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2:00PM Water Cooler 11/2/2018

By Lambert Strether of Corrente. Patient readers, I’m sorry I hit the submit button a minute or two late — two days in a row! I think I’ll add a few more items because I got started late. –lambert. Trade “Third-Quarter Data Shows Record U.S. Trade Deficits During Trump Presidency” [Eyes on Trade]. “Government data released today reveals the highest U.S. goods trade deficit in a decade for the first three-quarters of 2018, contradicting President Donald Trump’s midterm campaign trail triumphalism on trade. During Trump’s presidency, the U.S. trade deficit with China has risen to the highest ever recorded, while the deficits with the world and with North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) nations have steadily grown, reaching nine-month levels in 2018 higher than any year since before the

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I’m sorry I hit the submit button a minute or two late — two days in a row! I think I’ll add a few more items because I got started late. –lambert.


“Third-Quarter Data Shows Record U.S. Trade Deficits During Trump Presidency” [Eyes on Trade]. “Government data released today reveals the highest U.S. goods trade deficit in a decade for the first three-quarters of 2018, contradicting President Donald Trump’s midterm campaign trail triumphalism on trade. During Trump’s presidency, the U.S. trade deficit with China has risen to the highest ever recorded, while the deficits with the world and with North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) nations have steadily grown, reaching nine-month levels in 2018 higher than any year since before the 2008-2009 financial crisis…. The data arrives on the heels of Trump’s Treasury Department failing to label any country a currency manipulator….. As well, Trump has not exercised the authority he has to reverse waivers of “Buy America” procurement policies that outsource U.S. tax revenues to purchase imports for government use. He also has not followed through on his campaign pledges to penalize imports from firms that consistently outsource jobs or limit government contracts to firms that outsource jobs.”

“The Department of Justice is now a major player in the U.S. fight against Beijing’s trade practices, which the administration says includes blatant theft of technology and trade secrets from U.S. companies. The first — and unlikely to be the last — target of the initiative is Chinese state-owned company Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co., which Justice alleges was part of a conspiracy to steal, convey, and possess trade secrets stolen from Idaho-based Micron Technology. Taiwanese semiconductor foundry United Microelectronics Corp. and three Taiwanese nationals were also named in the indictment as being part of the scheme. The action represents an increasingly multi-pronged approach at punishing China’s alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property and policies that require U.S. companies to transfer their technology to Chinese partner companies as a condition for doing business there” [Politico].



“Democrats don’t understand this surprising secret of Trump’s success” [Mark Penn, FOX]. “If you think about it, you probably know President Trump’s positions on almost every major issue. And obviously, he has doubled down on immigration as the make-or-break issue for him and his party…. Other than investigations and impeachment, what are the Democrats running on? They have made an issue of health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. Trump has said he too would cover them. The Democratic idea is not a health-care plan, but an attack. Nor do Democrats have an economic plan many people can remember. Nor a plan on immigration. Nor a plan to deal with jobs migrating to China and Mexico. President Trump taunts the Democrats, calling them the “open borders” party. And yet the Democrats have absolutely no plan for dealing with illegal immigration. In response, they attack the president personally.” • Reading Mark Penn is a guilty pleasure. But he’s not wrong. Pelosi: “Our party is a big tent. Our districts are very different one from the other… Each of our Members is elected to be the independent representative of their district. Their job description and their job title are one and the same: representative. So, nobody’s district is representative of somebody else’s district. It’s just a sign of vitality of our party, not a rubber stamp…. [T]he beauty is in the mix.” How on earth do you run a nationalized election on “the beauty is in the mix”?

“Elizabeth Warren Test-Drives Her Presidential Campaign” [The Atlantic]. “The choice for voters, Warren said, is about protecting health care, deciding if CEOs who break the law should go to jail, dealing with student loan debt, tackling climate change and criminal justice reform, and ending the expanded flow of money into politics made possible by Citizens United.” • That’s ridiculous. The midterms aren’t about any of those things — except “protecting” the Rube Goldberg device of ObamaCare, when pushing for #MedicareForAll would be the best way to do that — and structurally, cannot be; see Pelosi’s comment above.


