By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
“The New TPP May Sink Trump’s Other Trade Dreams” [Foreign Policy]. “The revived TPP includes less restrictive — not more restrictive — rules on where automotive components can be made. Since both Canada and Mexico are in that pact, they’d be hard-pressed to adopt different rules just to deal with the United States.”
“The fifth round of talks has two days left, but there’s little hope for major progress after three days of meetings in Mexico were marked by little fanfare. Round 5 formally kicked off on Friday, and negotiators continued to meet over the weekend for talks on issues including government procurement and temporary entry visas; but they found little room for movement on hot-button areas where the U.S. has refused to back down” [Politico]. “‘Things are moving very slow — there’s not a tremendous amount of progress,’ a Canadian source told Morning Trade. ‘But there aren’t any fireworks, either.'”
“In blue-leaning delegate seats, GOP incumbents’ personal appeal failed to insulate them from voters’ anti-Trump mood, even against weak, under-funded and self-described socialist opponents. Republicans held onto just two of their 17 seats in districts Clinton carried, and are headed to a recount in a third. The results suggest Northern Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock (VA-10) is the single most vulnerable GOP incumbent in the country” [Cook Political Report]. “Taken together with results from four 2017 House special elections in red districts, where Democrats outperformed Clinton anywhere from one point (GA-06) to 13 points (KS-04), the balance of evidence suggests Democrats would be the ever-so-slight favorites to reclaim the House if the elections were held today.”
“If 2018 Is Like 2017, the House Will Be a Tossup” [Nate Cohn, New York Times]. “Republicans have important structural advantages. They enter the cycle with the advantage of incumbency and a highly favorable congressional map, thanks to partisan gerrymandering and the tendency for Democrats to waste votes with overwhelming margins in heavily Democratic urban areas. As a result, it’s not obvious that the building Democratic wave will be enough to flip control of the House.” And: “[M]ore generally, strange results happen a lot more often in special elections. Low turnout is a big reason for that. Many ultralow-turnout special elections this year appear to have favored Democrats heavily.”
“Lindsay Menz told CNN that she walked away as soon as the photo [with Al Franken] was taken, without saying anything to the then-first term senator. When she reconnected with her husband moments later, she told him: ‘He totally grabbed my butt.’ Jeremy Menz described that conversation the same way to CNN” [CNN]. So we have another opportunity to find out whether, for Democrats, the “Believe the women!” talking point is for real, or weaponized sanctimony.
“Democrats pick Conor Lamb to run against Rick Saccone for vacant House seat” [Tribune Live]. “Only county committee members from the 18th District, which includes parts of Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties, could vote, according to party rules. Democratic party leaders said 554 committee members participated” (background).
2016 Post Mortem
Susan Hennessy is a Brookings Fellow, not a card-carrying Communist, so this is worth noting:
There is zero evidence, anywhere, that Trump was elected president for any reason other than the sufficient number of Americans in the right localities actually voted for him. That's a legitimate election. Period. https://t.co/fe9r5ZE5Ki
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) November 17, 2017
There’s so much chum and churn and bookselling being done on this issue it’s hard to keep track, so it’s good to have Hennessy’s summary. Anything’s possible, of course, but we’ve been at this a year…. And–
“Here are some of the biggest myths of the Russian-collusion story” [New York Post].
New Cold War
“House votes overwhelmingly to pass $700 billion defense bill” [AP]. “Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, voted for the bill while also criticizing Congress for refusing to come to grips with its out-of-control approach to budgeting. Smith said it’s inconsistent for Republicans to push for billions of dollars more in defense spending while also advocating tax overhaul legislation that will deepen federal deficits over the next decade.” Profiles in courage….
