2:00PM Water Cooler 4/23/2018

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Thank you, readers, for making this year’s Mini-Fundraiser for Water Cooler a success; apparently “a finely calibrated and rugged bullshit detector” is a handy thing to have around; I’ll do my best to keep mine calibrated and in working order. A few more comments from readers:

Thank you for everything that you do. I always appreciate your incisive commentary and humor. Water cooler is one of the highlights of my day. I only wish I could give more. Keep it up!

I plan to. And:

I can’t tell you how much I rely, in difficult (and once in a while very rewarding) conversations with people around me, on the links and summaries and distillations of Water Cooler. I’m glad to be able to support it.

That is one of our goals. And:

I read Naked Capitalism every day. Keep up the great work! You are like a compass in the fog of bias, misinformation, and agendas.

This is another goal. Long-time reader Flora comments:

As another WASP’s WASP I’ll comment that we do not talk about money…. however… we do talk about investing. So, I invest in the Water Cooler with pleasure.

Thank you, readers, for investing in Water Cooler. Naturally, if any of you were out of town for the fundraiser, all contribututions are still gratefully received. And, based on feedback from readers, I’ll also take my courage in both hands and wrestle the PayPal backend into offering more (and larger) options on the drop-down, so readers who want to invest a lot don’t have to do multiple selections. One reader commented: “Aside from the nuisance factor involved, the more important factor that by limiting donation amounts to $100 you (consciously or not) deflate the value of the work you do. Why should some [glass bowl] like Kos get rich when you do so much better work?” Well, when you put it that way….

Thanks to all again!

* * *


“[French President Emmanuel] Macron, in an interview on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ indicated he’d appeal to President Donald Trump’s practical side in arguing for a permanent exemption [from the administration’s new steel and aluminum tariffs] for France and the 27 other EU members” [Politico]. “‘I just say ‘Where are your priorities”… It’s too complicated if you make war against everybody. You make trade war against China, trade war against Europe. War in Syria. War against Iran. Come on, it doesn’t work. You need ally. We are the ally.'”

“The U.S. and China may be taking steps to ease the trans-Pacific tensions that threaten to fracture key pillars of world-wide trade. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he may head to Beijing for trade negotiations, and China says it welcomes the move following weeks of harsh words and new tariffs that threaten to escalate into a full trade war” [Wall Street Journal]. “On the Pacific, bulk vessels carrying U.S. sorghum to China turned around soon after Beijing added the major American export to its list of targets for retaliatory tariffs.”

“One of the shipping industry’s biggest acquisitions is caught up in U.S. national-security concerns. A U.S. review of Cosco Shipping Holdings Co.’s proposed $6.3 billion purchase of rival Orient Overseas International Ltd. is raising concerns about the Chinese state-run conglomerate’s control of a major container terminal at California’s Port of Long Beach” [Wall Street Journal]. “Cosco has told U.S. officials they are willing to sell or carve out the Long Beach Container Terminal, but it’s unclear whether that would satisfy the U.S. The terminal is one of the one of the few in the U.S. that is automated and can handle the new generation of bigger ships, and for Cosco it’s what one official called a ‘prized asset’ in the deal. The company’s acquisition fits in with Beijing’s global ‘one belt, one road’ initiative and the review signals the expansion faces clear limits.” The Port of Piraeus is one thing. The Port of Long Beach is quite another.



“Bernie Sanders Is Quietly Building a Digital Media Empire” [New York Magazine]. Worth reading in full. “Sanders is after something bigger, and he’s getting there, in eye-popping fashion. In its first year, Bernie TV’s viewership soared: His office says his 2017 videos were viewed over 800 million times, led by a clip described as ‘Here’s what happened when a Republican senator challenged a Canadian doctor on their single-payer health care system,” which has been watched 32 million times.” My weakness here is that I’m hyper-focused on print….

2018 Midterms

“Democrats Are Primed to Win Big, Reclaim the House, and Save Our Democracy. Here’s How They Could Blow It.” [Jonathan Alter, Daily Beast]. “[A] remnant of lefties are still living in Jill Steinland—acting as if the midterms are in the bag and they can indulge in expensive primary fights over minor policy differences that drain resources from the constitutionally critical task at hand.” Alter helpfully reminds us that liberals and the left are, in fact, enemies. I mean, you kick your enemies, right? Well done.

“Democrats Look To Their Successful 2006 Messaging In Bid To Retake The House” [Amanda Terkel, HuffPo]. “Democrats are looking back to the last time they took control of the House for lessons on what may work this year, and they’re starting to narrow in on a major theme: the Republican “culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.” Holy moly. 2006 was Iraq, Katrina, and Bush trying and faiing to privatize Social Security. The story also mentions the Mark Foley scandal, which broke in September. Hilariously, burying the Foley matter in the House ethics committee was (IIRC) the second thing Pelosi did the day after election day, the first being taking impeaching Bush off the table. None of this means what Terkel thinks it means.

“Multiple indicators, including generic ballot polls , President Trump’s approval ratings and recent special election results, point to midterm danger for Republicans. But without robust race-by-race polling, it’s trickier to predict individual races six months out. Are Democrats the favorites to pick up the 23 seats they need for a majority? Yes, but it’s still not certain which races will materialize for Democrats and which won’t” [Cook Political Report]. “Our latest ratings point to 56 vulnerable GOP-held seats, versus six vulnerable Democratic seats. Of the 56 GOP seats at risk, 15 are open seats created by retirements. Even if Democrats were to pick up two-thirds of those seats, they would still need to hold all their own seats and defeat 13 Republican incumbents to reach the magic number of 218. Today, there are 18 GOP incumbents in our Toss Up column.” What we’re tracking in the Worksheet…

2016 Post Mortem

“‘We did it to ourselves’: Cory Booker blames low African American turnout for Trump’s win” [Guardian]. Booker is right, but get a load of this quote from Gillibrand: “Trump ‘is what the darkness looks like’, said Gillibrand. ‘He is what the darkness sounds like.'” Hysteria and oxymorons aside, I’m not sure what Booker would have thought about treating darkness as a sign of evil personified…

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Bernie Forces Ask Clinton And Top Democrats To Recommit To Cutting Superdelegates” [Ruby Cramber, Buzzfeed]. Lol no. “Elaine Kamarck, a DNC member who has studied presidential politics for years” actually wants to increase them.

