2:00PM Water Cooler 12/24/2018

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, this is an open thread for those of you who are not tied up with travel, or wrapping presents, or doing last minute shopping, or whatever it is you do for the holidays. I will take Christmas Day off, and then return Wednesday, though probably not at full force; it’s nice to have a vacation! Enjoy the day! –lambert

Some conversation starters–

I love “Poorly Drawn Cats” as a business concept:

And speaking of Steve Mnuchin:

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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 (AA):

AA writes: “Nest year’s basil and sweet potatoes in the windowsill.” This is the kind of kitchen it would be nice to come home to.

* * *

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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. SerenityNow

    For those interested in housing: Minneapolis recently adopted a plan that could lead to legalizing more housing in all areas throughout the city. The state of Oregon might be seeing a bill soon to eliminate single family zoning restrictions in towns over 10,000. Does anyone see similar progress in their cities and towns? Is there real change afoot?

    1. Big River Bandido

      There was a discussion about this sometime in the last week; either the Links or Water Cooler contained a link and I remember reading it. Can’t be more than a week old, I think…

    2. howseth

      Has me wondering. Here, in California – Santa Cruz, where I live, there is a call for more housing – and we also have several thousand homeless wandering, and tenting, and living in their vehicles. In our particular neighborhood – strangers are constantly appearing – don’t always know which ones are mentally ill, and/or drug addicted, or are meth dealers and/or thieves, or young adventurers, or someone recently lost their jobs – or just got priced out of housing. Or, some combination of all of the above. The housing and homeless situation looks serious.

      There are all kinds of local discussions here in Santa Cruz about it – What to do? Build more housing in all parts of the city? I don’t know about that.. At least make it a city decision. If you make it state wide law – you take it out of the hands of the community – Are we to trust the land developers and builders – some out of town- given carte blanche right to do whatever for profit? What about infrastructure, water supply problems, road capacity? Is the state gonna raise taxes for those things?

      Meanwhile, as I understand it, The California University System – an out of town Board of Regents, has been endlessly pushing to drastically increase enrollment at the University at Santa Cruz – yet they do not have plans to pay for an equivalent share of more student housing on campus. (It’s a very big campus) The surrounding community is then inundated with students sharing formerly single family residencies. I suppose a profit center now for whoever rents out these houses. Raises rents for everyone too. The goals of the State – and the needs of the community not lining up in this.

      1. jrs

        “What about infrastructure, water supply problems, road capacity? Is the state gonna raise taxes for those things?”

        If people are already living somewhere even if they are homeless don’t these problems already exist? Ok maybe many of the homeless don’t have cars, but additional potential problems exist like hepatitis outbreaks, really also a problem of lack of infrastructure, that is toilets.

        The state maybe doesn’t handle it best, but at this point it does seem a statewide issue, is there almost any city in CA that doesn’t have a housing crisis at this point?

        1. howseth

          State changes a law – then does not back it up with anything but words.
          (The city recently installed a couple porta-potties down the block. I heard the County and the City are at odds with who should pay for such things.)

          I think the State should be involved in funding law changes – also the Federal government. Taxes should go up if need be – and needs be. – not down – and earmarked to help with these infrastructure and housing problems: (Sorry, disgruntled self reliant hardworking people. State taxes up, Federal taxes up – and definitely not siphoned off to military contractors…. and throw in taxes for some kind of Federally mandated ‘Medicare for all’, while we are at it. That might help).

      2. Nealser

        I visited Santa Cruz last month as my daughter is at UCSC. She is one of six sharing a small 3 bed house. I couldn’t believe the high number of homeless people around the town. In cars doorways, Coffee shops. There is a desperate need for social housing

      3. SerenityNow

        @Howseth—The last 50 years have shown that when you leave zoning regulations in the hands of the community, they will consistently zone against anything that will negatively impact home values. Higher level intervention is the only way to remove enforced artificial scarcity. At the end of the day, zoning is asset value insurance backed by the municipality.

        And although I am not a developer, I often find myself standing up for them trying to build housing for a profit—our society has decided that that is the way want housing to get built. So if builders don’t get profits, but the state won’t build housing either, then housing is always going to be undersupplied. And what about the generous profits homeowners recieve when selling their house for X over what they paid for it? They are taking advantage of public investments capitalized into their home prices and then making off with it.