UPDATE “Bush administration alums rising in Trump’s orbit” [AP]. “Trump has installed more than three dozen veterans of the Bush administration, putting them in charge of running agencies, implementing foreign policy and overseeing his schedule. While hiring from the last administration controlled by the same party is common, Trump’s staffing moves are notable given his pledges to change politics-as-usual and the frosty relations between the current and former Republican standard-bearers. The Bush influence has only grown stronger recently, as Trump nominated Alex Azar to lead the Health and Human Services Department, where he served under the Bush administration, and tapped Jerome ‘Jay’ Powell to be chairman of the Federal Reserve. Powell served in the Treasury Department under President George H.W. Bush.” Nothing more appealing to wealthy suburban Republicans than some of their own in positions of power, when they’re talking things over at the club…
“The show so far, a continuing series” [Marginal Revolution]. I don’t agree with Tyler Cowen on much, but it’s an interesting assessment of the Trump administration so far.
“Donald Trump takes the bait, and LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand wins again” [USA Today]. Honestly, I’ve never seen a politician who’s more able to turn an opportunity for a gracious positive into a clumsy negative with more alacrity than Donald Trump, and I’ve followed Hillary Clinton for years. With the caveat that my defintion of “gracious positive” may not be everyone’s. But Lordie. Rise above, Donald! Rise above!
“Trump Economists Say Opioid Crisis Much Bigger Than Envisioned” [Bloomberg]. Good to see Democrats all over this. Oh, wait….
Realignment and Legitimacy
Second straw in the wind:
Could there be a realignment under way? Fmr. DNC Chair candidate @Ronan4Progress joins @LindsayBrownNJ7 in running for Congress as a Republican. Both are left wing progressives. @TomPerez should take note.
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) November 20, 2017
“What Democratic civil war? The left already won.” [WaPo]. Nonsense. If that were true, Perez wouldn’t have purged the DNC Rules and Bylaws committee of Sanders supporters.
“Americans Aren’t As Divided As You Think” [Politico]. “I traveled into some of the most economically depressed areas of our country and met coal miners without coal mines and mill workers without mills. It didn’t seem so deplorable that many of them were angry that the economies of their communities and the health of their families were in a three-decade freefall, and were eager to protest a government and a political and media establishment that were willing to accept their pain as a necessary byproduct of free trade or the fight against global warming. Over the course of a year, I traveled from churches to conservative think tanks to NASCAR races and even to tea party meetings, and I was almost always able to find more points of agreement and commonality than I thought possible.”
“Trump’s recklessness is magnifying the military’s political power — and independence” [Ezra Klein, Vox]. NTDT, but if Trump were that reckless, wouldn’t we be at war already? I mean, more than we already were under Obama? I don’t like a government run by generals any more than Klein does, but I’m not sure there’s a direct, causal link between that and war. Remember Libyan war-monger Hillary Clinton‘s BFF Madeleine Albright: “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
Leading Indicators, October 2017: “A swing higher after a swing lower is October’s hurricane result as the index of leading economic indicators hit Econoday’s high estimate at 1.2 percent. September was initially posted as a 0.2 percent decline and, in another positive, is revised to a 0.1 percent gain” [Econoday]. “Unemployment claims were the biggest swing factor between the months…. Hurricane effects made their mark on the LEI and the net message from September and October together is year-end acceleration for the economy.” But: “Because of the significant backward revisions, I do not trust this index” [Econintersect]. “As a comparison to the LEI, ECRI’s WLI (which Econintersect reports on weekly) is now in expansion showing weak growth and trending down.” OTOH: “The U.S. economy is doing just fine. Growth has topped 3% for two quarters in a row and the fourth quarter could also reach that mark. If so, it would be the first time since the current expansion began in mid-2009 that growth hit 3% or more for three straight quarter” [MarketWatch]. Assuming arguendo that this holds up and that perception is reality, it’s hard to see even Trump fumbling this advantage away in 2018. Plus, the Republicans will be campaigning against the Democrats.
Commodities: “The world is facing a global sand crisis” [The Conversation]. “The complexity of this problem is doubtlessly a factor. Sand is a common-pool resource – open to all, easy to get and hard to regulate. As a result, we know little about the true global costs of sand mining and consumption.” Hmm.
Commodities: “The nickel market is learning that there is a difference in believing you are the next big thing in battery metals and the reality that you are actually still beholden to the Chinese steel sector” [Reuters].
