2:00PM Water Cooler 12/5/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.



“When the time comes, Pence takes the stage and greets the crowd with a booming “Hellooooo, Indiana!” He says he has “just hung up the phone” with Donald Trump and that the president asked him to “say hello.” He delivers this message with a slight chuckle that has a certain, almost subversive quality to it. Watch Pence give enough speeches, and you’ll notice that this often happens when he’s in front of a friendly crowd. He’ll be witnessing to evangelicals at a mega-church, or addressing conservative supporters at a rally, and when the moment comes for him to pass along the president’s well-wishes, the words are invariably accompanied by an amused little chuckle that prompts knowing laughter from the attendees. It’s almost as if, in that brief, barely perceptible moment, Pence is sending a message to those with ears to hear—that he recognizes the absurdity of his situation; that he knows just what sort of man he’s working for; that while things may look bad now, there is a grand purpose at work here, a plan that will manifest itself in due time. Let not your hearts be troubled, he seems to be saying. I’ve got this” [The Atlantic]. Oh, good.




“Alabama Senate Special Election – Moore vs. Jones” [RealClearPolitics]. “Moore +1.5” (Previous: Moore +2.6).

“Women are more likely than men to find the allegations credible and to support Jones, with 41 percent of women saying Moore made unwanted advances compared with 28 percent of men saying the same. Moore leads by 15 points among men likely to vote, while Jones leads by 18 points among likely female voters” [WaPo].

“These are the women who could elect Roy Moore” [Ron Brownstein, CNN]. “Moore’s ability to survive the allegations of sexually pursuing young girls, which have rocked his campaign, will likely turn on whether he can maintain his pre-scandal advantage among white women without a college education — even as their college-educated counterparts have moved toward Democrat Doug Jones in much bigger numbers than usual for deeply conservative Alabama, according to public and private polling in the race. With that contrast, the Alabama race is illuminating one of the least understood political trends of the Donald Trump era. Many commentators have warned that Republicans face a systemic problem with female voters under Trump — and could see that difficulty deepen if Moore wins and is seated in the Senate. But that conclusion is far too sweeping. Rather than a monolithic response, the Trump era instead is widening the divide between the political preferences of white-collar and blue-collar white women.”

UPDATE “So the fact that Jones is running within a couple percentage points of Moore is itself pretty remarkable: Moore is performing around 25 points worse than Republicans ordinarily do in Alabama despite there being few swing voters in the state” [FiveThirtyEight]. “Overall, the effects of the scandal seem to be of roughly the same magnitude as those identified in a 2011 paper by Nicholas Chad Long, who found that scandals involving ‘immoral behavior’ hurt incumbent U.S. senators by a net of about 13 percentage points, controlling for their past margin of victory and other factors.” Now that is a neat factual nugget. And: “Long’s paper found that while scandals can have reasonably large effects at the margin, two-thirds of scandal-plagued incumbents nonetheless won re-election to the U.S. Senate between 1974 and 2008.”

“Compared to the behavior voters would like to be able to expect from elected officials, Judge Moore’s actions seem all-but-unforgiveable. But compared to the current crop of scandals from across the partisan aisle, Moore is just another bad actor among many… This is the power of partisanship: If you can get your voters to compare you to your opponents based on party, they can often find a way to believe what they must to give you their support” [Michael Graham, CBS].

“A small-town Alabama newspaper takes a stand on Roy Moore. A very careful one.” [Margaret Sullivan, WaPo]. A sad description of the newsroom…

2016 Post Mortem

Non, je regrette rien:


“What Donna Brazile Left Out Of The Democratic National Committee Story” [HuffPo]. “The DNC ultimately gave Precision and SKDK close to a million dollars over the course of the presidential race. Nearly $400,000 of that came during the primary… [T]hese consulting teams — which were coordinating strategic communications, media relations and research well before the party chose its nominee — included several established Democratic operatives who openly favored the former secretary of state. Many of them had a history with Clinton.” But don’t worry. Under Tom Perez, these consultants are still in control at the DNC. Still slurping at the trough. I guess we won’t be seeing any $27-average-contribution from these guys any time soon!

New Cold War

I think we have another new liberal Democrat icon:


UPDATE “Trump’s personal banking information handed over to Robert Mueller” [Guardian]. “Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, was forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president and some of his family members, who are also Deutsche clients, after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information, according to media reports.”

Tax “Reform”

UPDATE “How the House and Senate tax bills would change America, in one chart” [Vox]. In one enormous chart. “The Senate bill, but not the House bill, would end Obamacare’s individual mandate, cutting health coverage in America by 13 million people. The House bill, but not the Senate bill, would end the estate tax entirely, and add a huge new tax on PhD students and other people receiving tuition waivers from their schools… But the House and Senate bills are remarkably similar in other respects. They now treat the state and local tax deduction identically, ending it for income and sales taxes but merely capping it for property taxes. They take broadly similar approaches to expensing, interest deduction, and international taxation on the corporate side. They both switch to chained CPI, a slower-growing inflation measure that results in gradually increased taxes over time. And, of course, both enact a permanent 20 percent corporate tax rate.” Notice how the Democrat Establishment is silent on Chained CPI, which will cut your Social Security, if you’re on it? They’re silent because they support it.

