By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
“Two of the three big players in the NAFTA talks — Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo — are set to meet today in Toronto while negotiators from the three countries dig into the details of revamping the pact as the sixth round continues in Montreal, 340 miles away” [Politico]. “The surprise meeting gives the ministers a chance to discuss strategy without the presence of the third big player, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, whose schedule this week has not been announced, in keeping with his office’s usual practice.”
“As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lays the groundwork for his reelection campaign — and possibly a 2020 presidential bid — there’s a dark cloud looming” [Politico]. “A corruption trial involving his closest former political aide begins Monday, casting a shadow over Cuomo’s ambitions and his ongoing role as a general in the Democratic war against the GOP tax overhaul.”
New Cold War
“The 270 people connected to the Russia probes” [Politico]. A tabulation (that is, not a tinkertoy diagram). Coloring “Team Trump” red is a clever editorial touch.
“The Senate voted 81-18 to break the filibuster and reopen the government” [New York Times]. “The Senate voted 81-18 on Monday to end the three-day old government shutdown, with Democrats joining Republicans to clear the way for the passage of a short-term spending package that would fund the government through February 8 in exchange for a promise from Republican leaders to address the fate of young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.”
“You will also notice that the plurality of seats won by Democrats in 2006 (40 percent) came not from Democratic-leaning seats, but from districts that had a slight GOP advantage. Another 23 percent of the seats Democrats won that year came from districts that had a PVI [Partisan voting Index] of R+6 or greater. If Democrats won the same percentage of seats from each category this November as Democrats did in 2006, they would net 22 seats — or two seats shy of the 24 they need to win the House. The challenge for Democrats today is to expand the playing field. Of the 26 GOP-held seats in Likely Republican, two have a Democratic PVI, nine have a PVI between R+1 and R+5 and 15 have a PVI of R+6 or greater. Winning just two of those 26 would get Democrats to the magic number of 24 seats” [Cook Political Report].
Realignment and Legitimacy
“Clinton allies are now circulating a petition opposing how the Unity Commission and its chair handled an amendment on caucus and primary rules — an issue that Democrats from both wings of the party (and, according to sources, Hillary Clinton herself) have been watching closely” [Buzzfeed]. “Clinton herself, two associates said, was also monitoring the meeting and vote.” Really? Why would Clinton need to monitor anything?
“The Democratic Party Is Not What You Think” [Gods and Radicals]. J-LS linked to this, this morning, but I want to pull out this key paragraph:
The Democratic Party and its fronts don’t just have passive supporters. They’ve grown an entire community and social scene around their institutions. Because of that, they shape the social and cultural fabric of the places where they’re strong, wielding influence disproportionate to their numbers. In other words, the Democratic Party has a base, constituted through its fronts.
That base doesn’t overlap with the activist subculture – it is the activist subculture. There is no distinction. The activist scene exists because the day-to-day activities of the Democratic Party’s fronts bring it into being, providing an anchor for the informal activities and social networks that surround it. To participate in the activist subculture is to join the Democratic Party’s base.
In great contrast:
“What the Shutdown Reveals About the Democratic Party” [Politico]. The conventional narrative:
Losing a presidential election often stimulates activism, and a new president usually provokes a backlash, but the size of the Democratic resurgence is unprecedented. Democrats have more than tripled the usual number of serious candidates challenging members of Congress. They have competed everywhere in special elections, winning in unlikely places. This—after reaching a low in federal and state offices the party had not seen since the 1920s.
What’s particularly astonishing is how Democrats have accomplished this outside the formal structures of the Democratic Party, which has often seemed irrelevant. Explicitly copying the Tea Party, they founded grass-roots organizations in nearly every district to regularly call legislators. They held large protests on women’s issues, science, climate and racism. More Democrats even started identifying as liberals, coming closer to mirroring the Republicans’ unified conservative identity.
* * *
“Among the key takeaways from my interview with Edelman about his firm’s study, which found the U.S. has suffered a “trust crash,” internally and externally” [Mike Allen, Axios].
“The world is moving apart in trust. In previous years, country-level trust has moved largely in lockstep, but for the first time ever there is now a distinct split between extreme trust gainers and losers. No country saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other country” [2018 Edelman trust Barometer] (full report; PDF).