It’s Frank Luntz’s job to be in touch. He’s not:

Since when is a pilot project “bold”?

Happy to see the Jobs Guarantee getting some press — it’s actually a good sign that a shameless opportunist like Booker is taking it up — but modified rapture:

“9 Democrats Sign Up To Help Wall Street Steal Cars” [Zach Carter, HuffPo]. “The CFPB’s description of Wells Fargo’s behavior is breathtaking. The company “forcibly placed duplicative or unnecessary insurance on hundreds of thousands” of vehicles owned by customers who had taken out a car loan with the bank… Yet some congressional Democrats are joining Republicans supporting legislation that consumer advocates say would strip the CFPB of the power to bring cases like the one it just settled with Wells Fargo. The bill, authored by one of the bureau’s most ferocious critics, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), has the backing of self-styled progressives, such as Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), along with six more conservative House Democrats and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).” This would seem to contradict Pelosi’s “culture of corruption” wheeze, but who’s looking for consistency or principle at this point? It’s a big tent…

Stats Watch

Chicago Fed National Activity Index, March 2018: “A drag from employment made for abrupt slowing in the national activity index” [Econoday]. “Winter months can often be bumpy given the outsized effects of seasonal adjustments during this period. But looking at the 3-month average shows steady growth for this index.” And but: “The single month index which is not used for economic forecasting which unfortunately is what the CFNAI headlines” [Econintersect]. “See the three month rolling average for the last 6 months – it shows an moderate economy.

Purchasing Managers’ Index Composite Flash, April 2018: “Manufacturing leads another solid PMI report” [Econoday]. “New orders are the highlight for April posting the best combined month in 2 years, with backlogs also at a 2-year best. In a sign of capacity stress, delivery times increased sharply for manufacturers. Tariffs make their appearance in prices and are cited as a key factor behind the sharpest price increase in input costs in nearly 5 years. Selling prices also continue to move higher in what points to future pressure for consumer prices.” And: “Businesses boosted production in April to match an increase in new orders” [MarketWatch]. “Companies also acted more aggressively to secure materials from suppliers because they are taking longer to deliver them. That suggests companies are running into bottlenecks, a potential hurdle for the economy if the situation gets worse.”

Existing Home Sales, March 2018: “Supply is coming into the market and sales are improving” [Econoday]. “At the same time, sellers are getting what they’re asking.” And: “Sales were above the consensus view. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory – and inventory is still low” [Calculated Risk]. And: “Sales of previously-owned homes rose 1.1% in March, but were 1.2% lower than a year ago” [MarketWatch].

Housing: “Housing Recoveries without Homeowners: A Global Perspective” [Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis]. “As rents grew relative to home prices, together with the low returns of safe assets, rental properties became a more attractive investment. This attracted real estate investors who bid up prices while depressing the homeownership rate. Moreover, builders increased their supply of apartments and other multifamily developments…. In addition, the widespread use of internet rental portals such as Airbnb and VRBO has increased the opportunity to offer short-term leases, increasing the revenue stream from rental housing… There are several potential explanations, but more research is needed to determine the cause of the decoupling of house prices from homeownership rates and what it means for the economy.” I thought this was interesting, and I’d like to know what the housing mavens in the commentariat think of it.

Retail: “How vulture capitalists ate Toys ‘R’ Us” [The Week]. “[I]f Bain, KKR, and Vornado had never come along, Toys ‘R’ Us wouldn’t be doing stellar, but it probably could’ve muddled through. As recently as last year, the company still accounted for 20 percent of all U.S. toy sales. Instead, the [debt] legacy of the leveraged buyout turned this into an existential crisis, and Toys ‘R’ Us filed for bankruptcy midway through last year. Then, when holiday sales didn’t pan out, the company’s leadership decided to sell or shutter all its stores. And 33,000 working people could lose their jobs. Bain, KKR, and Vornado will have to write off their investment, of course. But they did suck around $200 million in fees out of Toys ‘R’ Us over the course of their ownership. Basically, the trio took an imperfect-but-functioning company and cannibalized it for cash.”

Retail: “Is Sears Disappearing Before Our Eyes?” [247 Wall Street]. “In a letter to Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD) dated last Friday, ESL Investments recommends that the company sell off its Kenmore appliance brand, its home improvement business (SHIP) and its Parts Direct business. ESL is the largest shareholder in Sears and one of its largest lenders. Eddie Lampert is also chief executive officer of both companies.” That seems like an odd arrangment. More: “If ESL gets what it wants — and it’s hard to believe there be a lot of competition for anything but the Kenmore brand — the only thing left of Sears will be its name and some Kmart stores that probably have a short shelf life.”

Shipping: “As IMO targets are questioned, what is the truth about shipping emissions?” [The Loadstar]. “First International chairman Paul Slater, questioned shipping’s role in climate change, calling the IMO’s proposed plan ‘fatuous, unrealistic and unnecessary.’ He wrote: ‘The CO2 issue has been grossly overstated…It has been shown that [shipping’s] CO2 is absorbed by seawater [!!] without damaging results’. He also claimed to The Loadstar that there was no evidence that polar ice was melting.” Hoo boy.

