2:00PM Water Cooler 1/24/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I accumulated a lot of stuff over the weekend that I didn’t get to use yesterday. I’m going to do politics, first, then fill in the other buckets. –lambert strether


“The Trade War, Paused for Now, Is Still Wreaking Damage” [New York Times]. “Two years of tit-for-tat tariffs and on-again-off-again trade talks have left American farmers reeling. The manufacturing sector is in a recession, albeit a relatively mild one, and factory employment declined in December after rising slowly for most of last year. And in recent months, there have been signs that the damage is spreading: Railroads and trucking companies have been cutting jobs, and consumers — at least in the parts of the country most affected by the trade disputes — may be pulling back as well.”


“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

Here is a second counter for the Iowa Caucus, which is obviously just around the corner:

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Alert reader dk (not to be confused with DK) is in the process of developing the following interactive chart.

We have a lot of polls today, as of 1/24/2020, 12:00 PM EST. Today we have national polls from Emerson and Ipsos. It looks like it’s now a two-person race between Biden and Sanders, with Warren trailing badly, followed by Buttigeig, with Bloomberg still closing on Buttigieg, which is interesting or concerning. Of course, these are national polls, about to be massively thrown into confusion by IA, NH, SC, and NV — and then CA. I stopped using three-day averages because, this close to the first balloting, day to day fluctuations are important:

And the numbers:

I thought I’d post another “small multiples.” It’s curious how the changes in the numbers are slow, even glacial. I’ve helpfully added arrows to show who’s going down and who’s going uo. Hard, again, to think that this is what the DNC gamed out:

Summary: The Biden juggernaut rolls on, but Sanders is closing. Warren is in trouble (meaning her smear of Sanders did not work). Needless to say — though of course IA, NH, SC, and MV are each different — this is a good place for Sanders to be. It’s hard to believe this was the DNC’s desired result.

CAVEAT I think we have to track the polls because so much of the horse-race coverage is generated by them; and at least with these charts we’re insulating ourselves against getting excited about any one poll. That said, we should remember that the polling in 2016, as it turned out, was more about narrative than about sampling, and that this year is, if anything, even more so. In fact, one is entitled to ask, with the latest Buttigieg boomlet (bubble? (bezzle?)) which came first: The narrative, or the poll? One hears of push polling, to be sure, but not of collective push polling by herding pollsters. We should also worry about state polls with very small sample sizes and big gaps in coverage. And that’s before we get to the issues with cellphones (as well as whether voters in very small, very early states game their answers). So we are indeed following a horse-race, but the horses don’t stay in their lanes, some of the horses are not in it to win but to interfere with the others, the track is very muddy, and the mud has splattered our binoculars, such that it’s very hard to see what’s going on from the stands. Also, the track owners are crooked and the stewards are on the take. Everything’s fine.

I think dk has started a really neat project, and in the near future we’ll seek your feedback (within reason) for the tool “live.”

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Biden (D)(1): “Law School Memes for Edgy T14s Endorses Joseph ‘Sloppy Joe’ Biden” [Medium]. “Joe Biden is what every law student strives to be: a lawyer who has moved seamlessly from the practice to the creation of law while escaping consequences, failing upwards, and showing no particular talent for legal work.”

Biden (D)(2): “Joe Biden’s Checkered Ethical History Is Fair Game for Criticism” [Jacobin]. “It’s not a coincidence that the right flank of the party started finger-wagging about divisiveness, incivility, and disunity precisely when the left flank began to seriously threaten its dominance. As the left wing gains momentum, the party establishment’s tolerance for legitimate criticism wears thinner, and the range of topics considered off-limits or below-the-belt expands. New behavioral norms have appeared out of thin air: suddenly political criticisms of opponents, no matter how legitimate by traditional standards, are a bridge too far, and are even alleged to help Donald Trump. At least, if the criticisms are flying from left to right.” • But hippie-punching is always good.

Buttigieg (D)(1): “Pete Buttigieg is missing support from another key Democratic group: Unions” [Los Angeles Times]. “Buttigieg has embraced a policy platform that aggressively favors organized labor, but no unions so far have endorsed his bid to win the Democratic nomination for president… Over the last week, the 120,000-member International Assn. of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union endorsed Biden, and the University Professional and Technical Employees union, which represents more than 16,000 University of California employees, endorsed Sanders, who has collected the most union endorsements thus far.”

