By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Readers, sorry if you got a blank page for a minute; I got interested reading something and lost track of time… –lambert
“Can New NAFTA End Systematic Wage Repression in Mexico?” [Wolf Street]. “Chronic low salaries in Mexico have become a big bone of contention in the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In a talk at the University of Chicago last week, Canadian premier Justin Trudeau reiterated that if the labor standards of NAFTA were improved, companies would have fewer incentives to move factories to Mexico for cheap labor while Mexican workers would get a better deal. But that’s the last thing the Mexican government and global manufacturers with operations in Mexico seem to want.”
“The head of North America’s biggest auto supplier says he’s feeling “a bit more positive” negotiators will clinch a new NAFTA deal after hearing from people in recent discussions” [Industry Week]. “‘They were quite discouraged a couple of months ago but it seems that people are more hopeful that everybody understands how important it is to get this right,’ Don Walker, chief executive officer of Magna International Inc., said in an interview Thursday in Toronto.” But: “‘I have to believe that while the NAFTA discussions are going on, big decisions on heavy investment, specifically by car companies, are probably being put on hold,’ [Walker] said. “People don’t want to make big capital investment decisions and then find out a year down the road that things have changed.'”
“The Department of Commerce will recommend tariffs on steel and aluminum that, if applied, would be the first shots in a global trade war, according to two sources briefed on the report” [Axios]. “The fight over whether to use the Section 232 law to impose tariffs has already become the hottest trade fight inside the Trump White House. Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis have all been fighting against these tariffs on steel and aluminum — arguing they would harm the global economy and damage relationships with allies. The opposition of Mattis is important because these are national security recommendations.”
“Airbus SE said almost a third of its Pratt & Whitney-powered A320neo aircraft are affected by a new engine glitch that has forced the European planemaker to halt some deliveries of the popular narrow-body jet” [Industry Week]. “Of the 113 Pratt-powered aircraft in operation worldwide, about 30% are equipped with either one or two faulty engines, the planemaker said in an emailed statement Monday. The issues are different from faults that have previously afflicted the engine type and are from the most recent batches to come off the engine-maker’s production line. The European manufacturer has been forced to suspend deliveries of A320neos with Pratt engines, according to IndiGo, the Indian low-cost airline that’s the plane’s biggest customer. The disclosure of new problems with the Pratt engines late last week marks a blow for the A320neo, Airbus’s best-selling plane.” Oopsie.
“Here’s what Oprah and her confidants are saying about 2020” [CNN]. “‘I am not running for president of the United States,’ she said in a new interview with CBS News, where she works as a special correspondent for ’60 Minutes.'” Which is not a Sherman Statement. And but: “In recent days, three of Winfrey’s confidants told CNN that she has not explicitly ruled out a presidential bid. But at the same time, two of the sources said she is not encouraging the speculation or taking steps to start a campaign.”
“Romney makes Utah Senate bid official” [The Hill]. “‘ and has an independent voice he lends to certain issues. When he thinks the president is saying something undermining America’s ideas or principles, he’ll speak out. But he’s with the president on a number of issues — if he had been in the Senate, he would have voted to repeal ObamaCare, supported the tax cuts,’ said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist who worked on Romney’s presidential campaign.” A statesman. Lock up the spoons.
“Defining the Terms of the Tax Reform Debate” [Amy Walter, Cook Political Report]. “Earlier this week the Democratic SuperPAC Priorities USA released a memo that publicly acknowledged concerns that Democrats had been privately expressing for a couple weeks that Democrats lack a compelling economic narrative for 2018…. [I]mpressions of the economy continue to improve. The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 69 percent were satisfied with the economy, the highest it’s been since 2000…. But, with daily economic news mostly positive (despite the latest swings of the stock market), earlier Democratic arguments that this bill would cause an ‘Armageddon’ like disaster on the nation’s economy sounds woefully tone deaf….. For all the happy talk by Democrats about solid fundraising in Congressional and Senate races, that advantage may not matter if they lose the narrative about the economy.” Yep. The Clinton campaign, one remembers, after “solid fundraising,” had over a billion dollars to spend. And spend it they did!
“Is Trump’s Uptick a Blip or a Trend?” [Charles Cook, Cook Political Report]. “Those of us who obsess about politics and midterm elections are laser-focused on two variables right now—the ‘stickability’ of President Trump’s uptick in approval ratings since the beginning of the year, and the partial closure of the Democratic advantage in the national generic-ballot test….” And… that’s it, basically. 263 days is a long time in politics.
