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2:00PM Water Cooler 7/19/2019

By Lambert Strether of Corrente Trade “US, China Trade Negotiators Talk for Second Time Since Truce” [Industry Week]. “U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin spoke to the Chinese side earlier, a USTR spokesman said. China’s Commerce Ministry said Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan were among those on the call. There were no details released from both sides on what was discussed…. Mnuchin said earlier this week that if discussions with Chinese officials by phone were productive that he and Lighthizer would travel to Beijing for more meetings.” Politics “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

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Lambert Strether writes 2:00PM Water Cooler 12/11/2019

Yves Smith writes Among U.S. States, New York’s Suicide Rate Is The Lowest. How’s That?

Yves Smith writes To Resolve the Economic & Environmental Crisis, Do Not Bank On the Private Sector

Yves Smith writes No End for Drought as Sydney Disappears Into Smoke

By Lambert Strether of Corrente


“US, China Trade Negotiators Talk for Second Time Since Truce” [Industry Week]. “U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin spoke to the Chinese side earlier, a USTR spokesman said. China’s Commerce Ministry said Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan were among those on the call. There were no details released from both sides on what was discussed…. Mnuchin said earlier this week that if discussions with Chinese officials by phone were productive that he and Lighthizer would travel to Beijing for more meetings.”


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination” [RealClearPolitics] (average of five polls). As of July 17: Biden still climbing at 28.4% (27.8), Sanders still steady at 15.0% (15.0%), Warren down sharply at 14.6% (15.0%), Buttigieg steady at 4.8% (4.8%), Harris losing her post-debate bump 12.6% (13.4%), others Brownian motion.

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Biden (D)(1): “Biden’s plan for rural America: Incentives will fix farm country” [New Food Economy]. Compares and contrasts the candidates; Biden is weak tea. This caught my eye: “Both Warren and Sanders committed to supporting right-to-repair laws, whereas Biden made no mention of them. Right now, companies like John Deere can prevent farmers from fixing their own equipment, driving up the cost of repairs on tractors that can already cost more than $300,000.”

Biden (D)(2): “Biden campaign pushes back on Sanders’ call to reject donations from insurers, drug makers” [The Hill]. “‘Vice President Biden fought to get the biggest reform to our health care system in a generation done, so insurance companies know where he stands — and based on their reaction yesterday to his health care plan, we’re not expecting too many contributions,’ Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement.” • Oh, their stocks dropped?

Biden (D)(3): “Fact check: Joe Biden misleads with claim that Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would cause a ‘hiatus'” [CNN]. “Regardless of what Biden intended to say, though, his ‘hiatuses’ remark allowed Americans to come away with the inaccurate impression that Sanders’ plan would cause people to temporarily lose insurance coverage. Facts First: A single-payer Medicare for All plan would not result in people having a ‘hiatus,’ or gap, in their insurance coverage, experts say.” • Here is the Biden quote in full:

[BIDEN:] And all of you: how many of you have lost a husband, wife, son, daughter to cancer, raise your hand. How many (inaudible) have terminal diseases, raise your hand, that lost them? Well, you know, the thing I’ve learned is: Every second counts. It’s not about a year, it’s about the day, the week, the month, the next six months. It’s about hope. And if you have these hiatuses, it may, it may — this may go as smooth — as my grandpappy said — smooth as silk. But the truth of the matter is, it’s likely to be a bumpy ride getting to where we’re going. Even the people who have disagreed with my plan say, ‘Well, we’re going to have to transition three, four, five years to get there.'”

You’re gonna have to learn your cliches. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to learn them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends.

Buttigieg (D)(1): “Pete Buttigieg hires former Goldman Sachs executive as national policy director” [CNBC]. • No wonder Mayo Pete did so well with his donors.

Delaney (D)(1): “Scoop: John Delaney’s staffers have asked him to drop out” [Axios]. “On July 9, John Delaney’s senior team sat him down and told him to drop out of the presidential race by mid-August, according to three sources close to the campaign… Delaney seemed open to the idea of dropping out later this summer, but that he’d still attend the next debates in Detroit July 30-31.” • Delaney should drop out now, and Gravel should take his place. (This also shows how unserious the DNC selection process was.)

