2:00PM Water Cooler 7/5/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Readers, I’m sorry that all the usual sections aren’t populated quite as they should be. I found myself writing mini-posts on the events of the weekend, and the clock just ran out. –Lambert

Trade

“Speaking of the G-20, this will be former Senate Finance Committee aide Everett Eisenstatt’s debut in his new role as White House ‘sherpa’ for big international meetings. Some of his pals in the international trade sector, under the heading of the World Economic Forum, have prepared a brief and a letter for all 20 nations’ negotiators. Their topline advice? ‘Depart from global trade cooperation at your peril.’ Gulp. Sounds pretty serious” [Politico]. “Pals.”

“Impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on high-fructose corn syrup supply in Canada: a natural experiment using synthetic control methods” [Canadian Medical Association Journal]. “NAFTA was strongly associated with a marked rise in HFCS supply and likely consumption in Canada. Our study provides evidence that even a seemingly modest change to product tariffs in free trade agreements can substantially alter population-wide dietary behaviour and exposure to risk factors.”

“NAFTA opened the Mexican market to U.S. corn producers who were subsidized by the U.S. government.” [CNN]. “That led to a boom in U.S. corn exports to Mexico — and a bust in Mexican farming jobs like Benancio’s. In the first decade of NAFTA, U.S. corn exports to Mexico quadrupled while Mexican corn prices fell 66%, according to Tufts University professor Tim A. Wise, a trade expert.” And of course: “That led to a boom in U.S. corn exports to Mexico — and a bust in Mexican farming jobs like Benancio’s. In the first decade of NAFTA, U.S. corn exports to Mexico quadrupled while Mexican corn prices fell 66%, according to Tufts University professor Tim A. Wise, a trade expert” [On the Commons (2010)].

Politics

Health Care

“So, do Hill Re­pub­lic­ans be­tray all of those prom­ises to their base to re­peal and re­place Obama­care, or do they pass something that people will hate even more? That’s what you call a di­lemma” [Charles Cook, Cook Political Report]. That’s the dilemma. It has always been the dilemma: Whether to replace a bad Republican plan (ObamaCare) with a worse one (AHCA; BCRA). There’s a lot on Cook’s narrative of 2009-2010 that I disagree with, but this: “Simply put, on health care, con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The fact that the ini­tial plan from Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s (a pretty smart guy) had at least four Re­pub­lic­ans (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ron John­son) who thought it didn’t go far enough in elim­in­at­ing Obama­care, and at least five (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Shel­ley Moore Capito, Dean Heller, and Rob Port­man) that wor­ried it went too far showed that this was a mat­ter of split­ting the baby. If I were a Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an, I would sup­port the bill, know­ing that it would prob­ably fail any­way, then tell my base that ‘I tried,’ then move quickly on to oth­er is­sues. …This is le­gis­la­tion that would be bet­ter handled next year, in a back room, with prag­mat­ic House and Sen­ate mem­bers from both parties try­ing to fig­ure out what is work­ing, what isn’t work­ing, and how to make it work bet­ter.” But “know­ing that it would prob­ably fail” is handwaving. The BCRA is poised on a knife-edge; but which Republican is going to be the one to tip it either way? That Republican is going to have to decided between party loyalty in their district and perceived public benefit to voters in their district. And the Republicans, feral, ruthless, and effective as they are, haven’t ended up controlling all three branches of government and taking 1000 seats away from Democrats by being squishy on party loyalty. (Oh, and Cook agrees with The Donald, who originally said to kick the can down the road, presumably so the Republicans could get on with what they see as the real business of government: Handing out tax breaks to cronies. And so it goes.)

Sanders on #MedicareForAll:

OK. That was followed by this tweet, which I read and nearly stroked out:

Prompting this reaction from Yglesias:

“And she was right.” Ouch.

Lambert here: What Yglesias ignores, conveniently, is that Clinton used the so-called public option as a way to prevent single payer and silence single payer advocates, exactly as career “progressives” did in 2009. Sanders urges that the so-called public option be the path toward #MedicareForAll. That said, “lie down with dogs, get up with fleas,” Yglesias being one such flea, as are public option advocates generally. And I’ll need to see actual legislation from Sanders to see how direct and forceful his path toward #MedicareForAll is, because you can be sure liberals and conservatives will fight it every step of the way, turning the public option, yet gain, into a bait and switch operation. (Charitably, Sanders could be doing what it takes to get a Senator to co-sponsor his bill. Somebody’s got to make the sausage, and I’d rather, at this point, it was Sanders than anyone else. Still, since the bill won’t pass, why compromise now?)

This feeds into my general sense that single payer advocates — perhaps the left generally — don’t have such an easy time with success, not having experienced it. After years, decades of organizing, Medicare for All is now on the national agenda. We’re talking about implementation details at this point, and naturally the waonkosphere is doing everything it can to divert the discussion into the weeds, delay matters, and save the health insurance “industry” because markets. Then again, (1) where is the full-throated statement from single payer advocates, Sanders among them, that #MedicareForAll will nuke the most hated industry in the country? It’s gonna happen, so why not embrace it? And (2) where is the sound-byte on how those jobs will be replaced? Yes, I know this argument is almost always made in bad faith by people (like Obama) who otherwise show no concern for the working class whatever, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be answered. And yes, I know denying people health care for a salary deserves moral opprobium; but a party that seeks — or, if reconfigured, would seek — to put direct universal material benefits, especially for the working class, at the heart of its appeal, shouldn’t be just throwing workers out of work. And yes, I know that HR676 provides for retraining, but in other circumstances the left would be the first to say that retraining is problematic, as indeed it is.

