Links 9/18/19

Don’t Bank on a Global Recession Just Yet, BIS Chief Says Bloomberg

Just tell me what the consumer is up to, skip the rest The Reformed Broker

Markets Are Starting to Play a Haunting 2007 Tune John Authers, Bloomberg

Why is the Federal Reserve pouring money into the financial system? FT

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns Bill McKibben, The New Yorker. “I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas. Following the money isn’t a new idea.” Oh.

Rondonization: World Bank, Dictatorship and the Amazon Brasilwire


Jeremy Corbyn: I’ll stay neutral and let the people decide on Brexit BBC. Leadership!

Brexit Bulletin: Where Is Johnson’s Plan? Bloomberg

Britain hopes for trade deal with Australia within months of Brexit Reuters


O, The Roast Beef of Old England! Brexit and Gastronationalism The Political Quarterly

If you see a shop in a high-rent area that survives while not visibly selling anything…


Pentagon ordered to offer options as US rules out ‘knee jerk’ response to Saudi attack CNN

Saudi oil production to recover within the month, minister says Nikkei Asian Review

Japan defense minister: Not aware of any Iran involvement in Saudi attacks Reuters

Iran tells Saudi Arabia it should see missile strike on its oil facilities as a WARNING and end its war with Yemen Daily Mail

Saudi oil attacks: All the latest updates Al Jazeera

Why the Saudis couldn’t shoot down the drones. Thread:

* * *

Partial tally confirms Likud, Blue and White in dead heat, Liberman as kingmaker Times of Israel

‘It Was Illegal and Still Is Illegal’ FAIR. Afghanistan.


How Hong Kong got to this point Brookings Institute. “To live successfully with that sovereign and to restore a high degree of autonomy under current circumstances requires Hong Kong to pick its fights carefully.”

Hong Kong’s Protests Could Be Another Social Media Revolution That Ends in Failure Thomas Friedman, NYT. The Moustache Of Understanding continues to embarass.

* * *

China scores big win with Solomons switch from Taiwan Nikkei Asian Review


Dirty air: how India became the most polluted country on earth FT

In the throes of a geopolitical shift, Japan-U.S.-South Korea framework being tested Japan Times

The Koreas

Japan says South Korea move on fast-track trade status ‘regrettable’ Reuters

For Centuries, Massive Meals Amazed Visitors to Korea Atlas Obscura

New Cold War

“Twilight of the West?” The New Totalitarianism, Reflection and Free Thought Valdai Discussion Club

Exclusive: Russia carried out a ‘stunning’ breach of FBI communications system, escalating the spy game on U.S. soil Yahoo News. FWIW.

Big Brother Is Watching You Watch

US sues for Edward Snowden’s income from new book Deutsche Welle

Almost entire population of Ecuador has online data leaked Agence France Presse

Trump Transition

Juicy John Bolton Firing Conspiracy Theory! Awful Avalanche. Fun stuff!

Inside Conservative Groups’ Effort to ‘Make Dishwashers Great Again’ NYT (GF). I don’t know what’s gotten into the Times. The article is a comprehensive and link-heavy round-up of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut carbon-cutting and biosphere-friendly regulation, and so the editor comes up with a headline that works as clickbait if you have a thing for dishwashers, and is otherwise eminently skippable.

Trump plans to revoke a key California environmental power; state officials vow to fight Los Angeles Times

USDA gives final approval for faster hog processing line speeds New Food Economy


Sanders to attend latest climate forum while Biden and Warren pass Guardian

Health Care

Why are so many Americans crowdfunding their healthcare? FT. I can’t imagine….

Whole Foods Will Cut Health-Care Benefits for Nearly 2,000 Employees New York Magazine (J-LS). It doesn’t matter whether you love your insurance or not, if management can take it away.

Boeing 737 MAX

How the Boeing 737 Max grounding hurts its most-loyal customer — Southwest Airlines CNBC (MA).

Class Warfare

Martin Wolf: why rentier capitalism is damaging liberal democracy FT

Why the Striking Autoworkers Need to Win Big Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect

Column: Jeff Bezos becomes the first CEO to break his pledge to dump the ‘shareholder value’ model Michael 2020, Los Angeles Times (TP). That was fast.

The Fall of the Meritocracy The New Republic. Not if they can help it.

How Powerful Ideas Can Shape Society: Aaron Director and the Triumph of Nihilism Matt Stoller, Pro-Market

Humanity and nature are not separate – we must see them as one to fix the climate crisis The Conversation

A World at Risk: Annual report on global preparedness for health emergencies (PDF) Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, World Health Organization (BoyDownTheLane). The world is not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic. The 1918 global influenza pandemic sickened one third of the world population and killed as many as 50 million people – 2.8% of the total population (16,17). If a similar contagion occurred today with a population four times larger and travel times anywhere in the world less than 36 hours, 50-80 million people could perish (18,19). In addition to tragic levels of mortality, such a pandemic could cause panic, destabilize national security and seriously impact the global economy and trade.” But not if you live on Mars!

Antidote du jour (via):

Bonus antidote:

See yesterday’s Links and Antidote du Jour here.

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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. Geo

    Between Whole Foods and the cutting of health insurance for the striking union auto workers it’s like corporate America is trying to make a case for M4A.

    “General Motors stops paying for striking union workers’ health insurance”

    Nothing like using health insurance as a hostage in negotiations to show people why employer provided health insurance is a terrible way to do things.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      RE: Just tell me what the consumer is up to, skip the rest The Reformed Broker

      The US consumer is the preeminent economic engine of the world right now, and following things like employment, wages, 401(k) balances, retail spending, small business confidence and home-buying / remodeling trends has been a great shortcut for investors and spectators alike.
      Josh here – see all that red? That’s you and me making spending decisions and getting on with our lives. Look at how dominant this part of the economy has become……

      “All that red” is labelled on the graph as “Consumer and government spending,” and “Housing” has been negative for the most recent six periods represented by the bars.

      I’m no economist, but I have to wonder why the “consumer” has been lumped together with the government. Could it be to make the consumer look stronger than he or she really is in furtherance of the “cleanest dirty shirt” narrative du jour?

      “Economic engine of the world” would seem to be a heavy lift for a group that hasn’t seen a raise in 40 years and is being robbed in so many innovative ways that it’s hard to keep track. If you’re cheerleading an economy based on “you and me making spending decisions and getting on with our lives,” let’s see just what spending “you and me” are really doing, because I happen to know that the government has no interest in remodeling my home. Or covering my medical deductibles and copays, for that matter.

      1. Katniss Everdeen

        Something is screwed up with my computer, I guess. This was supposed to be a standalone comment on the referenced link. My reply to Geo went poof hours ago.

        1. Susan the other`

          Yes Katniss, I noticed that immediately too and wondered what a free marketeer broker, however reformed he might be, could take that extremely unconventional information as anything but an economy in crisis – that is if he is still a free marketeer of some ilk or other.

      2. Dan

        Meaningless without separating government from citizens and furthermore, showing the amount of private purchases made in cash, versus ongoing debt.

        And look the quality of those actual private transactions too;

        Short version, everyone and everything is turning into a hustler, from doctor’s offices, to car dealerships to everything online. Temporary, slick, extractive, of money and data. Tradition, confidence, trust and stability suffer.

        If they can just get another generation used to iPhonepotency, willing to give up all privacy and even assist their controllers, relegate memories and tales of Middle Class life and expectations to mythic and fairylands status, then they will have won.

    2. coboarts

      I’ve never understood why corporate America would support employer paid corporate healthcare, unless the board members serve on each others’ boards and major stockholders hold each others shares. That kind of incestuous relationship would seem to distort reality. Wouldn’t putting healthcare onto the public’s shoulders (burden graciously accepted) immediately boost competitiveness?