Sanders (D)(1): “S. Carolina elected official now backing Sanders over Biden” [Associated Press]. “A South Carolina elected official who endorsed Joe Biden last month is switching her allegiance to Bernie Sanders in the state’s first-in-the-South presidential primary, saying she had viewed the former vice president — whose support in the state is considered deep — as ‘a compromise choice.’ Dalhi Myers told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she was making the change in part because she values what she sees as Sanders’ strength in being able to go toe-to-toe with President Donald Trump in the general election. ‘I looked at that, and I thought, ‘He’s right,” said Myers, a black woman first elected to the Richland County Council in 2016. ‘He’s unafraid and he’s unapologetic. … I like the fact that he is willing to fight for a better America — for the least, the fallen, the left behind.’” • Another strong point for Rovian assault… .

Sanders (D)(2): Those can destroy a thing….

Sanders (D)(3): “‘Guillotine the rich’: Sanders staffer says he’s ready for armed ‘revolution’” [Washington Times]. “Project Veritas has apparently snared another pro-Soviet, pro-gulag Bernie Sanders campaign staffer, this one saying in a hidden-camera video released Tuesday that he was ready to ‘get armed’ for the ‘revolution’ and musing about sending Republicans to ‘reeducation camps.” The footage featured a man identified as ‘paid’ South Carolina field organizer Martin Weissgerber was posted a week after the release of video featuring radical Iowa field organizer Kyle Jurek, part of the undercover journalism outfit’s #Expose2020 series. In the video, Mr. Weissgerber described himself as a communist and said that he was in contact with groups that planned to hold mass ‘yellow-vest’ protests like those that have roiled France if Mr. Sanders loses.” • Big talk from Weissgerber! The Sanders campaign called the cops on O’Keefe (who has a history of faked videos). But this is where the campaign is headed. The Sanders field office called the cops on O’Keefe (as opposed to cowering in fear, as with the infamous ACORN episode).


The Orwellian Assault on Bernie Sanders Jacobin. Press really outdoing itself. The sad thing is that due to link rot, a lot of the history is no longer easily accessible. So, agnotology.

Sanders (D)(4): So I guess the flap about Teachout’s Guardian piece didn’t come to much:

Sanders (D)(5): “Watchdog files FEC complaint against pro-Sanders nonprofit” [Associated Press] (the complaint). “The campaign finance act says groups established by federal officeholders or candidates cannot raise money for federal electoral activity that exceeds the limitations of the law. Those contributions are currently set at $2,800 for candidates and $5,000 for political action committees…. Our Revolution has taken in nearly $1 million from donors whose contributions exceeded those limits and whose identities it hasn’t fully disclosed, according to tax filings for 2016, 2017 and 2018. Much of it came from donors who contributed six-figure sums… National Nurses United for Patient Protection, a super PAC that supported Sanders’ 2016 run, disclosed that it donated $300,000 to Our Revolution. Sixteen Thirty Fund, a nonprofit group that allows donors to anonymously funnel large contributions to progressive and liberal causes, was the source of a $100,000 contribution in 2017.” • One million over three years?

Warren (D)(1): “Moment Iowa dad gets into a heated row with Elizabeth Warren over her student loan forgiveness plan, telling the candidate people who have already paid for their kids’ tuition will be getting ‘screwed’” [Daliy Mail]. “‘My daughter is in school, I saved all my money just to pay student loans, can I have my money back?’ the man says to Warren. The senator from Massachusetts replies: ‘Of course not.’” • I’ve raised this issue before, to, IIRC, some scoffing. I donl’t know what the numbers would be if we rolled back all student payments, however. You can also hear Trump making this argument, so it has to be dealt with. (I suppose Luke 15:11-32 applies, but it’s a heavy lift.)

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“Adam Schiff: ‘Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.’” [Press Watch]. • Full text of Adam Schiff’s closing remarks.

“Democrats launch last bid to break Trump’s impeachment firewall” [Politico]. “Throughout their testimony, the impeachment managers emphasized holes in the full Ukraine story that could only be filled by specific documents that they know exist but that Trump has withheld from Congress. They include correspondence, like former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Bill Taylor’s cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo worrying about the hold on military aid. They also include the notes kept by Trump’s former national security aide Fiona Hill and contacts between Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and senior members of the State Department and White House.” • Three years of “This time we’ve got him!” and now, with these documents, “This time we’ll really get him!”