      4. Cal2

        Just look at pictures of Hong Kong and ask yourself, are there homeless people there?
        Of course not, they can rent little cages in those high rises, problem solved.
        Let’s build out Santa Cruz and YOUR city to make it look like Hong Kong. Think of the profits to landowners, developers and the votes from grateful occupants.


        1. Oregoncharles

          There are more empty houses than homeless people; the problem isn’t supply, it’s distribution.

          Richmond, CA was going to use the power of eminent domain to seize empty, foreclosed houses, at market value, and put homeless people in them; but the banks threatened a capital strike – they were going to cut the city off, so it backed down on that plan.

          One more reason for public banks.

          1. ChristopherJ

            That’s terrible, Charles, and shows how powerful we have allowed our banking sector to become. Having them fund deficits which the Feds could just spend was never a good idea

      1. polecat

        How about ‘Obamavillers’ … ?? as that includes any and homeless folk, villes or otnerwise.

        Thanx Obama ! You really fixed some things .. you wanker !!
        Oh, and by the way .. those cooool hightone boots Michelle showed off just the other day — I’m sure they look mighty classy … as she detours around the lumpin poor who are really hurtin ..

          1. ambrit

            That’s why that “news item” is part of the build up to the Hillary/Michelle 2020 Campaign.
            Roman Emperors would adopt promising young politicos as successors, to make the dynasty safe. Hillary is just taking out some insurance in case Chelsea has an attack of ‘common sense’ any time between now and the hand over of power.

  2. shinola

    Best wishes for the holidays to all you NC readers and a great big THANK YOU to Yves, Lambert, J-LS et al for all their hard work in bringing this website to a world that sorely needs it.

    1. Annotherone

      I’ll happily second that, and add thanks and best wishes too to all regular commenters here, who add much to the interest and information to be found at NC.
      Happy Everything Y’all!

      1. dk

        All of the above :)
        Here’s to a coming year of doing useful things beyond the usual, and helping each other simply because that makes things better for all (even if it’s not what we dreamed of).

    2. JTMcPhee

      Belated thanks and best wishes to our site owners and all who contribute, and a thankful reminder that there’s a whole bunch of people who also observe, learn, and are occasionally stung to contribute good thoughts and insights.

      We all, I believe, are struggling to make sense of what is, understand how things got this way, and maybe find a path or paths into a more decent and survivable future. (Apologies to those who understand the universe as vibes and cycles, rather than linear time and cause and effect, and have re-conceived suffering and fear in a different way. Wish I could join you. )

      May the new year bring us all better tidings.

      1. Connie Palmer

        Thanks so much for your posting the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the religiosity removed. I loved the singing from Cambridge too – really touched my heart.
        I hope that you enjoyed a peaceful Christmas Day. We are blessed to have your commentary here at NC.

    1. lee

      Alas, a practice neither new nor uncommon, often instigated by insurance companies. I’m assuming Amazon is self-insured so far as liability is concerned.

      1. JTMcPhee

        A common behavior for employers trying to avoid workers comp claims. No doubt there is some cheating by workers, under the cruel and business-biased workers comp system. The Big Law Firm I worked for had a pair of attorneys who provided WC “services” for Big Clients, a nice fillip —and they would float over “catching the cheaters.” And share their triumphs over lunch.

        But injured workers without a safety net and in this atomized system have to haul the trash, get food, fix things that break— often suffering further injury and living in fear of being “caught” doing stuff the docs and admin officials say they shouldn’t be able to do. Desperation everywhere. No wonder at all why death rates are rising, whether “natural” or self-inflicted.

        And so many of us deprecate the fellow mopes who are “caught by the private eyes,” don’t we?

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          aye. they do this with things like Disability and SSI, too.
          problem is, certain ailments are all but invisible.
          like mine.
          when I’m having a pain day, nobody sees me, because I don’t get out of bed.
          assumption of fraud is common in all those poor people programs.

  3. WJ

    St Paul is moving in similar directions. My sense is that the city boards of the Twin Cities are looking to increase density so as to increase property tax revenue and lucrative new construction projects for politically connected contractors and builders. St Paul is planning to develop a very dense housing area on the site of the old Ford Plant. I am skeptical about how this will turn out given lack of public transport and/or thoroughfares in the highland park area of the city. Most of the planned residences are for singles and couples with no kids. Not sure how this will help increase and/or diversify family housing in St Paul but can definitely see it increasing tax revenue to the city.