Sanders (D)(1): “Labor fight roils Bernie Sanders campaign, as workers demand the $15 hourly pay the candidate has proposed for employees nationwide” [WaPo]. “By encouraging these workers to unionize, Sanders and his campaign opened a path to negotiate for more than the low wages that typically have prevailed in past campaigns. They are seizing the opportunity.” • The real issue — follow me closely here — is the contract that the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 signed: “Field organizers, who are on the front lines of the campaign’s crucial voter contact efforts, were to be paid not by hours worked but via an annual salary set at $36,000.” But now: “The draft letter estimated that field organizers were working 60 hours per week at minimum, dropping their average hourly pay to less than $13.” • So, in other words, we have a collective bargaining process — one which the Sanders campaign was the first in politics to enable. If I were sitting in management’s chair, I’d be pretty frosted at whoever went to the Jeff Bezos Shopper with Slack chats, and I’d wonder what the motivation was. That said, it shouldn’t be too hard to rescue Local 400 and turn $13 into $15.

Trump (R)(1): “A Fascist Trump Rally In Greenville” [HuffPo]. “Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York University who is an expert on fascism and propaganda, saw historical parallels in the Greenville rally. ‘Trump has created a corps of supporters fanatically loyal to him who turn his latest racist messages into group rituals (chants, slogans) and who hate the people he tells them to,’ Ben-Ghiat told HuffPost. ‘All of this is consistent with the leader-follower relationship of fascist regimes.'” • On a light note, try mentioning “Susan Sarondon” in a consensus cluster of Clinton supporters and see what happens. On a slightly more serious note, the picture of Trump as Putin Puppet doesn’t play well with the picture of Trump as the Second Coming of Hitler (“They Saved Hitler’s Brain [NSFW]”). Seriously, I’m just going to quote a great slab of material from a 2018 Water Cooler:

Finally came across an analysis of fascism I may be able to accept, because it’s from a historian, and isn’t a simple-minded checklist (or liberal yammering). I’d also like to cross-check it with Robert Evans’ magisterial The Coming of the Third Reich, which is also very textured, including diaries for example. From an Amazon review of From Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism:

But rather than come up with a proposed theoretical definition of fascism at the beginning and then trying to defend it, Paxton starts by examining what fascism looks like in the real world—how fascist movements actually began, how they took root and attracted a mass following, how fascist parties then rose to power and took control of the machinery of government, how they governed, etc.—and only after thoroughly considering all of these things does he finally, in the last few pages of the book, draw conclusions about what fascism really is.

I highly recommend that you read the entire book for yourself before considering Paxton’s definition of fascism—it’s the only real way to do justice to his approach to the subject. But for those of you who don’t mind spoilers, here is how Paxton ultimately defines fascism, on the antepenultimate page of his book:

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

Suggestive… And in terms of “democratic liberties,” the rot has been setting in for quite some time, and in a thoroughly bipartisan fashion. Ditto “community decline” (deindustrialization). So our immune system, as it were, was (and is) already weak. (A competing definition, the merger of corporations and the state, might be subsumed under “uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites.”)

Also, quoting Paxton on the KKK:

[I]t is further back in American history that one comes upon the earliest phenomenon that seems functionally related to fascism: the Ku Klux Klan. Just after the Civil War, some Confederate officers, fearing the vote given to African Americans by the Radical Reconstructionists in 1867, set up a militia to restore an overturned social order. The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in its founders’ eyes, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. In its adoption of a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as its techniques of intimidation and its conviction that violence was justified in the cause of the group’s destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.

(That’s been my thought on the KKK.) From the reviews and excerpts, I think that Paxton isn’t taking into account population-wide trauma, as from the Civil War (the KKK) and the trenches of World War I (Germany and Italy). I don’t know the causality, but the commonality is suggestive. It may be that the Recessions (“deaths of despair”) played a similar role in this country.

Back to the definition: The big missing piece, fortunately, is “mass-based party of committed nationalist militants.” So far! We are nowhere near having anything like the KKK either during Reconstruction or the 1920s. Even Trump didn’t show Birth of a Nation in the White House (unlike progressive icon Woodrow Wilson). However, it doesn’t seem to me that liberal tactics of shaming and virtue signaling are going to be of much use preventing the emergence of such an entity (and the enormous monopolies and those productive and dynamic blue cities seem to be amplifying these entities, if anything. YouTube, in particular, is a cesspit, into which its algos are designed to suck you).

I don’t see a reason to change these views. And another goddamned book to read.

