2:00PM Water Cooler 9/12/2019

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Patient readers, today is a travel day for me, so I haven’t done anything time-stamped. As you caen see, I’ve basically thrown together today’s meal from random oddments I found in the fridge. Be sure to tune in at 7:30PM for tonight’s debate (when the post goes live). –lambert


“The contradiction at the heart of Trump’s trade war” [Jeff Spross, The Week]. “As economist Jared Bernstein recently pointed out, the president and his negotiators are working off two different theories of what counts as victory in the trade war. Trump himself is pushing something like “full import substitution” — jobs will return to America, the trade deficit will close, and stuff that gets made in China will be made here again. Meanwhile, the administration officials actually carrying out the negotiations are pushing an entirely different set of goals: To get China to respect U.S. intellectual property more, to stop demanding U.S. firms share technology before they can do business in China, and to generally lower rules and regulations that discourage American companies and investors from opening operations in China’s domestic market. These two theories of victory aren’t just different; they’re almost entirely non-overlapping. They serve two completely different sets of interests and beneficiaries.” • Acute!

“Hasbro CEO says moving out of China has ‘gone very well for us’” [CNBC]. “Hasbro shifting its business out of China has been positive for the company, according to its CEO. ‘It’s gone very well for us,’ Brian Goldner told CNBC on Tuesday. The toy company has been focused on diversifying its manufacturing operations since 2012 due to ‘enterprise risk reasons,’ he said. ‘We’re seeing great opportunities in Vietnam, India and other territories like Mexico. We’re doing even more in the U.S. We brought Play-Doh back to the U.S. last year,’ Goldner said.” • Play-Doh….


“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


Biden (D)(1): “Joe Biden Demands Financial Transparency but Hides Wealth” [Ryan Grim, The Intercept]. “Biden is expected to go after Sen. Elizabeth Warren in particular, Bloomberg reported, for failing to disclose details of private income during the 1990s and 2000s from the types of companies that she now lambasts for ‘rigging the system.’ … Since leaving the White House, Biden, long proud of his wealth ranking near the bottom of the U.S. Senate, began delivering high-dollar speeches to well-heeled clients and raked in book revenue that elevated him well into the upper class. He earned some $15.6 million in the last two years alone, according to financial disclosures released by his campaign…. The Bidens have used their home state’s financial privacy laws to shield his income from public view, by setting up two tax- and transparency-avoidance vehicles known as S corporations.” • Hmm.

Biden (D)(2): “Biden camp thinks the media just doesn’t get it” [Politico]. “The press corps, or so the Biden campaign sees it, is culturally liberal and highly attuned to modern issues around race and gender and social justice. Biden is not…. Inside the Biden campaign, it is the collision between these two worlds that advisers believe explain why his White House run often looks like a months-long series of gaffes…. This is the central paradox of Biden’s run: He’s been amazingly durable. But he gets no respect from the people who make conventional wisdom on the left.” And: “To many Biden supporters, who polls consistently show are older, more working class, and more culturally conservative, these alleged gaffes are eye-rolling examples of the absurdity of the press or the woke left… What is clear is that the critics, who are louder and more visible online and on cable TV, have had absolutely no impact on changing Biden’s status as the steady front-runner in the race. This woke-working class divide is at the heart of the most salient fact about the Democratic primaries: Nothing has damaged Biden. Biden entered the race with about 30 percent support nationally and he has that same 30 percent today. • If indeed this work/working class distinction is correct, I’d say that a good chunk of Biden’s supporters are there for Sanders.

Harris (D)(1): “Kamala Harris prosecuted a mentally ill woman shot by SF police. The jury didn’t buy it.” [Mercury News]. “When San Francisco police broke down a door inside a group home for mentally disabled people in 2008 and shot a 56-year-old resident, then-District Attorney Kamala Harris didn’t charge the officers with a crime. Instead she prosecuted the schizophrenic woman who was severely injured in the shooting. Harris charged Teresa Sheehan with assaulting the officers, alleging she came at them with a kitchen knife after they forced their way into her room. But the jury was not convinced. It deadlocked in favor of acquitting Sheehan on the assault charges, and found her not guilty of threatening to kill a social worker who had called the police for help to get Sheehan into a psychiatric hospital.”

