of 95 percent of employee tuition to pursue careers in high-growth industries, classroom training within its fulfillment centers, benefits that start on the first day of employment, or 20 weeks of paid maternity leave, the Seattle-based e-tailing giant will do whatever’s needed to grab qualified DC [Distribution Center] labor” [DC Velocity]. “This ‘PacMan’ gobble-up strategy is a necessity given Amazon’s fulfillment center growth.” The cannibal metaphor seems apt.

Supply Chain: “Historically supply chain management positions have been considered to be tactical—more involved in operational tasks, such as making sure products get from point A to point B or making sure suppliers get paid on time and in full. However, in the past 10 years or so, supply chain management jobs have become much more strategic in nature, requiring a different set of skills and competencies” [DC Velocity]. “And this is making recruitment a challenge. DHL surveyed over 350 supply chain and operations professionals in the five major regions of the world as a basis for its research. Fifty-eight percent of the companies surveyed said that it is hard to find potential employees who possess the right combination of tactical/operational expertise and professional competencies such as leadership and analytical skills.” Treating the supply chain as strategic is what TISA is all about…

Five Horsemen: “Facebook is the outlier outperformer, as the other four tech giants huddle together for warmth” [Hat tip, Jim Haygood].

Five Horsemen Aug 3

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 63 Greed (previous close: 59, Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 69 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Aug 4 at 12:36pm.

The 420

UPDATE “Banks Are Steering Clear of the Legal Pot Businesses” [Bloomberg]. “The reason: Many banks don’t want anything to do with pot money for fear it could expose them to legal trouble from the federal government, which still lists marijuana as illegal – and regulates the banking industry. There is particular uncertainty over how the Trump administration will react.”

Health Care

UPDATE “Big insurers have retreated from Obamacare’s individual market, where fighting over the future of the health law has contributed to financial losses. They’re focusing instead on Medicare Advantage, a politically popular program that’s being embraced by a growing population of older Americans” [Bloomberg]. It’s getting like I should just file everything under The Bezzle and have done with it.

UPDATE Twitter thread on Charlie Gard:

Big Brother Is Watching You Watch

“If you use a browser extension, your full Internet history may be for sale – and easily de-anonymized” [Privacy News Online]. We ran a brief link to this story from the BBC, IIRC, but this is far more complete, and explains the solid journalism behind the story. Do read it. The problem is that extensions are part of my workflow… Which is how they get you, I suppose. What is the simplest, most rugged, most extension-free Browser out there? 2017’s equivalent of Lynx? (Lynx is a text browser, and sadly I do need images.) I’d really like to return to the 90s Internet, just about now. UPDATE Here’s a list of “secure browsers.” What do readers think?

Class Warfare

“Slavery, Abolition, and “Socialism” in the U.S. Congress” [Matt Karp, The Junto]. (Karp wrote the excellent This Vast Southern Empire.) “Ever since Richard Hofstadter called John C. Calhoun the ‘Marx of the Master Class,’ at least, American historians have pondered the relationship between the pro-slavery critique of Northern wage labor and later left-wing critiques of capitalism. One of Calhoun’s great themes, as Hofstadter noted, was the inevitable ‘conflict between labor and capital,’ a conflict that threatened to overwhelm the ‘free institutions’ of the North. Unlike Marx, of course, Calhoun and other southerners believed the solution to this problem was not the liberation but the subjugation of the laboring classes. Only the system of human bondage itself had exempted the South from this dangerous class conflict, and only the slaveholding South—the ‘great conservative power’ of the nation, as Calhoun put it—could help preserve the delicate equilibrium between capital and labor in the nonslaveholding states.”

“A ‘dark store’ tax loophole enjoyed by Target and Lowe’s is costing American schools billions” [Business Insider]. “In what is often described as a tax loophole, these retailers utilize a legal argument dubbed the ‘dark store theory’ to decrease their annual property taxes. They say that their taxes should be calculated as if their stores were vacant or ‘dark,’ rather than when they are at full capacity. Property taxes for retailers are most commonly assessed looking at the ‘best and highest use’ of the store, so a fully functional store would be taxed higher than a vacant store.”