Warren (D)(1): “Elizabeth Warren pitches private equity regulations, taking aim at ‘legalized looting'” [Los Angeles Times]. “Warren’s plan, the latest in a series of policy ideas that have propelled the Massachusetts senator to the top tier of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, would hold private equity firms liable for debts and pension promises made by the companies they buy up. It would restrict the firms’ ability to pay dividends as well as high fees that shift money out of acquired companies… Warren’s private equity proposals also include new rules that would require worker pay to take precedence over other obligations when companies declare bankruptcy as well as more open disclosure of investment firms’ fees, both of which are included in private legislation she’s set to introduce later Thursday alongside Senate and House Democratic colleagues. Her platform further calls for the restoration of dividing lines between commercial and investment banking that were repealed in 1999, a change that was part of both the Republican and the Democratic platforms during the 2016 presidential election despite Trump’s lack of emphasis on it during his campaign.”

Warren (D)(2): “End Wall Street’s Stranglehold On Our Economy” [Elizabeth Warren, Medium]. “The purpose of the financial sector is to connect savers with borrowers as efficiently as possible and to spread risk. A growing financial sector can help the rest of the economy if it helps connect more people more efficiently and spreads risk more effectively. But, as several studies have shown, past a certain point, the growth of the financial sector undermines the rest of the economy by extracting money from it without producing any real value. America is well past that point…. Despite its breathtaking profits, America’s financial sector isn’t succeeding at its core purpose of connecting savers with borrowers quickly and efficiently. My plan would help push it in a better direction.” • Would readers care to comment on this model of the financial sector?

Yang (D)(1): “‘I Came From the Internet’: Inside Andrew Yang’s Wild Ride” [Rolling Stone (RH)]. “Yang’s pitch goes like this: Donald Trump got elected because we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, leading to economic insecurity, a declining quality of life, and a sense of desperation felt by millions of Americans who gave voice to that desperation by voting for the political equivalent of a human wrecking ball. And what automation did to manufacturing, he argues, it will soon do to trucking, call centers, fast food, and retail. ‘We’re in the third inning of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of our country,’ he likes to say. Yang’s flagship plan to deal with this transformation, his Big Idea, is a universal basic income. He calls it the Freedom Dividend. (He picked the name because it tested better with conservatives than UBI did.) It’s $1,000 a month, no strings attached, for every American over the age of 18. What this new, multitrillion-dollar program would mean for the existing social safety net — well, Yang hasn’t entirely worked that out yet.” • I don’t think automatiion alone deindustrialized the heartland. That strikes me as letting some very bad actors off the hook.

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The debate line-ups:


AOC skewers another suit:

“Democrats upset over Omar seeking primary challenger” [The Hill]. “Some Democrats are eyeing Bobby Joe Champion, a state senator who has served in the legislature for a decade. Others hope to entice Minneapolis City Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender African-American woman elected to public office in the United States.” • [x] transgender [x] African-American [x] woman….

Realignment and Legitimacy

“What Americans Do Now Will Define Us Forever” [Adam Serwer, The Atlantic]. “To attack Omar is to attack a symbol of the demographic change that is eroding white cultural and political hegemony, the defense of which is Trumpism’s only sincere political purpose.” • February 11, 2019: “Ilhan Omar Condemned by Pelosi, Democratic Leaders for Using ‘Anti-Semitic Tropes.” Falsely, I might add. March 7, 2019: “House Votes To Condemn Anti-Semitism After Rep. Omar’s Comments.” #awkward

“The Hard Immigration Questions” [David Leonhardt, New York Times]. “Immigration restrictions are not inherently racist. Nor is border security. All countries have borders and restrictions. They have to, because they have to make decisions about who can enter their country and who can be a citizen. Nations can’t function without such basic laws. But the fact remains that the pro-restriction side in American politics has historically revolved around racism and still does today…. I think our immigration policy should take into account the sharp rise in inequality over the last few decades. One way to do so would be to reduce, or at least hold constant, the level of immigration by people who would compete for lower- and middle-wage jobs while increasing immigration among people who would compete for higher-wage jobs… ‘Immigration restriction, by making unskilled labor more scarce, tended to shore up wage rates,’ the great labor historian Irving Bernstein wrote.” • Well, obviously labor arbitrage for professionals would be bad. What is Leonhardt thinking?

“Reading the Resolutions: Two Perspectives” [Democratic Socialists of America]. “In a couple of weeks, delegates from across the country will gather in Atlanta, Georgia, for the biennial DSA convention… We present here two longread analyses of the resolutions, with the understanding that the authors represent only themselves, not any official opinions.These analyses are based on information available at the time they were written. We know that there will be amendments to resolutions and adjustments to funding projections.” • Long reads they are, but the seriousness is in great contrast to the Democrat and Republican conventions, agree or disagree.