      1. Bazarov

        Yes, it would boost competitiveness by taking insurance costs off the corporate books, but it’s a mistake to interpret corporate behavior in terms of competitiveness alone. The rich and the PMCs have a very keen class consciousness. They act accordingly in that they’re often willing to make decisions that reduce competitiveness but enhance their power as a class. In this case, it’s clear that having insurance bound to employment more or less ensurfs workers, making those workers terrified to leave even if working conditions and pay are shit. The implied power-threat is: “Go ahead and quit, but your 7 year old son needs his insulin. Are you willing to sacrifice him to escape me, who treats you like a disposable tool?”

        If M4A passed, the company’s bottom line might benefit, but the bosses and PMCs as a class would no longer have that potent leverage with which to discipline labor. The upshot is that M4A increases the power of the working class and decreases the power of the ruling and managerial classes.

        They’re willing to pay *a lot* to maintain that power.

        1. Procopius

          Adam Smith knew a thing or two about human nature, but most of his writings have been ignored except that misunderstanding of what he really said about the “invisible hand.”

          The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors. Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen.

          Wealth of Nations, Book 3, Chapter II

      2. Biph

        Power, if someone is dependent on their employer not just for a paycheck but also their ability to get health care they are a lot less likely to look for greener pastures or rock the boat.

      3. QABubba

        Study the history. President Truman wanted universal health care at the same time Great Britain, Canada, etc. were setting up theirs.
        The corporations (mostly the auto makers) successfully lobbied him not to do it, so they could use it as a “bargaining chip” against the unions, instead of higher pay. They promised, honest to God, cross my heart, we’re the good guys after all.
        How’s that working out for ya?

  2. Clive

    Re: If you see a shop in a high-rent area that survives while not visibly selling anything

    Even in my town, I can count three fairly obvious stores which cannot on any commercial basis be viable businesses which nevertheless still trade after as many years as I can remember. Probably less than 5% of the town’s total retail footprint — but then again, that’s only the blatant ones I’m referring to.

    When, in prehistoric times, I was a cashier in a bank branch, we were always encouraged to be vigilant about suspicious patterns of customer transactions, especially from businesses. If you’re in the front line of financial services, it’s not hard to spot them — too much cash being paid in for the business type, too many high denomination notes, no demand for coin to have small change for the supposed cash float in the cash registers, cash presented in rolled up bundles tied with elastic bands (any reputable business would pay it in “flat”), notes which were heavily soiled or damaged, note bundles with a higher than average counterfeit note to genuine note ratio, large cash balances maintained in the business’ bank account then getting sucked out overnight — and several other tell-tale signs.

    As bank branch staff, living in the local community, we saw it as our civic duty to get these parasites out of the neighbourhood. But nowadays? Where’s the incentive? A lot of bank branch staff are temps and agency employees, often from out the area. The forms for reporting are a hassle and there’s no incentive to report, lest it interfere with the Sell! Sell! Sell! culture. It is a legal requirement here to report suspicious transactions, but so what? It’s social factors which lead bank branch staff to want to make a contribution to improving the places where they live, like recognition and appreciation from management. Instead, you’re merely bringing aggravation to them, so they’ll likely not thank you.

    I am increasingly wondering what the current makeup of the economy is through illicit activity. Given how little detection of money laundering at a local level there is, how much is slipping through the net (which has big holes in it anyway)?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’d always wondered about those British tourist shops – the ones with entrances so crowded with junk it is hard to get into them, and very tatty and poorly laid out displays (and invariably empty). And always one bored looking East Asian guy behind the counter, usually watching TV. I had assumed they made most of their money by grossly overcharging occasionally unwary tourists (as the French ones do). But it certainly makes sense if they are money laundering. Although as some people were wondering in the thread, why in high rent areas? Surely if money-laundering you want to be paying the least possible rent, as with those outer mall nail manicuring shops and car washes in Breaking Bad.

      Not all loss making shops are for money laundering. A friend of mine who was looking to set up a specialist shop did an informal survey in a small fashionable street she was interested in. She concluded that only the food outlets were making money – the rest were hobby shops for retired people (selling antiques usually), the wives of rich men (the super specialised boutiques), or were tax write-offs for people with other, better businesses.

      Some surprising outlets can be profitable – in that thread someone highlighted mobile phone repair shops, but I know someone who has a small one in a side street in a somewhat run-down town, but she makes a surprisingly good living from it – she sources the parts cheaply, is self taught for repair work and gets a lot of repeat business from teenagers with slipping fingers, always breaking their screens.

      1. T

        Yep, in the US, on paper, money laundering and someone financing a spouse or failson appear identical – although a hobby boutique usually has more expenses for travel (buying trips.)

        1. Dan

          Another form of money laundering; writing off as much of your luxurious lifestyle as is possible. Those cruises to the Caribbean, flights to Aspen, stays in nice hotels, restaurant meals? All expensed to your “business”, be it pouring your hobby wine on the ship, selling trinkets to shops that might order five of them, etc.
          No law is being broken, just maneuvering within the approximately ten foot high pile of tax laws on the books.

          Also, a complex of leases and separation of businesses into multiple units that charge each other and in turn expense everything, to and including meals, liquor, cars etc.

          1. ChrisPacific

            My wife is a foodie, and her favorite way to spend money on vacation is to pick a famous restaurant and have lunch or dinner there. It typically amounts to a significant chunk of our budget but it’s usually the highlight of the trip for her, so it’s worth it for us.

            Very often when we go to these places (especially for lunch) we find ourselves sitting next to one or more ‘business’ parties, typically two or more men in expensive suits. They are typically loud, order multiple courses, and drink a lot. They always make a point of ordering the most expensive bottle of wine, although they don’t always enjoy it (frequently they don’t seem to know very much about wine).

            They are probably the most common demographic at that kind of restaurant, with parties like us (people of ordinary means who are treating it as a destination) the second most common. I expect there are quite a lot of them out there. This is one of the few times when their orbits intersect with mine – otherwise they are largely invisible to me, except when one of them falls from grace and we get lurid stories in the tabloids about their ‘lavish lifestyle.’

            It usually leads me to reflect on the drawbacks of achieving greatness in the restaurant industry, which probably feels a bit like becoming an NBA star (since most of the industry is pretty unglamorous, cutthroat and low margin). Suddenly free-spending ‘business people’ with access to unlimited funds of unclear provenance become crucial to the success of your business.

      2. Alex morfesis

        Real estate for money laundering….once one gets past the balanced cash flow to cost price range of real estate, valuations flow at m.a.i. certifications(made as instructed) in the “luxury” range, allowing all types of capital flows, flushed away by the inevitable “crash” to cover its tracks. In a “luxury” part of town one can claim the “extreme excess rent” is simply what the market will insist upon. In new york city, the mob got its street tax by the chinese gangs renting their locations at extreme premiums, with a compliant city hall keeping their inspectors away by focusing on eliminating affordable housing by having the inspection units send a message “affodable housing” is not wanted here by knit picking small property owners who have the audacity to not jack up rents….if the inspectors are busy somewhere else they are not available to notice empty and underused spaces while investigators and auditors for some reason do not always pull utility records to try to catch anomalies as they might when say chasing a “grow house” in a non luxury part of town.

        throw in some restaurants, bars, clubs and art galleries in the neighborhoods to create the “image” of prosperity and….there it is….the “appearance” of critical mass and an additional layer of laundering almost impossible to prosecute….add in some compliant money laundering banks who will then “lend” 10x to 20x the “excess” value of the “premium” rents….

        almost impossible to prosecute, the ultimate in mr blax control fraud neighborhood

        1. doug

          I agree with Alex. I used to travel to Florida for business on a regular basis. There was a chinese restaurant very close to the motel I stayed in. It NEVER had a customer, smelled like year old grease if you did try to go in, and they would not wait on you. That was a long time ago, and the place is still there.
          I suspect vertical integration with suppliers allows them to put tons of cash into the bank for meals never made with materials never purchased. So obvious, but allowed perhaps due to the difficulty of prosecution as Alex mentioned.

          1. Cripes

            Don’t see what’s so hard to prosecute in a retail business front with no expenses and large cash inflow and no backup receipts.

            Should be an accounting slam dunk for a first-year student.

            1. Chris Cosmos

              Maybe but that’s not how things work in the real world. Anyone who is running illegal operations needs to make sure the authorities are taken care of.