3 days until Election Day, next Tuesday. Too late, I think, for any game-changing events. Even this year.

“Poll Finds 2018 Midterms Resting On Critical Swing Group Of People Who Showed Up Looking For Community Center Pottery Class” [The Onion].

“Five days to go” [Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball]. Five at the time of writing. “House: Right now, we have 212 House seats at least leaning to the Democrats, 202 at least leaning to the Republicans, and 21 Toss-ups. While we’re still gathering information about the Toss-ups, we do have a sense as to where we’re leaning in the races. As of this moment, we’d probably pick the Democrats in 12 of the Toss-ups and Republicans in nine of them. That would amount to a Democratic House gain of 29 seats. So let’s say, for now, we’re thinking an overall Democratic gain of somewhere around 30 seats, give or take. That’s more than the 23 net seats the Democrats need, but not so many more that one could rule out the Democrats sputtering out short of the majority.”

“What a Republican Hold in the House Might Look Like” [Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics]. “There really are believable scenarios that don’t require Republicans to win districts that they have written off. Republicans have to catch some breaks, but they don’t have to catch breaks in ways that shock and surprise us. We can still assume that suburban districts move against them, which they almost certainly will…. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 22 districts for Democrats, which is just enough for Republicans to keep control of the chamber. I don’t think this scenario involves any races where I would truly be shocked if the Republicans win, and I could probably push further — without feeling delusional — for a scenario where Democrats pick up just 19 or 20 seats.” • That was yesterday. Comes the hedge, today–

“What a Democratic Wave in the House Might Look Like” [Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics]. “Today I will do the reverse: game out a Democratic win in excess of 40 seats. Again, I don’t think this involves any ridiculous outcomes, although I do think it requires a lot of breaks for Democrats…. The major cause of uncertainty for Democrats is that once you get past the 15 or so races that most people agree they will win, you are in some pretty red territory, and indicators like the generic ballot and presidential approval aren’t really consistent with a major push into GOP territory. The Republicans’ major problem is that there are potentially just too many brush fires for them to put out, and some of their incumbents really do seem to have been caught napping (shockingly, for this environment).”

“‘Blowing Smoke’: Sorry, Pundits, But You Have No Clue What Will Happen on Tuesday” [Vanity Fair]. “Every piece of evidence we have about voting behavior during the Trump presidency—special elections in various corners of the country, public and internal polls, early voting data in key states—indicates that we are heading for a midterm election with explosively high turnout. University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who studies voting patterns, estimated recently that almost 50 percent of eligible voters could cast ballots this year, a turnout level not seen in a midterm election in 50 years…. Enthusiasm in this election, though, is mostly fueled by Democrats. Aside from college-educated white women, much of the Democratic coalition in 2018 is comprised of voters—young people, African-Americans, and Hispanics—who don’t typically show up in midterm elections. And the main thing to remember about high-turnout elections, especially ones that bring non-traditional voters into the mix, is that strange things can happen…. You know who knows the precise composition of this year’s electorate? No one. Electorates mutate every two years. They get older, they get younger, they get browner, they get whiter, they get smaller, they get bigger. They respond to new candidates and shifting issue sets. Using past turnout patterns can be useful when modeling a universe of voters, but the polls cannot tell us with certainty what will happen on Election Day anymore. In a volatile environment where Trump has saturated every inch of our cultural fabric with politics, who the hell knows what’s going to happen? Maybe Democrats might actually win the Senate. Maybe Republicans will keep the House.”

