2:00PM Water Cooler 12/6/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Net Neutrality

“Net neutrality protests start Thursday—how to find one near you” [Ars Technica]. That’s tomorrow! Here’s a search tool.

“How repealing net neutrality could hurt small Texas businesses” [Texas Tribune]. “Small businesses could be disproportionately hurt by a net neutrality reversal, experts say, because they could be priced out if service providers charge businesses higher fees for access. While online titans like Netflix and Amazon could afford to pay higher rates for fast consumer access to their sites, businesses with smaller profit margins could struggle with newly exorbitant fees — ‘and that’s what scares a lot of companies,’ explained Prabhudev Konana, a professor of information management at the University of Texas at Austin…. Service providers could create a tiered system for internet access, forcing small businesses into a higher bracket for essentially the same product they already receive, explained Roger L. Kay, an independent technology analyst.” And then there’s this: “‘If you think about it, what would stop a big company from paying a service provider to choke down the speeds of its small competitors? Which in turn would put those people out of business, or damn near,’ [PDQ Resharpening’s co-owner Shane Killingsworth said. ‘I’d rather not rely on a ‘pinky promise’ from companies like Verizon or Comcast.'” That’s an impressively paranoid thought from Killingsworth. When you call your Congresscritter or write your letter to the editor, be sure to mention this.

“Of the record 23 million comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission on the contentious issue of net neutrality — or whether to repeal rules that prevent Internet providers from blocking or throttling Websites — millions were faked or used stolen identities” [USA Today]. “It isn’t clear whether such falsified comments are coming from individuals, organizations, bots or some combination.” Hmm. Wouldn’t this be good to know?

“A group of House Democrats are urging the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate fake comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the agency’s efforts to repeal its net neutrality rules” [The Hill] (the letter).

“How the FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan Breaks With 50 Years of History” [Tim Wu, WIRED]. An excellent history and a must-read.


“Fate of NAFTA remains a dicey situation, rail stakeholders say” [Logistics Management]. ‘”I would say that NAFTA is one thing I am more worried about than others,’ said [Chuck Baker, president of the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association]. ‘We are nearing a crisis stage, and there is a real legitimate concern that the President is going to pull out of NAFTA, which would be, by any legitimate economic analysis we looked, at a devastating blow to the freight economy and be extraordinarily problematic. I do think it is at risk of happening and I do think our industries need to try to do a better job of sounding the alarm louder and louder on the risks to the economy and trade patterns in North America could be severely disrupted.'”



“One of the best ways to gauge the relative health of a political party’s brand is to see how willing people are to say they identify with the party. Which is why new Gallup poll numbers on party identification should worry Republicans heading into an election year” [CNN]. “Just 37% of people identify as Republicans or leaning toward the Republican Party, compared with 44% who identify as either leaning toward the Democratic Party or as solid Democrats. Another 14% say they are independents and don’t lean to either party…. If Republicans are even with, or close to even with, Democrats in terms of party ID, they win elections — like in 2016, 2014 and 2010. If the Democratic edge is mid-single digits or higher, Republicans usually lose.”


“Alabama Senate Special Election – Moore vs. Jones” [RealClearPolitics]. “Moore +2.3” (Previous: Moore +1.5).

“Roy Moore speaks at a black church; social media erupts” [AL.com]. “At one juncture during his sermon, [Bishop] Lowe appeared not so much to be preaching to Moore, but his detractors. He referenced the benched judge’s infamous refusal to comply with a federal court order to remove a 5,280-pound block of granite featuring the Ten Commandments, which he had placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building, defying the law separating church from state. He was ultimately removed from the bench for judicial misconduct.

2016 Post Mortem

“Weinstein’s Complicity Machine” [New York Times]. One nugget: “Days after Mrs. Clinton’s election loss, the Clintons had dinner with Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Boies, the lawyer, and their wives at Rao’s restaurant in Harlem, Manhattan. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Weinstein began planning a documentary TV show about her campaign. Discussions about the project stretched out for months with her lawyer, Robert Barnett, who emailed with Mr. Weinstein on Sept. 28 about potential European buyers.”

Details like this aside, a must-read on the nitty gritty of power structures.

New Cold War

“The failure to impeach former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney for the high crimes and misdemeanors that characterized their tenure sent a signal that lawlessness would not be checked and balanced — even by a Congress in which the legislative branch was, in the last years of the Bush-Cheney interregnum, controlled by the opposition party. This was a terrible error on the part of congressional Democrats and responsible Republicans, and it has come back to haunt the United States” [Truthout]. Correct, IMNSHO. And the people who made that terrible error are still in charge.