Sanders (D)(1): “Bernie Sanders’s Enduring Appeal to the Youth Vote in Iowa” [Eren Orbey, The New Yorker]. “At this point, the most pressing question for the Sanders camp is not whether students in the first nominating state will caucus for a dishevelled, hectoring septuagenarian over his younger opponents but whether enough students will caucus at all.” • They really hate him, don’t they?

Sanders (D)(2): “Poll: Sanders leads Biden, Warren in New Hampshire” [Politico (MH)]. “[A new Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald survey] shows that 29 percent of likely Democratic voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state said they support the Vermont senator, while 21 percent are backing Biden. Elizabeth Warren received 17 percent. The survey of 425 likely Democratic voters was completed from Sept. 4 to Sept. 10, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.” • Turns out that doorknocking is more effective than busing in a cheering crowd from Massachusetts. Cheaper, too. Who knew?

Trump (R)(1): “Let Trump Destroy Trump” [David Axelrod, The New Yorker]. “Wrestling is Mr. Trump’s preferred form of combat. But beating him will require jiu-jitsu, a different style of battle typically defined as the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.” • Oh, hell yeah. Why govern?

Warren (D)(1): “I like Elizabeth Warren. Too bad she’s a hypocrite.” [Ed Rendell, WaPo]. Now, Ed Rendell has been on my shit list ever since he advised Al Gore to throw in the towel during the Florida recount in 2000. That said, even a blind pig finds a truffle every so often:

Shortly after announcing her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in February, Warren said she would shun high-dollar fundraising events. “That means no fancy receptions or big money fundraisers only with people who can write the big checks,” Warren wrote in an email to supporters.

Now, Warren has every right to make that pledge even if she had obtained significant contributions from donors in the past. Doing that didn’t make her a hypocrite. But there are two other reasons why the description applies.

First, because she transferred $10.4 million from her Senate reelection campaign to her presidential campaign fund. More than $6 million came in contributions of $1,000 and up, as the New York Times recently noted. The senator appears to be trying to have it both ways — get the political upside from eschewing donations from higher-level donors and running a grass-roots campaign, while at the same time using money obtained from those donors in 2018.

The $10.4 million gave Warren a substantial head start in building a presidential-campaign staff and doing other things for which money is essential….

Second, Warren attacked former vice president Joe Biden for holding a kickoff fundraiser in Philadelphia in April, which she criticized as “a swanky private fund-raiser for wealthy donors” in an email to supporters the next day.

Well, I helped organize that affair, and I thought her attack was extremely hypocritical because nearly 20 of us who attended the Biden fundraiser had also given her $2,000 or more in 2018 at closed-door fundraisers in “swanky” locations.

Warren didn’t seem to have any trouble taking our money in 2018, but suddenly we were power brokers and influence peddlers in 2019. The year before, we were wonderful. I co-chaired one of the events for the senator and received a glowing, handwritten thank-you letter from her for my hard work.

Where’s the lie? Interestingly, the story of how Warren converted cash from her Senate campaign to seed money for her Presidential campaign was published in the Gloucester Times in June, and we linked to it when it did.* Nothing came of that story, then. But now that the Times has published
on it, let the games begin. I don’t think the liberal Democrat establishment has given up on Joe Biden. Not the Times, and not people like Ed Rendell. It’s that loveable goof Joe Biden’s turn, after all.

NOTES * Makes me wonder what other time bombs are ticking away in the Massachusetts local press. No doubt that’s being looked into.