UPDATE “Liberals need to get a grip about the GOP tax bill” [The Week]. “If Democrats hate the consequences of the 2016 election, as they should, they should oppose those consequences on substance and then hang the dead weight of these terrible policies around the neck of every Republican running for office in 2018. What Democrats should not do is treat the passage of the tax bill as the end of democracy in America. Because it isn’t…. The Trump era is filled with examples of behavior that is in fact truly alarming — including the flagrant shredding of norms of presidential behavior that won’t be easy or in some cases even possible to reverse once the current president leaves office. But the tax legislation in itself isn’t alarming. Republicans passing a massive tax cut that benefits the wealthy and sticks it to the rest of the population is as normal as anything in our politics. Yes, there were some abnormal aspects to the white-knuckled process by which the Senate passed the bill — by a bare majority, and with last-minute major changes made up until a couple of hours before the final vote. But these institutional norms have been in decay for many years, and Democrats have done their fair share of contributing to the breakdown.” Exactly.

Realignment and Legitimacy

UPDATE “How America Became So Divided” [Nancy Gibbs, Time]. Gibbs is the editor of Time. Pulling out two bullet points NC readers will be familiar with. Gibbs is, apparently, chanelling Ray Dalio:

• For the lower 60%, real incomes are flat to down since 1980, to the point that the average person in the top 40% has ten times the wealth of the average in the lower 60, two thirds of whom have no savings.

• Premature deaths are up by about 20% just since 2000, driven mainly by drugs and suicides, which sets America apart from nearly all industrialized countries. Nothing about current trends suggests this will change.

Obviously those are two very serious problems that no elite worth its salt would allow to happen. Now contrast where Gibbs places her hope and trust. I’m sorry to quote so much of this flaccid blather but you might as well get the full flavor:

If we don’t show how democracy can work, does work, if we don’t model what civil discourse looks and sounds like and the progress it can yield, than we can hardly be surprised if people don’t think they really matter.

Some politicians are clearly listening. Fifty freshman lawmakers in the 115th Congress, from both parties, signed a “Commitment to civility” pledge. It acknowledged the “increasing division in and coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse.” For all the differences in their beliefs, they promised to “set an example of statesmanship,” and maintain “a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation.”

More than 40 members of Congress, split equally between the two parties, have joined the congressional Problem-Solvers Caucus – agreeing to work toward compromise and vote together on a few of the biggest issues. White House veterans Bill Kristol and Bill Galston, who have never once voted for the same candidate, called for a New Center in American politics to defend basic principles of liberal democracy: “We stand together in defense of constitutional, orderly, and civil self-government that respects civil liberties and equal rights and the rule of law, and rejects bigotry of every kind.” Its pillars? Opportunity, security, accountability, ingenuity.

In a word, centrism. Since when did Centrism ever solve class warfare-type problems like flat wages or increasing mortality?

“Dems warn GOP: We’re prepared for class war” [McClatchy]. Then you’d better throw a lot of your leadership under the bus.

“Presidents Obama And Clinton Failed To Defend The Middle Class: Robert Reich” [International Business Times]. “Reich’s desire to rescue capitalism has become increasingly controversial — with the United States facing stagnating wages, intensifying economic inequality and persistent poverty, public opinion polls show more and more Americans are questioning whether capitalism is the right economic system for the country. In 2016, one poll showed that among millenials, 43 percent said they had a favorable view of socialism and just 32 percent said they had a favorable view of capitalism . That same year, democratic socialist Bernie Sanders received millions of votes for president.”

“The Democrats’ Dangerous Obsession With Impeachment” [Jeet Heer, The New Republic]. “While it is true that [as Ezrra Klein argues] Trump is ‘extremely bad at the job of president,’ using that as grounds for removing him from office would be revolutionary, moving the criteria from the constitutional requirement of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ which is already vague, to the utterly nebulous and subjective ‘extremely bad.’ Klein recognized that normalizing impeachment would turn it into a political weapon, but didn’t wrestle with the fact that this normalization already happened—with the spurious impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999. That precedent suggests the dangers of further normalization: It will worsen the extreme partisanship and gridlock that is making American ungovernable.” Idea: Democrats should start winning elections?

“The Voices of Trump Supporters” [Cook Political Report]. A focus group in North Carolina by Peter Hart. Summarizing: “The complaints about Trump by his supporters are almost entirely stylistic and behavioral, not substantive or ideological. They still hope he’ll grow into his role, adapting himself to the job rather than adapting the job to himself.” Note that most of these Trump voters are college-educated, one at the graduate level.