Tax Reform

“FATCA repeal fails, new efforts focus on government agreements” [Cayman Compass]. “Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on Nov. 14 introduced his S. 869 bill that would have repealed FATCA. …. Friday’s failure to include S. 869 in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act means FATCA will remain effective as activists shift their focus to the intergovernmental agreements that bind scores of countries to local enforcement of Washington’s legislation…. ‘Keep in mind that this was a target of opportunity we did not anticipate. We took a shot; it looked good; we fell short. No info yet on why. Post-mortem efforts,’ [Washington, D.C., lawyer and anti-FATCA activist James Jatras] said, adding that ‘since the repeal provision is not in either House or Senate bill, [the reconciliation] conference will not deal with it.'” So, a territorial system of taxation for artifical persons, but not for real ones?

“Republicans just found the money for $3 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest entities in society. Rolling those back to Obama-era levels creates a $3 trillion kitty for liberal initiatives” [David Dayen, The New Republic]. No. Somebody like Stephanie Kelton should take Dayen aside and explain to him that taxes don’t work the way he thinks they do. More: “With Republicans slashing taxes so irresponsibly and in such an unpopular manner, the next Democratic leader can simply call to ‘repeal the Trump tax cuts,’ and transfer the windfall to worthwhile initiatives.” No no no no no no no no no. This is shockingly disinformative.

Historical Revisionism from Annie Lowrey:

The Democrats weren’t snookered; they believed (and still believe) that stuff. Lowrey also believes that Federal taxes pay for Federal spending. It’s a thread worth reading, though….

Trump Transition

“With three days remaining before the government runs out of money, lawmakers have yet to settle on a strategy to keep the lights on — and resolve multiple extraneous but significant issues including health care, immigration and defense spending” [RealClearPolitics]. “Democrats are not necessarily unified on the immigration strategy, and many are keeping their powder dry as negotiations among leaders continue.” Keeping their powder dry

Realignment and Legitimacy

“This Poisonous Cult of Personality” [New York Review of Books]. “It was this politics of narcissistic identification, of fanciful private bonding with the famous, that set us up for, first, the disappointment with Obama, and then, the appalling shock of Trump.”

“The Sickeningly Narrow Focus of Our Outrage” [Power of Narrative]. “I myself heard rumors about Levine and his predilection for young boys (usually boys of color) as long ago as the 1980s…. The “worst kept secret in the business” isn’t the only similarity the Levine case has to some others in recent weeks. Levine’s days of glory at the Met were the 1980s and 1990s… Levine was no longer protected by the immense power he had once wielded, and he was no longer a hugely valuable asset to the Met. From the Met’s perspective, all the incentives were now on the side of dumping Levine, particularly in terms of general public relations concerns and with regard to fundraising, a vital issue for the Met and its future…. In this regard, Levine is much like Harvey Weinstein, another man who was on the downward slope of his career, with much of his previous power now dissipated.” And then there’s Afghanistan. Silber is always worth a read.

“Another woman says Franken tried to forcibly kiss her” [Politico].

“Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign in a Facebook post… Almost immediately after, Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Masie Hirono (D-HI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA) also called on Franken to resign” [Political Wire].

Stats Watch

Productivity and Costs, Q3 2017 (Final): “This year’s pickup in the economy combined with thin wage growth is helping to improve productivity and unit labor costs” [Econoday]. “Underscoring the weakness in wages is a downward revision to second-quarter labor costs… Gains in output that outstrip gains in hours worked is a healthy combination. The question is whether and when full employment will begin to drive up wages.” And but: “A simple summary of the headlines for this release is that there was significant growth of productivity while the labor costs contracted. We believe there is little growth in productivity” [Econintersect].

ADP Employment Report, November 2017: “A pre-hurricane total of 190,000 is ADP’s call for November private payroll growth which would follow a hurricane-related upswing of 252,000 in October and 15,000 downswing in September” [Econoday]. “Demand for labor has been very strong this year though wage traction has still been limited.” And but: “When the goods sector of the economy is gaining more workers than historically – it is a warning that something is wrong. This is the fourth month in a row of the service sector weakness” [Econintersect]. “ADP employment has not been a good predictor of BLS non-farm private job growth.” And: “slightly below the consensus” [Calculated Risk].

MBA Mortgage Applications, week of December 1, 2017: “Purchase applications for home mortgages rose by a seasonally adjusted 2 percent” [Econoday].

Leading Indicators: “At this point, Econintersect sees NO particular dynamic at this time which will deliver noticeably better growth in the foreseeable future – and the majority of the indicators are forecasting a slower rate of growth” [Econintersect]. And they’re mostly subject to backward revision, and how leading is that?