              1. ambrit

                Florida is the American poster child for crooked dealings, business wise. Some of the denizens of this blog may make half-hearted jokes about ‘Banana Republics,’ but Florida comes very close to the real thing, both legally and geographically.

      3. vlade

        High rent area presumably means higher footfall and/or higher average custom. That is important, as if you have much different revenue from what is expected/normal for your area, you run a risk that not just the bank, but taxman will start looking.

        Remember, in ML if you can launder >50% of your money you’re great, IIRC the “aimed for” number is more like 25-30%. The costs are not an issue, the volume of money you can deal with is.

      4. Mattski

        If you consider the number of businesses in any commercial area, from struggling small town to major city (came to this conclusion in Lyon this summer) it’s easy to feel very frightened at the kind of desolation you’d likely find in the event of a serious global economic shock. But it’s important to recall that their rise came about through a separation of real use value from exchange value in the first place, and that their heyday was the heyday of a system that we would one day need to replace in any case. We must turn, I believe (as an ecologist) from lingering hopes that reform can save us and focus squarely on the main chance.

        1. Dan

          In the SFBay Area, one can count thousands of formerly inexpensive housing units that have been physically turned into upstairs hair salons, account’s shops and boutiques. Those could revert to housing possibly in a crash.

          Then there’s the housing demolished for yet more commercial developments and strip malls.
          Learned from N.C.and commenters about the impossibility of converting strip malls into housing because of the short term debt that has to be rolled over, the mythic cash flows paid by hallucinated future rents–so that’s why they don’t just lower rents– and the tranching of the same, with regulation by the SEC, an organization that does not want to become a landlord.

    2. Wukchumni

      The excellent movie The Lavender Hill Mob comes to mind, in a different guise of money laundering vis a vis Eiffel Tower paperweights.

      1. ambrit

        David Mamet’s film “Heist” from 2001 also comes to mind. I won’t give away this films homage to those Lavender Hill Mob Eiffel Towers. A bloody good film.

    3. WheresOurTeddy

      Where’s the incentive? A lot of bank branch staff are temps and agency employees, often from out the area.

      When they pay proles enough to care, we’ll care. Until then, file it under WGAS. Not our job to catch bad guys, certainly not for under $15 an hour.

      Get a specialist or a consultant, I’m sure they’ll be able to figure it out.

    4. Chris Cosmos

      Well over a decade ago Misha Glenny claimed organized crime made up about 20% of world GDP and he’s said it is worse now.

    5. VK

      I think we live through the setting twilight of the rule of law. It has served its purpose as a lever during cold war, now is disposable. Thank you for your service. Everything blurs into Spencerism.
      During my prehistoric times as a journalist I once attended a presentation at a local bank by a swiss expert on illicit moneys, the discussion very much leaning on the moral approach.
      Before that expert’s presentation there had been another presentation, by the local manager on that years biggest successes. First bullet point: The introduction of bank accounts for children.
      The dissonance.eluded them.
      Compartimentation works everywhere.

    6. QABubba

      I truly understand. Here in my hometown in Texas, everyone seems to be selling off their back yard for another house. Only thing is, no one seems to care if the house is sold. Years ago, (many years ago), a contractor would take out a high interest loan, build a house, and his (or her) profit depended on how many months they had to pay that high interest.
      Not so much now. Seems like free money (from?). Very suspicious.

  3. Wukchumni

    Conservation group to buy Alder Creek giant sequoia grove and world’s fifth-largest tree

    Skip Rouch patted the base of the copper-hued giant. “Dad’s tree,” he said. “Dad picked it out before he died.”

    But it wasn’t just Sonny Rouch’s tree in the figurative sense, the place where he wanted his ashes spread. His family owns it, along with hundreds of other giant sequoias in the Alder Creek Grove — the world’s largest private holding of the world’s largest trees.

    That is about to end. After more than seven decades of ownership, the Rouchs have struck a deal to sell their sequoia-studded piece of the Sierra Nevada to Save the Redwoods League, a century-old conservation group that has long hankered after the property.

    Sonny Rouch is a history buff on a mission. For years, local drillers have found trees deep underground and yet, to this day, nobody seems to know where the trees came from. The 88-year-old Tulare County resident has made finding an answer into his quest.

    “I recently learned of ancient redwood trees buried in the Central Valley floor that drillers have hit when drilling for water,” said Sonny. “I’ve heard of trees buried from 240 ft. near Visalia, to 600 ft. in other areas. I acquired samples from a few drillers and I’m sending pieces of these logs to be carbon dated at this time.”

    Many others have reported similar findings through the years.
    “Sonny is actively making calls to various well drillers up and down the San Joaquin Valley,” explained Brent Gill, Sonny’s friend for 50 years. “He has learned that many have brought up bits of redwood trees from Bakersfield to Modesto, from as deep as 600 feet. There seems to have been a reasonable number of them found around Mendota, for some reason.

    “The age of these bits of redwood pulled up by drillers, has been estimated by a professional geologist, as being between 100,000 to 200,000 years old,” he added. “Even more fascinating is that some of the trees appear to still be standing, though buried in the earth.”

    1. Lee

      I am reminded of William Kittredge’s memoir Hole in the Sky covering three generations of his family’s ownership and management of a vast ranch land in southern Oregon, now converted to a wildlife refuge. A great read.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Redwoods buried 600 feet deep? That is rather – disturbing that. Their burial must have been sudden or otherwise they would have rotted first. It sounds like that there was a catastrophic land subsidence for a large region. Confirmation of that may depend on carbon dating different sample in different regions to see if they carry a similar date. It would have been great if they had been able to secure samples that could have been compared with using dendrochronology. While looking for more info on this subject, I found an interesting document Wuk-

      1. Wukchumni

        We have 50,000 year old furniture make out of buried Kauri trees that are usually around 50-100 feet underground, and require a few million worth of heavy equipment to extract them. The wood has about 70% of the tensile strength of more recently cut down trees.

        The same question applies, what sort of event of a gigantic magnitude befell entire forests of mature trees nearly the size of Giant Sequoias (only about 1/2 as tall though) and deposited them deep into the bowels of this good earth?

      2. ambrit

        Yes to carbon dating the samples. That 100,000 to 200,000 year old dating of the trees was from a geologist. There is controversy, (when is there not?) concerning the geological history of the recent past, say, the Quaternary period. Catastrophism is making inroads into the scientific thinking. Either or subsidence and massive floods could have accomplished this Sylvan Interment.
        It reminds me of the drowned Cypress forest sixty miles offshore and beneath the Gulf of Mexico. That was dated, by radio carbon I believe, at roughly 7000 years old.
        The world is a lot more interesting than most of us know.

      3. divadab

        The Central Valley of California is an alluvial plain with very deep levels of alluvium deposited from the Sierra over the eons. During the last ice age, sea levels were >300 ft lower than now, and climate colder, so giant sequoias ranging down closer to sea level makes sense. (Now they are relic populations in the Sierra of what once was a much wider-distributed species,) When the ice age ended, ~ 12000 bce, large parts of the valley were flooded with sea water, but massive ice melts deposited alluvium which raised the land to its current level – about 60 ft altitude at Modesto. SO my take is that the buried redwoods were first flooded out, then buried in post-glacial alluvium.

        I suspect Ambrit is right – carbon-dating is absolutely required as geological dating of alluvial deposits is difficult and imprecise. I suspect these trees are in the 15-25k years old range, but its just a guess – they could have been buried in a previous glaciation.

        Most of the Central Valley will again be under water in a few generations with anthropogenic sea level rise. Absent massive engineering projects, that is. Expecting the Empire of destruction to do anything other than blow things up is the key problem of our time, however, IMHO.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I don’t know the glacial history of California, but deep buried trees are common all over the northern hemisphere in glacial deposits. Its usually the result of post-glacial flooding, or the formation of temporary lakes formed by glaciers or moraines. Mostly of course its only the stumps that survive.