Retail: “Inside the Secret World of Global Food Spies” [Bloomberg]. “In demand by multinational retailers and food producers, Inscatech and its agents scour supply chains around the world hunting for evidence of food industry fraud and malpractice. In the eight years since he founded the New York-based firm, Weinberg, 52, says China continues to be a key growth area for fraudsters as well as those developing technologies trying to counter them. Statistically we’re uncovering fraud about 70 percent of the time, but in China it’s very close to 100 percent,’ he said. ‘It’s pervasive, it’s across food groups, and it’s anything you can possibly imagine.'” Anecdotally, many Chinese fly to Australia to buy baby formula in bulk.
Retail: “According to a Deloitte survey taken in October, the average holiday season spend this year is expected to be $1,226. For the coming weekend, the average shopper plans to spend $427 (34.8% of the average total) between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday and nearly 90% expect to stay within the budget they had set earlier in the season” [247 Wall Street]. $1,226?! That’s a lot of money! (And when did “spend” become a noun, anyhow? [checks OED] OK, OK, the Late Seventeenth Century, but you know what I mean.
Debt: “An alarming number of shoppers are still paying off debt from last Christmas” [CNBC]. “During the 2016 season, boomers proved most likely to take on debt to finance their purchases, with 63 percent of respondents copping to the habit. Other generations took on debt as well, including 58 percent of Gen-Xers and 40 percent of millennials. What’s alarming about this pattern is that many Americans are still carrying last year’s debt as they head into yet another holiday season. Millennials are the worst culprits here: 24 percent still haven’t paid off credit card debt incurred during the 2016 shopping season, while 16 percent of Gen-Xers haven’t and only 8 percent of boomers haven’t.” Note: In this story, the average “spend” is $660. So…
Shipping: “Top national lenders Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank are stepping up efforts to offload distressed shipping loans, finance sources said, as the German banking system grapples with US$100 billion in toxic debt from the sector” [Channel News Asia]. “German banks are estimated by shipping finance sources to be holding at least US$100 billion in distressed shipping loans and shipping finance sources say much of this debt is unlikely to be recouped in full, meaning heavy losses on investments. Banks in Germany were particularly exposed to container shipping, a market that has been weak for years.”
The Bezzle: “We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself” [New York Times]. “I led Facebook’s efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering. What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse.”
The Bezzle: “Some big truck operators are going to give the Tesla Semi a spin in their supply chains” [Wall Street Journal]. “With the real-world use still a couple of years off, the more immediate impact of Tesla’s rollout may be in driving other truck makers to speed up their work on electrification and automation.”
The Bezzle: “The Outrageous Story of the Dale, A 1970s Three-Wheeled Scam” [Road & Track]. “The Dale was, in theory, a hyper-efficient, innovative vehicle come to save the day in the wake of high gas prices. It had weird, futuristic styling, and a three-wheeler platform built with motorcycle parts. The Dale raised over $30 million in investments in the hope it would revolutionize the industry. Except, the whole thing was a sham. In the wake of high promises and questionable backstories, Car and Driver investigated the Dale to see just how much of it was true. They found a car with no steering wheel, no accelerator pedal, and a motor from a lawnmower in the engine bay.”
The Bezzle: “Three shady — and all too common — things that digital health startups do to make money” [CNBC]. “There’s a complex web of regulations that govern how medicine is practiced. Many start-ups will violate these rules, knowingly or not.”
The Bezzle: “[Skedaddle] is launching an Initial Coin Offering, or ICO, in January to fund a side project that aims to eliminate tipping in the service industry” [Business Insider]. “The “Kudos Project” will run on the Ethereum blockchain, allowing customers to rate any transaction they make, Skedaddle co-founder and CEO Adam Nestler told Business Insider. Those ratings, for anyone from your Uber driver to restaurant server to grocery supermarket cashier, are then instantly published to a decentralized database that allows anyone using the system to see the ratings that then follow an employee from one job to another throughout the full gig economy. They also function as a ‘reward’ for the worker in lieu of a tip.” So, not only do you not get any money, one chilly look at a customer with an ill-behaved child could follow you round for the rest of your life.