Shipping: “ICAO has backed IATA proposals to segregate shipments containing lithium batteries and those containing class-one dangerous goods in ULDs and cargo compartments” [The Loadstar].

Shipping: “The strong surge in online sales this season is starting to slow down delivery of the goods to homes. United Parcel Service Inc. says big seasonal volumes that are running ahead of expectations are backing up its U.S. distribution system” [Wall Street Journal]. “The delays show delivery operations critical to e-commerce are still struggling with the busiest shopping periods despite heavy investment to build out and automate operations.” Maybe there’s something to be said for bricks and mortar after all….

Shipping; ‘The rebound in truck manufacturing is running at high throttle. Fleet operators ordered 32,900 Class 8 trucks in November, a 70% boost over a year ago that ACT Research says gives truck makers their strongest two-month stretch for orders since the start of 2015. Trucking companies are adding capacity as strong economic growth fuels surging freight volume” [Wall Street Journal]. “Factories will be operating in high gear in the coming months, and ACT expects orders to remain high next year as operators replace trucks and add capacity. The only brake on the fleet owners’ expansion plans, in fact, may be finding enough drivers to run the big rigs.”

Transportation: “Investment in JFK air freight infrastructure seeks to revitalise New York gateway” [The Loadstar]. Say, how about turning the international terminal into something other than a dark and filthy pit? Every time I return to the US through JFK I’m humiliated as an American that this is how we introduce ourselves to the world.

The Bezzle: “Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance” [Bloomberg]. “[S]ystematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.”

The Bezzle: “As of today, Steam will no longer support Bitcoin as a payment method on our platform due to high fees and volatility in the value of Bitcoin” [Steam]. “In the past few months we’ve seen an increase in the volatility in the value of Bitcoin and a significant increase in the fees to process transactions on the Bitcoin network. For example, transaction fees that are charged to the customer by the Bitcoin network have skyrocketed this year, topping out at close to $20 a transaction last week (compared to roughly $0.20 when we initially enabled Bitcoin). Unfortunately, Valve has no control over the amount of the fee. These fees result in unreasonably high costs for purchasing games when paying with Bitcoin. The high transaction fees cause even greater problems when the value of Bitcoin itself drops dramatically.”

Mr. Market: “Here’s how violent the stock-market rotation out of tech has been” [MarketWatch]. “A Tuesday pause aside, it’s been a rough week or so for technology shares, which have been the victim of a violent rotation that’s seen investors flee what’s been by far the hottest sector of 2017 for companies expected to get a bigger boost from tax legislation working its way through Congress…. The shift last week was historically unique. Citing data from Cornerstone Macro, Sonders observed there have only been eight instances since current S&P sector data began in 1989 when technology shares fell 2% or more in the same calendar week that industrial stocks rose 2% or more—an incident rate of just 0.54%.” All I know is what I read in the papers…

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 60 Greed (previous close: 63, Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 67 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Dec 6 at 11:28am.


“How to Build a City That Doesn’t Flood? Turn it Into a Sponge” [JSTOR Daily]. “One way to make cities spongier is to use permeable pavements…. Another way to make cities hold water is by building rain gardens and bioswales.”

Class Warfare

“Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?” [Guardian]. “The CDC report suggested possible causes for the high suicide rate among US farmers, including ‘social isolation, potential for financial losses, barriers to and unwillingness to seek mental health services (which might be limited in rural areas), and access to lethal means… Since 2013, net farm income for US farmers has declined 50%. Median farm income for 2017 is projected to be negative $1,325. And without parity in place (essentially a minimum price floor for farm products), most commodity prices remain below the cost of production.” It doesn’t matter. They’re from flyover states. They probably deserve it. Why don’t they just move? Or learn to code.

“Are you doing better than the previous generation? The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., asked nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries around the globe that question this past spring. Residents in 20 countries said people like them were better off than they were 50 years ago. In Vietnam, 88% felt better off, followed by India (69%), South Korea (68%), Japan (65%), Germany (65%), Turkey (65%), the Netherlands (64%), Sweden (64%), Poland (62%) and Spain (60%). Overall, 43% of people in those countries said they were better off. All told, a majority of respondents in these 20 countries said they were better off. However, the U.S. wasn’t one of them. The U.S. was among the other 18 countries in which people said they were actually worse off than half a century ago” [MarketWatch]. There’s your elephant chart….