2016 Post Mortem
So long, American exceptionalism:
Marxist intellectuals from across the pond do their best to get to the bottom of how and why #Trump's election appears to have almost literally broken something in the liberal mind. pic.twitter.com/OXkpbhfRRL
— M. A. E. (@MElmaazi) February 15, 2018
This woman won today. I love this pic.twitter.com/cSrvAAM5RD
— Captain GayFace™️🏳️🌈 (@LDsquidtastic) February 16, 2018
Every time another one of these mass shootings happen – right when the Republicans start telling us that the answer is more guns, guns for everyone, guns for teachers, guns for students – I think about Chris Kyle.
— dame judi dench's secret woodland (@markpopham) February 15, 2018
New Cold War
“The office of special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals and a trio of Russian entities on charges related to the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” [Politico]. “Charges in the indictment include conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and aggravated identity theft… “Some defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment said.” Here’s the indictment. Finally we get to look at some evidence? First defendant: The Internet Research Agency. On a very quick read: The theory of the case is that the defendants used social media to “sow discord”; a search on “vot” yields zero hits.
Realignment and Legitimacy
UPDATE “Fake News and Bots May Be Worrisome, but Their Political Power Is Overblown” [New York Times]. “Much more remains to be learned about the effects of these types of online activities, but people should not assume they had huge effects. Previous studies have found, for instance, that the effects of even television advertising (arguably a higher-impact medium) are very small. According to one credible estimate, the net effect of exposure to an additional ad shifts the partisan vote of approximately two people out of 10,000. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of numerous different forms of campaign persuasion, including in-person canvassing and mail, finds that their average effect in general elections is zero.”
“From Where I Sit, The Trump Era Began In 2014” [FiveThirtyEight]. “Numbers can’t prove that 2014 was a pivotal year for the Trumpian political era to come, but they can show it was a year when Americans’ institutional trust bottomed out, something that would come into play in 2016. A few days after the election, I wrote about the erosion of trust in American institutions over the past decade. There was a link, I wrote then, between our loss of trust and electing a man who promised to start a new American order. And in 2014, overall trust in American institutions, which started falling in the mid-2000s, hit 31 percent — its lowest point since Gallup starting tracking the metric in 1993…. Trump’s ultimately brilliant political intuition was to burrow deep into this recess of the American mind and to reflect back the sense of creeping disarray. He capitalized on racial and economic fears, but his campaign kickoff proclamation that “the American dream is dead” didn’t just resonate with the people who might have voted for populist and nativist campaigns of the past. Trump’s appeal was broad, resonating with the relatively well-off and the well-educated.”
UPDATE “A significant minority of Americans say they could support a military takeover of the U.S. government” [WaPo]. “Our research finds that, in fact, substantial numbers of U.S. adults say they would [and I thought I was the only one who used this term routinely], which is in keeping with Bright Line Watch findings that experts believe that measures of U.S. democracy have declined under President Trump…. In 2017, about 25 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans said they favored a military intervention if the country faced rampant crime or corruption. The figure below shows the average support for a military coup when there is widespread corruption.” More Third World stuff! Indeed: “U.S. public opinion on these questions resembles that of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, countries with a history of military coups and dictatorships.” Let us not, however, focus only on the military! We have an intelligence community, too!
UPDATE “The President of Nowhere, USA” [Politico]. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who had the temerity to challenge Perez for the DNC leadership. This: “‘The way the campaign for mayor really began was 100 cups of coffee with people who cared about the city, finding out what was on their minds, what they thought was working and what wasn’t,’ [Buttigieg] says. ‘And at the end of every cup of coffee, asking for two or three [more] people who I should have a coffee with, until everybody they named was somebody I’d already met.’ He won the crowded Democratic primary by 34 points and the general election by 20 more. He was 29 years old.” Novel concept: Ask voters what they need. And: “A bitter irony is at play here: At a moment when the faces of the Democratic Party are 67-year-old Chuck Schumer and 77-year-old Nancy Pelosi, when so many novice Democrats are banging at the gate, spurred into action by powerful social currents and opposition to the president, one of the party’s most talented young politicians has nowhere to go. Buttigieg could theoretically lead his party out of the Trump-era wilderness—if only he can find his way out of South Bend.” Sounds like everything’s going according to plan!