“Can the fed vote tilt the election?” [Federal News Network]. “Can the large number of federal workers in low-voter turnout cities and districts make the difference in next Tuesday’s congressional and gubernatorial elections? Many federal and postal union leaders think and hope so. And the numbers, if they can get their people to turn out, show they could be correct. Over the weekend The Washington Post ran a full page story complete with color maps showing areas, congressional districts and cities where many if not most registered voters didn’t show up at the polls in 2016. Norfolk, Virginia, was at the top of the list with a turnout of only 44 percent. Yet the Tidewater region of Virginia is chock full of feds, including 13,448 at the Norfolk Naval Base and another 9,800 at the nearby Portsmouth shipyard. San Antonio ranked number two on the Post’s no-show-no-vote cities where only 48 percent voted. There are about 6,000 federal civilians working for the military, plus many others with other agencies. The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn ranked 3, 4 and 5 as voter no-shows in 2016 yet the metro area has thousands of feds from DEA and FBI agents to IRS workers and postal employees.”

GA Governor: “NEW POLL: Race for Georgia governor as close as ever” [WSB-TV].

IL-12: “Farmers are losing money thanks to Trump — but they still support him” [Politico]. “Though soybean prices have plunged 20 percent and farm incomes are down 50 percent over the past five years, farmers who plan to vote for [incumbent Mike Bost] say they still have faith their economic pain will be short-lived. They highlight new negotiations with the European Union, Japan and U.K. as a sign of forward progress and support the tariffs as necessary to protect U.S. national security.”

“No One Wants to Campaign With Bill Clinton Anymore” [New York Times]. “As Democrats search for their identity in the Trump era, one aspect has become strikingly clear: Mr. Clinton is not part of it. Just days before the midterm elections, Mr. Clinton finds himself in a kind of political purgatory, unable to overcome past personal and policy choices now considered anathema within the rising liberal wing of his party.” • As opposed to the aging liberal wing of the party, I suppose. Seriously, would shunning Harvey Weinstein have been enough? Or is it “anything goes” if you’re inside Pelosi’s “big tent”?

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“The GOP’s Sneakiest Voter Suppression Tactic” [The New Republic (Gerald)]. “Over the past decade, Republican elections officials have been shuttering polling places in minority neighborhoods, low-income districts, and on college campuses at a feverish pace. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the U.S. had more than 132,000 polling places; by the time Donald Trump ascended to the White House, eight years later, more than 15,000 of them had been closed nationwide. After 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court basically lifted federal Voting Rights Act oversight from states that were particularly notorious for racial discrimination in elections—including Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas—the pace of poll closures went into hyperdrive. Thanks to Shelby County v. Holder, if you ran elections in a majority-black county in Georgia, or a booming Latino neighborhood in Houston, you no longer had to ask the Department of Justice to approve a change in where people could vote, or to prove the intent wasn’t discriminatory. While voter ID laws must be passed by lawmakers, guaranteeing news coverage and public debate, it’s a snap to move or close polling locations.” • So much care and tnought goes into this…

“Uber & Lyft are offering free rides to the polls — but here’s what they don’t tell you” [Clark.com]. “Much has been made recently about the good deed being offered by two of America’s most popular ridesharing services. Uber and Lyft have both announced that they are going to give voters in the midterm elections rides to the polls on Tuesday, November 6. But what Uber and Lyft aren’t saying, at least not as loud, is that those free rides to the polling stations are one way. In other words, once you take one of these companies up on their offer, they won’t take you back home — for free, at least.”

New Cold War

“Mystery of the Midterm Elections: Where Are the Russians?” [New York Times]. “Whether a Russian change of tactics is unfolding is just one of many mysteries surrounding this first national election in the United States after the most sophisticated effort ever discovered to divide Americans, and ultimately seek to alter the outcome, by a foreign power.” • Personally, I think South Carolina’s “Fire Eaters” had a far more “sophisticated effort” to “divide Americans” in 1860; they deliberately split the Democrats Lincoln won, and the South seceded. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was pretty good, too. I don’t think Obama’s comments on “bitter” “cling to” types, or Clinton’s on “deplorables” are in the same league, but the impulse to “divide Americans” is clearly there. The efforts of “foreign powers” — or, as the latter-day Jim Crow types put it, “outside agitators” — aren’t even trivial by comparison. They are tiny pin-pricks compared to great bludgeoning blows by powerful and well-funded political actors. For pity’s sake.