“Defining “innovation”: sometimes it’s easy” [Keywords for The Age of Austerity (SD)]. “[A] reader would need to discern that, for its advocates, ‘innovation’ in the U.S. health care system means ‘medical technology.’ Given the privatized nature of the U.S. health sector, it follows that what what we are really talking about here are ‘profitable medical technology corporations.’ As if the function of a national health-care system is to facilitate the profitability of manufacturers of medical machinery.

News of the Wired

“In first, 3-D printed objects connect to WiFi without electronics” [UWNews]. “Imagine a bottle of laundry detergent that can sense when you’re running low on soap — and automatically connect to the internet to place an order for more.” Do I have to? “Imagine a book that can sense when you’re reading it — and automatically connect to the Internet to inform the FBI.”

“How the Index Card Cataloged the World” [The Atlantic]. “The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.”

“Why some people can hear this silent gif” [BBC]. Hmm…

* * *
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 (Re Silc):

A Slovenian barn.

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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. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Ojai is at risk, maybe.

      Two friends have a 2-acre vineyard there. I hope they’ll be spared.

      1. Wukchumni

        I heard the wildfire is in the Topa Topas (mountains so nice they named em’ twice) and that’s one of my stomping grounds…

        The last big wildfire there was the Day Fire a dozen years ago. It completely burned the north side of the Sespe river, and left the other side untouched. Fires are so capricious.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Now, apparently, Rupert Murdoch’s mansion is in the fire news.

          In the meantime, Bitcoin tops $13,000, which, I read, means more energy consumption.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I saw a photo of fire on the west side of 405, next the Getty Center, though it says the fire was to east of the freeway and the center to the west.

      1. Hobbs

        I saw the footage. It was taken on the 405 heading south, so what you saw is the east side of the freeway burning.

  1. clarky90

    “I have ears and eyes everywhere!”

    Harvey Weinstein’s Complicity Machine


    “HARVEY WEINSTEIN BUILT his complicity machine out of the witting, the unwitting and those in between. He commanded enablers, silencers and spies, warning others who discovered his secrets to say nothing. He courted those who could provide the money or prestige to enhance his reputation as well as his power to intimidate.

    In the weeks and months before allegations of his methodical abuse of women were exposed in October, Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, pulled on all the levers of his carefully constructed apparatus……”

    Weinstein roamed at will, unhindered for thirty years, through the corridors of World power. Weinstein is not an outlier.

    Weinstein’s behavior was known, accepted and even celebrated.

    1. Lee

      Weinstein anecdotes showing up in unexpected places.

      I watched a truly delightful 2003 UK production, Alibi, last night and then read the Wikipedia article on one of the stars, Sophie Okonedo. Toward the end of the article I found this:

      Creative Differences[edit]
      In October 2017, Michael Caton-Jones revealed that he had chosen Okonedo to star in B. Monkey. However, the producer, Harvey Weinstein, decided the actress was not “fuckable”. Caton-Jones and Weinstein discussed the matter heatedly, and Caton-Jones said, “‘Don’t screw up the casting of this film because you want to get laid”, whereupon he went mental. Weinstein then leaked to Variety that Caton-Jones had walked off the movie due to “creative differences”. Asia Argento, who replaced Okonedo, was one of three women who in 2017 were reported in The New Yorker to have been raped by Weinstein; she said that she submitted to Weinstein because, “I felt I had to, because I had the movie coming out and I didn’t want to anger him.”[14]

      That phkr seems to be everywhere and is the kind of guy that makes me ashamed of being a man. And really, really angry too. Such that, I had a conversation with my adult daughter who works at one of the companies whose CEO has been outed as a harasser, and told her I if she had been or were ever so bothered, I would gladly don a balaclava and wield a baseball bat on her behalf if she so wished. She seemed well pleased at the thought.

        1. Lee

          Then you might have to kill him if you wished to avoid prison. Leave him alive and guessing while you have the pleasure watching him limp for the rest of his life.

      1. Kim Kaufman

        Unfortunately, Mr. Weinstein is not very original in his casting ideas. Don Simpson, producer of Flashdance and Top Gun, among others, famously coined the phrase of assessment of actresses back in the 1980s.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      For someone who is supposedly a champion of women, Clinton sure does spend a lot of time with men who like to get their rape on.

      The fact that she was planning a movie with Weinstein ought to stick a fork in her once and for all, but it won’t judging by the turnout she’s getting on her book tour. Lots of heads in the sand…

  2. NotTimothyGeithner

    The cult of personality extends far beyond simply presidential candidates in politics. State and local types have an army of brown nosers eager for a pat on the head.