Shipping: “Workin’ on the railroad now comes with a bonus” [Kansas City Business Journal]. “The romance of the rails isn’t cutting it as a recruiting device. That’s why two large railroads are offering signing bonuses of up to $25,000 to new employees. Union Pacific is offering bonuses of $10,000 to to $20,000 to train crews in cities like Kansas City and North Platte, Neb., and $25,000 to electricians in other locations. BNSF has bonuses starting at $15,000 for some positions. In addition to starting bonuses, Union Pacific is offering retention bonuses for older worker considering retirement.”

Fodder for the Bulls: “U.S. economy hits brakes in early 2018, but it’s gassed up and ready to go for the spring” [MarketWatch]. “The expected slowdown is not a shocker. For one thing, it’s happened repeatedly over the past decade and a half. Growth starts out slow and then speeds up during the rest of the year…. After all, Americans spent a carload of money toward the end of 2017 in what was the best holiday shopping season since 2010. Consumer spending leaped 4% in the fourth quarter to mark the biggest advance in three years. Back-to-back 4% increases in consumer spending are quite unusual, though. The last time it happened was in 2003. In the early stages of 2018, Americans cut bank to rebuild their bank accounts after the savings rate fell to a 12-year low. As a result, the increase in consumer spending in the first quarter could drop to as low as 1%. That’s a big deal since consumers account for almost 70% of gross domestic product. As they go, so does the U.S. economy.” And then the argument that Trump’s tax cuts put more money in people’s pockets. Not mine!

Five Horsemen: “As the Five Horsemen chart approaches its one-year anniversary on Thursday, only Facebook has underperformed the S&P 500 index, by just over one percent” [Hat Tip, Jim Haygood].

Five Horsemen Apr 23 2018

NakedCap Mania-Panic Index: “The mania-panic eased to 52 (complacency) on Friday’s mild market decline” [Hat Tip, Jim Haygood]. (The NakedCap mania-panic index is an equally-weighted average of seven technical indicators derived from stock indexes, volatility (VIX), Treasuries, junk bonds, equity options, and internal measures of new highs vs new lows and up volume vs down volume … each converted to a scale of 0 to 100 before averaging, using thirty years of history for five of the seven series.)

Mania panic index Apr 20 2018

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 182.

* * *

During the Mini-Fundraiser, one contributor asked for the definition of the Bezzle. Via Ed Harrison, “This comes from Chapter VIII of Galbraith’s classic volume, The Great Crash 1929“:

“In many ways the effect of the crash on embezzlement was more significant than on suicide. To the economist embezzlement is the most interesting of crimes. Alone among the various forms of larceny it has a time parameter. Weeks, months or years may elapse between the commission of the crime and its discovery. (This is a period, incidentally, when the embezzler has his gain and the man who has been embezzled, oddly enough, feels no loss. There is a net increase in psychic wealth.) At any given time there exists an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement in – or more precisely not in – the country’s business and banks. This inventory – it should perhaps be called the bezzle – amounts at any moment to many millions of dollars. It also varies in size with the business cycle. In good times people are relaxed, trusting, and money is plentiful. But even though money is plentiful, there are always many people who need more. Under these circumstances the rate of embezzlement grows, the rate of discovery falls off, and the bezzle increases rapidly. In depression all this is reversed. Money is watched with a narrow, suspicious eye. The man who handles it is assumed to be dishonest until he proves himself otherwise. Audits are penetrating and meticulous. Commercial morality is enormously improved. The bezzle shrinks.”

Now, I intepret The Bezzle broadly; I’d put Theranos in that category, for example: There was indeed a net increase of “psychic wealth” — and not just psyhic! — in the interim between Holmes beginning her scam and the revelations of her chicanery. The progression from hubris to nemesis, interestingly, also has a “time parameter.”

News of The Wired

“Psychology suggests that when someone calls you the wrong name, it’s because they love you” [Quartz]. “So, the next time you call someone you love the wrong name, don’t fret: It’s just a sign that you are lucky enough to have multiple loved ones to keep track of.” And note the point on dogs.

“This new Nancy strip is lit – and it’s got people on the internet going crazy” [Comics Beat]. I never understood Nancy.

“MIT Researchers Have Developed a ‘System for Dream Control'” [Motherboard]. “So far Horowitz has tested the device on 15 subjects and found that it is able to reliably maximize the amount of time users spend suspended between wakefulness and sleep, as well as shape the content of the microdreams they experience. In other words, these MIT researchers have developed a low cost device that allows users to interface with sleep.” What could go wrong?

Amazon is a “writing company”:

Maybe that English degree is good for something after all. And that sound like a really good way to run a meeting (though not a mass meeting, I think).

“Jupyter, Mathematica, and the Future of the Research Paper” [Paul Romer]. “Jupyter rewards transparency; Mathematica rationalizes secrecy. Jupyter encourages individual integrity; Mathematica lets individuals hide behind corporate evasion. Jupyter exemplifies the social systems that emerged from the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, systems that make it possible for people to cooperate by committing to objective truth; Mathematica exemplifies the horde of new Vandals whose pursuit of private gain threatens a far greater pubic loss–the collapse of social systems that took centuries to build. Membership in an open source community is like membership in the community of science. There is a straightforward process for finding a true answer to any question. People disagree in public conversations. They must explain clearly and listen to those who response with equal clarity. Members of the community pay more attention to those who have been right in the past, and to those who enhance their reputation for integrity by admitting in public when they are wrong. They shun those who mislead. There is no court of final appeal. The only recourse is to the facts. It’s a messy process but it works, the only one in all of human history that ever has. No other has ever achieved consensus at scale without recourse to coercion.” Hmm.

“‘One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong'” (interview) [Jaron Lanier, The Atlantic (Deschain)]. Interesting:

sOne of the problems is that we’ve isolated ourselves through extreme wealth and success. Before, we might’ve been isolated because we were nerdy insurgents. But now we’ve found a new method to isolate ourselves, where we’re just so successful and so different from so many other people that our circumstances are different. And we have less in common with all the people whose lives we’ve disrupted. I’m just really struck by that. I’m struck with just how much better off we are financially, and I don’t like the feeling of it.