        2. Wukchumni


          See Sequoias while you still can, as the beetles are on tour, wreaking havoc on the ancient ones that somehow survived thousands of years…

          This missive is from the expert in the field:

          “For the first time recorded we’ve seen some sequoias killed by native bark beetles (Phloeosinus, the cedar bark beetle genus). And we have a smoking gun: Anthony Ambrose and Wendy Baxter (Berkeley) were able to climb one of the trees being attacked, and dropped some living branches. We put segments of those branches in cardboard boxes, and hundreds of adult Phloeosinus boiled out of branches. Then the heights in the sequoia that had yielded the Phloeosinus died. Same thing happened on a second sampling, of lower branches that were still alive after the first batch.

          The entire story seems a bit complex. Most of the dying sequoias were on the wettest, not driest sites, and had experienced recent fire. And, of course, they’d been stressed by the drought. The large majority were from part of Giant Forest (2012 fire), part of Redwood Mountain Grove (2016 fire), and part of Grant Grove (the 2015 Rough fire).”

          1. divadab

            Auuugh! I’m also seeing massive tree die-offs in varied North american environments – WA cedars, alders, and firs; similar reports from CA and OR; east and central ongoing extinction events – american elm (still relic breeding populations hanging in til the bugs get them); now ash (emerald ash borer); and also red spruce dying in fairly large numbers, plus white pine to blister rust.

            I suspect as you, wuk, that it’s the delayed effect of drought. Trees are on tree time and take years to get sick and die, even after the initial shock event is over and conditions return to normal, the damage is done and the tree dies anyway.

            Dang it makes me weep.

            1. Wukchumni

              The claim is that 129 million lesser trees died in the drought in the Sierra Nevada, and truth be said, i’m not seeing that much mortality as far as Giant Sequoias go, but then i’m only an avid amateur admirer.

              Of all the 129 million, the Sugar Pine had the highest expiration rate, around 70% of them went toes up, and the pine nuts in the largest pine cone of all were the most nutritious of all Sierra nut meats, and since then the black bears have largely gone missing, as an important part of their diet went away.

              1. divadab

                Wow – I used to take scouts hiking in the Sierras 15-20 years ago and sugar pines are the signature species in much of the Sierra foothills. A 70% mortality means in less than a generation the ecosystem has massively changed. And with all the dead trees, it means CA will be burning every summer for years and years. It’s really weird to live through changes that normally take place in geologic time. Weird and sad.

                My consolation is that the living planet is so resilient and strong that it will survive us and our depredations. We might not, but I’m not betting on the extinction of such an adaptable species as humans. Just a much lower population.

                1. Procopius

                  Yes, Mother Nature doesn’t care. When I read of people complaining about invasive species, how do they think nature works? Every species that we now try so desperately to save once invaded and took over from some other species. Even in the case of nuclear war (which is now becoming more possible/likely) the Earth will survive and some forms of life will survive and eventually repopulate, with ecologies as varies as any we have ever seen. It may take geologic time scales, but it will happen. Unfortunately, geologic time scales are not appropriate for humans.

        3. Dan


          Downtown Los Angeles sits on hundreds of feet of alluvium like that. Problem is, high rises, some of the tallest on the west coast do not have pilings driven to bedrock, because there is none, except where Bunker Hill once existed.

          “A 2008 report called The ShakeOut Scenario, issued by the U.S. Geological Survey.. looked at a hypothetical but devastating scenario: the fallout from a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on the Southern San Andreas fault…Krishnan told me how the collapse of a steel-moment building could look and sound:
          “The rolling kind of waves will come in,” he said. “And they will go up the building. And the building will start shaking. Back and forth, back and forth…You’ll hear a lot of noise. Much of that noise is going to be things falling. Things rattling. But you might start to hear lots of pops. And these pops are the connections perhaps fracturing…the building might come pancaking down. That’s one possibility. The other possibility is the upper stories tilt and fall over, leaving this little stub piece sticking out of the ground.”

          Identical geological and structural problems exist in San Francisco south of Market built on fill. Even highrises built on bedrock in the 1960s have similar design flaws and can collapse.

          1. Wukchumni

            When I was a kid, there was I think just one high rise in downtown LA (the Occidental building) largely on account of earthquake fears, but that was then and this is now, and they’re everywhere.

            It’d be almost like dominoes were they to topple over on one another.

            This 26 story hotel in Christchurch called the Grand Chancellor had to be brought down after the earthquake in 2011. It was a thoroughly modern hotel and we stayed there a few times. It had quite a rakish tilt from the temblor.


            The hotel survived the 7.1 magnitude Canterbury earthquake in 2010 and continued operation without any known structural damage. Five months later, while fully in use, the hotel was badly damaged in the 6.3 magnitude February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

            The building suffered structural damage, caused by the collapse of a key supporting shear wall “D5-6” located in the south-east corner of the building. The shear wall was responsible for roughly one-eighth of the Hotel Grand Chancellor’s mass, primarily providing vertical support to the building. The damaged foundations lead to the visible leaning of the building to one side. Fear that the building would totally collapse hampered search and rescue missions in the vicinity.


          2. divadab

            Yup. Thanks for that thought. I think a highrise is a bad place to be in a quake!

            I’ve seen what happens when soil liquifies and starts to move – it moves faster than a flood but stops instead of dispersing, burying everything.

            In the 89 loma prieta quake, we had waves in our swimming pool and we were over 100 miles from the epicenter.

          3. ChrisPacific

            I live in the suburbs here (soil layer over rock) but work in the CBD, which is mostly on reclaimed land. I’ve experienced a couple of mid-6 earthquakes at home, which were a bit alarming, but didn’t feel particularly dangerous or cause any damage. I’ve also experienced a low-5 earthquake at work and that was much scarier. One of the two mid-6 quakes blew out the plate glass frontage of our office building (I was glad I wasn’t in that day).

            A high rise is often one of the safer places to be, IF it’s built to code and the code is accurate. (If you live near the coast, the tsunami after a big one is the greater risk, and being up high is an advantage there). In the last big one we had some partial internal pancaking (thankfully after hours) in new buildings that were built to 100% of code. This led to some hasty reexamination of the code, and eventually to some other prominent buildings being declared risky that were previously thought to be safe.

            1. Wukchumni

              We were in ChCh about 10 days before the 2011 temblor, and I remember how little damage the previous fall’s 7+ earthquake had done to the city, there’d be a red-tagged building here and there, but not as many as you’d think.

              And then came the big one…

              location, location, location

      4. kgw

        Given the a amount of river transport coming out of the Sierra Nevada, among other things, not actually surprising!

    3. neighbor7

      For all interested in tree culture / climate / ecosphere / fiction I very highly recommend The Overstory, by Richard Powers. A new sort of novel, a new way of looking at life on the planet.

    4. Synapsid


      It took me a while to understand that the whole discussion is about sequoias. Is it common in that neck of the woods to call them redwoods? At first, before reading the sunnyredwoods link I was wondering how the devil redwoods could be growing on the east side of the Central Valley but in the linked story I saw the two names being used interchangeably.

      1. Wukchumni

        Coastal Sequoia redwoods are kind of the basketball players-as in tall, and Giant Sequoias on the western flank of the Sierra are more akin to sumo wrestlers-as in about 75 feet shorter, but much thicker around the waist.

        The former live in rainforests and get their moisture from fog/rain, whereas the latter get all their moisture in the winter via snow @ high altitude, and store enough to make it through the season of little rain from May to October.

        They’re quite different, coastal redwoods make great furniture, decking, etc. Over 95% of them have been cut down, whereas Giant Sequoias have hardly been touched-as there isn’t much use for the wood on a commercial basis, over 95% of them still exist.

        1. Copeland

          Sequoiadendron giganteum is also sometimes called the “Sierra Redwood” to make it even more confusing.

  4. Steve H.

    > A World at Risk: Annual report on global preparedness for health emergencies

    Execrable. The only word to describe this piece of fec.

    Please juxtapose:
    : “If a similar contagion occurred today with a population four times larger and travel times anywhere in the world less than 36 hours, 50-80 million people could perish”
    : “The poor suffer the most”
    : “Too many places lack even the most rudimentary health-care infrastructure. Communities that cannot care for a pregnant woman and her newborn child cannot protect against a disease outbreak.”