    1. DJG

      N T G: Yes, but Pankaj Mishra is eager to draw links between the dots and does so with masterly concision, too. The article is a good diagnosis for a current ailment: Not the lack of politics, because so many cannot describe their politics as much more than a vague yearning for “progress,” but fan clubs. No wonder Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell (let alone John McCain, who has a very large fan club) act so strangely.

      And as someone from the land of Rauner and Rahm, I have seen plenty of kissing up and kicking down to be around those two ideological office-politics luminaries.

  3. Vatch

    . . . the benched judge’s infamous refusal to comply with a federal court order to remove a 5,280-pound block of granite featuring the Ten Commandments . . .

    I prefer the Five Cardinal Precepts of Buddhism. There’s none of that awkward jealous God stuff.

    1. Don’t kill.
    2. Don’t steal.
    3. No sexual misconduct (lots of room for interpretation here).
    4. Don’t lie.
    5. Don’t get intoxicated.

      1. Vatch

        One needn’t be a fanatic. You could interpret this as being a prohibition against operating heavy machinery (such as a car) while intoxicated. :-)

      2. DJG

        a different chris: Undoubtedly you are a bodhisattva. Most Buddhists I know interpret #5 along the lines of: Don’t have a drink in the temple precincts. Also, don’t make intoxication a major goal of one’s life. Have some detachment from the rye whiskey (hard as it is do so).

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          A Bodhisattva vows not to go to Nirvana until everyone else is in.

          That is, let others be virtuous, sin-free, etc.

          In a good-cop, bad-cop/good-guy, bad-guy situation, they will be the bad guy, if that gets the job done.

          An unintentional example would be clearing the American West, so now, everyone living today can start refresh and not having to clear it up again.

          Another unintentional example would be any unethical medical (or other unethical) experiments from WWII the results of which people might benefit today.

          It’s much more difficult to be an intentional bad guy with the intent to benefit many many others greatly.

        2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Let me kill the serial murderer about ready to commit another deed, so you can be free of killing.

          That sort of ‘letting others go before you’ Bodhisattva things.

          1. DJG

            M. Beef: I don’t know. I was thinking more along the lines of Jizo or Kannon, who haven’t been in the serial-murder business much lately.

            1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              How about stealing food to feed the hungry or starving, instead of them stealing?

              That would be a Bodhisattva thing to do.

              It’s hard to me to imagine that anyone can be so, and still remain clean, without faults or warts.

              Can one be infallible (with the law and with public opinion) and still try to do the Bodhisattva things?

              Maybe breaking a personal promise, in order to do something for many others, is bad to you personally, but it advances the cause for others? Would that be the Bodhisattva way?

        3. Lee

          Rye whiskey, rye whiskey,
          I like you pretty well.
          You killed all my kinfolk
          And sent them to hell.
          You sent them to hell
          On rotgut and rye,
          And I guess you’ll send me
          When it’s my time to die.

          Actually, I quit drinking 11 years ago to avoid dying and to repair relationships.

          Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

    1. DJG

      Vatch: Yes, about the closest one gets is polite agnostic lack of interest, very much in the style of Epicurus (and Lucretius), too:

      Picked up from Wikipedia:
      According to Peter Harvey, Buddhism assumes that the universe has no ultimate beginning to it, and thus sees no need for a creator God. In the early texts of Buddhism, the nearest term to this concept is “Great Brahma” (MahaBrahma) such as in Digha Nikaya 1.18.[3] However “[w]hile being kind and compassionate, none of the brahmās are world-creators.”[6]

      –Which reminds me that today is Saint Nicolas’s feast day. Kind and compassionte, but not a world-creator. And a snappy dresser.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        What do Buddhists say about space being finite or infinite, or whether there is an ultimate end to time?

        1. DJG

          M. Beef: From what I understand of Buddhism, space and time are infinite. Boundless may be the word.

          Likewise: I am currently re-reading Lucretius, who maintains that the universe is unbounded and that there is no end to time (and maybe no beginning either). So his view would be that of a “good” Epicurean.

          1. WobblyTelomeres

            Interestingly, Bertrand Russell had a similar opinion. I believe it was in his tract, “Why I am not a Christian”, when he stated that it was just as logical for the universe to have always existed as it was for it not to have existed and to come into existence. [I paraphrase, it has been 40 years].

          2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            I’ve been wondering about what sort of infinities or unboundedness exist in the world.

            Can one’s brain have unbounded number of ideas?

            Can there be boundless amount of fiat money?

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            A Biblical Zen person might say this:

            There is a season to every thing.
            A time of silence and a time of question-and-answer session with the master.
            A time for a cup of tea and a time for kwatz!