Stats Watch

Institute For Supply Management Non-Manufacturing Index, November 2017: “Growth cooled noticeably in ISM’s non-manufacturing report with is probably a plus given unsustainably high levels in prior reports” [Econoday]. “[T]he overall results, along with this morning’s PMI services index, do point to slowing for the bulk of the economy in November and also fit in with slowing among several of the regional factory reports during the month. Note that today’s ISM report tracks, unlike the PMI services, construction and mining which were mixed with the former expanding but the latter contracting in November.” And: “‘We had such a high rate of growth and knew there would be some pullback eventually but did not know exactly when,’ said [Tony Nieves, chair of the ISM’s Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee] in an interview [Logistics Management]. ‘I always felt the previous rate of growth was not always going to be sustainable, especially with how it popped up in September and October. This NMI is still ahead of the 12-month average. We are measuring change month-to-month so as that bar keeps moving, we would like to see it continue to cascade but that is not reality. All the key metrics still remain above the baseline of 50, which bodes well for things over all.'” And: “Both services surveys are in expansion. I would weight the Markit numbers higher which would indicate a slightly slowing service sector” [Econintersect]. And: “The service sector is a bellwether for the U.S. economy, employing eight of 10 American workers. And right now the bell is ringing loudly. The economy has grown 3% for two straight quarters and could make it three in a row for the first time since 2005. Economists played down the declines in the ISM’s manufacturing and services indexes in November, noting that both are still historically strong” [MarketWatch]. And but: “The surveys are starting to come off their trumped up levels” [Mosler Economics]. And: “This suggests slower expansion in November than in October” [Econintersect].

Purchasing Managers’ Services Index, November 2017: “Markit’s U.S. service-sector sample reported solid growth but still the softest since June” [Econoday]. “Business confidence, getting a boost from planned investment and the rise in new orders, is also very strong though slightly lower than October. Yet the report warns that confidence in the year-ahead outlook “deteriorated” which may point to a rise in risk aversion that could hurt future employment and hiring. A clear negative is a slowing in backlog accumulation in the weakest showing since June.”

International Trade, October 2017: “Fourth-quarter net exports get off to a weak start as October’s trade deficit, at $48.7 billion, comes in much deeper than expected and well beyond September’s revised $44.9 billion” [Econoday]. “Country data show the monthly gap with China deepening $600 million to $35.2 billion and with Japan by $1.6 billion to $6.4 billion. The EU gap widened by $2.3 billion to $13.7 billion. The gap with Mexico rose $900 million to $6.6 billion and Canada $1.5 billion deeper at $1.8 billion.” And 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 declining for exports and growing for imports” [Econintersect]. “The data is much worse if one considers inflation is grabbing hold in exports and imports – and the numbers are not inflation adjusted.”

Shipping: “German lender HSH Norbank used to support a shipping-heavy portfolio worth more than $200 billion and now it can’t even support itself. The state-owned bank, once the world’s biggest ship financier, is racing to find a buyer by the end of February or face liquidation…, after suffering massive losses on non-performing shipping loans” [Wall Street Journal].

Shipping: “UPS Inc. said it has implemented changes in the package car driver schedules through the peak holiday season period that, in many parts of the country, will require its drivers to work 70 hours over eight consecutive days” [DC Velocity].

Shipping: ” In a report released in October, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) warned that the industry would be short about 50,000 drivers by the end of 2017″ [DC Velocity]. “As for the reasons for the shortage, some of it has to do with demographics: an aging work force, the 21 minimum age requirement for interstate drivers (which effectively eliminates candidates in the 18-21 age group who are often in the process of choosing careers), and a lack of interest among women in driving as a career. But that’s just part of the story. As we all know, lifestyle issues play into it as well. Few U.S. workers want a job that keeps them away from home for extended periods and forces them to subsist on a truck-stop diet of chicken-fried steak and macaroni and cheese. Further complicating matters, a rapidly strengthening economy means more job alternatives are available to current and would-be drivers.” If only there were some way to compensate drivers for these percieved disadvantages…

Shipping; “Soaring Freight Costs Will Squeeze Traders, Boost Food Prices” [Bloomberg]. “The Baltic Dry Index, a benchmark of shipping rates, surged 73 percent in 2017 to a four-year high because of a slowdown in new bulk freight capacity. More than 85 percent of global trade in grains and oilseeds is transported by dry-bulk carriers, according to Rabobank International.”

Shipping: “Corporate CIOs aren’t shrinking violets when competing for budget dollars. If it walks, talks, or quacks technology, they’ll push ROI projections and lobby hard for the stuff. But mention the word ‘blockchain’ and the CIOs’ attitudes suddenly get adjusted. They become Star Trek’s stone-cold Mr. Spock to the emotional Captain Kirk, forced to tamp down the demands of their besotted CEOs to ‘get me some blockchain!'” [DC Velocity].

Retail: “The strategic implications of the CVS Health Corp. buyout of insurance giant Aetna Inc. may be even bigger than the $69 billion price tag. CVS and Aetna will try to remake the consumer-facing end of the health-care supply chain…, as they look to create an integrated enterprise that isn’t built around doctors” (!) [Wall Street Journal].

Retail: “Dollar General Corp. is a retail success story that hardly suggests broader prosperity in the consumer world. The discount seller is on a strong growth track, boosting sales at a steady clip and adding bunches of new stores…, expanding because rural America is struggling” [Wall Street Journal]. “With its convenient locations for frugal shoppers, it has become one of the most profitable retailers in the U.S., with 14,000 stores that yield more than double the profit of Macy’s Inc. on less revenue. It’s also become a lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains, bringing in goods that are sold in small sizes tailored for tight budgets. The growth runs counter to broad trends in retail, including delivery-dependent online sales that don’t fit the company’s tight logistics budget. But Dollar General plans to open thousands of new stores, reasoning the persistent struggles in rural America will bring the business new markets.”