“America’s New Left” [DSA Members, New Left Review]. ” Along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, Sanders represents an approach to electoral politics that can help advance the socialist cause. They are helping to raise the expectations of the working class, rather than lowering them, as the 20th-century social democrats did. Sanders and others have inspired masses of people to become interested in politics for the first time. The clearest example of this is Ocasio-Cortez’s drive to popularize the Green New Deal. As a new socialist Congressperson, Ocasio-Cortez was able to team up with young activists and put a working-class solution to the climate crisis in the national spotlight—something climate campaigners had been unable to do for years.” • An interesting review. Caution: Uses the word “conjuncture”!

“The Epstein case is laying bare America’s morally bankrupt ruling class” [The Week]. “What do they all have in common? (Beside the fact that they are all incredibly rich, I mean.) Alan Dershowitz, David Boies, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are only a few of the names caught up in the alleged Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia scandal. This isn’t six degrees of Kevin Bacon. These people all know each other well and have for decades. They go to one another’s weddings, ride on the same airplanes, and do business together… Is any living American actually okay with the fact two of our last four presidents were allegedly good pals with the guy whose private airplane was referred to openly in the press as, wink-wink, the “Lolita Express”? … Surveying the decadence of the Trump-Epstein-Boies cabal leaves me with a lot of feelings. One is that we have by far the least glamorous ruling class in the history of the world. Say what you want about the Ancien Régime, but at least they gave us Versailles and Boucher and opéra comique…. It has never been easier to renounce evil and all its works and all its pomps than it is today, when instead of powder-faced bewigged vicomtes tittering in perfectly composed alexandrines in front of rococo mirrors they are goatish hedge fund managers, mercenary lawyers, professional speech-givers, and the founders of fake online colleges suing one another out of boredom.”

“House votes to raise minimum wage, uniting Dems after months-long struggle” [Politico]. “The House on Thursday passed legislation to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, following through on a key Democratic campaign promise and ending a six-month struggle within the caucus…. Democratic leaders only secured the necessary 218 votes days earlier by agreeing to phase in the wage increase over six years rather than five.” • By 2025? Lol. Remember when Nancy Pelosi vowed to “take up a $15 minimum wage in the first 100 hours of the next Congress“? (Not 100 days, 100 hours.) Good times.

Stats Watch

Consumer Sentiment, July 2019 (preliminary): “Consumer sentiment is holding steady this month” [Econoday]. “Confidence is a key concern for the Federal Reserve policy makers and today’s report should confirm their faith in the resilient strength of the consumer.”

Banks: “Safe Deposit Boxes Aren’t Safe” [New York Times]. “When Philip Poniz opened Box 105 at his local Wells Fargo, he discovered it was empty — and that he was totally unprotected by federal law.” • Wells Fargo? Surely no. Turns out banks are just as good at integrating safe deposit boxes after mergers as they are at IT systems. And they don’t want to be in that business anyhow.

Tech: “Facebook and Google Trackers Are Showing Up on Porn Sites” [New York Times (RH)]. “Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are always watching you — even when you’re browsing pornography websites in incognito mode. Trackers from tech companies like Google and Facebook are logging your most personal browsing details, according to a forthcoming New Media & Society paper, which scanned 22,484 pornography websites. Where that data ultimately goes is not always clear… 93 percent of the pornography websites they scanned sent data to an average of seven third-party domains.” • Because of course they are.

Manufacturing: “Arm and crosscheck” [Reuters]. “Boeing’s financial disruption from the grounding of its 737 MAX is far from maxed out. The aerospace giant is taking an after-tax charge of $4.9 billion to compensate airlines for the idling of the plane. Slowing its production line will add another $1.7 billion of costs. That tally is bound to grow: company hopes for a return to service in the fourth quarter look optimistic…. Investors, who have seen $35 billion of market value erased already, should brace for further turbulence.”