            1. Lee

              True that.

              One thing I particularly like about Zen is its impatience with metaphysical questions. Perhaps the most oft assigned koan is the Q & A:

              Q – Does a dog have a Buddha Nature?
              A – Nothingness!

              For your own amusement, assuming you have not already done it, I suggest a concerted effort at imagining nothingness and/or your own non-being.

  4. Wukchumni

    “The Sickeningly Narrow Focus of Our Outrage” [Power of Narrative].

    When I was in business, a rather acclaimed person with the most knowledge in the industry was a genius of whom it was always rumored was a pedophile, but it was something that if you mentioned it at all to others, you felt the pangs of not being sure really. I had heard of this at least a decade before he was arrested in Beverly Hills in 1991 on 8 felony counts of child molestation involving a 13 year old boy. He died in prison a couple years later.

    As it turned out, his own daughter reported him to the police…

    I’d imagine it’s similar in scope to the Levine story, for in my situation you couldn’t really go to the police on the basis of rumors that could destroy somebody else or you, if they aren’t true~

    1. Marco

      I urge others to read the article especially as it mentions the NYT piece from 2015 regarding the Afghan tribal practice of “bacha bazi” (boy rape). The callousness of our military in dealing with the US officer who brought it all out in the open left my head spinning.

  5. allan

    A good intro to Interior Sec. Zinke in Outside magazine.
    For me, the money quote:

    “I probably learned more from Grandma Harlow than from any other person I’ve known,” Zinke writes. “My grandmother was self-reliant, hardworking, innovative, frugal, and modest.” Although Zinke’s grandfather survived the Great Depression in a camp run by the WPA, a New Deal program, his grandmother “believed—and so do I, with all my soul—that charity should not be a role played by our government.”

    Keep your government hands off of my WPA camp.
    JF[amily blog]C.

    1. Vatch

      These paragraphs from the article are very revealing. Nearly a year ago, I used this information in my futile effort to get friends and relatives to contact their Senators and express their opposition to Zinke’s appointment.

      Zinke’s SEAL credentials have given him enormous cachet, which he has used throughout his political career. The trident appeared on his campaign bus when he ran for Congress in 2014, he continues to wear a small trident on his lapel, and he rarely fails to mention his service in speaking engagements. But he hasn’t always been forthcoming about his military career, which some of his critics say was hampered by an official reprimand from superiors over misuse of Department of Defense travel funds.

      In the late nineties, Zinke made several trips to Montana on official military orders to scout training locations for his SEAL team. While there he also did restoration work on his childhood home. After he was forced to repay a small amount of unauthorized expenses to the Navy, Zinke’s prospects of making a command rank dimmed.

  6. Alex V

    The Republican tax bill is a flaming bag of excrement, but the lack of FATCA repeal is quite disappointing. FATCA is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted, with gems like requiring US persons to report all bank accounts they have signature authority over to the IRS if the total over all accounts is more than a certain amount. This includes any corporate accounts at their employer, effectively killing any opportunity for Americans to have leadership or accounting positions at companies overseas, as no business is insane enough to submit to something like that. As an expat, the thing that really chaps me about the law though is that it was originally sponsored in Congress by Charlie Rangel, who is one of the few Congressmen who has the rare distinction of being censured for tax evasion.

    1. DJG

      Alex V: Yep, I hear stories from my friends with dual citizenship. They are on the level of Grandma sends a monetary gift for your birthday, your local European bank reluctantly deposits it, and then you and the bank have to fill out paperwork a go-go. Meanwhile, for the important people, there are the Cayman Islands, Jersey, Luxembourg, and Malta.

      1. visitor

        Ha! If only it bothered just US citizens, but alas…

        Nowadays when opening an account (in a non-US bank) — or even, in one case, changing access procedures to a long-standing account (in a non-US bank) — implies filling forms where I have to declare that, no, I am not a US citizen, no, I have never been resident in the USA, no, I do not have any business interests there, no, I am not liable for taxes there, can we now deal with my personal matters, please?

  7. diptherio

    On the cryptocurrency tip: here’s the latest from Faircoin, a cooperatively managed cryptocurrency, on how they’re making sure they don’t run into the same problems of volatility that bitcoin has:


    The radical experiment in community cryptocurrency, Faircoin, reached a milestone this week when the Faircoop assembly declared that it would sell and buy back coins from its members at parity with the Euro. This means that the cooperative maintains a pool of cash available for redeeming coins from active members who accepted them but cannot spend them. This gives confidence to traders and the coop also offers a much more stable (and easy to mentally calculate) rate than the free market.