“Progressive Democrat Sent Bag of D*cks and “Expelled” from Democratic Party” [Progressive Army]. This does seem to keep happening; and Perez, Obama’s creature, signaled it was OK.
Another rigged election:
This is a letter to the California Democratic Party from lawyers for the Jaffe campaign. There does not appear to be any limit to any improper actions the Establishment Democrats presently controlling the Party will take to protect the incumbent. pic.twitter.com/NHF14BWjx6
— Stephen R. Jaffe🌹 (@Jaffe4Congress) February 15, 2018
“Campaign to recall Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon fizzles” [Los Angeles Times]. “A grassroots effort to recall Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon over his decision last year to shelve a single-payer healthcare measure has sputtered, according to organizers. The Recall Rendon campaign posted on Facebook that their attempt to recall Rendon, a Democrat from Paramount, ‘will not move forward,’ explaining that collecting the required 23,000 signatures was too burdensome.”
Consumer Sentiment (Preliminary), February 2018: “Optimism over tax cuts is easily offsetting concern over the stock market, according to the consumer sentiment index which jumped sharply to 99.9 in preliminary February” [Econoday]. “This report has been much flatter than other confidence readings which underlines today’s strength as confirmation that the consumer, despite soft spending and gyrations in the stock market, is solidly underpinned by the strong jobs market.” And: “The preliminary University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for February reached its second-highest level since 2004 in the first half of the month despite the carnage in the equities market that occurred during the same two weeks. Only 6% of consumers event mentioned stock market volatility as a factor in their responses” [247 Wall Street]. “What did influence the results was government policy. More than a third of respondents (35%) favorably cited government policy, the highest level in more than 50 years.”
Import and Export Prices, January 2018: “Underscoring the strength of Wednesday’s core reading for the CPI, import prices surged a far stronger than expected 1.0 percent in January” [Econoday]. “The export side shows very similar strength, up 0.8 percent overall and including even greater traction for finished goods with capital goods up 0.5 percent in the month and consumer and vehicle export prices up 0.3 percent which are outsized gains for these readings…. Year-on-year rates are back near their best readings of the expansion.” And: “The significant growth in this month’s changes were fuel imports whilst food prices moderated” [Econintersect].
Housing Starts, January 2018: “Housing finished last year on the uptrend and is starting the new year very strong” [Econoday]. “A negative in the report is a 1.9 percent decline in completions to a 1.166 million rate that won’t be adding immediate supply to a new-home market that is depleted. But the jump in starts points to supply relief over the next half year with permits pointing to relief through the second half. After the setback in yesterday’s retail sales report, housing once again is clearly a key driver of the economy.” And but: “The backward revisions this month were mmixed.The nature of this industry normally has large variations from month to month (mostly due to weather) so the rolling averages are the best way to view this series – and it shows permits rate of growth declined and completions rate of growth declined. We consider this a similar report to last month” [Econintersect]. “Looking at residential construction employment, the year-over-year growth of employment is almost correlating with housing starts.” And: “As I’ve been noting for a couple of years, the growth in multi-family starts is behind us – multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR)” [Calculated Risk]. “[N]ow I expect a few more years of increasing single family starts and completions.”
Quarterly Services Survey, Q4 2017: [Econoday]. “Information revenue rose 8.0 percent to $424.1 billion in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter with the year-on-year rate at plus 6.6 percent. Third-quarter revenue is revised 7 tenths lower to a 1.1 percent quarter-to-quarter gain with the year-on-year rate revised 3 tenths higher to 6.1 percent.”
E-Commerce Retail Sales, Q4 2017: “As a percentage of total retail sales, e-commerce held steady at 9.1 percent for a second straight quarter” [Econoday].
Retail: “Amazon and Target are essentially tied as the second-most-shopped apparel retailers in the United States. Amazon’s private-label apparel are the fourth-most-bought brand on Amazon’s website, and Target is the retailer losing the most shoppers to Amazon. The top-ranked retailer that respondents say they have shopped at is Walmart” [247 Wall Street]. “One of six takeaways from Coresight’s research is that two-thirds of Amazon Prime members surveyed have bought clothing or shoes from Amazon in the past 12 months, making Amazon the most-shopped retailer among Prime members. Among non-Prime consumers, Amazon tumbles to seventh place as a place to shop for apparel. Nearly half of shoppers expect to buy apparel from Amazon in the next 12 months…. Nearly half of Amazon apparel shoppers continue to consider Amazon as an off-price retailer. Nearly half (48%) of Amazon apparel shoppers say they always expect to pay less than full price for apparel at Amazon.”