“The CIA’s communications suffered a catastrophic compromise. It started in Iran.” [Yahoo News]. “From around 2009 to 2013, the U.S. intelligence community experienced crippling intelligence failures related to the secret internet-based communications system, a key means for remote messaging between CIA officers and their sources on the ground worldwide. The previously unreported global problem originated in Iran and spiderwebbed to other countries, and was left unrepaired — despite warnings about what was happening — until more than two dozen sources died in China in 2011 and 2012 as a result, according to 11 former intelligence and national security officials… The disaster ensnared every corner of the national security bureaucracy… One country where the impact appears to have been contained is Russia.” • With leak like this, you always have to wonder why now (the Friday before election day) and what sort of disinformation it is. Taking the story at face value, the intelligence community is just completely hosed, institutionally. So how come its leadership gets to be authoritative anonymous sources for RussiaRussiaRussia! stories in the papers — I did note, and quote, the careful exclusion of Russia from the debacle — or swan around being talking heads on cable? It’s like treating our Generals like Napoleon when they keep losing very expensive wars.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“US elections: Just another flawed supply chain?” [Supply Chain Dive]. “I can’t help but think of the growth in earlier voting — spreading out the vote over a few weeks — as analogous to supply chain trends heading into peak retail season…. Voting, after all, depends on a supply chain too, though the ‘consumers’ in this scenario go home empty-handed. Materials, like ballots and voting machines, must be procured in the right number at the right place and time at risk of dampening activity in-store — I mean in-polling place.” • Interesting, but since voting isn’t a transaction — we hope! — I don’t think the analogy hold.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation, October 2018: “In a very strong showing in which wage pressures may be less severe than they look, October’s nonfarm payroll growth easily surpassed expectations” [Econoday]. “Average hourly earnings posted an expansion high year-on-year rate [but] the month-to-month pace actually eased. The monthly slowing in wages removes at least some of the urgency felt by the hawks at the Federal Reserve who were voicing their views at the September FOMC that policy may, in a need to cool the economy and the labor market, have to rise beyond neutral and into the restrictive zone.”

Factory Orders, September 2018: “[F]actory orders in October added to September’s very strong gain” [Econoday]. “Orders for core capital goods (nondefense ex-aircraft) slipped… A big positive in today’s report is a second straight strong build for unfilled orders…. The manufacturing sector is a central strength of the U.S. economy and, despite softness in capital goods, looks to be closing out 2018 in favorable fashion.”

International Trade, September 2018: ‘The nation’s trade deficit continued to widen in September” [Econoday]. “First the good news and that’s a strong showing for aircraft exports that lifted capital goods…. Now the news on imports where consumer goods rose… Going into what looks like building drama for trade talks, the nation’s trade deficit was going in the wrong direction. Net exports proved very weak in the third quarter with the outlook for the fourth quarter uncertain.” And but: “September 2018 Trade Rolling Averages Improved” [Econintersect]. “The data in this series wobbles and the 3 month rolling averages are the best way to look at this series. The 3 month averages improved for exports and improved for imports…. Our analysis differs from the headline view in that BOTH imports and exports declined this month – but still, the rolling averages improved and growth continues to be in the range seen for the last year…. There continues to be little evidence of a trade war in the data.” And: “In general, trade has been picking up” [Calculated Risk].

Shipping: “U.S. ports and terminals may face new layer of scrutiny in wake of container explosion” [Logistics Management]. “The pre-Holloween explosion of a fully loaded outbound container at a Port of Los Angeles terminal was a scary incident for a number of reasons, say shipping analysts. The one recurrent nightmare for shipping security experts has long been the possibility of a weaponized container entering the nation’s largest port to wreak havoc and destruction. But the fact that the recent explosion at an LA Port Terminal was caused by a container loaded in the U.S. and destined for an export market may now have an impact on new protocols for outbound inspection and diligence.”