“What the stock market surge is hiding” [The Week]. “The good fortune isn’t uniformly spread across the economy. It’s actually relatively concentrated — mainly in Silicon Valley and the tech sector…. The stock market is often treated as a catch-all metric for the health of the economy. But what it actually measures are the hopes and expectations of the relatively small and wealthy slice of the population that does most of the stock-owning and stock-trading. Job creation, wage growth for the working class, and the economic health of communities and families across the country — these play only the most tangential of roles in what drives stock indexes up and down.”

News of the Wired

“Math Journal Editors Quit for Open Access” [Inside Higher Ed]. “The four editors in chief of the Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics have informed their publisher, Springer, of their intention to launch a rival open-access journal to protest the publisher’s high prices and limited accessibility. This is the latest in a string of what one observer called ‘editorial mutinies’ over journal publishing policies.” Good for them!

“Zilla Slab: A common language through a shared font” [Mozilla]. For typography people, or people who need to make branding decisions involving type, very interesting. I had not realized that a font for the web would need a family, like bold or italic, for highlighting, but it’s so!

“How Louis CK Tells A Joke” [YouTube]. Very, very good (there’s an ad, but at the end):

Ties in neatly to monopoly, too!

* * *

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

Kokuanani writes: “Suburban mushrooms. Saw these on my walk around the neighborhood this a.m.” Walks are good. I encourage observational walks.

* * *

Readers, Water Cooler is a standalone entity, not supported by the Naked Capitalism fundraisers. Please use the dropdown to choose your contribution, and then click the hat! Your tip will be welcome today, and indeed any day. Water Cooler will not exist without your continued help.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post, Water Cooler on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. WobblyTelomeres

    The biggest problem for Amazon (and others) is finding people that can pass a piss test.

    1. Huey Long

      Why don’t more folks simply smuggle in clean pee? It’s not hard to find a donor or order synthetic clean pee off of the web.

      It’s not like the folks at Labcorp watch you pee like at a probation or armed forces drug screen.

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        Don’t know. My kid brother was a recruiter for a couple of auto companies and a steel company. He couldn’t find people to work the factories, decent enough jobs, decent enough pay (for non-union plants). Just couldn’t find people that could pee cleanly. He gave up and went to nursing school at 44 (degrees in economics and personnel management proved worthless, as ageism is rampant).

        1. Burritonomics

          Well, that’s scary. I went back to get a degree (at 39!) when even the warehouse jobs wanted a bachelors. No jobs to be had without formal education, clean urine be damned.

        1. Huey Long

          Season 3 of HBO’s The Wire features a scene where a parolee (Cutty) purchases clean urine from a guy who sources it from daycare centers.

          Looks like the screenwriters beat you to the punch. ;-)

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      So they say. I wonder how many companies which have a hard time filling positions made promises when negotiating their tax burden with localities about how many jobs they would create.

      I suspect many companies with difficulty filling jobs never intended to fill those jobs but need to look like they do to avoid losing their sweet heart tax deals.

    3. kurtismayfield

      The best part is that they tell you it’s a “physical” when really it’s a drug test.. I had that happen for a professional job and I laughed when the NP told me when I walked in.

      1. edmondo

        Are applicants in CO and WA state subject to a pee test? Pot is legal in there.

        Do they test for alcohol use too?

        1. UserFriendly

          It’s more than just those states and it is up to the company’s many still do but I’m sure some don’t.

        2. hidflect

          Doesn’t matter if it’s legal; you’re not allowed to work under the influence of drugs. And since pot stays in the system for up to 6 months…

    4. Kurt Sperry

      Piss tests almost exclusively filter out only cannabis users. Hard drugs are almost entirely water-soluble and are flushed out of one’s system quickly, so you only catch people who used immediately prior to the test, whereas someone who smoked or ate cannabis even weeks ago is still likely to still test positive. So drug testing basically selects *for* users of opioids like heroin, cocaine, amphetamines etc. And of course good old alcohol. The stupidity of expensive, counter-productive, piss testing is difficult to even imagine, much less to quantify or characterize.