Retail: “The holiday season is in full swing at logistics operations handling returns, and it’s busier than ever. The secondary retail market is seeing a surge in volume this year, …. a result of the strongest growth in holiday sales in several years and the big gains in the online shopping that often result in returns. That triggers a complicated logistics exercise as ” [Wall Street Journal]. “The discounts are steep on industrial-scale shipments: On one online auction site, 49 washing machines and dryers recently returned to Best Buy Co. were offered at a 68% discount. January and February are the busiest months for a reverse supply chain that’s exploding in the shadows of e-commerce expansion. Online auction sales have grown 66% since 2008, and some $90 billion in merchandise this year could be headed back through reverse distribution channels.” I suppose the MBAs have factored in the effect on margins….
Shipping: “The Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest seaport, said yesterday that January container volumes fell 2.2 percent from January 2017 levels, but that it still reported its second-busiest January activity on record” [DC Velocity]. “Historically, strong January volumes are largely due to retail stores replenishing their inventories after the holidays, and to ships calling ahead of the Lunar New Year, when goods movement from Asia dramatically slows down.”
Shipping: “The climb in trucking prices looks like it’s leveled off, but shippers and carriers alike say it’s only a pause on the way to higher freight rates this year. The strong U.S. economy is still boosting frdeight demand and the spring push by produce growers from Mexico and Southern states to get goods to market is picking up” [Wall Street Journal]. “Truckers are stepping up incentives to drivers, but in the meantime they’re sending freight to railroads. Truck-trailer traffic on the rails is growing at a double-digit pace, which keeps goods moving even if they’re not going as fast as shippers want.”
Tech: “Google removes ‘View Image’ button from image search” [Engadget (EJ)]. “Google announced a few changes to its image search today, one of which being the removal of its option to check out an image without visiting the site that hosts it. It might be a bummer for some, but since it was a stipulation of Google’s settlement with Getty Images, it was only a matter of time before it happened. In a tweet, Google said today that the changes ‘are designed to strike a balance between serving user needs and publisher concerns, both stakeholders we value.'”
Transportation: “Toyota design chief sees future without mass-market cars” [Automotive News]. “As sharing services change car use and ownership, [Simon Humphries,] Toyota Motor Corp.’s new design chief believes that vehicles will shift towards either generic boxes on wheels for everyday use or ultra-luxury cars, wiping out the need for mass-market models…. ‘On one side we’re going to see this optimized [for whom?] (transport) system, but on the other side you’re going to see a pure race car,’ Humphries, who last month became general manager of Toyota’s advanced r&d and engineering company, told reporters in Nagoya. ‘There will be an emotional solution, and a practical solution. So maybe the story is that the middle ground is increasingly going to disappear.'”
Infrastructure: “Memo to Washington D.C.: Stop talking about raising the gas tax, go do it” [Logistics Management]. “And it is not just the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce looking to raise the tax. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said this week that raising the tax is ‘on the table.’ When one takes into account the staggering financial shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, considering raising the tax had better not fall off the table.”
Tech: “Digitization of multistep organic synthesis in reactionware for on-demand pharmaceuticals” [Science]. The abstract:
Chemical manufacturing is often done at large facilities that require a sizable capital investment and then produce key compounds for a finite period. We present an approach to the manufacturing of fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals in a self-contained plastic reactionware device. The device was designed and constructed by using a chemical to computer-automated design (ChemCAD) approach that enables the translation of traditional bench-scale synthesis into a platform-independent digital code. This in turn guides production of a three-dimensional printed device that encloses the entire synthetic route internally via simple operations. We demonstrate the approach for the γ-aminobutyric acid receptor agonist, (±)-baclofen, establishing a concept that paves the way for the local manufacture of drugs outside of specialist facilities.
Short Big Pharma? (And what a righteous pleasure that would be!)
Tech: “According to documents and sources, Apple has run into a problem at Apple Park: Because so much of the interior is made from glass — the walls and doors, for example — people are walking into the panes, sometimes painfully” [MarketWatch]. “While the issue might seem humorous, there are workplace regulations that Apple could be violating. California law requires that “employees shall be protected against the hazard of walking through glass by barriers or by conspicuous durable markings,” but the company has not been subject to citations, according to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration data.”