Shipping: “Container line alliances reduce shipper choice, says ITF as the EC reviews the rules” [The Loadstar]. “Brought into law in 2010 – following the EU’s decision to outlaw the conference system that allowed shipping lines to jointly set freight rates – the Maritime Consortia Block Exemption Regulation has enabled carriers to jointly run services and manage capacity on those services – in effect, paving the way for today’s deepsea alliance structure…. The ITF’s Impact of Alliances in Container Shipping report, authored by Olaf Merk, Lucie Kirstein and Filip Salamitov, argues that the alliance structure has reduced shippers’ choice and reduced service levels through ‘lower service frequencies, fewer direct port-to-port connections, declining schedule reliability and longer waiting times.'”

The Bezzle: “Goldman Sachs Ensnarled in Vast 1MDB Fraud Scandal” [New York Times]. “Federal prosecutors on Thursday unveiled a guilty plea from one former Goldman Sachs banker and announced bribery and money laundering charges against a second banker, as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from a state-run investment fund in Malaysia. Prosecutors also brought charges against the Malaysian businessman they believe stole some of the money: Jho Low, who spent millions of dollars on gifts to celebrities like the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the model Miranda Kerr.” • Here is the Times’ rather-too-admiring 2015 profile of Low: “Jho Low, Well Connected in Malaysia, Has an Appetite for New York.”

The Bezzle: “Bird sues Beverly Hills over its ban of motorized scooters” [Los Angeles Times]. “Bird” the company, which isn’t how I read the headline at first. More: “In the lawsuit, Bird alleges that the Beverly Hills City Council’s July decision to ban scooters violated several California laws, including a clause that gives motorized scooter riders the same rights on the road as drivers, bicyclists and motorcycle riders… By not analyzing the potential effects of a scooter ban, Beverly Hills also violated California’s rigorous environmental laws, Bird said. Electric scooters have the potential to take cars off the road, improving air quality, the company said.”

Tech: “Apple Inc.’s plan to drive growth by raising prices on its devices is working well for the electronics giant but less so for its suppliers. Apple’s revenue in the most recent quarter rose nearly 20% to $62.9 billion, the WSJ’s Tripp Mickle reports, with the lift coming largely from higher iPhone prices. But there was virtually no change in the number of iPhones that Apple sold over that time period, and that’s reverberating throughout the company’s vast global supply chain. The focus on pricing comes as smartphone demand is cooling” [Wall Street Journal]. “[M]any of Apple’s manufacturers in Asia have seen their business slip as the company focuses more on profit margin than volume. That echoes trends in several sectors, including freight providers that are finding more financial growth from higher prices than from getting more goods out the door.” • Hmm….

Tech: “Hello and a big welcome to everyone arriving from Google+” [JoinDiaspora].

Honey for the Bears: “Watch out: 3 warning signs U.S. economy could be close to recession” [Axios]. “Among the experts forecasting a continuing slowdown going into 2020: the IMF, and Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, both former Fed heads.”

The Fed: “Fed may again throw markets by doing what it says on rate hikes” [MarketWatch]. “The median forecast of the Fed’s dot plot is for three hikes in 2019, though the FOMC is currently evenly split between 2, 3 or 4 hikes, noted Ellen Zentner, chief economist at Morgan Stanley. The volatility seen in stock markets this year stems, at least in part, when the market thinks the Fed is serious.”

Our Famously Free Press

“Midterms in the local news void” [Columbia Journalism Review]. “Ken Doctor of Nieman Lab reported yesterday that, at least partially to cut costs, Gannett titles in 109 markets across the United States will not print comprehensive election results on Wednesday morning. Gannett websites will drop their paywalls to let visitors see results online, but the impact of decisions like this should not be downplayed: according to a Pew Research Center study published in January 2016, around half of US newspaper readers only consume a printed product.” • And for an example of excellent local reporting, see Portland Maine’s The Bollard

“Maine First Mania: Infiltrating Larry Lockman’s hate crusade” [Crash Barry, The Bollard]. The lead: “On June 21, I set up a Facebook account under the nom de plume Gary Johnson. This was the initial step in a months-long effort to infiltrate the Maine First Project, a white-nationalist group run by Larry Lockman, the Republican state lawmaker from Hancock County who’s become notorious for his anti-Muslim, misogynist and homophobic provocations.” • Which the writer does. And what a wretched hive of grifting and dweebery the Maine First Project turns out to be. Well worth a read.