Trust in tech:
slide 21, Trust in the big tech platforms fell off cliff in a single year in U.S. that's bad for Facebook and Google, really really bad. @edelmanpr https://t.co/L73wIw8fv0 pic.twitter.com/snnlH1Ako2
— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) January 22, 2018
“Paul Ryan Collected $500,000 In Koch Contributions Days After House Passed Tax Law” [HuffPo]. Ka-ching.
Chicago Fed National Activity Index, December 2017: “Mining and utility output helped drive the national activity index to 0.27 in December vs a revised 0.11 percent in November and October’s revised 0.87 outsized gain in a month that reflected the reversal of hurricane effects. October’s gain is inflating the 3-month average which is up slightly at 0.42” [Econoday]. “Putting mining and utilities aside, this report is mixed given the weakness in manufacturing, employment and also the housing reading.” And but: “The single month index historically is very noisy and the 3 month moving average would be the way to view this index in any event. There was modest upward revision to the last 3 months of data” [Econintersect]. “In the table in our analysis below, see the three month rolling average for the last 6 months – it now shows an improving economy.” And: “Index Points to a Pickup in Economic Growth in December” [Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago].
Shipping: “When it comes to trucking market conditions, change is in the air” [Logistics Management]. “[Mike Regan, Chief Relationship Officer for TranzAct Technologies] said the big impact [of the Electronic Logging Device mandate (ELD) mandate] is not being seen with rigs being pulled off the road, but with former one-day lanes having now become two-day lanes, which has led to a situation in which drivers that were previously making 500 mile runs that are now taking two days, as they don’t want to run the risk of being fined. On top of that, Regan said this creates a situation that sees drivers and carriers needing to assess their parking situation, as they reach the end of their allotted cycle on their lanes.”
Shipping: “Trucking companies are coping with a question they haven’t faced in years: How much will it cost them to handle all the freight demand coming their way? U.S. truckers are seeing the strongest push for shipping capacity in years and raising rates at a fast pace, but… it’s an open question whether the companies or their drivers will reap the windfall” [Wall Street Journal]. “With the U.S. labor market tight, hiring drivers has never been more expensive, but freight volumes show it’s also more urgent than ever.”
Shipping; “The ‘big three’ express parcel companies, UPS, FedEx and DHL, are not as immune to disruption as the market believes, according to the latest report by Transport Intelligence” [The Loadstar]. “[T]here are several areas where they are vulnerable, it claims. The first is on the demand side: 3D printing and automation – which have the potential to disrupt all logistics sectors in some way. And Ti argues that the integrators could face competition on the supply side too. It points out that a ‘small number of market entrants’ have the financial clout, innovative culture and resources to give the big three a run for their money. These – Amazon, Alibaba, Uber – are already dipping their toes in the water and are both customers and competitors of the integrators.”
Retail: “Overall, this analysis indicates that the behavior of consumer goods expenditures in this business cycle has not differed materially from the behavior observed in previous long expansions. The depth of declines in these expenditures was not extraordinary, and the pace of growth in the expansion has been fairly similar to that in the preceding expansions” [Liberty Street Economics]. “In contrast, discretionary services expenditures suffered an unprecedentedly deep and prolonged fall in the last recession, and they have grown considerably more slowly in the current expansion.”
Retail: “For corporate site selectors, like the seasoned group at Amazon the textbook way to extract maximum tax incentives and giveaways is a two-step process. The first step is to first pit metro against metro, like the 20 shortlist finalists against one another to see who will pony up. Once a metro is selected, the second step is to pit communities in the metro against one another. Interestingly enough, each of the communities in both Greater DC and Greater New York are in separate states, and it is states, much more so than cities or local governments, that typically contribute the most to these incentive packages” [Richard Florida, CNN]. Florida picks New York, followed by DC. Interestingly, the New York Times picked Denver when the tournament began back in September.
Labor Market: “Though labor market statistics are often reported and discussed at the national level, conditions can vary quite a bit across individual states. We explore differences in these conditions before and after the Great Recession using a ratio of the number of unemployed workers to job vacancies. We show that the intensity of the adverse effects of the recession and the strength of the recovery varied geographically at all points in the process. We also demonstrate that wage growth is delayed until the ratio of unemployed workers to job vacancies returns to prerecession levels” [Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland].