Personally, I would give up a lot of the wealth and elite status that we have in order to just live in a friendly, more connected world where it would be easier to move about and not feel like everything else is insecure and falling apart. People in the tech world, they’re all doing great, they all feel secure. I mean they might worry about a nuclear attack or something, but their personal lives are really secure.

And then when you move out of the tech world, everybody’s struggling. It’s a very strange thing. The numbers show an economy that’s doing well, but the reality is that the way it’s doing well doesn’t give many people a feeling of security or confidence in their futures. It’s like everybody’s working for Uber in one way or another. Everything’s become the gig economy. And we routed it that way, that’s our doing. There’s this strange feeling when you just look outside of the tight circle of Silicon Valley, almost like entering another country, where people are less secure. It’s not a good feeling. I don’t think it’s worth it, I think we’re wrong to want that feeling.

It’s not so much that they’re doing badly, but they have only labor and no capital. Or the way I used to put it is, they have to sing for their supper, for every single meal. It’s making everyone else take on all the risk.

Silicon Valley hears footsteps. Or the more alert do.


* * *

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 (LR):

Paging René Magritte!

* * *

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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. Arizona Slim

    Looks like that 4/20 Water Cooler had too much 420 on Friday. Because it’s still passed out on the floor, right below today’s Cooler.

    1. Stephen V.

      Appreciate this Johnny! The mind blowing part for me was the good news (refugees returning–what???) that we can’t even rely on any longer in so-called mainstream sources.

        1. The Rev Kev

          I saw the same clips by Jimmy Dore. Carla Ortiz said on them that 800,000 people had returned to their homes in Aleppo and that was some time ago so who knows how many are there now. Just for a bit of context, the population of San Franciso is what, 864,000 people?

    2. Geo

      I kept the issue of Newsweek I had from the Colin Powell talk at the UN building the case for war in Iraq and read it again the other night to remind myself of two things:

      1. Why I cancelled my subscription to Newsweek in 2003 and stopped relying on the MSM for news.
      2. How they haven’t even changed the script in all these years yet so many still call us naysayers conspiracy theorists. I guess Americans just love sequels and reboots no matter how derivative the story gets?

      I’m an art school drop out and even I knew the “mobile weapons labs” sounded like something a James Bond screenwriter would get fired for conjuring up and was in no way plausible. That it was used as “evidence” was astounding.

      But, once again we’re to believe a war torn regime is secretly making WMD’s in basements and our smart bombs know exactly where they are. And, not only that, there’s no toxic fallout from those bombings.

      I’d say the MIC needs better script writers but it seems their stories are still doing the job. Add enough action and intrigue and audiences overlook glaring plot holes.

  2. Wukchumni

    As far as i’m concerned, a bezzle is just an embellishment of bamboozle, and it would best be termed a ‘boozle’.

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”~ Carl Sagan

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      In Zen, anyone can become a Buddha, i.e. sudden enlightenment, or Subitism.

      You, me or Sagan.

      1. ambrit

        As a swordsman once put it; “Kendo Kandu Kensho.” Anyway you slice it, it’s still bread.

  3. Wukchumni

    It’s funny, Orwells Fargo employees only caterwaul over their overlords excessive earnings after they’ve been fined a billion bucks…
    “One is almost driven to the cynical conclusion that men are only decent when they are powerless.”~ Eric Blair

    1. KevinD

      Financial Advisors under the Wells umbrella have been raging for years now. Imagine trying to keep clients, when the bank side is raping and pillaging and headlines never stop…

        1. KevinD

          Yes, but the dilemma then is how many of your clients will jump ship with you, how many will remain?

  4. fresno dan

    “‘One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong’” (interview) [Jaron Lanier, The Atlantic (Deschain)]. Interesting:

    It’s not so much that they’re doing badly, but they have only labor and no capital. Or the way I used to put it is, they have to sing for their supper, for every single meal. It’s making everyone else take on all the risk.
    How secure would the tech oligarchs (or ANY oligarch) be if little Timmy Geithner hadn’t “foamed the runways”?
    They will never admit they owe keeping their wealth to who got the foam….

    1. Geo

      Whenever I end up in a discussion where someone complains about moochers taking advantage of welfare I reply I’ll care about that as soon as we do something about the hundreds of billions we spend each year providing welfare to fossil fuel, tech, agriculture and MIC corporations.

      The fact that so many are outraged by poor people playing the system when the rich are padding their pockets with billions is astonishing. I assume it’s ignorance of the situation since most seem to be unaware when I bring this up but it’s still a huge annoyance.

      1. Leslie C

        I used to suggest that anyone (person, contractor or corporation) getting assistance, loans, or payment from the government (other than government employees on a payroll) be forced to go to a building labeled WELFARE or GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE to pick up their check. Maybe force people getting tax write offs over a certain amount turn in their paperwork in the building, since that is not a direct payment ….

    2. Summer

      “How secure would the tech oligarchs (or ANY oligarch) be if little Timmy Geithner hadn’t “foamed the runways”?
      They will never admit they owe keeping their wealth to who got the foam….”

      The Bro & Bubble Culture of tech is the Bro & Bubble Culture inspired by Wall St./Finance.
      Two peas in a pod. Of course they dished out the big bucks to those who look like them and can put them algorithms away from accountability.

    3. clarky90

      “I’m sowwwwy. I’m wheelly wheely sowwwy! Pwweezzzz, can I have my hatchet back nowwww?”