The Bezzle: “Student Loan Debt Is Now As Big as the U.S. Junk Market” [Bloomberg]. “The share of student loan debt that is securitized, meaning it’s backed by assets and known as asset-backed securities, is about $190 billion, according to Goldman Sachs. Of that, about $150 billion is linked to loans where the repayment of the principal is guaranteed by the U.S. government.” Absent levering, we’ll just, as it were, “collapse in place.”

The Bezzle: “Among the many mysteries at the heart of the cryptocurrency market are these: Does $814 million of a digital token known as tether really exist? And what is tether’s connection to Bitfinex, the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange?” [Bloomberg]. “The currency [“tether”], which started trading in 2015, is described as a stable alternative to bitcoin’s wild price swings. A restaurant owner who accepts bitcoin but fears its volatility could shift bitcoin into tether, which can be easier to do than exchanging bitcoin for dollars. Its price has stayed near $1 for most of its life because Tether, the company behind the digital token, says that every tether is backed by one U.S. dollar held in reserve. Since there’s $814 million of tether circulating, there should be $814 million parked in bank accounts somewhere. Not everyone believes there is.”

The Bezzle: “A Reuters examination, including a review of court records…, shows that across China, unqualified borrowers use fake documents to secure mortgages, while loans deceptively obtained for other purposes are funnelled into property. These frauds are often committed with the consent and encouragement of other parties to the transactions, including lending brokers, property agents, valuation companies and the banks themselves” [Reuters]. “And these alleged crimes are rarely punished. Neither Zhu nor Lei suffered any penalty for the fraud.”

The Fed: “Senate Banking Committee overwhelmingly backs Powell to lead Fed” [MarketWatch]. “Powell was backed by all of the panel’s Republicans and Democrats except for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts.” A “resistance” worthy of the name would resist at all points. “Sen. Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democrat on the banking panel, supported Powell but said he was disappointed President Donald Trump did not reappoint Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to a second four-year term.” “Disappointed” as opposed to, say, “terrified” or hysterical. Fine.

Five Horsemen: “Techs bounce at the open except for sick man Apple” [Hat tip, Jim Haygood].

Five Horsemen Dec 5

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 68 Greed (previous close: 64, Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 64 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Dec 5 at 12:00pm.


“Among the coconut plantations and beaches of South India, a factory the size of 35 football fields is preparing to churn out billions of generic pills for HIV patients and flood the U.S. market with the low-cost copycat medicines” [Bloomberg]. “U.S. patents on key components for some important HIV therapies are poised to expire starting in December and Laurus Labs Ltd. — the Hyderabad, India-based company which owns the facility — is gearing up to cash in.”

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“Organizer Erricka Bridgeford talks about effort to stop Baltimore homicides” [Baltimore Beat]. “Bridgeford implores people not to be numb, to allow themselves to stop and feel the impact of each of the city’s murders and what the loss means for the city and for the family of the deceased. It’s part of a kind of spirituality that she says she’s been thinking about and building on for a while, but is just now able to really put into words.”

Dear Old Blighty

“How Momentum got Britain’s youth interested in politics” [London School of Economics]. “Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election campaign in 2015 (and his re-election in 2016) involved three intertwined factors: mass mobilisations, grassroots support, and digital technologies. Notably, there was a database containing information (email addresses, telephone numbers, postcodes, etc) “collected during both of Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, through both Momentum and the official campaigns.” This political communication goldmine was owned by the director of Operations for Corbyn’s leadership campaign, Jon Lansman. He took it with him when he went on to form Momentum in October 2015 as a traditional socialist organisation independent from the Labour Party, but officially supportive of it and Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, thus filling the left-wing political vacuum vacated by New Labour. Momentum used the tactics of the ‘Jeremy for Leader’ campaign to generate support and claimed to have 100,000 online registered supporters by April 2016, 200,000 by January 2017. For paid up members, the number grew from 20,000 to 31,000 members between January and November 2017. Supporters and members can roughly be divided up along generational lines: the older, veteran, traditional Leftists who do not identify with New Labour; and the young, newly politicized movementists, some of whom were not even born when Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997.” I think that “paid-up members” part is important. DSA is a membership organization. The Democrats are not.

Class Warfare

“The compelling case for working a lot less” [BBC]. What case is that? Not paying my bills?

“A Year of Tech Solidarity” [YCombinator]. Still germane.

“My son’s rag-tag appearance conveys just as clearly that I’m benefiting from my white, middle-class privilege as if I dressed him in a bonnet or a designer bomber jacket” [Quartzy].

“Say It Together: Top Incomes Are Being Driven By Capital” [People’s Policy Institute]. “[W}hen you decompose the top one percent’s income into labor and capital components, what you find is that, for the last 14 years, capital income is the sole driver of the income of the top one percent. In fact, labor incomes for the top one percent have actually declined over that period.”

News of the Wired




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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 (KH):

KH writes:”We’ve been traveling through the Four Corners area. I’ve found this stunning shrub in a couple of the national parks. Don’t know what it is but it’s a delicate beauty. Any ideas? Aloha!”

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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.