“What genuine, no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like” [Vox]. “[M]ost of those [rosy] scenarios rely heavily on “negative emissions” — ways of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere…. The primary instrument of negative emissions is expected to be BECCS: bioenergy (burning plants to generate electricity) with carbon capture and sequestration. The idea is that plants absorb carbon as they grow; when we burn them, we can capture and bury that carbon. The result is electricity generated as carbon is removed from the cycle — net-negative carbon electricity. One small complication in all this: There is currently no commercial BECCS industry….. Plenty of people reasonably conclude that’s a bad idea, but alternatives have been difficult to come by.” • This is a useful roundup.

Heatlh Care

“Gun Store Owner Marshals Voters To Expand Medicaid In Idaho” [KHN]. “Standing outside the gun shop she co-owns, next to her SUV sporting “NRA” on the license plate, Christy Perry pledges full support for President Donald Trump… She’s helping lead the drive to persuade state voters to expand Medicaid — a central tenet of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law embraced by Democrats and derided by many Republicans. Perry has been pushing for Medicaid expansion the past several years in the state legislature, but those efforts were thwarted by top House leaders. Now a ballot initiative, Proposition 2, puts the matter before Idaho voters.”

Class Warfare

“Tech elite stages a Revolt of the Haves against employers” [Associated Press]. “One reason the protest was so big and well-coordinated, he said, is that Google largely employs white-collar technical and support workers. That’s a more homogenous workforce than, say, Amazon, which employs both high-paid engineers and warehouse and grocery workers who earn much, much less.” • That’s a remarkably jaundiced headline, for AP; see Yves today.

“UPS Freight, Teamsters labor impasse may be coming to a head” [Logistics Management]. “Recent developments regarding a new labor agreement between UPS Freight, the les-than-truckload unit of UPS, and the Teamsters Freight National Bargaining Committee over a new labor contract could have ramifications that potentially lead to a strike, or the semblance of one…. And due to this situation, in an effort to ensure transparency and not put customer volume at risk, UPS said that effective today, November 1, UPS will not pick up any UPS Freight volume with a delivery date after November 8…. As for what happens next, [Stifel analyst David Ross] pegged the chances of UPS seeing its first labor strike, and the company’s first since 1997, at better than 50%, adding it is not clear how long it may last and that UPS does not want to leave the LTL business. He said that some UPS Freight Teamsters staffers contend UPS does not want to be in the LTL sector, with this contract impasse providing a reason for them to exit it.”

“UPS is clearing its network of all freight in case of a strike. The company says it can’t “afford to put our customers’ volume at risk of being stranded” if the union goes through with a previously authorized work stoppage at the less-than-truckload division. It’s a risky gambit meant to show the Teamsters the company means business—the unit’s 11,000 members already rejected one deal, and the current extension expires Nov. 12″ [Wall Street Journal].

News of the Wired

“When do we turn back the clocks?” [MarketWatch]. “In the U.S., the clocks will be turned back one hour on Nov. 4, at 2 a.m. local time.” Are we falling back and springing forward? Or falling forward and springing back? We’ll know on election day…

“Can’t We Just Stop Resetting Clocks Twice a Year?” [Bloomberg]. Our circadian rhythm needs time to adjust — and doesn’t get it. An hour of sleep is added or subtracted and we are expected to go about our business for the next week as though nothing has happened. The effect is hard to measure directly, but we can look at the results. In perhaps the best-known result, a number of studies show an increase in automobile accidents as drivers adjust. Many researchers also claim that the biannual change causes a modest increase in heart attacks. (Others are skeptical.) So we seem to be doing harm, both to society and to our physical selves, all in the service of a back-and-forth shift driven by little but myth and habit.” • I hate the time change. Nothing like darkness at 5:30 (bad enough) and then 4:30 (awful).

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (dedicated lurker):

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/2/2018

dedicated lurker writes: “Dahlia festival at Swan Island, Oregon Dahlia Farm, August 2018.”

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