  5. Filiform Radical

    The other day I attended a presentation by a Computer Science undergraduate about crowdsourcing text simplification. Currently, there is a company called Newsela which simplifies news articles to a variety of reading levels; his stated goal was to beat them and their ‘well-paid professionals’ with Mechanical Turk workers making 10 cents a sentence. When I asked him about the ethical implications of this, he seemed somewhat taken aback, then came out with the following gems:

    1) The benefits to society of having text simplification more widely adopted would outweigh the downsides.
    2) The Newsela workers were good enough at writing that ‘they could probably find other jobs.’

    You know, with those hyper-marketable English skills of theirs.

    1. Don Midwest USA

      Here are some thoughts from the French Polymath Bruno Latour that I find very significant and are destroyed by removing words. A few sentences

      I was immediately taken by Nietzchke’s idea that all philosophical and even scientific concepts are worn-out metaphors.

      With my background in math and science, I would never have figured that out.

      Continuing with Nietzchke

      “…ideas had flesh. After all Zarathustra is the best example of what Deleuze and Guattari have called “conceptual characters”, which I have chosen for the title of this little piece.

      That concepts are also characters is a lesson that I never forgot, and it immunized me completely against analytical philosophy, whose supposed obsession with language struck me, on the contrary, as a total insensitivity to style. If there is are any key differences left between French and American thinking cultures, this one strikes me as really decisive: attention to language is not the same as attention to writing. They put their ideas into writing; we write books. ….

      An article published in a session “Doing Humanities With Bruno Latour”

      A life Among Conceptual Characters

      New Literary History, special symposium on Latour and the Humanities edited by Rita Felski. Vol. 47, 463-476, 2016

      1. Oregoncharles

        Nietsche specialized in aphorisms, by definition statements that can’t spare a word.

        OTOH, he was quite capable of saying things just because they sounded good, so he’s a confusing philosopher to interpret.

      2. Amfortas the Hippie

        I never read Latour, but I agree.
        Neitszche cured me like a vaccine from ever getting the analytical bug. And Zarathustra is still my favorite(read it first when I was 8-10 and was enthralled).
        the analytics seem so dry by comparison,lol.
        link saved for coffee time manana.

        1. Darthbobber

          And yet Nietzsche is also regarded as a significant contributor to analytic philosophy.

        2. Drivel Detector

          Good choice not reading Latour. Read the book Fashionable Nonsense by Sokal & Bricmont and get another bunch of people that you don’t need to pay attention to. Have saved me hours and days from trying to “understand” drivel. As soon as I see a text referring to e.g. Lacan, Baudrillard I know I can skip the full trxt. Nothing coherent will come out of that text.

          1. Amfortas the Hippie

            took me forever to get to the French, especially from the 60’s on. Lack of translations, I’ve heard.
            so far, just a smattering of Foucault and a little Ponty.
            Woefully skinny book budget doesn’t help either,lol.

  6. allan

    Chinese researchers say historical map supports country’s claim to South China Sea [Globe and Mail]

    Two years after an international court struck down China’s dotted lines in the South China Sea as being “without lawful effect,” Chinese researchers have published details of a historical map that, they say, demonstrates a “border” in waters whose ownership is hotly disputed.

    The newly unearthed 1951 map, called the New Map of the People’s Republic of China, shows a continuous maritime line that extends far south of the Chinese mainland, looping around virtually the entire South China Sea, one of the world’s most important ocean-shipping bodies. The line comes within a hair of Malaysian Borneo, Brunei and the Philippines, and takes in Taiwan as well as many of the waters and ocean features whose ownership is also claimed by China’s neighbours.

    The researchers call it “the South China Sea U-Shape boundary line,” and recommend its use to “further express the certainty of the integrity, continuity and border of China’s seas.” …

    We’ve seen this movie before.
    Except Melvin Dummar didn’t have nuclear weapons, a rapidly expanding navy
    and a stranglehold on rare earths.

    1. Alex morfesis

      Just to make it easy on the Chinese…was thinking to name myself emperor of the new golden horde and just borrow back those little morsels of land since every one seems to want to get all historic like…then again…being from ithaki and alexander the great carried the illiad with him on his travels…and since alexanders half brother Mauro kleftis from Ethiopia had his remnants unite India (maurians means black folks in Greek) and the current folks improperly tagged as untouchables and dallits are his remnants after being pushed out of power…there fixed it for you Beijing… Just drop the keys in the basket on the way out…

      Old maps and history books…a simple path to war…

  7. Rosario

    Re: Pornstar’s mom disrespected by Bernie Sanders

    It is interesting how bourgeois liberals are even co-opting people they never gave a s*** about to get leftists eyes off the ball. “Ohh! You lefties really care about sex workers right? Look at what the big bad Bernie did to this current sex workers mom years ago!” Two birds with one stone, they pinned him with misogyny and disrespecting an oppressed labor group. For a male politician plying a progressive politics this can be a career death sentence…and this wasn’t done on purpose?

    Also, a minute of research will show that Lorelei is well out of working class sex worker territory now-a-days. Worth hundreds of thousand dollars with teaching gigs in NYC and SF. Must be nice! I can’t put aside the fact that this may be influencing her political motivations. Why could she not be constructive about it? Maybe say I had a bad experience with Bernie personally, but I don’t think his politics are bad. Ya know, things people do when they don’t have ulterior motives.

    On another note, I’d rather have sex workers that are not part of the 1%/10% defining the political agenda for all sex workers. I have a sneaking suspicion their political critiques would be a bit more nuanced than “Bernie did a bad thing years ago”. I see much less in common with a porn star working in what are largely high paying and (in comparison) safer porn productions in LA, Miami, etc. than a woman selling sex to pay bills because it is the best employment option of other (probably not so great) employment options. Let be real about the fact that not all sex workers choose the profession as a first choice. They choose it as the most realistic labor option of many at a given time. Much like other working class people who just need a job. Sure being a porn star or high end escort may be nice (pay, free time, etc.), but that is not reality for a majority of sex workers.