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“Impeachment Super Bowl: Trump 2, Dems 0” [The American Conservative]. “Embedded in this impeachment inquiry are hawkish assumptions about the absolute necessity of engaging in proxy wars with Russia far from the United States’ borders that I cannot endorse regardless of Moscow’s election interference and other misdeeds. ‘The U.S. aids Ukraine and its people so they can fight Russia over there and we don’t have to fight them here,’ insists Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is among the impeachment managers. This is a bad parody of neoconservatism circa 2003… Anti-Trump prosecutors also repeatedly make assertions that American foreign policy is set by unelected bureaucrats and professionals apart from the elected branches of government, including the president to whom they are constitutionally subordinate.” • It’s not possible to parody the neo-cons, of 2003 or any other time. Wierd to see the Democrats decided that Ukraine is the hill to die on, after three years of daily RussiaRussiaRussia.

“‘Take her out’: Recording appears to capture Trump at private dinner saying he wants Ukraine ambassador fired” [ABC]. • I know this is dumb, but was a point when I gave up on Benghazi because there were too many names and not enough narrative. I think, with “Marie Yovanovitch,” we’ve reached that point with impeachment, or whatever this is. If we’re not going to die on the Ukraine hill, we’re going to die on the “Presidents can’t fire ambassadors” hill? OK, OK, show me your yarn diagram….

Realignment and Legitimacy

“How a stronger anti-war movement rallied to stop a march to war with Iran” [Politico]. “As headlines began flashing earlier this month that the United States had killed a top Iranian general, the leaders of a new think tank [Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft] quickly realized that this was their moment…. Funded in part by the unusual pairing of liberal financier George Soros and conservative tycoon Charles Koch, the institute is inspired by the famous quote from John Quincy Adams – that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” – and it seeks to inject that point of view directly into the bloodstream of media outlets that more often privilege the voices of a narrow set of Washington hawks.” • Strange that Politico leads with that, though it does go on to mention other NGOs like MoveOn and Win Without War.

“Inside the secret Twitter rooms where Debra Messing, Don Cheadle, and the rest of the celebrity #Resistance organizes” [Vox]. • Progessive “influencers”…

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “Coronavirus fears hit world markets – as face mask makers see windfall” [Sky News]. “China Eastern Airlines lost 2.9% but Shanghai Dragon Medical, which makes medical disposable and healthcare products, and Tianjin Teda, a conglomerate whose products include medicines, were both up by 10%.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 64 Greed (previous close: 68 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 89 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 24 at 12:39pm. Big swing down!

The Biosphere

“DNA from child burials reveals ‘profoundly different’ human landscape in ancient Africa” [Los Angeles Times]. “Central Africa is too hot and humid for ancient DNA to survive—or so researchers thought. But now the bones of four children buried thousands of years ago in a rock shelter in the grasslands of Cameroon have yielded enough DNA for scientists to analyze. It’s the first ancient DNA from humans in the region…. The discovery underscores the diversity of African groups that inhabited the continent before the Bantus began to herd livestock in the grassy highlands of western Central Africa. The Bantus made pottery and forged iron, and their burgeoning populations rapidly displaced hunter-gatherers across Africa. Analyzing DNA from a time before this expansion offers ‘a glimpse of a human landscape that is profoundly different than today,’ [population geneticist David Reich of Harvard University] says.”

“There’s been a huge spike in one of the world’s most potent greenhouse gases” [MIT Technology]. “Levels of a gas that is 12,400 more damaging than carbon dioxide in terms of its planet-heating properties are higher than ever. HFC-23 was believed to have been almost completely eliminated after India and China reported they had reduced emissions to almost zero in 2017. In fact, a year later emissions were at an all-time high of 15,900 tons, equivalent to the annual CO2 output from about 50 coal-fired power plants, according to a paper published today in Nature Communications. Where is it from? HFC-23 is used to manufacture fridges and air conditioners, and is vented to the atmosphere during the production of HCFC-22, another chemical used in cooling systems in developing countries. Researchers at the University of Bristol used gas detection data from five Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) stations, captured between 2007 and 2018. The researchers didn’t attempt to identify the source of the emissions, but the Environmental Investigation Agency, an NGO that monitors environmental crimes, said China is likely to have played a major role since it holds 68% of the capacity for the production of HCFC-22.”