Manufacturing: “Bjorn’s Corner: Airbus’ A321neo has a pitch-up issue” [Leeham News and Analysis]. “As we have written in the MAX articles, pitch instabilities in certain parts of an airliner’s wide flight envelope are common. It comes down to how these are addressed to produce a safe aircraft. In the case of the MAX and A320, software-based control logic is used, controlling the movements of the horizontal stabilizer and elevator. The key is how these controls are designed, tested and implemented. The original MAX implementation was inacceptably badly done. It relied on a single sensor, commanded unnecessary repeated nose-down trim commands and didn’t have any global limitation on its authority. The Airbus version for the A321neo has a solid implementation based on adequate hardware/software redundancy and relevant limitations on its authority. But it can be improved.” • And the author is now on the record that “The updated MAX software makes it safe.”

The Biosphere

“Our Veggie Gardens Won’t Feed us in a Real Crisis” [Counterpunch]. “I used to be a small-scale organic farmer so take it from me: totally feeding yourself from your own efforts is very, very challenging. Though some friends and I tried over multiple seasons, we never succeeded, or even came anywhere close…. When my friends and I tried the grow-all-your-own-food challenge, we quickly got educated about the difficulties of grains and other staple crops. I’m not just talking about planting and raising, which are hard enough, but harvesting and processing….. I’m not saying we shouldn’t plant veggie gardens. We should put in as many as we can and fight to keep them when they’re threatened. But let’s not kid ourselves that a few heads of broccoli (or even a wheel barrow of zucchinis) will get us through an actual breakdown of the agricultural system. It won’t.” • They’re right, on all counts. Being a peasant is hard work! But TINA, eh?

“Entering an Alligator-Infested Crawl Space During a Category 5 Hurricane: What Could Go Wrong?” [Weather Underground]. Review of Crawl: “Spoiler alert: During the inspection for the sale of the home, you’d think someone would have discovered that the giant drainage pipe connecting the crawl space to the water had a broken grate, giving alligators free access to the crawl space! But noooo!”

Health Care

“Oral health at a tipping point” [The Lancet]. “A central issue in the Series is modern dentistry itself, which Series lead Richard Watt and colleagues argue has failed to combat the global challenge of oral diseases. They say a radical reform of dental care systems, which are increasingly treatment-dominated, high-technology, and focused on providing aesthetic treatments driven by profit motives and consumerism, is needed. As such, a key ask of the Series is for a public health refashioning of oral health. Dental health conditions and access to care are shown to be so starkly inequitable between the rich and the poor that a social determinants of health approach is the only way to improve outcomes.”

Guillotine Watch

“School threatens to send kids to foster care for unpaid lunch debt” [KULR (JM)]. “Hundreds of parents were threatened with losing custody of their children over school lunch debt. This letter was mailed to about a thousand parents in the Wyoming Valley West School District, in Northeastern, Pennsylvania. The letter informs them that the district can take them to dependency court, where they risk losing their children to foster care.” • I think it’s important that we begin training our youth that education = debt at the youngest possible age.

Class Warfare

“Parents’ emotional trauma may change their children’s biology. Studies in mice show how” [Science]. “today the hypothesis that an individual’s experience might alter the cells and behavior of their children and grandchildren has become widely accepted. In animals, exposure to stress, cold, or high-fat diets has been shown to trigger metabolic changes in later generations. And small studies in humans exposed to traumatic conditions—among them the children of Holocaust survivors—suggest subtle biological and health changes in their children. The implications are profound. If our experiences can have consequences that reverberate to our children or our children’s children, that’s a powerful argument against everything from smoking to immigration policies that split families.” • Or — follow me closely, here — deindustrializing flyover and destroying the livelihoods and communities of millions of people, ffs.* Class pops up in the oddes of places, doesn’t it? NOTE * See Chris Arnade’s Dignity.

“Failing to Plan: How Ayn Rand Destroyed Sears” [Verso]. “While companies like Walmart operate within the market, internally, as in any other firm, everything is planned. There is no internal market. The different departments, stores, trucks and suppliers do not compete against each other in a market; everything is coordinated. It is no small irony then, that one of Walmart’s main competitors, the venerable, 120-plus-year-old Sears, Roebuck & Company, destroyed itself by embracing the exact opposite of Walmart ‘s galloping socialization of production and distribution: by instituting an internal market.” • So central planning works inside the firm?

News of the Wired

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Make your own meme!

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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 (JL):

2:00PM Water Cooler 7/19/2019

JL writes: “After moving back to CA we bought a house that needs a lot of landscaping, so I’ve been taking picture of drought tolerant plants in the neighborhood as reference.” I bet we have other NC readers who garden in dry climates.

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2:00PM Water Cooler 7/19/2019

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