    Bernie is no paragon of sex workers rights (who the hell is in the USA), but free health care goes a pretty long way in a line of work where it is necessary on a regular basis…no? Maybe not gutting (and better yet expanding) reproductive healthcare for women (particularly of benefit to sex workers). Maybe free college education or other job opportunities for the women that would not like to work as sex workers until they are into old age? Maybe getting an actual progressive in office could lead to formal legal protection for sex workers as a longer term goal (something I highly doubt Hillary would champion as president). I could go on. Ultimately, if you think the guy has good policy ideas but you don’t like him personally maybe state that explicitly?

    Anyway, this mirrors similar problems British leftists have been having with Corbyn. The left really needs to disconnect the message from the messenger for these very reasons. Dig a hole on anyone and you’ll find dirt.

    1. JohnnyGL

      This counts as ‘dirt’????

      I actually laughed out loud when I read it…..I mean, really??? Mad because Bernie didn’t provide childcare at his event?!?!?! OMG?!?!?! This is what they’ve got on him????!!!!

      My only take away was….”wow, these people hate this guy”

      1. Rosario

        I personally don’t think it is dirt, I’m just concerned that it passes as dirt for a lot of people, particularly in Twitter and Facebook land. I still stand by the need to “deepen the bench” on the left though. We need more leadership just in case one of the hit jobs on Bernie actually gains some traction.

        1. JohnnyGL

          I suspect it’ll backfire like it usually does. It’s just too ridiculous on its face.

        2. Elizabeth Burton

          The simple fact of life is that kind of rubbish only appeals to the Clinton Cultists, who are the ones most likely to pass it along totally unread and un-analyzed via social media. And yes, they truly do hate Bernie—they’ll tell you as much. No reason ever given other than some anecdote or other, or the simple “he should have dropped out so she could be anointed” sort of answer.

          The trick isn’t to either defend against this sort of nonsense because that’s the goal. As with the trolls who will attack anyone who counters the acceptable narrative without actually offering any real counter-argument, the intent is to keep those pushing the progressive agenda so busy arguing the message doesn’t get out.

          That said, one could always counter a “he didn’t provide child care” whine with “he was the only one who promptly paid cities for the extra policing needed at one of his appearances.”

          1. FluffytheObeseCat

            “that kind of rubbish only appeals to the Clinton Cultists, who are the ones most likely to pass it along totally unread and un-analyzed via social media”

            This is not wholly accurate. I’ve seen witlessly obedient, slavish Clintonites of this kind on Facebook, yes. However, the worst covert anti-Sanders actors out there – diatribing away in comments sections or sneering at length in paid op-eds – are sophisticated purveyors of identity politics, who represent themselves as ‘to the left’ of Clinton, Pelosi, etc.

            They are exquisitely certain that they – and they alone – are definitional of the ‘left’. They prioritize strict attention to gender or race……….. over ending poverty, or creating freedom from fear or want. And they put intense effort into Othering Sanders, and the kind of regular people he attracts.

            They tend to have degrees, you know, in the right disciplines. And Bernie ropes in the sort of people they despise: the middle aged, the overweight, community college graduates, and whites from third tier cities who don’t know what ‘intersectionality’ means.

            The worst anti-Sanders bigots are the creative classholes, not the dim, aging bunnies on your high school reunion FB page.

            1. Rosario

              I’ve noticed this phenomenon on the left as well. Though I think a majority of self identified leftists “get it” (at least most that I know) there is a vocal progressive minority, often academics, or prominent internet personalities, that bear the heavy burden of self righteousness when it comes to social issues, often to the detriment of effective leftist politics. Nary a political discussion can be had with this crowd without derailing the subject either into unchecked emotion or completely (at best vaguely) unrelated matters. The more dissociated from materialism and policy the discussion becomes the better, seems to be the MO.

              As perplexing as this is I’m wondering if this behavior is on purpose. As in, maybe their deservedly gainful employment (no sarc btw) depends on prying over and over on the thing they spent a majority of their adult life studying, say gender or race relations. These are important subjects, and continuously prying on the subject is largely normal for a specialist, unfortunately neoliberals are finding it useful to utilize these people as sheepdogs to herd leftists (myself included if I’m not careful) into manageable, and superficially progressive bins in order to move critique away from power as it is exercised through capital. The totem with the most power in my opinion. The progressive specialists, in turn, are happy to go along with this process because they are receiving a great deal of notoriety and attention for their work, though I would argue, it is for cynical reasons. Did Ta-Nehisi Coates see this when he spoke to many of Neoliberalism’s representatives in Aspen…I don’t know, but it is hard for me to believe he didn’t. Someone with his level of intelligence has to know what is going on.

              IMO, The whole point of the left should be critiquing power, and all the ways that it is exercised. How is it used and how is it abused? Gender, race, sexuality, and class are part of a whole. It just so happens that capital spans and reinforces all four, through the commodification of culture and identity, so any critique on power that leaves it out is just hand-waving bullshit, to be blunt.

              As of late, I am having a lot of contempt for the right, but I’m having a special kind of contempt for leftist sabotage, purposeful or not.

        3. Randy

          The right does not have a monopoly on low information voters, the Clinton wing of the Democrat party has their share too.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        People whose eyes are dirt will see dirt wherever they look.

        People whose brains are dirt will think dirt about whatever they think about.

        People who are dirt, like the Jonestown Clinties and the Jonestown Obies, will say dirt about whatever they think and see.

  8. Synoia

    Democrats Look To Their Successful 2006 Messaging In Bid To Retake The House

    We are Democrats,
    That’s our name!
    Politics and Mendacity
    That’s our game!

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Fool me once.

      Back around 2008 or 2009, i read a lot about people swearing they would never bank at the big banks again.