    “The poor suffer most” = “It’s all going according to plan.” The poor cannot afford to travel the world in less than 36 hours. This implicit focus on the effects of a pandemic on the relatively wealthy can be seen by doing a simple search on word strings:

    Quarantine: ZERO times.
    Border: ONE time.
    Donor: 17 times.
    Financ: 61 times.

    To stop a pandemic you must stop the spread. This is opposite a neoliberal agenda of open borders for people and money. And the report implicitly indicates the problem is sufferance to wealth, not people.

        1. Steve H.

          Agh! Thanks, I think, WobblyTelomeres.

          I wasn’t actually thinking the material product. More the Rodrik Trilemma point of Globalism and how it combines with Neoliberalism to tear down borders. Borders interfere with the transmission of capital flows, material trade goods, and to a lesser extent labor.

          Capital can cross the planet in milliseconds and flow to cheap labor. Labor can flow towards capital, but it’s more expensive; this was recently brought up at NC when discussing migration. But if borders are clamped down for quarantines, that impacts material flows, and makes the market ‘inefficient’ (by which I mean not predictably manipulable). We’re seeing this with Brexit and the US/China tariff conflicts.

          So, to clarify, while non-material money (capital) can still flow freely in a pandemic, the material can’t, and that impacts the immaterial. The article clearly is more concerned with money than people.

  5. The Rev Kev

    “The Fall of the Meritocracy”

    OK, so a meritocracy is a society governed by people selected according to merit. The best people in a population are selected on talent and ability and are allowed to raise. To quote Yes Minister, this is all ‘a consignment of geriatric shoemakers’ if that is a description of the system that we have today. It is definitely not a meritocracy that we have. My proof? The present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is Boris Johnson. Further proof? Out of a population of 335 million people, the two people selected to run against each other were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I rest my case.

    1. Wukchumni

      A leader leads from in front, by the power of example. A ruler pushes from behind, by means of the club, the whip, the power of fear.

      Edward Abbey

      1. Procopius

        Can’t remember where I read it, but “To be a leader, watch which way the crowd is heading and run to get to the front.”

      1. Carey

        Quoting from T. Frank’s ‘Listen, Liberal’, which I’ve stupidly just now gotten around to
        “..there is no solidarity in a meritocracy.”

        What a good book; irrefutable, end-noted to a T. Thank you, Thomas Frank.

    2. Another Scott

      My personal favorite fallacy of “meritocracy” is the importance placed on networking, which would not exist if we lived in a meritocracy, as the best people would get the job regardless if they knew the hiring manager or not. How many times have we heard that the connections you get at college are more important than the education? Many advocates of networking emphasis a distinction that networking applies when the people are qualified people, and cronyism when they aren’t. Of course this definition of cronyism only seems to appear when people are defending networking.

        1. Duck1

          Probably saw the comment here, and likely mangling from memory, but the gist was a corporate employee remarking:
          And when we hired the manager from the ivey, it seemed like we hired the entire school, since every additional hire happened to come from the same ivey.

      1. Stadist

        Meritocracy is easy defend for its proponents. Let’s consider your example of networking and connections: We only need to arbitarily decide that connections and networks are a merit and thus meritocracy is perfectly functioning system. Naturally those with more connections and larger professional networks are the ones more eager to consider these to be a merit.

        But is merit, or what counts as a merit itself, some completely undeniable fact? No, merits are social constructs and don’t differ much from moral codes. Society and smaller groups of people decide themselves what is considered a merit. Easy way to prove this is education degree inflation, the value of merit goes away after large proportion of the population or your peer population attains it. This proves merits have no absolute or inherent value and are instead quite relative and subjective in value.

        I don’t like meritocracy, to me it seems like yet another way to justify extreme differences in income, wealth and health outcomes. And strong belief in meritocracy enables extremely fatalistic logic: In meritocracy you get what you deserve, but this is considering the rewards. Equally we can consider the punishments: You get what you deserve to happen to you, and if something happens to you, you deserved it, it’s your own fault. Extreme individualistic meritocratic principle enables one to even blame crime victims for what happened to them because everyone is personally responsible for whatever they do or what happens to them.

    3. Eustache de Saint Pierre

      I think meritocracy has gradually been taken over by marketing, as in my experience people who know the best way to push themselves to the top, have the gift or knowledge to present themselves as a useful product. The product does not have to have any actual worth, it just knows how to play the game & can convince those who matter that they are what they present as being in the tin – a receptacle that might well be all the more useful through containing the asset of a moral void.

      Bill Hicks was right & if I had been wise I should have pretended to want to play golf.

      1. Susan the other`

        We humans need a change-ometer. We just don’t notice how much things change; relentlessly, continuously. That’s gotta be the foundation for nostalgia and dogma and denial and all sortsa problems we cause ourselves.

    4. Stadist

      On your example of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump exhibiting the failures of meritocracy: I’m not convinced. I think the example is more symptomatic of current fast medias: twitter, facebook etc. that definitely do not foster thoughtful analytical discussions. Like the Mark Twain quote goes:

      “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

      While the above quote isn’t strictly true, the problem is if someone produces 3-5 sentences of utterly populist garbage but you would end up needing 2-3x sentences and several source references to dissect the argument completely you are already losing the fast media argumentation, many people don’t have enough interest or even attention spans to delve deeper. Of course there are the people interested enough to read your counter argumentation, but those people would probably disagree with the original argument already. Current fast media enables previously unprecedented levels of echo chambers but also extremely superficial and intellectually poor general handling of events and facts. Old news media was extremely curated and far slower compared to today, now everyone is just obsessed with getting the news out as fast as possible and as provocatively as possible and thus we see even long time reputable sources to start churning out clickbatey articles. These aren’t completely getting rid of slower more analytical medias, however we are losing our democracy if majority of voters end up consuming mostly provocative clickbate headlines from echo chambers. While nakedcapitalism has very nice articles and discussions, it’s not like we are stopping the tide of change here, this is also one kind of echo chamber just for the fact that anyone who disagrees with the general discussions and sentiment here will probably stay away.

      Trump has a lot of merits if we analyze him through fast media performance, which is meritocratic strictly speaking.

    5. Old Jake

      “allowed to raise”

      Therein lies the core of the matter. Quality of life because of someone’s judgement that one possesses “merit.” SMH

  6. Stanley Dundee

    Russia carried out a stunning breach of FBI communications system. A somewhat garbled report featuring many anonymous sources, characteristic of a limited hangout. I was particularly interested to hear this from a CIA ex-honcho:

    Mark Kelton, who served as the chief of counterintelligence at the CIA until he retired in 2015,…told Yahoo News that the Russians are a professionally proficient adversary who have historically penetrated every American institution worth penetrating.

    Yet another arena in which the tottering American empire is overmatched?

    1. dearieme

      Which American institutions do they think unworthy of penetrating? Apart from any they wholly own, of course.

    2. Pat

      I’m more interested in how many American institutions our so called allies have penetrated. Frankly they scare me more than either of our big boogie man countries.

  7. Fritzi

    Really enchanting bonus antidote.

    That dog is kinda lucky though, that this tiny, little goat does not have horns, yet.

    1. Lee

      Interesting that the goat appears to be avoiding butting Fido in the skull, which I imagine would really hurt. And the dog, should it wish to do so, could bring the encounter to a quick and bloody conclusion. I’m assuming they are pals.

      1. barefoot charley

        The goat wants to play at butting heads, and the bulldog is game to play, but doesn’t know the game.

  8. Craig H.

    > How Powerful Ideas Can Shape Society: Aaron Director and the Triumph of Nihilism

    This article is great and I encourage all to read it.

    Aaron Director’s icy logic and expertise were, as it turns out, absurd. But in true Mencken-like fashion, the goal was rhetorical, to build pseudo-scientific arguments that would intimidate fancy liberals against using common sense. Director knew his audience.

    This is not one of those on-the-other-hand reports. It is as polemical as the writer claims that Director and Mencken were. He did get this a hundred percent correct: before this morning I had never heard of Director.