      1. UserFriendly

        Most of those will stay in your system for a few days so they do weed out the real junkies… But smart junkies might notice that fentanyl doesn’t show as an opiate so if they can manage to get that instead of H they can pass. But if you are at that point I doubt you’d be all that functional.

  2. Huey Long

    RE: Fedex Rates

    Fedex’s new higher rates for large/heavy items appears to be an escalation of existing policy. I got married out in Vegas last week and my wife and I had to ship all of our decorations out to the venue ahead of time.

    FedEx’s rates were two to three times as much as UPS or USPS, even for ground shipping!

  3. Clive

    Re: Observational Walks

    Yes. I know I bang on about how much better life is without a car and I know equally well that it is a fantasy that no more than a minority can achieve that. Especially in the US (possibly my most abiding memory is how outside New York — LA and Phoenix to be precise — I was utterly adrift without access to a vehicle, a third-class citizen) which is just about the worst place there is to be carless. However… unless you’re chronically time stressed, poor or infirm — perfectly valid excuses, these get you out of anything in my opinion — do please try to take 5 or 10 minutes to have a stroll around. Somewhere. Anywhere.

    Just seeing, really seeing, that supermarket parking lot’s outer edge or where that road goes to in the next block — I can guarantee you that it’ll open your eyes in every sense of the phrase. You’ll probably feel, inexplicably, better, too. Either that, or you’ll get mugged.

    1. Huey Long


      Car-free Brooklynite here. I just got back from 2 weeks in sprawled out Vegas and you’re spot on. Even navigating a single big box retail complex is difficult without a car because the stores are so large and spread out.

      If you’re stuck in the land of sprawl or in a rural area without a car you truly are a third class citizen.

      Other places in the US one can get away with not owning a car that I can think of off the top of my head are Boston, Philly, and DC.

      I have never lived outside of the Acela bubble, but I hear Portland Oregon isn’t bad either in terms of being car-free too. Commenteriat, feel free to jump in, especially those of you more well traveled than myself.

      1. james brown

        Well I’m a country bumpkin driving a big old diesel truck. My lifestyle is that I rarely leave the property, maybe once every week or two. And I make sure I have several stops all lined up, no going into town for one stop. Sometimes I surprise myself how many weeks I go without going anywhere or caring. I am an escapee from suburban sprawl and don’t miss it atall. I’m sure some day I’ll find it necessary to move to the city again, unless my biological alarm clock doesn’t go off some morning, and if I do I plan on it being somewhere I can go as carless as possible.

      2. marku52

        Portland is not really that great, unless you live downtown (tres chic, and expensive to match) or on one of the few light rail lines (and only get to something on one of the lines). Works OK if you live near one of the park and rides, and take the train to work in down town. Once off line, it’s pretty much a mess. Bus transit is pretty miserable. And all the bridges (five or six-I forget)make travel in general difficult. A lot of people do bike around in the city.

        Underinvestment in roads has made rush hour pretty much rush day

        1. Tim

          It’s not under-investment. It’s intentional planning. Their long term vision is that if the cars grind to a halt that everybody will be forced to ride public transit. Except Portland is still classic urban sprawl outside a very specific downtown core.

          Oregon in general suffers from a chronic illness called FOAL -Fear Of Adding Lanes. They will spend a bazillion dollars upgrading roads with wide medians and straighter curves, but add an extra lane? Too scary. Can’t do it won’t do it.

          I’m being sarcastic, but their road improvements give away their intentions. Road improvements are just make work projects, the sooner they can achieve total gridlock at all times of day, the better.

          And as for the above, who isn’t chronically short of time in this western world?