* * *

“Unemployment Uptick May Signal State Recessions” [Pew]. “Using that standard, there is a 50% chance that Minnesota and North Carolina are currently in a recession. It’s not yet possible to confirm that, however, because state GDP numbers are only available through the first quarter of 2019. The disconnect between unemployment and GDP in another state, Colorado, illustrates the uncertainty: Colorado’s unemployment rate has risen several times in the last year, but GDP figures show its economy did not contract at those times. The most recent state recessions, in late 2017 and early 2018, occurred in Alaska, Delaware, New Mexico and West Virginia.” • The moral of the story is that national polling averages may conceal more than they reveal.

Our Famously Free Press

You get used to it after awhile:

2016 Post Mortem

Not, apparently, a wax dummy:

Where’s the server? Under the desk?

Realignment and Legitimacy

9/11 (1):

9/11 (2):

Chuffed to link to The General, a blogger of the old school.

Stats Watch

Commodities: “Exclusive: Fake-branded bars slip dirty gold into world markets” [Reuters]. “In the last three years, bars worth at least $50 million stamped with Swiss refinery logos, but not actually produced by those facilities, have been identified by all four of Switzerland’s leading gold refiners and found in the vaults of JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of the major banks at the heart of the market in bullion, said senior executives at gold refineries, banks and other industry sources. Four of the executives said at least 1,000 of the bars, of a standard size known as a kilobar for their weight, have been found. That is a small share of output from the gold industry, which produces roughly 2 million to 2.5 million such bars each year. But the forgeries are sophisticated, so thousands more may have gone undetected, according to the head of Switzerland’s biggest refinery.”

Shipping: “U.S. Rail Traffic Still Falling As Fall Approaches” [Railway Age]. “Manufacturing and goods trading must still be hurting—and the cooler weather certainly hasn’t cooled off the drops—as total carloads for the week ended September 7 were 238,988 carloads, down 5.6% compared with the same week in 2018, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 230,297 containers and trailers, down 7.5% compared to 2018. Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2018. They were chemicals, up 1,425 carloads, to 30,888; miscellaneous carloads, up 42 carloads, to 8,674; and petroleum and petroleum products, up 1 carload, to 11,653. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2018 included commodities such as coal, down 5,965 carloads, to 79,446; grain, down 2,589 carloads, to 17,431; and nonmetallic minerals, down 2,524 carloads, to 32,734.”

Shipping: “Bernie Sanders’ green deal – $216 billion for electric trucks” [Freight Waves]. • 2020 from freight’s perspecitive.

The Bezzle: “WeWork’s Adam Neumann Is in the Race of His Life as His Fortune Sinks With the IPO” [Bloomberg]. “With WeWork’s valuation plummeting, anxiety is growing about when, how or even whether the hipster office-rental company should go public, with even its own bankers unnerved. In question, too, is where this now leaves other fast-growing, money-burning companies – the so-called unicorns. Rarely has the view from the corner office been so at odds with the view from the marketplace. WeWork’s predicament has exposed the yawning gap between what private investors think a young company might be worth and what that company might actually fetch in the stock market.” • More on WeWork:

The Bezzle: “Funders threaten to quit Facebook project studying impact on democracy” [Reuters]. “A group of philanthropies working with Facebook Inc (FB.O) to study the social network’s impact on democracy threatened on Tuesday to quit, saying the company had failed to make data available to researchers as pledged. The funders said in a statement that Facebook had granted the 83 scholars selected for the project access to “only a portion of what they were told they could expect,” which made it impossible for some to carry out their research. They have given Facebook until Sept. 30 to provide the data.” • Lol they expected Facebook to keep its word. Funders are supposed to be smart!