    1. David

      To be read in conjunction with the Valdai Club piece on western rationality.
      We tend to assume that rationality relates to analysis or purpose, and so we in the West, and we of progressive or leftist tendencies, tend to congratulate ourselves on being “rational”, and to dismiss other cultures, great villains of history and those who voted for Donald Trump as “irrational”. But rationality is much more about process than it is about content, and there, it’s fair to say that the West’s problem has been a reliance on rationalist principles without any wider ethical or even political context. Thus, you get market economics: the principles are irrational and the analysis is flawed, but if you take them both to be correct, then everything that market economic theory has done is a logical extension of them. This is why the analysis of western rationality by people like John Gray, who draw a direct line between the French Revolution and Stalin, misses the point. (And anyway, Stalin’s behaviour during the purges was the irrational behaviour of a paranoid mind).
      The real issue is the rise of the logical, scientific, mindset in the seventeenth century, in the work of people like Francis Bacon. This introduced rationality and the mastery of nature as guiding principles, and relegated religion, ethics and even politics to a secondary status. And so, unexpectedly, perhaps, you wind up with the Nazis. Yes, the Nazis. If you accepted the prevailing view a century ago that humanity consisted of different races, doomed by nature to struggle against each other until the weakest were destroyed, why then it’s completely rational to set out to destroy other races before they destroy you. And if you find yourself in occupied Poland in 1942 with millions of surplus mouths to feed and people starving, well, it’s entirely rational keep the food for the ethnic Germans and the troops, and kill of the rest (notably 2 million Polish Jews) who are just taking up space.
      The problem is not rationality, then, but an unthinking assumption that rationality is all that’s needed. And the answer is not emotion or irrationality, but a just appreciation of where the limits of rationality are. The Nazis were mostly poorly educated and unimaginative. But others who have caused great damage to humanity – including market economists and their disciples – don’t even have that excuse.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m interested that you dismiss John Grays arguments – unless I’ve misunderstood them (its a few years since I’ve read him), he more or less argues the same – i.e. that a western obsession with rationality detached from ethics and philosophy (or to be precise, believed by its adherents to be above and beyond ethics) has led to ultimately irrational actions. As you say, a lot of historical acts of pure evil were, on a superficial level, entirely rational from the point of view of the perpetrators.

        Great comment by the way, well worth expanding into an article, perhaps our hosts here might consider it.

        1. David

          That’s very kind. My problem with Gray is that he follows a number of French philosophers and historians like Furet in seeing the Enlightenment in general and the French Revolution in particular as the origin of all modern evils. He draws a straight line in some of his writing from Voltaire to Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The argument is that the Enlightenment began a tradition of thinking that humans were perfectible and large scale human engineering was therefore possible. There is some truth in this of course, but only some, and it can easily degenerate into a general anti-leftist argument. My point was that rationality of behavior is not confined to any one tendency, nor are the terrible consequences it is capable of producing.

      2. Plenue

        “And if you find yourself in occupied Poland in 1942 with millions of surplus mouths to feed and people starving, well, it’s entirely rational keep the food for the ethnic Germans and the troops, and kill of the rest (notably 2 million Polish Jews) who are just taking up space.”

        This makes it sound like Germany first invaded Poland, then killed a bunch of people as a solution to the problem of what to do with them. But that’s not what happened. They invaded with the express purpose of mass slaughter. Generalplan Ost was all about taking Eastern Europe into a German colony, first killing most of the population and then turning the rest into slaves.

        1. David

          They invaded in the knowledge that millions would die as part of their plans. As I recall, Generalplan Ost foresaw some 30-40 million of the inferior races dying. But the specific issue in 1942 was that the Soviet Union had not collapsed in a few months as expected, but was still there. Thus, the looting and living off the land that was anticipated did not happen, and the Germans, always short of food and raw materials, found themselves in a crisis to which they reacted rationally, if with the complete absence of morality that one would expect.

        2. Baby Gerald

          ‘They invaded with the express purpose of mass slaughter. Generalplan Ost was all about taking Eastern Europe into a German colony, first killing most of the population and then turning the rest into slaves.’

          Well, the actual aims of the German invaders were a little more nuanced than this. In Phillip Rutherford’s Prelude to the Final Solution: Nazi Policy for Deporting Ethnic Poles 1939-1941 (University of Kansas Press, 2007) the author explains how the original plan for the Poles evolved over the course of their occupation.

          They had a plan to destroy the very idea of Poland as a state by first getting rid of the country’s intellectuals, politicians, clergy, and outspoken nationalist elements. Tens of thousands of Poles would be murdered in the process, but mass slaughter of the kind that followed the invasion of the USSR two years later wasn’t quite in the cards yet.

          The plan was to assimilate those who they thought were Aryanizable, keep non-assimilated Poles for labor either in situ or back in Germany, and drive eastward any groups (Jews, Roma, communists) they considered a threat to their utopian vision of racial state. Stalin did his part in the process by invading Poland from the east two weeks after the Germans (the secret protocol to the Ribbentrop/Molotov pact), sending even more nationalist elements off to Siberia and murdering a huge swath of Poland’s military officer class (Katyn).

          As for all the Jews the Germans inherited with this conquest, they hadn’t quite figured out yet what to do. Deportation, a colony in Madagascar, a reservation near Lublin– all of these were on the table at the time. One thing definitely was for certain, though– these Jews would be dispossessed of virtually everything they owned and excluded from life in the Reich.

          While Germany and the USSR were still on ‘friendly’ terms though, the major theme of the day was massive population transfers. Here’s where Rutherford’s book stands apart as he explains all the schemes developed to move so-called ethnic Germans from areas under Stalin’s control into Poland to replace the groups being deported in the other direction and how these plans morphed due to wartime circumstances. It was through all this trial-and-error of figuring out how to move these massive groups by rail across eastern Europe, though, that they ironed out all the logistical wrinkles that would eventually be used to ship trainloads full of people to their deaths.

          With the invasion of the USSR in June 1941 (as David notes in his reply), a far crueler plan was envisioned both for the invaded territories and the Jews. Herbert Backe, Reichminister for Food and Agriculture (and a perfect picture of a desk murderer par-excellence), had indeed planned for millions of deaths from starvation because the Wehrmacht only had supplies to last until late September and would thereby be forced to plunder the territories they invaded for foodstuffs and supplies. His scheme was quite un-euphemistically titled the Hungerplan.

          Sorry for the long-ish explanation, but this area is my academic wheelhouse.

          1. Voltaire Jr.

            Thank you for nuances that are important.
            Merci pour les nuances qui sont importantes.
            Muchas gracias,

          2. Dan

            Aren’t you forgetting something?

            “From May 1945 until well into 1947 and often beyond, millions more German residents of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary (and, to a lesser extent, of Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia) were stripped of their citizenship and their properties, and driven from their homelands, on foot or by cattle car, with no more than what they could carry, to the occupied zones of a devastated Germany….Douglas estimates that, counting the refugees from the east, between twelve and fourteen million German civilians either abandoned or were expelled from their homes, their farms, and their factories, making it one of the largest and most disruptive transfers of population in history.”


            Hundreds of thousands barbecued overnight by the “liberators” in Dresden.


            “It was only 40,000 etc” Historical revisionism abounds.

          3. David

            Thanks for the reference, which I’ll follow up. It adds to my conviction that it’s wrong to see rationality as simply the product of the Enlightenment. The Germans were many things on the Eastern Front, but irrational they were not.The idea that their policy was just driven by some kind of blind hatred is wrong and misleading. It was worse than that.

      3. Plenue

        I would love to live in this supposed rational ‘dystopia’ Valdai is talking about. From where I’m standing very little about domestic of foreign policy in ‘the West’ is rational, by any definition of the word.

      4. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Also the controversial Völkerabfälle that Engels mentioned a century before Poland being taken over in 1942.

    2. cnchal

      I am a bit confused by Stoller’s last paragraph.