          1. Kurt Sperry

            I’m sympathetic to the view that one important part of encouraging and making the use of public transit competitive is to deliberately underfund the surface road network and not to invest in upgrading its capacity. People will naturally go to whatever is fastest and easiest. Making investments in public transport is one way to maximize use, another is to take those resources from the competing road budgets. Another is to convert general use traffic lanes to bus and bicycle ones. Make driving so miserable people will be forced to make other arrangements.

          2. Darius

            Rationalize the bus lines, as pioneered by Jarrett Walker and accomplished to great effect in Houston. Prioritize ridership over coverage, the current priority in most US bus systems. This will create transit zones. Leave the cars to their own environment.

            By the way, you can never add enough lanes. It’s just subsidizing more diffuse sprawl. Highways are a bigger financial black hole than transit. We just hide it better.

            1. Darius

              Another thing is that politicians like big new highway projects over maintenance. No ribbon cuttings for maintenance.

              Traffic engineers enhance their careers with big projects, not little ones. Like the Pentagon.

      3. diptherio

        A couple of interesting A/V offerings:

        Upstream Podcast: Peter Macfadyen, radical council member, previous Mayor of Frome, and the author of Flatpack Democracy, a DIY guide to creating independent politics.

        Left Forum 2016: Cooperation Jackson: Countering the Confederate Assault and the Struggle for Economic Democracy

        Good listening while you weed the garden. Regular folks working locally and creating real change.

      4. neighbor7

        I’ve lived carless in Los Angeles for many years, in the Miracle Mile district, where most anything I need or want (gym, movieplex & two independents, Barnes and Noble, supermarkets, health food, Trader Joe’s, hardware, restaurants and cafes, newsstands, art museum, a medical corridor, etc., is within a one-mile walking radius (which also incorporates two parks). The Wilshire 720 Rapid bus gets me downtown or to Santa Monica at a good clip, and I’ve heard some fascinating conversations on it. Over the years I’ve expanded my bus routes as needed. Currently do the sixteen-mile trip between my apartment and my girlfriend’s house, roughly twice a week, which takes two buses and ninety minutes, but 95% of the time I can sit and read the entire way in aircon. Takes some extra time and patience, but I wouldn’t trade!

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Fortunately, I don’t live in a suburb but in a small university town. Even there, however, I’d be at a loss if the luck of the draw had put me farther out than I am.

      Anyhow, I do walk around. Last night I photographed an oncoming train! MR SUBLIMINAL Existential dilemma there….

    3. Judith

      I am currently reading The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. He is a biologist at Sewanee in Tennessee. He spent a year returning to the same spot in the woods once a week and writes about what he sees (sometimes with a hand lens), explains the biology, and thinks about contexts. He writes well and sees carefully. His description of wet moss is breath-taking. Perhaps under his influence, last weekend I saw a bumblebee robbing nectar (see Nectar Robbing on Wikipedia) from Hosta flowers during one of my frequent walks through Cambridge MA.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        That’s wonderful. I actually had a photographic project in mind of taking a picture of the same patch every day at the same time, but I couldn’t decide on the patch and now it’s too late. Perhaps next year.

        1. Richard

          In my school, the students do something like that. We call it a sit spot. We sit outside, in a garden or pea patch, or by a stream bed. We pick one spot and revisit it often through the year (though not every day!). We daydream, quietly listen, and also journal and sketch to document changes over time.

  4. Huey Long

    RE: Supply Chain MGMT Recruitment

    My brother used to work in this field until he got fed up, quit, and joined the same union I’m in.

    His chief complaints were:

    1. Working Hours. He put in 10 hour days plus catchup on the weekends. Additionally, he worked for an Asian firm so there was a lot of mandatory after hours drinking too.

    2. Travel. He didn’t like being on the road 5-10 days/month.

    3.Getting thrown under the bus. Apparently the sales guys liked to blame the supply chain guys for unsold inventory issues on the grounds that the forecasts the supply chain guys provided were bunk causing too much inventory to be shipped over.

    4. Didn’t want his boss’s job. My brother saw the kind of pressure his boss was under, the hours he put, and how little the pay bump was; it turned him off.

    5. Pay/benefits. He was netting less than me despite him being in a white collar degree required job vs. my blue collar degree optional job (I’m a building engineer by trade).