Tech: “Apple Inc.’s new HomePod is supposed to help consumers do a lot of things, but it can’t help them predict when the smart speaker itself will be ready to ship. The device that was supposed to head into retail distribution channels in December is being pushed off until early 2018” [Wall Street Journal].
Honey for the Bears: “A key recession indicator is getting closer to the danger zone — and the Fed can’t ignore it” [Business Insider]. The inverted yield curve. But does it apply any more in our crazypants “new normal”?
Mr. Market: “A good cyclical indicator that it would be useful to track is the ratio of penalty to reward for financial misconduct. Banks were fined untold billions of dollars for mis-selling mortgages in the lead-up to the financial crisis, but a lot of people believed, with some justification, that those fines were “just a cost of doing business,” and were small relative to the size of the dishonest-mortgage-selling business. (Certainly they were small compared to the harm done by the financial crisis.)” [Bloomberg]. “But after the crisis, that calculation changed. The fines for the Libor scandal seem to have been much bigger than the gains that banks made by manipulating Libor.”
Rapture Index: Closes down 1 on drought. “Drought conditions have declined with winter rains” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 183.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 49 Neutral (previous close: 44, Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 53 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Nov 20 at 11:35am. Today!
“Make Obamacare better with Medicare-X” [CNN]. Democrat Senators Michael Bennet and Tim Kaine hijack Medicare’s branding to head off Medicare for All with the so-called public option. Liberal Democrats always do this when single payer threatens to gain traction; and then, its purpose served, the public option goes away, to await the next deployment.
“Obamacare Shopping Is Trickier Than Ever. Here’s A Cheat Sheet.” [Kaiser Health News].
“Brokers Are Reluctant Players In A Most Challenging ACA Open-Enrollment Season” [Kaiser Health News]. “Licensed insurance broker John Jaggi of Forsyth, Ill., said he and his daughter, Anne Petri, also a broker, …. By that point, clients are exhausted and don’t even want to talk about the details of the plan, Jaggi said. And he’s paid “almost nothing” for his efforts.” And this is an credentialed expert, mind you.
“I.R.S. Says It Will Reject Tax Returns That Lack Health Insurance Disclosure” [New York Times]. “Next year, for the first time, the I.R.S. will reject your tax return when filed electronically if you do not complete the information required about whether you have coverage, including whether you are exempt from the so-called individual mandate or will pay the penalty. If you file your tax return on paper, the agency said it could suspend processing of the return and delay any refund you might be owed. The agency’s new guidance for tax professionals seems to contradict Mr. Trump’s first executive order, on Inauguration Day, which broadly instructed various agencies to scale back the regulatory reach of the federal health care law.”
“South West Water charges the people of Devon and Cornwall [in the UK] some of the highest bills in the country. The company says this is necessary to improve the service. But an investigation by Corporate Watch has found it is paying out more to owners and financiers than it is investing in the water and sewerage supplies that residents depend on” [Corporate Watch].
Biggest employers by state:
— Visual Capitalist (@VisualCap) November 17, 2017
Hmm. Looks like college debt is propping up some blue states; and Wisconsin, even today!
“Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is joining a midmarket New York private-equity firm, adding his name to the long list of high-ranking government officials entering the sector in recent years” [MarketWatch].
“President Donald Trump is by far the wealthiest member of the U.S. government, with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion. While Trump is far from the typical U.S. politician, he is not the only extraordinarily wealthy government official. Most U.S. members of congress are millionaires” [247 Wall Street]. “Eighteen of the 25 are members of the House of Representatives and the rest are senators, and the wealthiest members of congress are fairly evenly split between the two major political parties. Thirteen are Republicans, and the wealthiest person on this list is a Democrat.”
“Congratulations to Electronic Arts on Having the Most-Hated Comment in Reddit History” [New York Magazine]. “The controversy centers around how the game unlocks new playable characters for users. Battlefront’s multiplayer system revolves around a system of unlocks and semi-random “loot crates” that bestow bonuses among players. Save up enough rewards from playing online and you’ll earn enough in-game currency to spend on a playable classic Star Wars character. So, if you want to play as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader — according to one Redditor’s numerology — you’ll need to play for roughly 40 hours.” It’s almost like there’s some larger, more systemic issue involved….