      Today’s America, where lifespans are declining, where giants like Google and Amazon stride across the land unchallenged, where big banks crush the economy and bring forth men like Donald Trump to lead, is Director’s legacy. It is a legacy of nihilism and hopelessness. I admire his stunning ability to build political power and transform society. But truthfully, I could never really understand why he sought to use them towards such wretched ends.

      The answer is in the article.

      Director made his final turn in 1950. Simons and Hayek both saw corporate monopolies as dangerous, perhaps even more dangerous than big government or labor unions. And Director was a great admirer of Simons, whose Positive Program for Laissez Faire was as antimonopoly as it was anti-big government. But Simons killed himself in 1946. And the extreme right-wing funder of the project, Harold Luhnow of the Volker Fund (who later dallied with fascists in the 1960s), essentially threatened to fire Director if he didn’t jettison his allegiance to Simons’s anti-corporatist ideas.

      Director suddenly decided that conservative ideas were compatible with corporatism after all. Monopolies, apparently, were always created by government. At this moment, Director broke with the conservative tradition and birthed neoliberalism, the anti-government, pro-monopoly philosophy that now dominates policymaking globally. Director convinced George Stigler and Milton Friedman of the new creed. Both had opposed corporate monopolies, but flipped to support Director’s new movement. The Chicago School was born.

      “Venal” is the operative word.

      1. LifelongLib

        Ok, so read him like we should read everything else from the past, keeping the ideas and insights that are still of value, ignoring or rejecting the rest. There are very few people in history or literature that would pass our current litmus tests on racial or religious matters. If we refuse to read those who don’t the result will merely be our own illiteracy.

        1. Plenue

          Not really true; you can find more or less enlightened writers from pretty much any era.

          Anyway, it’s not about whether he was perfect or not. He was always an elitist ass, that he was secretly an idiot bigot isn’t at all shocking. His public writings came from the same mindset. Anything worthwhile that he said you could find someone else also saying, and they most likely weren’t also a secret Nazi.

    3. Procopius

      I knew that Milton Friedman was married to Director’s daughter, but I didn’t know who Director was. Law and Economics? My lord, what a pit of vipers that place was.

  9. a different chris

    Um??? I didn’t really get past this sentence in “O, The Roast…”, having spit out my sushi all over my keyboard at it.

    >It is a myth: there are no unique or authentically distinctive national culinary cultures.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I didn’t like that line either, but he did expand on it and justify it later. It is true that supposedly ‘authentic’ foods are often nothing of the kind. An example is that much Chinese food is actually significantly better outside China in its more localised forms.

  10. Winston Smith

    Pollution in India: I was in Dehli during xmas 2018. The air quality index hovered between 470-480 the whole time. Bear in mind that the max is 500. I saw people running. After such an experience, you no longer take the privilege of clean air from granted. Having grown up in the canadian countryside, I am afraid I did.

    1. Jef

      India was plundered and repressed by imperial Britain for so long that the population grew way beyond any chance of building out the infrastructure required for a reasonable country to exist.

      1. divadab

        Note lack of agency. Indians have been independent for 82 years – 4 generations – and during that time the population grew from about 350 million to the present 1.3 billion – almost a four-fold increase. Also India has adopted entirely the western energy feast model of economy – massive coal-fired power plants, gas and diesel powered automobiles, and so on. This is what is causing the air to be so bad.

        Blaming the British for all the ills of Indian society is simplistic and wrong.

      2. Lee

        They didn’t fare so well under the Muslim conquest either. India has a long history of being conquered with suppression of the indigenous population.

        In early second millennium BCE persistent drought caused the population of the Indus Valley to scatter from large urban centres to villages. Around the same time, Indo-Aryan tribes moved into the Punjab from regions further northwest in several waves of migration. The resulting Vedic period was marked by the composition of the Vedas, large collections of hymns of these tribes whose postulated religious culture, through synthesis with the preexisting religious cultures of the subcontinent, gave rise to Hinduism. The caste system, which created a hierarchy of priests, warriors, and free peasants, but which excluded indigenous peoples by labeling their occupations impure, arose later during this period.

        Evidently, buried under all those conquests is archaeological evidence in the Indus Valley of an early civilization that was highly egalitarian and for its time technologically advanced.

  11. The Rev Kev

    “Britain hopes for trade deal with Australia within months of Brexit”

    Let’s see. The distance from London to Sydney by cargo ship is approximately 15,550 miles and takes about 56 days at sea while the distance from London to Calais port by cargo ship is approximately 115 miles and takes only an hour or two. I think that I see a problem here.

    1. Winston Smith

      A military-based adage but nonetheless applicable in this case: “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”

      1. Jesper

        Possibly something might need to be added to that saying, about dilettants studying demographics. I find it both sad and funny how supposedly learned people believe that simply due to demographics some at present poor countries will (unavoidably as there are no caveats?) become rich….
        The people with actual on the ground knowledge are leaving those soon to be rich countries for going to the countries claimed to be doomed to decay due to ‘poor’ demographics. Who to believe? The ‘experts’ or the ones with both skin in the game and actual on the ground knowledge and experience?

          1. divadab

            Most truck traffic travels through the Chunnel. Very entertaining discussion but not much cargo travels from UK to EU by ship anymore.

  12. Ignacio

    RE: Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns Bill McKibben, The New Yorker

    Thank you for the link! For me this was a must read. I strongly recomment after reading to go to the Banking on Climate Change page and download the 2019 report.
    I am taking data about spanish banks and will circulate it.

    1. Susan the other`

      I liked it too. But I’d say that it’s not the money. It’s our priorities. I can’t yet imagine it, but all we need to do, no matter how irrational it sounds to begin with (as it will soon take on a life of its own momentum) is create a synthetic profit structure (which is what we now have but we haven’t realized it yet) so that all that “money” can be put to environmental use. It will take a government, a global government – which everybody thinks is an oxymoron – but if we all agree that saving the Amazon rain forest is worth a good 50% profit on investment yearly at first and then gradually lower as it recovers, etc. etc. Then why not? It makes not one bit of difference financially. It is simply a question of values and dedication. Who cares about finance and profiteering if it is such a good cause. It’s not the money. That’s our first mistake. It is based on scarcity and deprivation.

      1. Rod

        Agreed, long must read addressing the banking/finance/insurance nexus profiting by propping up fossil fuels and how to begin knee capping their operation.
        The beginning effects of some actions he cites was positively surprising for me.
        Beside the big picture it’s User Friendly too: got a bank account?pension or 401k?carry insurance?

        And because it’s Bill McKibben, you might want to get outside on 9/20–see for details

  13. diptherio

    Re History of Korean Food

    From the article:

    But how did Koreans have so much food to eat? Fertile lands and superior farming techniques certainly played a role, as Korea is one of the earliest locations in the world to adopt paddy-style rice farming. Farmers grew rice seedlings, then transplanted them into flooded fields, allowing for more intensive planting and easier management.

    Ju Yeong-ha also notes the importance of Daedong-beob, the taxation system that the Joseon Dynasty introduced in the early 17th century. Prior to Daedong-beob, Koreans paid taxes to the king in the various forms of goods that the royal court required, such as lumber, horses, and silk. Daedong-beob unified the various forms of taxes to a single kind: rice. This, in effect, made growing rice equivalent to growing money, encouraging even more production than strictly necessary. With so much more rice, Koreans simply had access to more food.

    Interesting from a macroeconomics perspective, huh? If I was still in academia, I think I’d make my next research project studying the effects of this change in taxation methods, looking at overall production patterns before and after the institution of the unitary payment method and the impacts on society of such changes (which appear to be large). Then maybe I’d look at the change from rice payment of taxes to monetary payment and do a similar treatment. Somebody who gets paid to do this kind of thing, please steal this idea.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its not dissimilar I think to the situation in Europe and the US where badly designed incentives have resulted in huge over-supply of some types of food, and then they have to think of all sorts of bizarre uses for it (e.g. ethanol fuel). I think anthropologists will say that in most pre-capitalist societies farmers tended to minimise over-production of food as there was simply no good reason to work that hard if the surplus could not be made into a tradeable good. So its credible I think that by making rice into currency by allowing farmers to pay tax in it, they encouraged farmers to grow far more. The link with crypto-currencies etc. is obvious – you are right, it would make a fascinating topic of research, assuming nobody has already done it.