* * *

The Biosphere

“Brace for food wars: science writer issues warning to world” [Reuters]. “Julian Cribb, an award-winning Australian journalist, called for an overhaul of global food production to avoid disputes over resources proliferating in new territories. ‘We tend to think of food crises as something that happens in Africa or some other developing country,’ he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. ‘We think supermarkets will always be full of food… But the world only has about three months supply of grain in store at any one time,’ said Cribb. The world’s food systems are coming under increasing strain from a combination of climate change, water scarcity and soil and biodiversity loss, he said. Yet if harvests were to fail in a major grain-growing region, prices of grain and bread would spike, he said. ‘Supermarkets can be emptied in 24 hours, if people panic. We are far closer to hunger than most of us suspect,’ said Cribb, whose book ‘Food or War’, published by the Cambridge University Press, comes out in October.” • Three months? Somehow I think that Michael Hudson’s Mesopotamian rulers had more margin than that…

“Flaring, or Why So Much Gas Is Going Up in Flames” [Bloomberg]. “When an oil well begins to spew, less-valuable natural gas comes up alongside crude. Pipelines can capture that gas, but when they’re not available, producers often get rid of the gas so they don’t have to stop pumping oil. They do that by either igniting the gas, in the case of flaring, or releasing it directly into air, known as venting. Flaring is preferred because methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas, is burned off, though carbon dioxide is released into the air…. The World Bank estimated that globally in 2018, 145 billion cubic meters of gas was flared, about as much as Central and South America use in a year. The amount is rising because of the oil boom in the U.S., which is fueled by the use of hydraulic fracturing — fracking — to unlock fuel from shale rock. Increased flaring in the U.S. is concentrated in the shale oil basins known as the Eagle Ford in Texas, the Permian in Texas and New Mexico, and the Bakken in North Dakota. Permian flaring rose about 85% last year, according to data from Oslo-based consultant Rystad Energy. The volume flared in Texas by the end of 2018 was greater than residential gas demand in the entire state.”

“Unfurling The Waste Problem Caused By Wind Energy” [NPR]. “While most of a turbine can be recycled or find a second life on another wind farm, researchers estimate the U.S. will have more than 720,000 tons of blade material to dispose of over the next 20 years, a figure that doesn’t include newer, taller higher-capacity versions…. Decommissioned blades are also notoriously difficult and expensive to transport. They can be anywhere from 100 to 300 feet long and need to be cut up onsite before getting trucked away on specialized equipment — which costs money — to the landfill. Once there, Van Vleet said, the size of the blades can put landfills in a tough spot. ‘If you’re a small utility or municipality and all of a sudden hundreds of blades start coming to your landfill, you don’t want to use up your capacity for your local municipal trash for wind turbine blades,’ he said, adding that permits for more landfill space add another layer of expenses.” • Just lol. So much for wind farms in Maine…

“Ocean drilling revolutionized Earth science — now geologists want to plumb new depths” [Nature]. “The practice of boring holes in the sea floor has revolutionized earth science, helping researchers to confirm the theory of plate tectonics, discover microbes deep in the ocean crust and probe the hidden risks of earthquakes and tsunamis. But to keep the field alive for years to come, scientists must now convince international funding agencies that there are discoveries waiting to be made. The international agreement that governs scientific ocean drilling expires in 2023. Researchers from the 26 nations that participate in that framework, known as the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), will gather in Osaka, Japan, on 11 September to discuss how they might replace it. The scientists will hammer out a new list of scientific goals for the next phase of ocean drilling, from 2023 to 2050 — if they can convince funding agencies to pay for it.” • Ka-ching.

“The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia” (PDF) [Science]. “The movement of people following the advent of farming resulted in genetic gradients across Eurasia that can be modeled as mixtures of seven deeply divergent populations. A key gradient formed in southwestern Asia beginning in the Neolithic and continuing into the Bronze Age, with more Anatolian farmer–related ancestry in the west and more Iranian farmer–related ancestry in the east. This cline extended to the desert oases of Central Asia and was the primary source of ancestry in peoples of the Bronze Age Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC). Earlier work recorded massive population movement from the Eurasian Steppe into Europe early in the third millennium BCE, likely spreading Indo-European languages. We reveal a parallel series of events leading to the spread of Steppe ancestry to South Asia, thereby documenting movements of people that were likely conduits for the spread of Indo-European languages.”

