By Lambert Strether of Corrente
“U.S. farmers look past trade fears to cash in on China’s hog crisis” [Reuters]. “The U.S. trade war with China initially forced U.S. pork exporters to scour the world for new markets but as the swine fever crisis deepens they’re gearing up for new opportunities to supply the Chinese market later this year and next. The catch for U.S. hog farmers is that if they want to take advantage of the surge in Chinese pork demand, they can’t feed their pigs with the growth drug ractopamine which is widely used in the United States but banned in China. In recent years, the European Union has provided roughly two-thirds of China’s pork imports, excluding offal, with Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark the main suppliers, according to Chinese customs data. Potential demand is so huge, however, that the EU alone can’t satisfy it.” • Chlorinated chicken, pork à la ractopamine…
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51
“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune
“2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination” [RealClearPolitics] (average of five polls). As of July 23: Biden still climbing at 28.6% (
28.4), Sanders down at 14.8% ( 15.0%), Warren flat at 14.6% ( 14.6%), Buttigieg steady at 4.8% ( 4.8%), Harris flat bump 12.6% ( 12.6%), others Brownian motion.
Harris (D)(1): “Kamala Harris once opposed legalizing marijuana. Now she wants to decriminalize it” [Yahoo News]. “The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which was written by Harris and co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, implement re-sentencing or expungement for prior marijuana-based convictions, and tax revenue generated by the marijuana industry, with 50% of it used to create three trust funds…. he California Democrat, however, hasn’t always supported fully legalizing marijuana. Nine years ago, Harris opposed legislation that would have legalized marijuana in California.” • People do get to change their minds. But it’s always nicer when they do the right thing all along.
Klobuchar (D)(1): “2020 Candidates Delayed Paying Staff to Look Richer on Paper” [Daily Beast]. “For some campaigns, the ability to put off a payroll payment—whether by design or coincidence—made a substantial difference. That’s most true for the Klobuchar campaign, which reported $186,000 in salary expenditures on its last reported pay day, June 15. Federal Election Commission records indicate that the campaign was otherwise paying staffers on the 15th and last day of each month. But no paychecks went out at the end of June, according to its second quarter financial filing…. And at some point, she will either have to make all wage payments or simply not pay her staff. And by kicking the can down the road, she has been able to avoid taking the hit on a campaign finance filing for the time being.” • It’s gonna take an awfully big binder for Klobuchar to keep track of all that. Oh, and collective bargaining in the Sanders campaign is a big, big scandal. Potential wage theft? Not so much.
Warren (D)(1): “The Coming Economic Crash — And How to Stop It” [Elizabeth Warren, Medium]. “The [yield] curve has inverted before each and every recession in the past half century — with only one false signal.” • I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. From the Financial Times: “Prof [Campbell] Harvey’s research indicates only an inversion of at least three months is a reliable recession indicator. The curve briefly inverted in 1998, at the peak of the turmoil caused by Russia’s default and the blow-up of Long-Term Capital Management, but quickly normalised before a subsequent, more durable inversion in 2000 preceded the dotcom bust. The latest inversion only lasted five trading days.” In any case, a recession call at some point in the future is not a hard call. Still, good piece!
Warren (D)(2): “Warren warns of ‘coming economic crash'” [Politico]. How Politico summarizes the article above: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday predicted an imminent economic crisis unless the Trump administration and Congress quickly pass legislation to regulate the financial sector and significantly reduce middle class household debt.” • That’s shockingly bad and wrong, even for Politico. Warren recommends reducing household debt, monitoring and reducing leveraged corporate lending, strengthening manufacturing, and limiting potential shocks to the economy. Her recommendations are bulleted, ffs.
* * *
“‘She/hers’: In progressive move, 3 presidential hopefuls add pronouns to their bios” [NBC]. “Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bio on her official presidential campaign Twitter page is touting a new addition: her pronouns. Earlier this month, her bio was updated to “U.S. Senator, former teacher, and candidate for president. Wife, mom … grandmother, and Okie. She/hers. Official campaign account.” She is one of three 2020 presidential hopeful to add pronouns on an official campaign Twitter account, along with Julian Castro and Bill de Blasio. On the surface, it’s just two words. But the inclusion of “she/hers” on a major candidate’s social media profile is no small feat in the eyes of LGBTQ advocates. Among the LGBTQ community and its allies, including pronouns in social media profiles has become increasingly common to avoid misgendering and to indicate solidarity with transgender and nonbinary people.” • Which is great, and one can only hope leads to solidarity with working class people.