    1. SerenityNow

      Reducing zoning restrictions often gets sold as a city’s attempt to increase tax revenues. But it is also fundamentally about allowing more flexibility in what people are able to build–if there is no need for more dense housing, then people have nothing to worry about, the market won’t build it. If there is, then it will get built–and isn’t that a good thing? Are singles and couples without kids somehow corrosive to communities?

      Long ago the our (US) society decided that it wanted to rely on “the market” to produce housing for people of whatever income level. Within this chosen paradigm, encouraging more private development on its own is really the only way to get that done. If public entities were still building large amounts of housing then perhaps we could continue to pretend that single family homes are not as wasteful a housing type as they are, but it just doesn’t seem likely to happen.

      1. WJ

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. As for singles and couples vs families, there is no necessary conflict there, except that the kind of local amenities, civic programs, tax expenditures singles and couples of a certain age and economic background tend to support are not always the ones that family households tend to. But that’s democracy etc and no big deal unless the percentage of singles/families swings wildly very rapidly.

  4. Hana M

    Seth Rudy’s Twitter feed is very amusing. Excellent find. I am trying hard not to get lured back into that appalling time trap….still….

  5. jo6pac

    Some good news for workers.


    I spent my morning going 30mi one way to get my stolen utility trailer. $400 storage fees but the crew there was nice enough to put in both tires and tighten down the straps. The bad guys did dump the yard trash for me but now it’s filled with pallets. The good news is once I go to DMV:( to get new license plate and can take it to place near by that buys pallets:-)

  6. bob

    More than a 20% drop in sp500 since September highs. Down another 2.5% today.

    Steve’s in Mexico, calling bank CEO’s and making sure everyone knows-


    1. apotropaic

      But hey, The President is fine and dandy. Maybe Just a little unusual. At least he won’t start a war!

      No need to concern yourself with any kind of criticism, ever, cuz Amy of that is just sour grapes and makes you a centrist pragmatist dem with no brains.

      Ya know, the people said give him a chance and he’s certainly not as bad as the democrat party makes him out to be.

      It isn’t like he blames the Fed 100% or would consider firing the Fed chair. Don’t worry about THAT!

      Thank god!

      But seriously, what will it take for the “volatility voter” to ever concede that the volatility we are getting is a bit more than we bargained for.

      I was partially on board when Teump won. Maybe it would lead to change via differentiation. But I don’t get it if you still think that. This shit is real.

      1. pretzelattack

        look at the reaction of the “centrists” to even a tactical retreat from syria. all this tells me is we had 2 (family blog) choices. a war with russia is a bit more volatility than i want, too. that would also be real.

    1. Clive

      It was indeed well worth of attention. I shall give it some more tomorrow and thank you for a good distraction from turkey, mince pies and the overwhelming temptation to stab various trying relatives with a cake fork.

      If I may also add, perhaps as a vaguely related adjunct to Lambert’s other post (the content of which I’m still working on! Crikey, challenging material or what!?) may I also offer:


      The European Union has the potential, not yet fully realised, to be a context of cooperation beyond the nation-state. Another important result of the Leave vote is that a searching light has been shone upon the Union itself, and its leaders are now called to clearly articulate a positive vision of its future.

    2. ChristopherJ

      Yes, very long as it is actually a transcript from a talk by Steven Colatrella in Padua, Italy. Good overview of how capitalism and democracy have evolved and how the US has not, until now, had to compete for mobile capital. Get a big cuppa ready

  7. John k

    Happy holidays to all, and particularly those that work so hard to bring us such interesting insights in the interesting times we live in.

    On a more somber note, it may be Hussman time. Stopped clocks, twice a day etc.

  8. Louis Fyne

    >>AA writes: “Nest year’s basil and sweet potatoes in the windowsill.

    LMAO. I have 2019’s tomatoes and peppers growing on the kitchen floor next to the window.

    glad to see that I’m not the only gardening nut who does that.