    When my brother finally did leave and told his coworkers he was joining the union several asked if he could get them in too.

  5. Huey Long

    RE: Dark Store Tax Rates

    This sounds like extortion to me; tax us at the dark store rate or we’ll move the store elsewhere and you’ll have a bonafide dark store blighting your community.

    1. Jim Haygood

      I hear ya, Huey. But the bad news is when stores really do go dark, usually in a recession, tax revenues plunge as assessments are challenged.

      See you at Xanadu American Dream Meadowlands, when it’s finally finished in the 2020s. ;-)

      1. Huey Long

        Ahh Xanadu!!!

        That architectural gem in NJ’s scenic meadowlands.

        Yes, perhaps we can go skiing in July on that ridiculous indoor slope they built and then go whack some golf balls at LT’s next door afterwords.

        Sounds like a great idea for an NC meetup actually.


        Jim, maybe you can help me out with this, but who the heck financed Xanadu and were they on drugs when they did it?

        Who in their right mind puts up big money for a giant mall, in a place with a bunch of competing giant malls, in a smelly swamp?

        What makes this even more ridiculous is that Xanadu was allegedly going to have a bunch of 5th avenue retailers leasing space there too. I mean if you’re gonna go to Tiffany why go to the one in the ugly swamp mall when you can go to the real McCoy instead a mere 5 miles away?

        Ugh, and don’t get me started on the whole EnCap debacle!

        For you readers who aren’t familiar with North Jersey, EnCap was a harebrained scheme to build a huge housing development and golf course in a huge swamp dotted by landfills right next to the Turnpike.

        The developer went belly up during the 07-08 crisis and left the local towns on the hook for completing the landfill capping work the developer didn’t finish.

        1. Jim Haygood

          I know nothing. But Wikipedia reveals, “In August 2015, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority reauthorized a $390 million potential tax break for the project.”

          Subsidizing useless retail capacity while hypnotized by the sunk cost fallacy: that’s what Jane Jacobs used to call “transactions of decline.”

          NJ’s on the highway to hell with the turbo engaged and the brake lines cut.

          Christie got so sad, dejected, put on his hat and start to run
          Runnin’ down the street yelling at the top of his lungs
          “All I want in this life of mine is some good clean fun”
          “All I want in this life and time is some hit and run”

          — Little Feat, Fat Man in the Bathtub

          1. craazyman

            you are a southern man. Little Feat! Never in the history of the peanut gallery have Little Feat ever been referenced.

            A plastic cup of grain alcohol and red coolaid in the country for you dude!

  6. Jim Haygood

    The stock market is often treated as a catch-all metric for the health of the economy. But what it actually measures are the hopes and expectations of the relatively small and wealthy slice of the population that does most of the stock-owning and stock-trading.” — The Week

    This is fine as far as it goes. But there’s not a word in the article about the market’s function as a gauge of liquidity, which the Federal Reserve takes a large role in managing.

    Although the Fed has backed off on domestic liquidity creation, arguably even lower interest rates in Japan and Europe incite yield-seekers abroad to pump funds into [relatively] high-yielding US Treasuries, keeping America’s liquidity machine stoked.

    An article this morning pointed out that European junk bond yields are now the same as US Treasury yields at 2.4 percent … and asked rhetorically, which do you prefer for the same yield? A shaky European junk-rated credit, or a bond guaranteed by mighty Uncle Sam? And so the liquidity keeps sloshing in.

    1. JohnnyGL

      But the real yield on those junk bonds is 2.4%+ whatever deflation gives as a bonus*!

      *that bonus is probably a bankruptcy filing

  7. JohnnyGL

    Anyone have any thoughts on what the Saudis might think of Qatari-owned PSG dropping ~$260M for Neymar? I know we don’t really do footie talk here, but it’s not often that you can argue there’s political intrigue under the surface of a sports transaction.

    If anyone thought the Qataris might adopt more of a low profile after getting roughed up by Saudi royals, it seems they’re mistaken?