“Mueller testimony could be frustrating for both parties” [The Hill]. “Democrats want Mueller to breathe life into his 448-page report and demonstrate to the American public that Trump is guilty of obstructing his investigation — a verdict Mueller’s team purposely avoided in issuing its findings. Republicans will try to throw Mueller off his game, vowing to focus their questions on whether it was even proper to launch the investigation in the first place.” • I’ve noticed a tendency on the Twitter for liberal Democrats to assign work to others; here is the same tendency with Mueller. Why can’t they “demonstrate to the American public”? Meanwhile, I bet poor old straight-shootin’ Bob Mueller longs for the days when he was only greenlighting fake WMD evidence. Life was simpler, then.
“Rashida Tlaib: Minimum wage should be $20 an hour, not $15” [The Hill]. “‘By the way, when we started [#FightFor15], it should have been $15. Now I think it should be $20. Make sure America Rising hears that. It should be $20 an hour — $18 to $20 an hour at this point,’ Tlaib said.” • And it also shouldn’t take six years to kick in. That’s even longer than ObamaCare took!
Realignment and Legitimacy
“Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 20, 2019” [Tony Wikrent, Ian Welsh]. • Interesting wrap-up.
Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index, July 2019: “Fifth District manufacturing activity unexpectedly fell into contraction in July” [Econoday]. “The surprising weakness of today’s report contrasts with the Philly Fed and Empire State regional reports last week showing manufacturing rebounding in these regions. Despite the reported increase in input and output prices, the marked deterioration in the region’s manufacturing survey to the lowest level in six years is likely to bolster the dovish case for cutting the Fed funds rate at the FOMC meeting next week.”
FHFA House Price Index, May 2019: “FHFA had been holding up better than Case-Shiller but data for May point to less gradual slowing underway in home prices” [Econoday]. “Easing imbalances in housing are probably a plus for the long-term health of the sector but are perhaps unexpected given this year’s still strong job growth and the drop in mortgage rates.
Existing Home Sales, June 2019: “The housing market firmed in the early Spring but has since flattened out” [Econoday]. “Lack of momentum in housing, which is unexpected this year given the strength of the jobs market and the fall in mortgage rates, will be one factor that doves can cite at next week’s FOMC meeting in favor a rate cut.”
Shipping: “Trucking spot market underperforms expectations by 10% in June” [Freight Waves]. “The DAT US National Long Haul Van Freight Rate Index which measures the average long haul spot rate for dry van truckloads in the U.S. excluding fuel and other accessorial charges averaged $1.50/mile in June. This number fell well below expectations according to the freight futures settlement price which started the month over $1.66/mile, meaning futures market participants expected rates to be much higher than they were this June.
Tech: “Industrial robots are proving adept at picking up venture-capital funding. Logistics technology startup Fetch Robotics Inc. is adding to its support with a $46 million funding round…. which the Silicon Valley company will use to expand its range of products for the growing warehouse automation market” [Wall Street Journal]. “Fetch is working in a growing area of industrial automation focused on ‘collaborative robots’ that work alongside humans and can be easily integrated into existing operations. That can boost productivity without adding staff, a potential big plus for logistics companies as warehouse operators compete for workers in a tight jobs market.”
Tech: “How Amazon uses 18-wheelers to transfer heavy data loads to the cloud” [CNBC]. “Moving petabytes of data to a cloud like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure just by sending it out over the internet can take years. Some companies would rather not wait that long. So the cloud providers have come up with special-purpose hardware that can be filled up with data and then mailed to the cloud vendors for much faster migration. Using this equipment can save money, too, because moving data over a network in the usual way can get expensive. One business with big data, DigitalGlobe — a subsidiary of Maxar Technologies, came up with a more radical idea. It had AWS send over a truck over for faster delivery. AWS wound up announcing its Snowmobile 18-wheel truck for this exact purpose in 2016. None of AWS’ cloud competitors have followed suit — yet.” • The cloud turns out to have a pretty heavy footprint.
Manufacturing: “The prolonged grounding of the Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX is starting to ripple through the U.S. economy. The problems with the jet are cutting into U.S. exports and clouding the outlook for airlines and parts suppliers” [Wall Street Journal]. “The impact of the grounding and Boeing’s production cuts highlight the deep reach the aircraft manufacturer has across a range of high-value supply chains that have been all but idled while the company seeks a solution. Economists say Boeing’s production cuts likely weighed on U.S. gross domestic product in the second quarter, and warn the impact could intensify if the plane maker can’t resume deliveries as hoped in the fourth quarter. Companies ranging from engine maker General Electric Co. to smaller parts suppliers have tied the halt in deliveries of the aircraft to financial damage, or suspended profit guidance.”