    Merry Christmas to all the fellow gardening nuts out there in the electronic ether

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      alas, i had hoped to have the attached greenhouse finished and up and running some time ago. life intervened.
      it makes for a warm bath on a cold day, so long as the sun is out….and it helps heat the house.
      100% recycled/reclaimed/otherwise liberated material.
      once the shelves are finished, I’ll plant all those tree seeds i picked up this fall around the medical center(4 kinds of oak, madrone(!), mountain laurels, sycamore and walnut(for the graywater driven little wetland))
      I want tomatoes all year, too.

      and I came across this in the margin of one of the Links this am:

      Thought it was cool to think about.
      and we all should strive to be cool this yule, as it were.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > i had hoped to have the attached greenhouse finished and up and running some time ago. life intervened. it makes for a warm bath on a cold day, so long as the sun is out….and it helps heat the house.

        Yes, a greenhouse properly positioned can help heat the house. Impressive!

    2. petal

      1st seed catalogue appeared in the mail today. Is it too early to start planning?
      Happy Christmas, y’all. Be safe.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        my first came today, too,lol.
        seems early.
        you all have a nice christmas…and be sure to check out the moon tonite…or early in the am.

            1. ambrit

              Ye gads! All this time I’ve been living a lie!
              This full moon, I’m told, is the Cold Moon. Nothing about brightness, lensing, or colouring. Blast!

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          does planning cease, so to begin anew?
          i find that i can’t help it,lol.
          now, if only labor and capital would fall from the sky….

          thought of you when i read this. fella sounds like a Thomist, but that’s not such a bad thing, as conservative philosophers go.
          “…But poetry and philosophy, art and music cannot break open and take root in souls that have not been taught how to read and look and listen in silence, patiently awaiting and anticipating the dislocating shock of wonder. The virtues that are required to learn from the classics are cultivated only by habitual exposure to the classics. The survival of the liberal arts—of education as such—depends on the existence of teachers who treasure the precious inheritance of the past and are allowed to transmit it to their students. This is a hard truth, for if present trends continue, such teachers will all but vanish from American colleges and universities within a generation. Still, the humanities will not be entirely extinguished. Quietly sustained by individual readers and writers, artists and poets, the vital tradition will shelter underground until it someday sprouts in new forms.”

          that “dislocating shock of wonder” was called Thaumazein(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_(emotion)) by the Greeks.
          It’s one of my favorite words.So I’ll give it to you.
          Merry Christmas.

  9. BoyDownTheLane

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/24/politics/mccaskill-exit-interview/index.html in which Claire McCaskill warns Democrats in general, and AOC in particular about cheap talk.

    “… McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who’s in her final days in office after losing her bid for a third Senate term, told CNN in a wide-ranging interview that her party must begin to focus and deliver on real issues to attract independent and white working class voters — not pie-in-the-sky policy ideas, such as tuition-free college, that have little chance of becoming law. Her concern: Voters grow cynical after hearing campaign promises that never go anywhere, empowering forces like President Donald Trump to rail against Washington for failed promises, as he did in 2016.
    Democrats, she suggested, should be cautious about the rise of politicians like the 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez, who vanquished a Democratic leader, Joe Crowley, in her primary, and have vowed sweeping changes in policy.
    “I don’t know her,” McCaskill said when asked if she’d consider Ocasio-Cortez a “crazy Democrat” like the ones she decried on the campaign trail. “I’m a little confused why she’s the thing. But it’s a good example of what I’m talking about, a bright shiny new object, came out of nowhere and surprised people when she beat a very experienced congressman.”
    McCaskill added, “And so she’s now talked about a lot. I’m not sure what she’s done yet to generate that kind of enthusiasm, but I wish her well. I hope she hangs the moon.
    “But I hope she also realizes that the parts of the country that are rejecting the Democratic Party, like a whole lot of white working class voters, need to hear about how their work is going to be respected, and the dignity of their jobs, and how we can really stick to issues that we can actually accomplish something on.”….”



    Enjoy your figgy pudding….

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well . . . . the ex-Democratic voters of Missouri didn’t hear about any of that from McCaskill, did they? If they had, they would have voted for her, eh?

      Maybe AOC should say THAT if she is asked about “McCaskill’s thoughts”.

  10. Richard

    I thought I invented bad/quick cat drawings, my default cheery symbol for years of second graders. Okay, I didn’t think I invented them. But damn, I could have been making money here, and not just drawing free catheads, free of charge.