  1. Bill

    John Yoo is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. I wonder how this will go over with them.

    and the photo is elongated–I can’t recognize what it is

    1. Sid Finster

      I am sure that his employer is just dandy with it. The Team R establishment (aka the neocon wing) hates Trump almost as much as Team D does.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      The photo is now fixed.

      I’m sure the AEI is happy with torture. Most everybody in the political class is. That’s why it’s OK for Michelle to hug George Bush, and that’s why it’s OK that Obama took on Bush’s torture advisor, John Brennan, who along with Clapper (the perjurer) and Mueller (the entrapment artist) are also liberal icons.

        1. perpetualWAR

          Bush actually prosecuted Enron, though.

          So, Obama not prosecuting anyone…..???

          Who is worse?

          1. foghorn longhorn

            Re, Bush y Enron
            The Elder Bush the Groper calls Houston “home”
            Ken Lay was probably in the way of the Carlyle group.

      1. WJ

        Speaking of entrapment, there’s a pretty good article at The Duran containing a timeline of the events in early January through mid February that eventually led to Flynn’s lying to the FBI, termination, and plea. Here is the link: http://theduran.com/a-case-of-entrapment-how-the-deep-state-brought-down-michael-flynn/

        Wouldn’t you know it, the fellow to whom the existence of the till then unknown FBI tapes was leaked was none other than the CIA’s favorite mouthpiece in DC, David Ignatius, who in an article from 1/12 in the Post not only spilled the existence of the tapes but raised oh so delicately the question of whether such conversations betrayed “the spirit of the Logan Act.” Clearly Ignatius was fed this line as nobody who knows anything would otherwise think to apply the Logan Act to a presidential transition team. What is odd is that Flynn’s conversation with Pence takes place *after* Ignatius’s article appears, sometime before 1/15, when Pence was interviewed, as does Flynn’s conversation with the FBI, which takes place on 1/24.

        Flynn lies to Pence after he knows the calls are already recorded. And it is only after Pence’s interview that the FBI interviews Flynn. I think it is because at that point they have him trapped. Flynn for whatever reason decided to withhold the substance of his conversations from Pence, but the FBI, perceiving this on the basis of Pence’s media interview, then approaches Flynn. Flynn now either has to tell the truth to the FBI after just having lied to Pence (from whom he might have been told to withhold information, who knows?), or double down on his lie to Pence, which he does.

        But it makes literally no sense for Flynn to have lied to the FBI on 1/24 in my view, because he would have already had knowledge of their knowledge of the phone calls. Am I missing something?

        I understand (I think) the plot whereby Flynn was set up, but I don’t understand his apparent willingness or perhaps his sheer stupidity in throwing himself into its trap. Why lie on 1/24 when you already know since 1/12 that there are transcripts of the calls?

        1. WJ

          This Peter P. Strzok II, former Army Intelligence, until quite recently deputy director of FBI counterintelligence, and by all accounts the most active and energetic agent in the entire bureau, is quite interesting. He just happens to be at the center of everything, from Crowdstrike to DNC server to HRC server report to HRC, Mills, and Abedin interviews, to Weiner laptop emails, to Steele dossier, to Flynn interview…I mean. Wow!

  2. Enquiring Mind

    When I read about middle class privilege and similar ideas, two observations spring to mind:
    1. how much is privilege, in a knapsack or ethereal, similar to the economic concepts of consumer and producer surplus?
    2. how is somebody going to monetize that to allow some type of transfer of said surpluses to someone else?

    There are enough cautionary tales about extraction of value from any type of surplus, such as in the case of Uber, excuse me, Über, and one’s putative car equity. People have a hard enough time acquiring anything in this Age of Precarius, so why aid and abet in the dissolution if you still have a choice?

    When will I pay back rent on that knapsack, with late fees, service charges and various semi-racketeering features? That is probably being bandied about, or even bruited about, in a boardroom or bullpen somewhere!

    1. Mo's Bike Shop

      Don’t forget the free labor already given to social media. ‘Please rate this for your peer group.’

  3. Watt4Bob

    Klein recognized that normalizing impeachment would turn it into a political weapon, but didn’t wrestle with the fact that this normalization already happened—with the spurious impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999. That precedent suggests the dangers of further normalization: It will worsen the extreme partisanship and gridlock that is making American ungovernable.” Idea: Democrats should start winning elections?

    The fact that America is not being governed is not proof that it is ungovernable.

    The fact that America is not being governed is rooted in the amount of money we’ve allowed the rich and powerful to ‘donate‘ to political campaigns.

    We used to have a sort of legitimate two-party system with one party representing the interests of the rich, and one party representing the rest of us, but ever since Bill Clinton taught the democrats how to garner the benefits of campaign contributions from those same rich folks, we the people have been frozen out of the political process altogether.

    Now it may be true that even when the democrats were marginally on our side, we still didn’t have much of a voice in Washington, but having a small voice is better by far than having no voice.

    The damage was done by a tsunami of money, and that damage includes the ‘normalization’ of impeachment, which cannot get any more ‘normal’ than it has already become.

    The thing we should be we should be hitting the streets to complain about is the normalization of government-enabled looting that has become the only activity our elites show any interest in.

      1. Summer

        I look at incrementalism like this:
        Take the new tax bill for instance, the Democrats would have incrementally delivered the same benefits to the same people, instead of full chaos ahead like the current Republicans.