The Carceral State

“Another inmate found dead inside understaffed Mississippi prison” [CBS News]. “An inmate was found hanging inside his cell in an apparent suicide at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman on Wednesday, authorities said. This is the eighth death at the troubled facility following a wave of violence last month….. The apparent suicide comes a day after two other inmates were found beaten to death inside their cells at Parchman. They were identified as Timothy Hudspeth and James Talley. A total of 10 inmates have died in state prisons since December.” • Yikes.

Guillotine Watch

“Globalists Gone Wild” [Politico]. “The Davos-Alfalfa pairing serves as a kind of unofficial launch of what is now a yearlong season of corporate and political networking among a certain set of the world’s most influential people. Davos is by far the largest and most celebrated of these conclaves. But there are others that are more intimate and more exclusive…. It is an odd choice in a way. After a week of nonstop panels and interviews and receptions and handshakes and air kisses, days and nights that blur into one with typically too much drink and too little sleep, you would think even titans of technology, finance, and politics might want to throw on sweatpants and flop on the couch at home with a cup of herbal tea. And perhaps these modern moguls do want that. But there is something they plainly want more: confidence that if other important people are gathering somewhere they will not be left out and missing potentially valuable action.”

Class Warfare

“Martha Nussbaum Thinks the So-Called Retreat of Liberalism Is an Academic Fad” [LiveScience]. “Evolution and natural selection take place at the level of DNA, as genes mutate and genetic traits either stick around or are lost over time. But now, scientists think evolution may take place on a whole other scale — passed down not through genes, but through molecules stuck to their surfaces. These molecules, known as methyl groups, alter the structure of DNA and can turn genes on and off. The alterations are known as ‘epigenetic modifications,’ meaning they appear ‘above’ or ‘on top of’ the genome. Many organisms, including humans, have DNA dotted with methyl groups, but creatures like fruit flies and roundworms lost the required genes to do so over evolutionary time.” • Paging Lamarck….

“How Women Are Training to Do Their Own Abortions” [Vice]. “Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, the reproductive justice group Reproaction decided to start hosting gatherings to teach people about self-managed abortion. So far, Reproaction has hosted 21 meetings across Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. — including the one in Columbia — where activists tell attendees about a regimen recommended by the World Health Organization. That protocol details how a drug called misoprostol can induce an at-home abortion, right down to the number of doses you would need to take and when.”

“It’s been 3 months since the New Orleans Hard Rock Hotel collapse. The bodies of those killed are still there” [CNN]. “It’s been more than three months since the Hard Rock Hotel construction site collapsed in New Orleans. The crumbled building sticks out as an eyesore on the edge of the city’s historic French Quarter as Mardi Gras celebrations approach. But what’s even more horrific is that the bodies of two workers killed in the collapse have still not been recovered. The victims are 63-year-old Jose Ponce Arreola and 36-year-old Quinnyon Wimberly.”

News of the Wired

“In ‘Agency,’ William Gibson Builds A Bomb That Doesn’t Boom (And That’s OK)” [NPR]. “His conflicts are intellectual, occasionally solved by the swift application of overwhelming violence, but more often seeing victory come as the natural result of more intelligent systems processes; through more effective usage of human capital and resources. And the good guys win simply because they are smarter and geekier and just so much cooler than the bad guys could ever hope to be.” • There’s that word: “Smart.” I’ll have a review the next time I’m posting long-form.

“Struggling to be a Stoic Problem Solver?” [Medium]. “Building on the Socratic questioning techniques, there’s one interesting piece of research that might help give us insight. Igor Grossmann, of the University of Waterloo, carried out experiments about problem-solving. The name of the study was… Exploring Solomon’s Paradox. For those that don’t know: King Solomon is the biblical figure known to give wise counsel. But, apparently, his own life was a bit of a shambles! What he could dish out to others, he seemed unable to apply to his own life. Taking that as context, Grossmann formed the hypothesis for his experiment. Grossmann wanted to test if people were wiser when they solved other peoples’ dilemmas rather than their own. He also checked to see whether viewing our problems, as if we were looking down on ourselves in the third person, would give better answers — rather than trying to solve it from an ego-centric perspective. He found this was indeed the case…. [P]sychological distancing can lead us to make better decisions and solve issues more quickly and wisely.”

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral 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 (BR):

BR writes: “This tree is in our backyard in Reno, and is always beautiful in the fall but the colors this year are especially vivid. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the tree.” A little break from the January monochrome.

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This entry was posted in Water Cooler on January 24, 2020 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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