    I explain this strategy in more detail in my previous blog post.

    This public attempt by a self identifying group to manage the market makes Faircoin unique amongst cryptocurrencies. As well as having an ‘official’ price used by the cooperative, Faircoin has a free-market price because it is publically traded like any other cryptocurrency. However Faircoop hopes that Faircoin holders will coordinate around a simple strategy of mutual benefit, in contrast to the every-man-for-himself attitude of the free market. The strategy involves holders simply committing to spend the coins, (or at least try to spend the coins!) on goods and services rather than selling them for cash or bitcoin, which generates no real economic activity. With that commitment Faircoop traders benefit both from immediate spending and people holding the coins to spend later when they hope the price is higher. Holding the coin, any asset in fact, reduces the supply and helps keep the price high. As the spending power goes up, many people feel richer and more inclined to spend and even donate

  8. Jim Haygood

    There have only been eight instances since current S&P sector data began in 1989 when tech shares fell 2% or more in the same calendar week that industrial stocks rose 2% or more.

    On the other hand, there’s been only one week-to-date in history when tech shares fell 2% or more and bitcoin popped 20%: THIS ONE.

    Bitcoin just blew through $13K less than 24 hours after rising above $12K. To the speculative crowd, making 10% per quarter on ox-cart-and-mud-hut tech stocks loses its luster when they can make 10% per day on cryptocurrencies.


    Tech stocks are so last week. :-(

    1. Wukchumni

      I made my initial foray into cyberia, er Crypto Kitties, and it isn’t going so well. The ones I ended up with have no idea what a kitty litter box is.

  9. Vatch

    The Bezzle: “Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance” [Bloomberg]

    Andrew Therrien reminds me of another financial hero, Harry Markopolos, who fought so hard to bring Bernie Madoff to justice. The SEC mostly ignored Harry Markopolos; I’m glad that some people in authority listened to Andrew Therrien.

    1. perpetualWAR

      This actually reminds me of the foreclosure fight. If you ask “Who is the current ‘lender’ as defined by the note?” They respond with “the investor to your loan is _______.” Excuse me, but I asked you to define the “Lender” as defined by the note. They cannot/will not provide what entity that is. Also, they refuse to provide the original note back to the borrower, so that debt no longer has a promissory note attached to it. They refuse to provide the original promissory note back as well. Just a matter of time these same debt collectors will be buying phantom notes from the financial industry. Mark. My. Words.

      1. Vatch

        You are correct. This is disturbingly similar to MERS and mortgage fraud.

        Ha! While typing my message, I initially typed “mortgate” by mistake, which is appropriate, because we often append “gate” to the names of scandals in memory of the Watergate scandal.

  10. Summer

    Re: Narrow Focus of Outrage

    Also, in many stories about garden variety actors or comedians of late, I find myself thinking more about the lack of empowerment or agency women have been enculturated with. It’s terrifying! When these guys in the parade of shame kept popping up recently, I found myself constantly going “WHO?!?!”

  11. Tim

    Say, how about turning the international terminal into something other than a dark and filthy pit? Every time I return to the US through JFK I’m humiliated as an American that this is how we introduce ourselves to the world.

    I second that. It was impossibly bad, when I was there almost 10 years ago. I can’t believe it’s still that way.

    1. steelhead

      It was even worse in December 1994 @ JFK if one can imagine. LHR was was immaculate in comparison.

    2. Sid Finster

      The first thing my flea-bitten wife saw of the United States was the Newark Airport.

      Her response was “is America really this…ugly?”

      I was forced to assure her that it does get better.

      1. Wukchumni

        I never have to apologize for America here, in between the purple mountain majesties & fruited plain.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Maybe apologizing for Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

          “Sorry to have destroyed your planet. We are moving to Mars. Auf Wiedersehen.”

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      My question is if there is a separate entrance for private jet-setters at that international airport.

      Maybe it’s not as grim there.

    4. dcrane

      LAX/SFO immigration and customs aren’t very nice either. Some other countries dress up the arrivals area to make it welcoming.

  12. Wukchumni

    The which hunt started in the entertainment business and has now spread to politics…

    …will it go any further, or does it require household names for the courage of it’s evictions?

  13. Vatch

    “How to Build a City That Doesn’t Flood? Turn it Into a Sponge” [JSTOR Daily

    There are some good ideas in the article, but sometimes this just isn’t feasible. If there is a significant layer of impermeable clay beneathe the topsoil, it doesn’t matter how spongy the surface is. Flooding will still be a problem, because the water won’t be able to get very far below the surface.