      “Never vote for that party again. I don’t care if they change management.”

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        How many of those people were able to find a non-big bank to bank at? How many of those people ever even actually ever even tried?

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Are we talking about the D party studying the big banks’ customer retention rates?

          “How many will actually abandon the party?”

          Perhaps that explains their current thinking.

  9. hemeantwell

    “Psychology suggests that when someone calls you the wrong name, it’s because they love you” [Quartz].

    IThe article takes an interesting phenomenon and turns it into an occasion for Cosmopolitan-level reassurance. Instead, being in love often involves some regression in the sense that those who have been lost can be found again, right in front of you. It’s not just a matter of wandering associative connections, but a wish for a return. And this doesn’t happen only in love, but also in any social relationship where it makes sense to talk about charismatic appeal.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      There are exceptions, I believe.

      When Biff calls Marty McFly ‘chicken’ in a diner, he is not in love with Marty.

  10. David, by the lake

    Re 2018 Midterms, Steinland, and “blowing it”

    I find it interesting that issues of imperialism, war, and the killing off of the American working class are cast as “minor policy differences.” Kick one’s enemies, indeed.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      He is strategically trying to shame and guiltstort all possible of his Steiner and Bernie readers into begging forgiveness from the Clintonite Sh@tocrat Party and voting for Clintonite Sh@tocrats all over again.

      Some Steiners and Bernies can be guiltstorted and psycho-manipulated. But how many? That is the question which the Clintonite Sh@tocrats and all their little Flying Monkeys, like Jonathan Alter, will find out in 2018 and 2020.

    2. Summer

      They also talk about fears of violence and danger from “populism”…the biggest purveyor of violence is imperialism.
      They call that violence “order” and “rules.”

      There has never been a dictator that wasn’t first and foremost propped up and normalized by the establisment of any given era.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      right before mom’s plumber ghosted me(cut the ethernet cable with sharpshooter), I was shocked that i was so proud of a person like Tucker,lol. All going rogue and off-script and all.
      Now I’m repaired/reanimated and you’re saying he’s been ghosted, himself?
      Reckon the Greenwald part was the bridge too far.
      Can’t have that kind of talk.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Novakula opposed both the Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Invasion. I wouldn’t be surprised if it rubbed off Carlson. Is he Catholic? Being regressive and nominally being opposed to war is a position held by the Catholic Church on occasion.

      “Opposed” while simultaneously worshipping every Republican ghoul who made Tucker Carlson seem sane.

  11. flora

    re “MIT Researchers Have Developed a ‘System for Dream Control’” [Motherboard].

    The Lathe of Heaven project?

    1. Mo's Bike Shop

      Only read the blurb but it seems like cats do this to us already. ‘He’s breathing a little heavy, better lie on his face.’, etc.

  12. allan

    More than 40% of tax law’s ‘pass through’ benefit goes to millionaires, Congressional estimate finds [Marketwatch]

    … The law created a new deduction of 20% for many owners of pass-through businesses, including S corporations and partnerships, which do not pay corporate taxes. They instead pay taxes on their owners’ individual returns.

    Figures released by the Joint Committee on Taxation on Monday show that about 44% of the break’s benefit will go to business owners with income of $1 million or more. The break is estimated to cost the government $40.2 billion this year. …

    Sure, they’re millionaires, but single-digit millionaires are the back row kids of the .001%.

  13. none

    “Jupyter rewards transparency; Mathematica rationalizes secrecy….”

    Hate to say this since I’m a free software activist but the above Paul Romer article is insane. Mathematica was and is a perfectly good niche product and back in the 1990s it was indeed technically ahead of the free-software alternatives. But Jupyter and Mathematica Notebooks are glorified word processors. There’s not a profound attitudinal difference between their users. At best one can say that Jupyter (being free) has been able to benefit from network effects more easily. But it’s users aren’t activists, they’re just users; and Mathematica users aren’t particularly plutocratic Vandals (Romer hyperbolically uses the term Vandals) any more than today’s users of Microsoft Word are.

    I’d like to eliminate Microsoft Word everywhere in the world for sure (Libre Office works fine for almost everything), but Microsoft Word users are just regular folks trying to get their work done, and Word is not a threat to civilization in anything like the way Facebook is. The situation with Mathematica is nowhere near as annoying as even the one with Microsoft Word.

    Terminology note: Mathematica is mathematical software that’s very technically advanced (though the free alternatives are competitive now). Mathematica Notebooks is an add-on product that wraps a word-processor-like user interface around Mathematica. Jupyter is a similar interface around various free Python-based mathematical tools. That is, neither Notebooks or Jupyter are terribly advanced technology in their own right. They’re good software but they’re just software written by ordinary code geeks. The heavy math is the underlying stuff that they are wrapped around.

  14. Eustache De Saint Pierre


    ” Mathematica exemplifies the horde of new Vandals whose pursuit of private gain threatens a far greater pubic loss “

    1. none

      Mathematica is an almost 30 year old product (late 1980s) so it doesn’t exemplify a new anything. It’s a software package that was and is of use to some people in a certain niche. There was academic software like Macsyma going back even further, that it competed with. It made enough money that the guy who started the company was able to buy a BMW and probably a nice house, but he never gained anything like Gates or Bezos-level wealth. He is still around writing weird books.

      Of course I’d prefer that it was free software but as far as software with destructive follow-on effects go, it would be way, way, way down in my list.

      1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

        Thank you for the information, but I only posted the above as I was amused by the implications of use for one’s short & curlies.

  15. s

    Thanks for doing the water cooler, and for explaining ‘the bezzle’!
    I’d assumed it had to do with the features on a Rolex, presumably one acquired with embezzled funds. . .