“Fixing the Journalist-Fixer Relationship” [Global Investigative Journalism Network]. “‘Fixers’ are local people who work behind the scenes helping foreign correspondents get their work done. They serve as interpreters, set up hotels and drivers, book interviews and secure access to locations. They largely work in the shadows, often uncredited. This leaves the public in the dark about how foreign correspondence is done, and who may have influence on the international reporting itself…. Subsequent interviews with fixers who participated in the survey indicated underlying tensions that often remain hidden in professional interactions. A fixer with more than a quarter century of experience working with one of the American news networks put it bluntly: ‘Unfortunately they still look at us as ‘brown’ people with funny accents, and though I have reported and done some of the most important and daring stories for (the network), it is a struggle to get a producer credit. Meanwhile, white kids – years my junior – get their names up (in the credits).'”
News of the Wired
“My Apology to Naomi Wu and the Make Community” [Make]. This is a real apology and far better, sadly, than Louis CK’s. (I followed Wu on the Twitter before this controversy blew up, and she’s clever and interesting, despite my old codgerdom.)
Word of the day:
I'm a big fan of @normative's word "synecdote": an anecdote that seems to confirm their priors. Sometimes the anecdote is just plain wrong on the facts. But folks don't care. The anecdote wasn't informing their belief. It was helping convey it. Always worth looking out for them.
— Pwn ██ ██ ███ 1.4(C) – Declassified in Part (@pwnallthethings) November 18, 2017
I’m vulnerable to this, because, magpie-like, I tend to collect bright shiny subjects, many anecdotal. Always hoping to stay on the informing side of the street, not the conveying one!
News you can use:
Life hack: I called Walgreens to check on something and got a lengthy ad for flu shots and I shouted “fuck OFF” and it took me right to the main menu
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) November 18, 2017
“Call routing based on the caller’s mood” [Google Patents]. Google is way ahead of the curve…
“Google Maps is getting a colorful redesign and some handy new features” [Daily Dot]. Shorter: They’ve made Google Maps modal, siloed by function, a structure which, by Conway’s Law, would be isomorphic with Google’s corporate structure. “The search giant explained in a blog post on Wednesday that Maps will now show different destinations based on what service—navigation, transit, drive, or explore—you’re using. For example, if you are driving using Android Auto, Maps will show more relevant stops, like gas stations and rest areas. Likewise, when you are on the “transit” tab, the map will highlight train stations and bus stops.” Heaven I should want to explore while I’m riding public transit! Readers, any of you who
are are crazy or naïve enough to own cellphones, am I being too cynical?
“Discourses and Realpolitik on Monotheism and Polytheism” (PDF) [Katsuhiro Kohara]. “[N]umerous experts on Japanese culture consider polytheism superior to monotheism. In Japan, monotheism is often criticized as being the cause of wars, confl icts, and the destruction of nature. On the other hand, we occasionally hear voices praising the understanding of nature found in polytheism and animism as a solution to these types of problems. Th e idea that the problems of war and the destruction of nature could be resolved by dispensing with monotheistic thought and undergoing a shift to a polytheistic approach is so simple and understandable that such an idea has captured the hearts of many people.
What a time to be alive:
Escape from Cyber Monday with our one-of-a-kind Internet Escape Pod. Let Colonel Sanders and his protective dome help take you back to a simpler, internet-free time. https://t.co/3oIcv6NDtY pic.twitter.com/6sYqmMv7TZ
— KFC (@kfc) November 16, 2017
A Faraday cage for the whole family!
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 (GP):
GP writes: “Last weekend at Zion’s National Park on the trail to the mostly unknown and vastly underrated Northgate Peaks. There was a brush fire a couple years ago that most of the trees survived and only sacrificed a few lower branches. This fellow burned up completely and almost took his older brother with him.”
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