For example, it has been completely overlooked that last week's DOL Bureau of Labor statistics report showed that wages ended the 4th quarter BELOW where they were when Trump took office and women's wages have been plunging for the past two quarters.https://t.co/v3xA3PsJ4f pic.twitter.com/FzhC2mdrxl
— W.Spackman (@tobeiconoclast) January 21, 2018
Labor Market: “Unions Held Their Own in 2017” [Jacobin]. “According to the latest edition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual survey, released this morning, 10.7 percent of employed wage and salary workers were members of unions, unchanged from last year. There was a mild uptick in the share of private-sector workers represented by unions (aka union density), from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. Density was unchanged at 34.4 percent for public-sector workers — mildly surprising, given the war on labor being conducted by Republican governors and legislatures across the country.”
The Bezzle: “In the wild world of cryptocurrency trading that’s largely untouched by regulation, the spread of fake news and unsubstantiated rumors is becoming common practice among bad actors looking to prey on novices. It’s the perfect environment in which to proliferate misinformation; it’s mercurial, confusing, and full of uneducated, overeager traders hoping to strike it rich” [Buzzfeed]. There is actually a chat room called “Big Pump Signal.”
The Bezzle: “HSBC pays $101 million in U.S. criminal penalties for front-running clients” [The FCPA Blog]. “In a statement Thursday, HSBC said it has taken several steps to improve compliance, including hiring ‘outside firms to audit its internal controls and to enhance its trade, voice, and audio surveillance.'”
Tech: “This Oil Major Has a Supercomputer the Size of a Soccer Field” [Bloomberg]. “While the investments are steep, they are dwarfed by the cost of drilling wells in the wrong place, and save time too…. The costs involved in designing and assembling a supercomputer can range from $50 million to $250 million, with several million more needed every year to run it. Developers are targeting a new generation of machines which may bring future costs to as much as $500 million per computer.”
Infrastructure: “U.S. Chamber proposes five-year, 25-cent-per-gallon increase in federal fuels tax” [DC Velocity]. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce proposed today a five-year, 25-cent-a-gallon increase in the federal motor fuels tax, the first such increase in 25 years, which would fund improvements to the country’s flagging road transport infrastructure. The Chamber also to finance upgrades to U.S. ports, airports, and inland waterways.” I’ll bet they did.
Infrastructure: “Massive cost overruns threaten to derail the bullet train. Here’s what has to change” [Los Angeles Times]. “Only two years ago, the California rail authority unveiled an ambitious plan to begin operating a segment of bullet train service between San Jose and the Central Valley by 2025…. But that plan has been crushed by the acknowledgment Tuesday that the cost of building just 119 miles of rail between the farm towns of Madera and Wasco has soared from about $6 billion to $10.6 billion, siphoning off money that the authority had planned to allocate to the ultimate goal of connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco…. Over the next year, [Governor Jerry] Brown, the Legislature and the next governor will have to decide whether to create new revenue sources, dramatically delay its construction or scale it far back from a complete 550-mile system, among other possibilities.” For purposes of comparison:
Mr. Market: “Stocks, Bonds Rise as Senate Votes to End Shutdown: Markets Wrap” [Bloomberg]. “All major equity gauges rose after lawmakers voted to end a partial government shutdown that has lasted three days. The dollar reversed losses to trade little changed and 10-year treasuries edged higher. The S&P 500 Index gained following a third straight weekly advance….”
Five Horsemen: “Four of the Fab Five (all but Apple) get an upward boost as the week kicks off” [Hat Tip, Jim Haygood].
Rapture Index: Closes down 1 on Oil Supply/Price. “The production is set to rise” [Rapture Ready]. Record high, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 78 Extreme Greed (previous close: 80, Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 79 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Jan 22 at 11:30am.
Black Injustice Tipping Point
“Forgotten in the classroom: The Reconstruction era” [WaPo]. “Historians estimate that as many as 2,000 blacks were elected to local, state and federal offices during Reconstruction. Most of those gains were lost after 1877, when the federal government pulled troops out of the South. A backlash began. Racist legislators effectively stripped blacks of their constitutional rights by passing laws mandating segregation and restricting voting.” I need to learn much more about Reconstruction; another study project!