    Last I checked Al Jazeera is still up and running, too.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The Qatari’s are still behaving as normal. They seem to have completely faced down the Saudi’s.

  8. Ranger Rick

    Unfortunately, “simple and rugged” is not really a feature of any browser capable of displaying HTML5. Your best bet is probably Vivaldi.

    Also had to smile at the “Rising American Electorate” euphemism in use by the Voter Participation Center. The demographics fallacy at work. On the other hand, that group is probably the closest thing the DNC has to a voter outreach organization, so them failing at their job and admitting it openly is not particularly encouraging.

    1. Zzzz Andrew

      Thanks for suggesting Vivaldi … just read up on it and installed it, and plan to try it out for a while. It certainly *looks* amazing, and the pedigree is top-notch. We’ll see how it goes.

    2. UserFriendly

      if you are hooked on you add ons I don’t know if this works but the extension Disconnect is a great little tool for stopping a lot of trackers.

  9. Huey Long

    RE: Smart Salt Shaker

    So far only $8k and change has been raised of the $25K this guy is trying to get to develop and market this P.O.S. He should start cold calling the guys who put up the money for Meadowlands Xanadu in NJ or Lake Las Vegas in NV as they have no problem sinking billions into highly, highly questionable ventures.

    $25k for those developers probably doesn’t even cover one month’s escort and cocaine bill.

    1. hunkerdown

      Is cocaine’s consistency and granule size similar to that of table salt? Asking for an Indiegogo project developer.

      1. UserFriendly

        I know your joking but no, most common cuts are Inositol, lactose, ephedrine, or b-12. It isn’t granular like salt at all.

  10. dontknowitall

    Re: “The pressure on the Trump administration increases as other countries form trade alliances without the U.S.”

    Sure it does. The same way Snow White would feel pressured if the seven dwarves decided to date Prince Charming. /snark

  11. blennylips

    > “internet of things” — which experts have long warned poses a significant threat to global cyber security” [Reuters]. “‘We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible,”

    From yesterday’s Hack the Planet, Tumblr Edition:

    “Because, really, who among us hasn’t built and sold software used to harvest Amazon logins, bank account logins, and credit card numbers from botnets?”

    I’m telling you, NoSec is the future. You can’t hack what wasn’t secured in the first place.

    Source: news.ycombinator.com

    Well, then, that’s easy!

  12. Huey Long

    RE: Why Newark Turned From Booker to Baraka

    What stood out to me about this article is the following passage:

    Then he said something that cut me to the core: Newarkers have a self-hatred that stops them from believing they can change the city for the better. Because of that, they now believe outsiders have the solutions.

    It is eerily similar to the following quote from former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa from the documentary film Urbanized:

    Before I was Mayor, I have never been in a city which hated itself more than Bogota. There was a total lack of self-esteem and lack of hope. So when I was elected mayor we started investing in people. In sidewalks, in parks, in great schools, in libraries.

    Is this city self-hatred thing for real or is Baraka simply regurgitating Peñalosa’s rhetoric for his own base in Newark?

    At any rate, Booker may not be very popular in Newark, but he’s wildly popular in the white-flight suburbs of Essex County NJ which surround it.

    The general sentiment in these communities is “Yeah, the place is still a dump but I dug Bookers optics stunts and he did a lot of good stuff there.” When pressed for a list of Booker’s accomplishments these folks usually stutter and stammer or mention that he wasn’t as corrupt as his predecessor Sharpe James.

  13. JimTan

    “The company reportedly gambled with minivans that could spontaneously combust, because it would be a big pain to fix them, and well, the drivers and passengers would probably be fine. Then it had a party while these explode-y cars were still driving people around!”

    Ugh. If the above quote was an answer in the television game show Jeopardy!, then its question would probably be “What type of things could happen if governments refuse to enforce laws against companies because of their size and influence?” Uber likely anticipated no serious legal consequences for their actions.