The “archetypal plant:”:

The 420

“The startup behind the world’s first marijuana breathalyzer just raised a fresh $30 million and offered a glimpse at how the device works” [Business Insider]. • “The study was small and paid for by Hound, but it suggested that the device could detect recent marijuana use. It also had some limitations, however: Researchers didn’t compare people who’d smoked against people who did not, for example, and the results varied pretty dramatically among the participants, which could mean it’s still too early to come up with an objective numerical figure for “impaired” cannabis use. Still, investors are hopeful.” • Are they high?

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“The Racist Origins of Computer Technology” [Yasha Levine, Influence Ops]. “A century ago, America was in love with eugenics. It was consumed by fears of “race suicide” and obsessed with the need to safe-guard its “superior” Anglo-American stock from the millions of immigrants arriving on its shores. Out of this vortex of nativist fears, the world’s first rudimentary punch card computer was born — built on order from the U.S. government for the 1890 census. The quote in the picture above comes from a letter Herman Hollerith wrote explaining why he ended up going with a ‘punch card’ design over a continuous ticker tape for his newfangled computation device: it would make analyzing the racial attributes of the population much easier. ‘The trouble was that if, for example, you wanted any statistics regarding Chinamen, you would have to run miles of paper to count a few Chinamen,; he explained. Racial data was front and center in his mind as he perfected his invention. IBM’s origin story, which goes back over 130 years, offers a glimpse into how computers, surveillance, and racist government policies have been linked from the very beginning.” • The story I was familiar with was the use of Hollerith technology by IBM in Nazi concentration camps, but as so often with fascist ideas and techniques, the United States led the way, right at home!

Neoliberal Epidemics

The Bezzle: “The future might be meat-free, but new research shows the current range of plant-based alternatives might be doing us more harm than good” [Business Insider]. “In an effort to compete on taste, meat-free alternatives are being made with excessive amounts of salt, according to new Australian research. From falafels, vegan pies, meat-free bacon and sausages, single serves of some vegetarian and vegan options were found by health organisations to be loaded with as much as half the daily recommendation. With 2.5 million Australians eating meat-free, increasingly salty food is putting us at increased risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.” • Everything’s going according to plan.

Class Warfare

“Everything Must Go” [The Baffler]. “Trump’s 2020 budget is laced through with references to ‘leveraging the private sector’ and ‘increasing the private sector’s role,’ in ways that would affect national forests, schools, infrastructure, the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system, and federal food stamps. It proposes to sell publicly owned electricity assets (such as those of the Tennessee Valley Authority) because ‘the private sector is best suited to own and operate electricity transmission assets.’ It requests authority to ‘incentivize the private sector to fill the defense financing gap’—that is, give handouts to Raytheon and the like—’so that America can still be the defense supplier of choice for partner countries for which loans are not the best option.’ It says we need a long-term bill to address our highways because that’s where most transportation-related fatalities happen, and because it would provide ‘certainty to America’s state, local, and private partners, so they can plan and invest in projects with confidence.’” • Liberal Democrats have no principled way to oppose any of this, lacking, as they do, principles;  Trump’s privatization project began, back in the [genuflects] Clinton administration, with Al Gore’s program of “reinventing government.” To the bare walls!

News of the Wired

Normally, I don’t think much of concrete poetry, but this on tidal detritus is lovely:

(You may have to click the image to see the whole poem.)

“Daniel Johnston, Austin music legend and ‘Hi, How Are You’ artist, dies at 58” [Austin 360]. • A lot of people seem to be familiar with “outsider artist” Daniel Johnston, but not me! Readers?

“A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone” [Medium]. “Sleep with your phone in the other room. • I don’t get it. How can I sleep with my phone if it’s in the other room?

* * *

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 (KH):

KH writes: “Hawaiian sunset.”

* * *

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This entry was posted in Guest Post, Water Cooler on September 12, 2019 by .

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.

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