    1. JBird

      Idea: Democrats should start winning elections?

      The word one is looking for is not “winning” but “coronation.” As in “the divine right of kings.”

    2. Mo's Bike Shop

      Limit how rich the rich can get?

      A legislature more on the order of 3000 representatives would also loosen things up.

  4. Pat

    Funny, when I read that description of Pence and the guess of what his attitude means all I can think is: “And people think impeaching Trump is a good idea?!?!” I know a lot of people are distracted by the tweets and Russia, but with as much as is being accomplished with Trump, the idea of President Pence terrifies me.

    All I can presume is that the fantasy that impeachment is on the table anytime in the near future is accompanied by the even bigger one that it means that Hillary Clinton will be President.

    1. Wukchumni

      “If the liberties of the American people are ever destroyed, they will fall by the hands of the clergy.”~ Marquis de Lafayette

      1. Pat

        I think the good Marquis might have to add Corporate Aristrocracy and Military Industrial Complex if he were around today.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      If impeachment is soon, then, maybe the outcome is Alabama is not as important.

      Is the psychology at work here?

      1. Sam Adams

        Impeachment means the Ayatollah Pence followed by Scrouge McRyan. Come on impeachment is off the table says Madam Pelosi.

    3. rd

      If I believed Trump was a strategist, I would assume that he selected Pence as running mate as insurance against impeachment.

      1. Yves Smith

        Yes, Trump is a very peculiar combination of self-destructively impulsive and canny. But he seemed shocked that he’d won, and I don’t see any reason why he would have anticipated being targeted for impeachment. Seriously. This presupposes him seeing himself at risk or potentially guilty.

  5. visitor

    The link for “A Year of Tech Solidarity” goes into a void.

    Apart from that, the gadget announced as endowing its users with “total control over your drinking experience” made me vaguely think about booze and contraption support for not getting a hangover — but it was about tea.

    1. Mo's Bike Shop

      “total control over your drinking experience”

      I’ve got a set of neuroses for that already. Thanx.

  6. Left in Wisconsin

    “Presidents Obama And Clinton Failed To Defend The Middle Class: Robert Reich”

    The headline gives Reich more credit than he deserves. He strikes me as one of those religious converts who is trying to get into heaven by belatedly recognizing the errors of his previous ways – in this case his close association with neoliberal Democrats over the last 40 years. But he is still completely oblivious, or worse, regarding D politicians and politics.

    He claims his biggest regret as Slick Willie’s labor secretary was not pushing harder for labor law reform. Yet anyone paying attention at the time knew that Clinton had absolutely no interest. So fighting harder may have assuaged any guilt he now feels but it would have made absolutely no difference policy-wise.

    And he suggests that the current Dem Party needs to get on board with the new progressive activism:

    If the old Democratic Party only understood that they [youthful activists such as Bernie supporters] are not opponents, they actually are potentially the source of energy and momentum and mobilization and the future for the Democratic Party. Then, I think the Democratic Party really does have some potential for taking back the system of government and also our economic system for average people and for the poor and embracing social justice as the Democratic Party once did.

    Are you kidding me?

        1. JBird

          Funny thing is that he has done some very good explaining both in print and video on the wealth, and to a lesser amount on income, inequality’s causes as well as its current and future consequences to our society.

  7. yarnover girl

    In very recent news (apologies if someone has already posted it elsewhere on naked capitalism), the IOC just announced that Russia will be suspended from the 2018 Winter Olympics: https://sports.yahoo.com/russia-banned-2018-winter-olympics-pyeongchang-183735604.html

    “Their flag will be excluded from any display, and if any “clean” Russian athletes are given permission to attend, they won’t be competing under the Russian flag. They’ll compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR) and the Olympic flag, any medals they win won’t be credited to Russia and the Olympic anthem will be played in any ceremony.”

    1. Pat

      Wow, I don’t know of anything else not being much of a sports fan, but that probably just took out the one sure gold medal in figure skating – Evgenia Medvedeva. She might skate as Olympic from Russia, still my guess is that would be a long shot. And since three other Russian women are part of the top ten, it looks like the IOC just made Ladies Figure Skating a free for all.

      1. yarnover girl

        Yes, you’re right about that. I’m a big figure skating fan, and the skating forum I’m a part of is blowing up at this news. The ladies event will be a phony competition without Russia there.

    2. Timmy

      I wonder if Russia “drawing” the super easy qualifying pool in the World Cup was somehow related to being excluded from the Olympics. I mean, you’ve got to keep your male population testosterone elevated somehow.

      1. witters

        No. The Host Nation in a WC is always in that group. Back to the books before your next Test(osterone)!

    3. The Rev Kev

      It gets even better. To compensate the money the IOC and WADA have spent investigating alleged Russian wrongdoing, the Russians will have to pay $15 million “to build the capacity and integrity of the global anti-doping system.” Now that is adding insult to injury.
      The guy that the IOC is basing its case around, Grigory Rodchenkov, is in witness protection in the US and there are several tapes making the rounds reputedly of his voice, one of which has the statement “I’ll make sure you have one positive sample of 20,000. I’ll make sure I have 100 samples, and I will destroy all Olympic sports of Russia for the next five years!”
      Good thing that Russia is the only country on the planet that uses enhanced drugs with its athletes, oh wait.