The effrontery and shamelessness:
Oh look, FBI agents are still reading Dr. King's mail. https://t.co/nN0WumWKkJ
— bertolt blecht (@benschwartzy) January 15, 2018
Police State Watch
“Police union slashes number of ‘get out of jail free’ cards issued” [New York Post]. “Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association boss Pat Lynch slashed the maximum number of cards that could be issued to current cops from 30 to 20, and to retirees from 20 to 10, sources told The Post. The cards are often used to wiggle out of minor trouble such as speeding tickets, the theory being that presenting one suggests you know someone in the NYPD. The rank and file is livid…. A source said [Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association boss Pat Lynch] ordered the cutback to stop the sale of the cards, which were being hawked on eBay last week for as much as $200.” Nick Confessore points out: “For sake of argument, say PBA’s 24,000 active members each hand out 32 cards a year. That’s 768,000 cards EVERY YEAR.”
“Upheaval in the health care field is pushing some providers to take much greater control of their supply chains. Four major U.S. hospital systems are planning to launch a nonprofit company to produce generic drugs” [Wall Street Journal]. “The action by the nonprofit systems is the latest sign of changes in a medical world that’s seen consolidation among hospital groups and moves to blur lines between insurance companies and drug providers. The four hospital systems say they would likely contract with existing manufacturers to ensure a steadier flow of medications they say have been sole-sourced, expensive and in short supply.” Why couldn’t a Democrat governor one or two very large states do this?
“Fresh air for sale” [Guardian]. “In June 2015 Vitality Air sold its first canister. A few months later the company received an order for 5,000 cans, which were shipped exclusively to cities in China. As media attention grew, so did orders. Lam began to field calls from customers in Beijing and New Delhi. Later he spoke to people in Vietnam, Korea, Iran, Greece and Mexico. A new strategy emerged: to target the inhabitants of the world’s most polluted cities, some of whom were unable to walk 200m without inhaling damaging levels of pollutants.”
“Putting Ancient Recipes on the Plate” [Atlas Obscura]. “But it’s not guaranteed that our palates haven’t changed over time. ‘You can’t definitively conclude that the Romans didn’t like to put a ton of garum [a common fermented fish sauce] in their food because they liked it to be extra fishy. That’s archaeology in a nutshell,’ [Farrell Monaco] adds. ‘Everything will always be subject to interpretation to a degree.'”
“Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory” [Counterpunch]. “ Taxes do not fund government spending. That’s a core insight of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) whose radical implications have not been understood very well by the left. Indeed, it’s not well understood at all, and most people who have heard or read it somewhere breeze right past it, and fall back to the taxes-for-spending paradigm that is the sticky common wisdom of the left and right… But the discussion around the newly-enacted Republican tax bill has brought the issue of tax policy to the forefront again, and it’s time for the left to realize how fundamentally wrong that common wisdom is, and how continuing to argue within the phony terms of the taxes-for-revenue paradigm occludes and reproduces a persistent reactionary fiction regarding what taxes are for.” Nice to see MMT in Counterpunch.
“Life expectancy is not supposed to fall in countries that are this rich, spend this much on health and pride themselves on taking care of each other. As a demographer working in a school of public health, I am astounded by the complacency at the loss of so many Americans in the prime of life” [The Conversation]. “Where can we turn for leadership? What can each of us do about the crisis? Public health has answers. The modern practice of public health is about building community coalitions to support many simultaneous strategies across many different sectors. The public health problems of the 20th century were not solved by magic bullets; it took massive social change and political enlightenment. It will take nothing less in the 21st century.” Well, that rules out both political parties! Especially since the decline in life expectancy was IMNSHO caused by policies both parties deployed, notably deindustrializing the Rust Belt.
No smelly proles:
I want to shop here: Amazon has opened a store in Seattle with no checkout registers; it automatically figures out what you're taking and bills your account https://t.co/EqoYSlPUU8
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) January 21, 2018
What’s going on in “The Loft”?
— Javier Blas (@JavierBlas2) January 22, 2018
For context: “Net worth, the measure we use to gauge wealth, is actually the sum of all of a person’s assets after subtracting liabilities (such as loans). Therefore, net worth can be comprised of liquid savings, stocks, mutual funds, bonds, real estate, vehicles, retirement accounts (IRAs, pensions), and many other types of assets” [Visual Capitalist]. “But how does the composition of net worth differ for a person with $100k in net worth, versus that of a billionaire?” What a good question. Here’s a handy chart:
“Money, not sex, is at the root of #metoo” [Teresa Ghilarducci, Psychology Today]. “The gender wage gap, slower job advancement opportunities, the growing number of women who are main breadwinners, and the fact that women take a disproportionate role caring for children and elderly parents are some of the factors that put women’s economic futures especially at risk. And without a secure economic future, [A]women workers are susceptible to having to silently endure abuse in order to keep their jobs…An expanded fair pension system would go a long way to better insulating [B]women from the power imbalances in the workplace. And with greater economic security, comes a greater ability to stand up to the men with power over them.” But look at the chart above. Nevertheless, not all women (in fact, Ghilarducci conflates “women workers” at [A] with “women” at [B]. I grant that high net worth individuals skew heavily male, but the point remains.