  11. ewmayer

    Here’s a link to a pic of the space in front of my living room window, you folks with Brio-style wooden train sets will like it. Got the Music Choice “Light Classical” music channel on the TV … right now playing a bit of Rameau, I love the baroque masters.

    Happy holidays to all, and to the hardworking NC staff, thanks for all you do!

      1. ewmayer

        Thanks! The nephews liked the train set, but literally 30 seconds after seeing it asked “do you have more track pieces we can use?” and immediately set about modifying the layout into a topologically-even-more-interesting one reminiscent of something out a Dr. Seuss book. Good times.

  12. Craig H.

    An Open Thread?

    The symbol of the siren is in your face almost any where you go on the planet earth.

    Symbol of the siren image

    Chances are well over 50% this is completely a cosmic accident. Maybe it is not. If it is not, what in the heck is it doing there?

    Christopher Knowles has some interesting theories and the blog post is absolutely the perfect form for whatever you call what it is that he does.

    Where There’s Smoke…
    The Secret Sun
    Friday April 27 2018

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      From the article:

      The combination of relatively generous health benefits among union workers in the state and entrenched Democratic Party ties helps explain the spotty labor support for state-level single payer legislation.

      Patronage is, I suppose, a form of rent…

  13. Altandmain

    One thing I will not miss – endless Christmas songs being played at stores. They’ve been playing them since Halloween ended …

    1. ambrit

      You fiend! And here I was expecting Ozzy Osbourne doing holiday ‘classics!’
      The provenance of that wall hanging critter is suspect. I never heard of big bucks in Oz.
      Enjoy your tropical Holiday Inn. A remake of the Bing Crosby film with Aussie actors, a la, ‘Priscilla: Queen of the Holiday Inn’ might go over nicely.
      Be happy, and safe.

      1. skippy

        The deer is decades old and Oz does have some big bucks, not to mention a family member owns an hunting preserve that serves international clientele – some years ago on NC I noted the head of Russian security had a holiday there.

        Anywho it was just a photo on my Ozzie Xmas view from the formal dinner table at the olds eating, Ham, Morton bay bugs, and oysters with sides. Wife and kids are up at Noosa whilst I dog set and have work on tomorrow and will only be taking new years day off too. The growing all black 5 month old German shepherd needs lots of work, bad form to have some 60kg+ dog with bad manners if you know what I mean – http://i67.tinypic.com/33m74ly_th.jpg

        Hes only half grown in the pic, from the other day, at around 40kg and Rue in the back ground is just a treat and could work as a service dog with her demeanor.

        Anyway that’s my wife on the far right of the cupboard from her 80s youth, oh, I forgot to mention and want to blame NC for her planing to do the whole French rowing thingy next year with youngest 90kg 14 year old boy ….. shakes fist – !!!!!!!

        1. Yves Smith

          Just so you know, “bugs” are crustaceans, similar in form factor to a lobster, but size between a lobster and a crayfish. One of the fancy food mags (Bon Appetit?) included bug in its list of ten best ingredients in the world.

          1. skippy

            Having enjoyed both east and west coast lobsters I have to say the inclusion of the ‘Bug’ was a nice inclusion, pop some fresh daily reef fish like red emperor or sweet lip with it and zowie ….

            As good as it is I leave it to only special occasions, save some for later thingy.

            BTW I was serious about wife doing the French rowing enduro, which is kinda funny as my across the road neighbor is French and over 6′ and watching my barely 5′ wife talk about doing it was hilarious.

        2. ChristopherJ

          Enjoy being with the olds, skip. Not the same when they’re gone, bro.

          And how does NC get the blame for entering the enduro??

          Be good for the young’un

      2. The Rev Kev

        In my region we have deer which led to them becaming part of our previous Council’s logo. Here is where they came from-

        Deer were first introduced into Queensland in September 1873 when two stags and four hinds were released at Scrub Creek, Cressbrook Station. These deer were from Windsor Great Park and were a gift from Queen Victoria to the Acclimatisation Society of Queensland. Today, the descendants of the original release are well entrenched in the ranges of the Brisbane and Mary Valleys.

        In other words, like so many species introduced into Oz, they went feral and took off in numbers. More on them at-


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