  8. katz

    “Dems warn GOP: We’re prepared for class war” [McClatchy]

    On the one hand this sounds like welcome news… on the other, the Dems quoted are all using the “Have You Seen the Other Guys?” framing, with no articulation of positive values or, heaven forbid, actual programs. I’ll believe the party is “prepared for class war” when I see it.

    1. Vatch

      “Have You Seen the Other Guys?”

      I love that slogan. It’s an example of superb unintentional satire.

    2. flora

      Sure they are….

      Republicans Now Turn Their Attention to Deregulating Wall Street With Key Hearing Tuesday

      The amendments offer a stark choice between gift-giving to some of the largest banks in America and maintaining regulatory standards to prevent taxpayer bailouts and runaway financialization. Democratic aides characterize S.2155 as the next wave of corporate largesse after last week’s passage of a tax overhaul, with next to nothing for consumers, despite the bill title. If some conservative Democrats want to ally with Republicans on this effort, Warren wants to make sure everybody knows their names and their priorities.

      Four Democrats — Banking Committee members Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia — negotiated S.2155 with Republican leaders. In all, 10 Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, giving it enough support to break a Senate filibuster if all Republicans sign on. That makes the deregulatory effort more than theoretical; it’s a real risk to pass.


      1. Martin Finnucane

        The question presents itself: in what sense is crafting a sweeping regulatory giveaway to coked-up crooks in expensive suits considered “conservative.” Perhaps by also opposing the over-the-counter morning after pill these conservative dems can buy their way into Americana-shtick heaven – a modern market for indulgences.

        1. tony

          “Conservative” in the US politics means right wing radical. “Liberal” and “progressive” mean conservative.

      2. Vatch

        Yes, I wondered about that bill on Dec. 3. The voters need to stifle the corporate wing of the Democratic party in the primaries; after that, it’s too late. Most of the Democratic Senators co-sponsoring this bill are up for reelection in 2018:

        Sen. Donnelly, Joe [D-IN]
        Sen. Heitkamp, Heidi [D-ND]
        Sen. Tester, Jon [D-MT]
        Sen. McCaskill, Claire [D-MO]
        Sen. Manchin, Joe, III [D-WV]
        Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA]
        and independent Sen. King, Angus S., Jr. [I-ME].

        It looks as though all of those Democratic Senators are desperately seeking campaign contributions for their 2018 runs. Only Sen. Peters [D-MI], Sen. Warner [D-VA], and Sen. Bennet [D-CO] are not up for reelection in 2018. Interestingly, Republican Bob Corker, who is not seeking reelection, is also a co-sponsor. Perhaps he’s hoping to land a lucrative job after he retires.

        Voters in Missouri, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maine: please pay attention to your Democratic primaries.

    1. Lee

      Why “winterfat”, I wondered. Because it is a high quality winter browse for cattle, horses, and wildlife. Gotta love the internet at moments like this.

    1. Wombat

      Yep, the lack of transparency is alarming. Zinke’s report earlier this year was opaque, masked and had language about minimal downsizing in spite of public outcry and millions of calls to the Dept of Interior. I wonder if the leaked plans prompted Trump’s announcement. Now its apparent Bears Ears and Escalante may be just the first two domino’s in the extractors dreams coming true. What’s the rush to use up all the resources we have? Time for the Koch brothers to reap the dividend of their investment in their lifetimes I guess.

  9. Elizabeth Burton

    Idea: Democrats should start winning elections?

    Maybe it’s time to consider the possibility that the chronic losses of the current Democrat Party are a feature, not a bug. After all, if their likely goal doesn’t differ all that much from that of the GOP, that being obedience to their plutocratic/corporate employers, and given the growing channels via which lots of “political donations” seem to get channeled into undisclosed pockets, wouldn’t actually fighting to win mean spending more of their loot instead of stashing it?

    “The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a Republican and a Republican in Democratic clothing, they’ll take the genuine article every time.” — Harry S. Truman

    Food for ponderment.

    1. Altandmain

      The Democratic Establishment is clearly hoping to capitalize on the fact that people will get sick of Trump or that the big tax cuts for the rich will become so unpopular that they will be the only real alternative.

      1. flora

        John Conyers just resigned his House seat. Be interesting to see what Blue Dog the Nat Dem estab finds to try to fill his seat… or if the Mich Dems run someone who isn’t a Blue Dog. Conyers supported #MedicareforAll and voting rights.

  10. meeps

    Okay, I’m not a CPA but I’m trying to understand how the changes to the tax code might affect an average family like mine or that of my friends.

    I read the Vox piece (with the enormous chart) shortly after the Water Cooler came online, but when I returned to review figures the chart is nothing but a big black square. Refreshing does not bring the chart back. Anyone else encountering this?

    So (I’m doing this from memory now) let’s say your taxes are simple–married filing jointly taking the standard deduction. Both versions of the bill increase the standard deduction (from 13K to 24,400 House/ 24K Senate) yet repealed the personal and dependent exemptions (more than 4K per dependent) and repealed the student loan interest deduction (x). It should be immediately apparent that the ‘increase’ in the standard deduction provides no benefit, even temporarily, to this couple/family.