“Here’s just how deeply 68% of Americans don’t want to talk about money” [CNN]. “In its 2017 Money Matters report, investing app Acorns surveyed more than 3,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 44. When asked, ‘Would you rather talk about how much you weigh or how much you have in savings?” 68 percent chose their weight.'”
“One in five people in a live-in relationship admit to “financial infidelity” — keeping a private bank account or credit card without telling a partner, according to a study released Monday by CreditCards.com. The survey of 2,000 people found 31% of millennials, 24% of people ages 38 to 53, and 17% of baby boomers have at some point had an account they keep secret from a partner” [MarketWatch].
“As we approach the 2018 proxy season, a key change for companies will be the first publication of the CEO Pay Ratio as mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Companies will begin publishing CEO Pay Ratios in proxy statements in early 2018” [The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation]. “We believe the tables published by both local and national media will include CEO pay, median employee pay, and the Ratio itself. Such tables will illustrate the fact that the CEO Pay Ratio consists of three parts, and the relationship among these components is key to understanding how employees may perceive its publication. This cross-company media comparison will be problematic: the SEC has stated it does not expect CEO Pay Ratios to be comparable across companies because of the variety of methodologies allowed for computing median employee pay.  This distinction is unlikely to make its way into media reports.” The CEO Pay Ratio compares median employee pay to CEO compensation.
“If childhood as we know it emerges where children are segregated from waged work and are imbued with all these emotional qualities I’ve been talking about, then the current epoch of capitalism’s crisis seems to imply a deep crisis for the ideal of childhood too. Not only are work and play increasingly difficult to distinguish today, but the markers of childhood and adulthood are increasingly mixed up” [The New Inquiry]. “Permanent employment, perhaps the ultimate marker of adulthood, grows increasingly unattainable for greater and greater portions of the population. Meanwhile, we’re asked to keep learning and “growing” throughout the period of our increasingly precarious attachment to work. It seems that as the capitalist wage relation undergoes fundamental mutations since the early 1980s, so too does the ideal of childhood become increasingly difficult to hold on to.” Very interesting with analysis of pop music.
“Houston Is Being Rebuilt on a Foundation of Wage Theft” [In These Times]. “Wage theft and safety violations were rampant in Houston’s low-wage construction industry even before the storm hit, according to local worker centers. One study found that 12.4 percent of construction workers in the city suffered injuries on the job. ‘The Texas construction industry is … incredibly dangerous,’ says José Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project. ‘For years, the industry has absolutely failed to prioritize safety.” Harvey only exacerbated the problems, organizers say.”
News of the Wired
— Nikhil Sonnad (@nkl) January 11, 2018
Embodiment: “Of course, we couldn’t have minds with all of their enormous complexity without nervous systems. That goes without saying. But minds are not the result of nervous systems alone. The statement you quote reminds me of Francis Crick, someone whom I admired immensely and was a great friend. Francis was quite opposed to my views on this issue. We would have huge discussions because he was the one who said that everything you are, your thoughts, your feelings, your mental this and that, are nothing but your neurons. This is a big mistake, in my view, because we are mentally and behaviorally far more than our neurons. We cannot have feelings arising from neurons alone. The nervous systems are in constant interaction and cooperation with the rest of the organism. The reason why nervous systems exist in the first place is to assist the rest of the organism. That fact is constantly missed” [Antonio Damasio, Nautilus].
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 place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here (GJ):
GJ writes: “Taken December 14 in Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon.” What a lovely sky!
Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the NC fundraiser. So do feel free to use the dropdown and click the hat to make a contribution today or any day. Here is why: Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of small donations helps me with expenses, and I factor that trickle in when setting fundraising goals. So if you see something you especially appreciate, do feel free to click the hat!