    2. eg

      I’m not sure that this qualifies as much of an innovation given that the Bronze Age civilizations of the Fertile Crescent had barley taxation so very long ago?

  14. Jason Boxman

    No wonder no one wanted to go to the climate forum. It’s focus is about the real lifestyle changes needed to reduce the impact of climate change:

    Korenha [a co-founder of the newsletter Our Daily Planet and a planner of the MSNBC event] said the CNN town hall was criticized for focusing on narrow questions about how candidates would change how Americans live, “from plastics … to cheeseburgers”.

    And we can’t reduce the impact without reducing OUR impact. But who wants to talk about that?

  15. The Rev Kev

    “Saudi oil attacks: All the latest updates”

    I found an interesting site which goes into a lot of detail about Saudi Arabian defenses – or partial lack of

    So a question arises. The Russian military base in Latakia in Syria has been subject to frequent drone attacks and all have been taken out bar one I believe. From that I think that is safe to infer that the Russians have better defensive gear than the ones that the US is selling to Saudi Arabia e.g. Patriot batteries. Knowing that a small number of craft knocked out half their oil production and that this attack could have been far, far worse you have to wonder. What if the Saudis demand to buy Russian defensive gear on the grounds that they have a better proven track record. Does Trump say I can’t let you do that?

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        Stupid money, I say, shooting down $1,000* drones with $500,000 (or more) missiles. And if enough $1,000 drones get launched, there is no good response.

        *Completely imaginary drones each carrying a 5kg shaped charge, purely for argumentation purposes, an idiot’s thought experiment.

        1. Whoamolly

          I wonder if Drone defense has to be either EMP bursts to disable guidance electronics and/or a competing swarm of smart drones with shotgun type warheads. Not widely installed yet but will be soon i expect.

        2. Procopius

          The Houthi drones are both more costly and carry a much larger payload than your $1,000 hypotheticals, but, yes, the cost/benefit ratio is strongly against the defenders. If the Saudis had the sense god gave little green apples they would never have walked out on the truce talks they were forced into last year. Their situation is getting worse by the day with UAE pulling out and some of their mercenaries starting their own insurrection. I think some people think the Houthi drones are like the little quadcopters that people play with, but they are real weapons, although apparently smaller than the Predators and Reapers. See

    1. hunkerdown

      Maybe Bone Sawman is for once working on more pressing problems, no doubt in order to save his own neck rather than out of any sense of duty. A high-ranking MP who has reason to know claims that KSA has asked Iran via diplomatic channels to provide motor fuel. Big if true. Then again, the East is engaging in some epic international relations trolling right now and it’s difficult to sort fact from lulz.

      Even then, “the” economy is above POTUS’ pay grade. Were Bone Sawman to get too close to taking delivery of Russian air defense gear, it’s more likely that the MossCIA would leave the head of MbS’s fourth favorite concubine in his bedchamber one fine Arabian night.

      All that assumes the whole thing wasn’t fake news by someone who stands to benefit, say, someone in the “deep steady state” helping their real bosses day-trade some oil contracts, or US neocons trying to meddle in Israel’s election on behalf of Likud.

  16. Synoia

    Saudi Oil Refinery Attacks

    A fire at a refinery could be a drone attack, or bad maintenance or carelessness. The refinery is processing hydrocarbons under great heat and high pressure. A pinhole can cause an explosion.

    How old is this refinery, and how well maintained?

    Let’s see the proof of the drone attack. The current rush to judgement appears agenda driven.

  17. Livius Drusus

    Re: The Fall of the Meritocracy.

    That was a good article. One of the cultural artifacts that we need to get rid of is the idea that some people deserve to make substandard wages because they did poorly in school or whatever the excuse is to treat workers badly. Some people get mad at the idea of service workers making decent wages but these are likely the jobs of the future and they need to be upgraded. Manufacturing jobs were once low-paid, low-status jobs until they were unionized. Maybe we can do the same with the new service sector.

        1. Yves Smith

          This is much more of a case of the Fed hoist on its own petard than any serious problem.

          The Fed is shrinking its balance sheet. That is lowering liquidity in the system. Not bad in isolation, hasn’t been a problem heretofore.

          However, the Fed has also been relying much more on its interest rate on bank reserves to influence money market rate than intervention via Fed funds. And it’s also patted itself on the ability of its reverse repo facility to calm the repo markets.

          This didn’t work out so well now that the reduction in liquidity has greatly reduced excess bank reserves. and there was a one-two punch of demand for cash on same day: corporate tax payments + biggish Treasury bond sale.

          So the Fed has lots of egg on its face.

          1. Procopius

            The extra demand for cash is a regular thing, though, happens every quarter. Why would the banks have been unready for it?

  18. Susan the other`

    Is it just me or has the Valdai Club gone weird? Twilight of the West? The repressive tyranny of reason. If what they mean by “19th Century reflection” is being objective about the social costs of liberal capitalism, then yes, somewhat. But they go nowhere with it. On the other hand, the Awful Avalanche made up for that let down. It was written with all the jabs and pokes missing from the VC blurb. So whereas the VC was weird and poetic, Awful Avalanche was just plain good. It left me wondering less about Bolton’s demise than about the strangely silent and invisible VP, Mr. Pence.

  19. Off The Street

    2020 betting markets in this Newsweek article show that many bet on Hillary waiting for that invitation to coronation. Maybe Ol’ Joe is there to fan the flames of BHO-stalgia before embering out to his dotage, and then Hillary and Elizabeth can team up for the anti-Trump dream ticket.

      1. Carey

        Team Dem should certainly go with Hillary Harris, esp if they want a record-low turnout (I’m guessing they do).

        “Like it, proles!”

  20. Chauncey Gardiner

    In the category of ‘Boring But Important Stuff’ and regarding the article in FT about the sudden spike in secured overnight repo rates that took the overnight secured repo rate above 9 percent on Sept 17; I believe that President Trump, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, and the Primary Dealers are not without responsibility in the matter, including for the lack of liquidity that led to the rate spike. This is being largely ignored by the FT, as well as by the financial media generally.

    The Treasury General Account (TGA) balance was back up to $299 billion as of Sept 16. IMO this is because Trump and Mnuchin are rebuilding a war chest at Treasury in advance of a possible federal government shutdown being engineered to gain Congressional support for administration’s policies that are encountering political resistance. Similar to what occurred in the fourth quarter 2018 in advance of the last federal shutdown, as the balance in the TGA has increased, cash liquidity in the financial system is being drawn down by a comparable amount and financial markets have become increasingly vulnerable to liquidity pressures and correction. The role of the Primary Dealers in the spike relates to the lack of Treasury bill and bond collateral despite the massive issuance of bonds by the Treasury Department to both fund the federal budget shortfall attributable to the tax cuts to benefit large transnational corporations and the wealthy, and to the rebuilding to the balance in the Treasury General Account at the Fed mentioned.

    Although the Fed’s action is conceptually somewhat comparable to reestablishing Quantitative Easing, I feel the Fed should be commended for acting in the public interest by quickly setting up a permanent $75 billion secured overnight repo facility to remedy the sudden lack of liquidity and spike in rates. Otherwise, the administration’s actions might have threatened to trigger massive exposures in interest rate, currency and other derivatives that could cause significant disruptions in the financial system. This rate spike was not about the decline in bank reserves at the Fed due to the end of quantitative easing. Total bank reserves are over $1.4 trillion per the Fed’s most recently published balance sheet.

    Just my view about the Fed’s and administration’s actions in this particular instance, and not a comment on the desirability of Fed policies generally, or lack thereof. I would also add that I don’t work in nor follow financial markets closely, and may be overlooking aspects of this episode that might cast it in a different light.

  21. Oregoncharles

    ““Twilight of the West?” The New Totalitarianism, Reflection and Free Thought ”
    Very weird. Did anybody else make sense of it? And who is Timofeev?

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