“Melting ice sheets, storm-damaged homes: For some, it’s a business opportunity” [Grist]. For example: “Worldwide demand for air conditioning is only going to increase, according to investors and those in the industry. ‘The hotter it gets, the more your business increases,’ John Staples, president and CEO of US Air Conditioning, told the Verge back in 2013. And he was right — by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s households are predicted to own an air conditioner. But it’s a bit of a catch-22: As the planet warms, access to A/C can save lives, but the more we use it, the more the world heats up. And though people are certainly making money off this boon in the HVAC market, they aren’t investing in developing new, greener methods of cooling.” • The capitalists will sell themselves the rope…
“WASTE ONLY: How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World” [The Intercept]. “China’s decision in 2017 to stop receiving the vast majority of plastic waste from other countries blew the flimsy lid off our dysfunctional recycling system. That year, when the Chinese government announced the National Sword policy, as it’s called, the U.S. sent 931 million kilograms of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong. The U.S. has been offloading vast bundles of scrap this way since at least 1994, when the Environmental Protection Agency began tracking plastics exports. The practice has served to both mask the mounting crisis and absolve U.S. consumers of guilt. But in fact, much of the ‘recycled’ plastic scrap that the U.S. sent to China appears to have been burned or buried instead of being refashioned into new products. Although China’s turnabout made the failure of the plastics recycling system suddenly and undeniably obvious, in truth the plastics problem has been with us as long as plastic has. Over the decades, as production has grown exponentially, we’ve never managed to repurpose even one-tenth of our plastic waste.”
“This Is What America Could Look Like When Our Coasts Are Under Water” [Vice]. “Depending on how we do it, we face very different coastal futures. In one scenario, our coastlines will be dotted with derelict ruins—the haunting remains of communities that weren’t given a chance to get out of harm’s way. Cities will exist behind walls built that protect from the ocean, and there will be no access to the shoreline. In a more egalitarian vision, U.S. shores could be reclaimed as public land. A national shoreline could serve as a natural buffer to the ocean, and if paired with affordable housing, community investment, and employment, moving away from the coasts could promise survival but also, better quality of life. ‘The question isn’t whether we will retreat, it’s how we will retreat,’ said A.R. Siders, an environmental fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. ‘In that, we have a lot of choice and a lot of opportunity.'” • Oh, there will be “access.” For a price.
“Was the Automotive Era a Terrible Mistake?” [The New Yorker]. “When the people of the future look back at our century of auto life, will they regard it as a useful stage of forward motion or as a wrong turn? Is it possible that, a hundred years from now, the age of gassing up and driving will be seen as just a cul-de-sac in transportation history, a trip we never should have taken?” • Um, hysteresis. We can’t just back up and go in another direction. That’s not to say cars will persist in their current form, just that cul-de-sac is the wrong metaphor.
“‘Climate Grief’: Fears About The Planet’s Future Weigh On Americans’ Mental Health [Kaiser Health News]. “Therapist Andrew Bryant says the landmark United Nations climate report last October brought a new mental health concern to his patients. ‘I remember being in sessions with folks the next day. They had never mentioned climate change before, and they were like, ‘I keep hearing about this report,” Bryant said. ‘Some of them expressed anxious feelings, and we kept talking about it over our next sessions.'” • Today is my day to be kind, so I’m going to cancel my curmudgeonly response to this.
“How Airplane Contrails Are Helping Make the Planet Warmer” [Yale Environment 360]. “[T]he condensation trails produced by the exhaust from aircraft engines are creating an often-invisible thermal blanket of cloud across the planet. Though lasting for only a short time, these ‘contrails’ have a daily impact on atmospheric temperatures that is greater than that from the accumulated carbon emissions from all aircraft since the Wright Brothers first took to the skies more than a century ago. More alarming still, researchers warned late last month that efforts by engineers to cut aircraft CO2 emissions by making their engines more fuel-efficient will create more, whiter, and longer-lasting contrails — notably in the tropics, where the biggest increases in flights are expected. In a paper being widely praised by other experts in the field, Lisa Bock and Ulrike Burkhardt of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, forecast a near-tripling in the ‘radiative forcing’ from contrails by 2050….. Research in the American South and Midwest has concluded that when contrails are around, they raise night-time temperatures sufficiently to reduce the day-night differences by 3 degrees C.”
“Community Roots – Let’s Plant Some Trees!” [Richmond Tree Stewards]. “Homeowners in the City of Richmond will receive free a limited number of trees (2 or 3 depending on availability) from our gravel beds…. In Richmond we celebrate Arbor Day in October rather than late April because that is a much better time to plant trees in Virginia.” • This sounds like a great program!
“A look at people who have persistently high spending on health care” [Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker]. “Those with persistently high spending, while few in number, are some of the most expensive users of care – the 1.3% of enrollees with high spending in each of three consecutive years (2015-2017) had an average spending in 2017 of almost $88,000, accounting for 19.5% of overall spending that year. The predictability and extent of their spending suggest that any efforts to reduce the total costs of care and improve health system quality must focus heavily on this group of people.” • Yes, “Peterson” is that Peterson. Ugh.