    Did I miss something?

    1. Lynne

      Let’s say you are a couple with no dependents. Your standard deduction goes up 11K. Your exemptions go away, so you are down $8100. So far, you are “ahead” a $2,900 reduction in taxable income. Let’s say you live in a relatively modest house, which means that you probably already do not itemize unless you have large medical bills or other itemized deductions. Keep in mind that your medical expenses must exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income before a deduction is permitted, and then your deduction is reduced by 10 percent of your AGI — surprisingly few people find it worthwhile. After all, their itemizable out-of-pocket has to be really high because first, you can’t take off the amount up to 10% of AGI, and then, the excess has to be enough to justify the pain and hassle of itemizing. If you pay for your own insurance, you probably make so much that you are going to have trouble getting much over the 10% AGI. If you live in an extremely high tax state, or you have more than 1 home, your taxes and interest *might* get high enough to go over the $24K, but maybe not. Actually, this would benefit a fair number of people I know: people who don’t live in fancy houses, and who don’t pay lots in state and local taxes. Can you say middle-class denizens of flyover country?

      Of course, that assumes they don’t care about the big breaks to the 1% or the hollowing out of what is left of their safety net. But many people in flyover country don’t have much of a safety net as it is.

      1. Yves Smith

        I have not seen an update, but the biggest lobbying group for small businesses said 85% of them would be worse off. Most small businesses are solo owned and don’t make a lot of money or do only erratically (some good years and some very lean years).

        And I know people in flyover who will be worse off, and they aren’t big earners.

        1. Lynne

          I think they’re right. I was looking at it as strictly a W2 household living simply. Of course, they still have to contend with the nastiness from powers that be of implying that if you do have medical expenses, for example, you are somehow at fault and “deserve” no consideration. That is already baked into the current system, however.

        2. meeps

          Thanks for taking a moment, Yves and Lynne. I should have specified the assumption of W2 income from wages only. I also forgot to mention that the maximum student loan interest deduction (x) in a given year is $2500.00.

        3. Fiery Hunt

          Self employed here in the Bay Area, CA.; business consists of me solo. If I understand correctly, since I don’t itemize (no house, only income from the business I own) with the raising of the standard deduction and the possible changes to the tax brackets and the elimination of the Obama Health Insurance Tax, I’ll save roughly $5,000 in taxes on mid $60K gross.

          Would be a huge saving for me.

          ‘Course I assume I’m wrong and Yves is right and I’ll take it in the shorts. Again.

  11. Eureka Springs

    The Senate bill, but not the House bill, would end Obamacare’s individual mandate, cutting health coverage in America by 13 million people.

    Where and how do they get these numbers? If they are suggesting 13 million will no longer pay since it will not be criminal to make a prudent choice then that is not a cut. The false pearl-clutching over this in the NYT among other places is as big a lie as any around the netz this week.

    And let us remember coverage is not care.

  12. Wukchumni

    “The compelling case for working a lot less” [BBC].

    I find myself most inspired by long walks in nature, my mind is clear of all encumbrances and the only obligation is putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly.

  13. Wukchumni

    Yet another Dollar General is good for the country puff piece…

    A month ago somebody on here commented that you can tell when a town has gone to hell, check cashing/cash advance places, a pawn shop or 2, maybe a rent-to-own furniture and appliance store, and a Dollar General.

      1. Enquiring Mind

        Über may sniff out a business opportunity catering to storage unit residents and wanna-bes, what with currently-free parking. /s

  14. The Rev Kev

    Re The continuing saga of driver shortages

    Couldn’t they just give the drivers two 7p chocolates each like they did at Amazon? That should do it, right?

  15. Jeff W

    “The compelling case for working a lot less” [BBC]. What case is that? Not paying my bills?

    Well, professor of international political economy Mark Blyth said in that post-2016 election talk: “We live in a world where literally 10% of the population could provide super-abundance for everyone.” So we could work a lot less, provide a lot more—and it might involve paying fewer bills (e.g., a health insurance premium). Maybe it’s time to start thinking about things from a post-work perspective.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      In theory, yes. But the author is writing from the perspective working less if possible right now. For example:

      We can focus for an even shorter period of time when we’re pushing ourselves to the edge of our capabilities. Researchers like Stockholm University psychologist K Anders Ericsson have found that when engaging in the kind of ‘deliberate practice’ necessary to truly master any skill, we need more breaks than we think. Most people can only handle an hour without taking a rest. And many at the top, like elite musicians, authors and athletes, never dedicate more than five hours a day consistently to their craft.

      The other practice they share? Their “increased tendency to take recuperative naps,” Ericsson writes – one way, of course, to rest both brain and body.

      Somehow, I don’t think your average Amazon worker is going to be taking a lot of “recupertative naps.”

  16. ChiGal in Carolina

    Wow, thanks for the link about Baltimore’s Ericka Bridgeford (sp?), truly an inspiring woman.

    How simple the path to taking back power: don’t go numb, use that pain and the love it springs from to bear witness, to stream light from your body scrubbing clean the bloodstained concrete with another truth, another reality in which each life is valued and precious.

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