    Population and development pressures can sway sponge cities’ development.

    No kidding. I’m glad that the author is willing to acknowledge the elephant in the room, human population.

    1. perpetualWAR

      However, there are many opportunities for bioswales and rain gardens, including parking lots. I sold permeable paving and this is what should be put down everywhere that pavers currently are now. I have begun to see some bioswales being added into downtown sidewalks in some of the outlying suburbs. We don’t need as many lawns and paved surfaces that are impermeable. That’s for certain.

  14. Farmer's Friend

    Farm deaths: Sort of missing the obvious.

    As a wheat farmer friend told me last summer, “It just doesn’t rain anymore.”

  15. Livius Drusus

    Re: The Sickeningly Narrow Focus of Our Outrage,I think part of the problem is that our previous bouts of outrage over sex abuse produced legal atrocities such as the McMartin Preschool trial.


    I am just old enough to remember the Satanic sex abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s and it was big news back then. However almost all of the allegations were false and plenty of innocent people had their lives ruined by false accusations.

    The outrage machine has a tendency to produce bad results and then people with legitimate claims of abuse or harassment are thrown in with the liars and exaggerators. I think that is one of the reasons why powerful predators like Harvey Weinstein got away with their misconduct for so long.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      In any rational discussion, he/she who can seize the outrage high ground gains an immediate strategic advantage.

      It pays to figure out if you’re a victim of something and if that relates to the discussion.

      Thus, the urgency to control and define what is to be outraged about….narrowly if it advantages you.

  16. JBird

    I am always astonished that people like Weinstein, Conyers, and Moore can aquire position, respect, influence, and even sheer power and are able to get legally, or at without coercion, pretty anything they need or want, however great, or small, gross, vile, or sublime, yet commit legal, moral, and ethical crimes for no good reason but that they can.

    Also having society ignore all the real abuse including rape, and the destruction of human lives, then going on a scorched earth, free fire zone on anyone, anywhere, anytime, for anything that might be bad is crazy as well as destructive. Just like with the daycare “abuse” scandals that were usually completely false but destroyed many lives. Yet we people like Weinstein slithering through the shadows brutalizing people for decades.

    1. JBird

      What a shame that President Trump, inadvertently of course, benefits from such important tax relief. As it does have the appearance of corruption, he’s probably preparing a speech explaining what happened right now.

      In other news winged porcine like animals were recently seen engaged in aerial locomotion.

  17. The Rev Kev

    “The failure to impeach former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney for the high crimes and misdemeanors that characterized their tenure sent a signal that lawlessness would not be checked and balanced”

    That wasn’t it. It was when Obama came in and absolutely refused to go after even people guilty of torture, which is a crime in every country on the planet – even those that sometimes use it. Remember when he said that we should’t “look back” which by definition also made him guilty as under the law you have to go after people that are torturers.

  18. allan

    INEQUALITY 36,000!!!

    Count the ways: How GOP tax plans would reward rich families

    … Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, argues that the tax cuts could, in fact, reduce income inequality. As Hassett sees it, the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis is at a mature stage, with unemployment low and wages for ordinary workers likely to pick up — a process that he says the corporate tax cuts can accelerate.

    “It’s precisely now that we buy insurance for that wage growth with a big tax reform,” Hassett said. …

    1. JBird

      Does any of these people speaking for this actually believe we believe their BS, or worse, believe it themselves?

  19. Oregoncharles

    ” the next Democratic leader can simply call to ‘repeal the Trump tax cuts,’ and transfer the windfall to worthwhile initiatives.” No no no no no no no no no.”

    Financially, or politically? This may not be how the economy works, but it IS how the politics work, certainly as long as the financial reality isn’t widely understood. it’s framing, not economics (no idea how Dayen intended it). Furthermore, if they DON’T spend the “windfall,” the increased revenues would tend to shrink the economy – depending, of course, on where they come from and how they’re handled.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      There is and can be no “windfall.” There is and can be no “kitty.” It’s fine if some Democrats wish to proceed on, metaphorically, fire policy on the basis of phlogiston theory because that’s what’s “politically feasible,” or on astrophysics policy based on flat-earth theory. On the other hand, others might think that’s part of the problem.

  20. Objective Function

    Re the impeachment piece, be careful what you wish for! The moment a political system reaches the point where every leader expects to be prosecuted by his successors, watch out! It isn’t long before one of them decides to get them first….

    Our Founders had read their Ancient Greeks, and knew exactly where that kind of factional witch hunting led.

    1. voteforno6

      That is a danger. But, then again, every President since at least Truman probably deserved to be impeached for something.

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