    1. sierra7

      Did you not just describe the 2008 economic crash????
      “What type of things could happen if governments refuse to enforce laws against companies because of their size and influence?”

  14. Robert Hahl

    “How Louis CK Tells A Joke” explains everything about the bit except what makes the people laugh when they do, i.e., it is always at a point of exaggeration.

  15. NotTimothyGeithner

    So who wants to take bets there are transcripts of Shrub’s calls from the White House which might hurt the image of celebrated #Resistance members such as David Frum?

  16. Altandmain

    Dawn of the Dead: Why American Politics Can’t be Reformed

    Consequence-Free Politics: Christie Gets Away With It Again

    Kamala Harris Offers No New Hope

    Sanders Introduces Bill to Strengthen Veterans’ Health Care

    Sanders faction Democrat runs in Brooklyn

    Finally, Martin Shkreli gets convicted … long overdue

    Personal matters
    I might have a second interview with that company. That’s quite something, as I am up against people with more than 15 years of experience competing for a mid level job. No idea if I will get it, but I may have to travel again.

  17. NotTimothyGeithner

    There was an “Obama coalition” which was largely making sure the people who would have voted for Kerry if they were asked or registered actually voted or registered. Kerry left votes on the table all over states such as Ohio while Donna Brazille was worried about how much oil money Republicans were spending. Oil? Who has oil? Putin. The reason Kerry lost was NOT Donna Brazille. It was Putin because oil. In 2000, not Donna Brazille’s fault. It was Putin who had just become the Russian President. Think about it people.

    The problem with the strategy (the 50 state strategy) that made the “Obama coalition” going forward is the Democrats made promises to make material improvements in people’s lives and tend to be anti-war. Obama doubled down on the promises in 2012 and moved right to endorsing the Simpson-Bowles Commission after his last election, not working to make material improvements in the lives of his second coalition.

    Yesterday, a soldier who eight years old on 9/11 died in Afghanistan. Now John McCain polls better with “Democrats” than with Republicans. Is it any wonder people are dumping the Democratic Party?

    To reassemble the Obama coalition or people who would vote for a generic “tax and spend” Democrat, existing Democrats have to perform acts of contrition. A “Better Deal” is just an empty promise. Enough people won’t tolerate promises from existing Democrats to win going forward.

  18. Daryl

    > UPDATE “Banks Are Steering Clear of the Legal Pot Businesses”

    Good thing they’re sticking to more morally upright financial pursuits, like laundering money for drug cartels.

  19. ewmayer

    This piece from 2015 (h/t to my friend Dr.S.) echoes yesterday’s WaPo article (which, to be fair, was otherwise excellent) about “artisanal cobalt miners”:

    Publisher Apologizes for Calling Slaves ‘workers’ | Al Jazeera America

    Not just workers … legal immigrants within the context of the U.S. system at the time, no less. For these folks, many of whom quickly advanced into the ranks of artisanal cotton harvesters, to resent their employers for offering them such a fine opportunity out of their African benightedness, why it was a simply deplorable show of ingratitude!

  20. Jeff W

    Re: “10 Most Inspirational Obama Quotes”

    Funny, I don’t see this one there, either:

    Now, if that’s the standard [i.e., “there was a provision in there that they didn’t get”] by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are.

    Feeling inspired yet?

    1. ewmayer

      How about the inspirational soaring rhetoric of this deathless legacy quote about on-the-job-learning:

      “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

      And not just with drones overseas … with despair and opioids at home. Mad skills, both foreign and domestic!

  21. patrick

    I.E. The 420- “Many banks don’t want anything to do with pot money for fear it could expose them to legal…” blah blah blah…Haven’t they heard of HSBC?

  22. dontknowitall

    On “Mark Zuckerberg says he’s no longer an atheist, believes ‘running for president very important’ ”

    The instant conversion is going to come in handy when the voters find out, and I am just speculating here, that the guy who started a campus website to compare people’s looks probably has his own “grab’em by the pussy” moments. He can always claim he saw the light and is now a changed man…then again a few million can buy a lot of amnesia.

Comments are closed.