  16. ewmayer

    o “‘We did it to ourselves’: Cory Booker blames low African American turnout for Trump’s win” [Guardian]. Booker is right… — Booker is right only in a very narrow numerical vote-count sense that disregards the *why* of the low black voter turnout. Perhaps the crooked Dem leadership rigging the party primary process in order to install a transparently corrupt, out-of-touch, Republican-in-all-but-name and elite-entitled nominee who once referred to young black men as “superpredators” may have had something to do with it? To use one of your favorite turns of phrase, Lambert, just spitballin’ here…

    o “MIT Researchers Have Developed a ‘System for Dream Control’” [Motherboard] … What could go wrong?” — Suggest you watch a few episodes of the USA Network drama Falling Water for some possible ideas. :)

    1. dcblogger

      Oh for crying out loud, it is too early for that. In any case there will be other choices on the ballot. You don’t have to vote for either D or R, there will be other choices.

      1. Oregoncharles

        In most states. A few – N. Carolina, Indiana, ? – are virtually impossible.

        But I agree: the point of a protest vote is to send a message, and Trump sends the wrong message altogether. I have the same issue with not voting: no message. Skipping a position, called the undervote, while voting on others does send a message, essentially “none of the above.”

        With paper ballots, skipping has its hazards. In another county in Oregon, an electoral official was caught “voting” unvoted positions for Republicans. There should really be a bubble for “not voting this position.” And preferably for “none of the above.”

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Perhaps you-all are correct in that I spoke too soon and reflexively. Perhaps Booker is not as evil and upper-class-agent destructive as Obama was and as Clinton was going to be.

          But if I decide that he is ( if he should be nominated), then I will cast a vote likeliest to keep him out of office. I didn’t “protest vote” against Clinton. I “survival voted” against Clinton. The greatest chance of keeping her out of office and thereby unable to topple Assad and create a Jihadi Terrorist emirate in Syria was to vote for Trump. So I did.

          Also, the greatest chance of keeping her out of office so she couldn’t start the nuclear war she wants to start with Russia was voting for Trump. So I did.

          Survival, not protest . . . in that election.

          But yes, if the Democrats nominate someone who would not be a threat to my survival if elected, then I will indulge myself in the luxury of a protest vote.

  17. The Rev Kev

    “Cory Booker’s new big idea: guaranteeing jobs for everyone who wants one”

    Hey, that’s a really good idea that. An excellent idea. I know it is not my country but I have a speech lined up for Cory to help him out with this idea. Good one Cory.


    Check out what he says after the 1:00 mark.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Let Booker stay in the Senate a few more terms and fight this good idea into Law.

  18. Plenue

    >Amazon is a “writing company”

    To be honest, I don’t know if this is actually an improvement over the PowerPoint presentations. Six page narratives for staff meetings?

    I’ve grown increasingly intolerant of verbose writing; it’s a freaking waste of my time. I have a million things I need to get through and only so much time in the day. When I see a giant wall of text, my eyes usually just glaze over and I click away. Just get to the damn point.

    On a related note, I’ll freely admit I only read a fraction of what is posted in these daily Links and Water Cooler posts. The sheer volume is staggering.

    1. herman_sampson

      I hope the English majors working in the Amazon warehouses can reflect on Bezos’s conce runs while trekking to and from their 15 minute breaks, where the break room is 5 minutes away (as I have heard).

  19. Miamijac

    Hello boys and girls. No comments about the Cosco Shipping Holdings Co.’s thing and the Port of Long Beach. Anyone got a list of folks who thought this was a good idea? American Capitalists’s at their very best.
    I like Trump using a steel executive to sort steel tarriffs. All i see is Victor Posner coming in to gut Sharon Steel circ 1970.

  20. The Rev Kev

    In other news, the Syrians and Russians have cleared yet another large pocket of Jihadists, namely the Eastern Qalamoun pocket to the east of Damascus-


    This will have the effect of releasing thousands of Syrian soldiers to take part in cleaning up the remaining pockets in sort of like a domino effect. Meanwhile the G7 ministers have agreed that, yes, Assad must step down as part of their peace process having not apparently read any newspapers the past two years.

  21. integer

    Re: “Democrats Are Primed to Win Big, Reclaim the House, and Save Our Democracy. Here’s How They Could Blow It.” [Jonathan Alter, Daily Beast]

    Michael Weiss is a senior editor at Daily Beast:

    Reminder: A bunch of pro regime change people who accused @Partisangirl of having cosmetic surgery. When she responded with a photo of herself as a child proving them wrong, Michael Weiss compared the photo of her as a child to looking like a prostitute. He’s a sick demon.


    Worth reading through the replies.

    1. integer


      Unpacking the Shadowy Outfit Behind 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story Consortium News

      The image above is the clincher or game winner that supplies the necessary proof up front and the direct path to PropOrNot. This was a passive scan of Propornot.com showing the administrative dashboard belongs to the InterpreterMag.com as shown on the left of the image. On the right, it shows that uploads to Propornot.com come from InterpreterMag.com and is a product of that publication.

      Now we have the first layer of PropOrNot and our first four contestants. We have a slew of new media organizations that are influenced by, or feeding PropOrNot. Remember, fake news got off the ground and got its wings because of the attention this website received from the Washington Post in Dec. 2016.

      At the Interpreter Mag level, here are the people:

      Michael Weiss is the Editor-in-Chief at the InterpreterMag.com. According to his Linkd profile, he is also a National Security Analyst for CNN since July 2017 as well as an Investigative Reporter for International Affairs for CNN since April 2017. He has been a contributor there since 2015. He has been a Senior Editor at The Daily Beast since June 2015.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      That Ian/PartisanGirl thing is really disturbing, though apparently Ian went on Sky News and owned the British goverment.

      Seems like a particularly nasty set of mediocrities called The Atlantic Council is taking point on this. Never heard of ’em ’til recently, but I guess they’re young, hungry, and willing to do anything….

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