Five Horsemen: “Sleepy Alphabet manifests unaccustomed vigor to reclaim third place” [Hat Tip, Jim Haygood].
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 15 Extreme Fear (previous close: 11, Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 8 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Feb 14 at 7:00pm. Still lagged by two days, WTF!!!I Extreme Fear for a week now….
“Marijuana Criminal Cases Dropped En Masse by Philadelphia District Attorney” [NBC Philadelphia]. Now, about those still in prison….
“Peter Thiel, retreating from Silicon Valley’s tech scene, is moving to L.A.” [Los Angeles Times]. “Now Thiel is leaving Silicon Valley for Los Angeles — a move his camp describes as a bid to escape the political hegemony of the San Francisco Bay Area.”
“The entirely unnecessary demise of Barnes & Noble” [Brain Fuzzies]. “On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections). We’re not talking post-holiday culling of seasonal workers. This was the Red Wedding. Every person laid off was a full-time employee. These were people for whom Barnes & Noble was a career. Most of them had given 5, 10, 20 years to the company. But it gets worse. The people who lost their jobs had been actively assured this would NOT happen for the past several months..” Read it all. Especially the part about managing inventory for the holidays.
“The Political Economy of Anti-Racism” [Nonsite.org]. “What anti-discrimination looks to do, then, is solve both the ethical and the economic problem—to make sure that all groups have equal opportunity to succeed and thus also to help make sure that the jobs are being done by the people who are best at doing them. Which has absolutely nothing to do with eliminating economic inequality.5 In fact, it’s just the opposite: the point of eliminating horizontal inequality is to justify individual inequality. This is why some of us have been arguing that identity politics is not an alternative to class politics but a form of it: it’s the politics of an upper class that has no problem with seeing people left behind as long as they haven’t been left behind because of their race or sex.” Lucid and important.
“Pallets as social commentary” [DC Velocity]. “A gigantic cave made of pallets plays a starring role in a new art exhibit about the transition from physical labor and production to robotics and the digital economy….. The installation also includes three 20-foot shipping containers. One encloses an exhibit about inventions, while another screens videos, including one of workers walking away and disappearing into fog. On weekends, the third container is inhabited by a former factory machinist, who works with his hands, playing music, building looms, and spinning wool.”
News of the Wired
“Scant Evidence of Power Laws Found in Real-World Networks” [Quanta Magazine]. “A paper posted online last month has reignited a debate about one of the oldest, most startling claims in the modern era of network science: the proposition that most complex networks in the real world — from the World Wide Web to interacting proteins in a cell — are “scale-free.” Roughly speaking, that means that a few of their nodes should have many more connections than others, following a mathematical formula called a power law, so that there’s no one scale that characterizes the network…. In a statistical analysis of nearly 1,000 networks drawn from biology, the social sciences, technology and other domains, researchers found that only about 4 percent of the networks (such as certain metabolic networks in cells) passed the paper’s strongest tests. And for 67 percent of the networks, including Facebook friendship networks, food webs and water distribution networks, the statistical tests rejected a power law as a plausible description of the network’s structure.”
“Dangerous Bullshit” [Los Angeles Review of Books]. “In 1877, the British mathematician and philosopher W. K. Clifford published an essay on “The Ethics of Belief.” In it, he argued that it is always wrong — morally wrong — to believe something on the basis of insufficient evidence. He began with a striking example, imagining a shipowner who convinces himself, without adequate evidence, of the seaworthiness of a passenger vessel, intended for a transoceanic voyage. In the first version of the case, the ship sinks and hundreds of people drown. An alternative scenario has the vessel arriving safely. Clifford’s verdict is that, in both instances, a moral wrong has occurred. In believing beyond the evidence, the shipowner becomes culpably responsible for the deaths of the passengers and crew (first version) or for putting their lives at risk (the alternative). Clifford generalizes from cases like these, concluding that every leap beyond the evidence is a moral error. His readers have often seen him as overgeneralizing. In a response to Clifford, probably the most influential essay ever written by an American philosopher, William James defended the “will to believe.” He pointed out, correctly, that there are occasions when believing beyond the evidence either brings about the truth of what is believed or makes it possible to acquire the evidence to clinch the case. ”
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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 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. Today’s plant (Steiner Englund):
At first glance, it’s hard to tell whether this was taken from three inches away, or 30,000 feet up.
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