“Verma touts site-neutral pay policies, blasts hospital consolidation” [Modern Healthcare]. “CMS Administrator Seema Verma on Monday took swings at Medicare’s ‘hospital-centric payment model,’ touting the Trump administration’s recent site-neutral payment policy and decrying provider consolidation. Verma condemned Democratic proposals for a public insurance option at a policy summit for the Better Medicare Alliance, which represents Medicare Advantage plans. … ‘The secret of the public option is that it’s only cheaper because it uses the force of government to strong-arm doctors and hospitals into accepting below-market payment rate,’ she said. ‘But the government cannot wave a wand and impose lower rates on some providers while holding everyone else harmless.’ She touted another policy, hated by hospitals, that determines some Medicare payments: site-neutral payment regulations that cut Medicare dollars for some hospital services that can also be performed in physicians’ offices… From there, Verma doubled down on another topic that makes major health systems nervous: the growth of hospital monopolies and the ‘upward trend in provider consolidation.’ ‘Hospitals are buying up physician practices, and mergers of large health systems and health plans are a common occurrence,’ she said. ‘But without competition in a market, consumers have fewer choices, prices go up, and incentives to improve quality go down.'”
“The great plague of 2019, or how the United States got single payer health-care” [Alice Marshall, Medium]. “A few of Pence’s team went to a book party for a famous conservative commentator. Within a week everyone at the party was dead, but not before they spread the disease to their think tank, law firm, and trade association. Several staffers from AHIP and PhRMA were there. By the end of the month they had to close their DC office as everyone was dead.” • Not entirely implausible, even as wish fulfillmennt.
“The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge” [New York Magazine]. • Yikes.
“Jeffrey Epstein doled out millions to Harvard and others. Is that cash tainted?” [Miami Herald]. “The multimillionaire hedge fund manager lavished at least $30 million on universities, scientists, politicians, cultural organizations, think tanks — as well as his local police department, according to records of three of his charities. Records for a fourth were not available. That $30 million figure includes at least $2 million doled out following a short stint in the Palm Beach stockade that resulted when a 53-page federal sex trafficking indictment got whittled down to a pair of minor prostitution-related charges late in the last decade. For those organizations that hung onto the money, is there a moral obligation to give it back, or alternatively, pay it forward to organizations that would benefit, for example, young sexual assault victims like those Epstein allegedly victimized?'” • Lol, no.
“Student Debt and Racial Wealth Inequality” (PDF) [Marshall Steinbaum]. “This paper analyzes the effect of cancelling student debt on racial wealth inequality using the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances. It concludes that cancelling student debt reduces racial wealth gaps as measured by the ratio of white wealth to black wealth at a given wealth quantile, across the wealth distribution. It then discusses why cancelling student debt disproportionately increases the net wealth of black households and thereby reduces racial wealth gaps.” • As surely all universal benefit programs must do?
“Baby born on 7-Eleven Day at 7:11 p.m., weighs 7 lbs., 11 oz., gets 7-Eleven college fund” [USA Today]. • Just another kind of legacy admission….
News of the Wired
“Dream Of Retiring Abroad? The Reality: Medicare Doesn’t Travel Well” [Kaiser Health News]. “After paying into the Medicare system for decades, it’s no wonder some expats are frustrated that they can’t generally use the program outside the United States…. And retirees should honestly consider whether they will spend the rest of their lives overseas.” • And spend the last days of my life drugged and strapped to a bed in a nursing home room with a TV I can’t turn off? I’d rather die in a ditch in the tropics.
“Don’t Put Your Work Email on Your Personal Phone” [OneZero]. “Here’s one reason: Your work account might be spying on you in the background. When you add a work email address to your phone, you’ll likely be asked to install something called a Mobile Device Management (MDM) profile. Chances are, you’ll blindly accept it. (What other choice do you have?) MDM is set up by your company’s IT department to reach inside your phone in the background, allowing them to ensure your device is secure, know where it is, and remotely erase your data if the phone is stolen. From your company’s perspective, there are obvious security reasons for installing an MDM on an employee’s phone. But for employees, it’s difficult to tell what these invisible profiles are collecting behind the scenes, as they provide people at your company with invisible control over your device. That’s why when it comes to your phone, no matter how much you trust your IT department, it’s a good idea to keep work and pleasure separate.”
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 (JL):
JL writes: “Mystery tree”!
Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So do feel free to make a contribution today or any day. Here is why: Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of small donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals. So if you see something you especially appreciate, do feel free to click this donate button:
Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.
If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!