And while we’re at it, the fight on SB562 isn’t going all that well either. (Perhaps there’s a reason the odious Nancy Pelosi said it was best to try at the state level. Eh?) Leaving aside the ins and outs of California fiscal policy, the bill is stalled. Whatever temporary political advantage there may be to firing up the base by epater-ing the California Democrat establishment, that pales before the loss of not having a serious policy proposal in place. One of the reasons that Corbyn won (at least the Labour leadership) was that voters read the Labour Manifesto and said, “Yeah, I can vote for that!” And that is when the polls began to turn. Would voters have done that if the Manifesto was full of blank spaces and handwaving? No. Well, that’s how SB562 was. And it doesn’t matter if “It’s not f-a-a-i-r!” that the Democrat Establishment didn’t work to improve the bill; that’s just whining. Liberals do that. The left should not. And this is before we get to the question of whether a state that is not a currency issuer should even be passing such a bill. We need full-throated advocacy for MMT as well, something that Sanders, sadly, did not provide. Again, this is a matter of the shift from policy advocacy to implementation proposals. You can win the battle on the first, and lose the battle on the second. McClellan, in the Peninsular Campaign, had the church towers of Richmond in sight, and his troops could hear the bells ringing. Where, oh where, is the U.S. Grant of the left?

New Cold War

“Podesta: ‘It’s on the FBI’ That DNC Servers Weren’t Turned Over” [FOX]. “The head of the failed campaign called the FBI’s approach to the DNC Russia hack ‘fairly casual’ and ‘lackadaisical.’ ‘If anything, it’s on the FBI that didn’t come forward and really inform the DNC about what was going on until long after,’ Podesta stated.” So, the matter was of vital national importance to prevent a Russian “puppet” from becoming President, but not vital enough for the DNC to have some intern put the servers into the truck of an Uber, drive them over to the FBI building, and drop them off (after backing them up, of course). Alrighty, then. A little exaggerated for vividness, but you see what I mean.

“Investigators explore if Russia colluded with pro-Trump sites during US election” [Guardian]. If a few websites propagating Russia Today clips on Facebook could take down the Clinton juggernaut, then Democratic strategists and consultants who jammed $1.4 billion down the toilet of the Clinton campaign and then flushed have a lot to answer for.

Stats Watch

Gallup U.S. Job Creation Index, June 2017: “June’s job creation index was plus 36, just shy of the record-high plus 37 recorded in May. . Regionally, the South led in job creation, while the East continued to be last” [Econoday]. “In June, 45 percent of employees said their company was hiring, about matching the 46 percent in May. The percentage who said their company was letting workers go held steady at 9 percent. Forty-one percent of workers said their employer was not changing the size of its workforce.”

Factory Orders, May 2017: “Forecasters thought factory orders would get a lift from nondurables but they didn’t as total orders fell” [Econoday]. “But there are positives in today’s report and they include a small lift for core capital goods orders (nondefense ex-aircraft) which, boosted by a jump in mining equipment, rose…. But manufacturing activity, as described in last week’s PMI manufacturing report, is no better than subdued… There are bright spots in this report which overall, however, is consistent with a sector that is struggling to find momentum.”

Motor Vehicle Sales: “Also decelerating in line with deceleration of bank auto lending. One by one the data releases seem to be confirming the last 6 month’s rapid deceleration of bank lending” [Mosler Economics].

Construction: “[Spending] decelerating in line with the deceleration in real estate related bank lending” [Mosler Economics].

Construction: “Early in 2013 lumber prices came close to the housing bubble highs – and prices are once again near the bubble highs” [Calculated Risk]. Although lumber does fluctuate seasonally.

Fiscal (Federal): “In its latest monthly report, the Congressional Budget Office said the federal government’s tax income is running 3 percent below projections over the previous eight months, which works out to a shortfall of as much as $70 billion” [Washington Times]. “The CBO said the chief cause is smaller than expected individual and corporate tax receipts.”

Fiscal (States): “As of July 5, 42 states have enacted full-year budgets for fiscal 2018” [National Association of State Budget Officers]. “As of July 5, 42 states have enacted full-year budgets for fiscal 2018. In 5 states, the legislature has yet to finalize the budget (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin). In Oregon most agency spending bills have been approved while in Massachusetts, the governor signed a temporary spending bill. Rhode Island and Wisconsin have statutory continued budget authority in place until a new budget is enacted. In 2 states, the fiscal 2018 budget is awaiting the governor’s signature or veto (Michigan and Pennsylvania); Michigan’s fiscal year begins October 1. In 1 state, the legislature is considering overriding the governor’s veto of the budget (Illinois).”

Fiscal (States): “While states have mostly recovered since the 2007-2009 recession, their revenue growth has not always kept pace with the national economy. In some states without full budgets, including Connecticut and Pennsylvania, lower-than-anticipated income tax collections exacerbated budget gaps and led to disputes over how to close them” [CNBC].

Fiscal (States): “The [New Jersey] stalemate stems from the Horizon proposal: Christie wants lawmakers to pass a bill requiring the insurer to develop a plan for allocating its ‘excess’ surplus to help pay for drug treatment and other care of the poor and uninsured. But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson), has refused to consider that bill, which he has called a “Christie tax” on Horizon’s 3.8 million policyholders. As a result, Prieto couldn’t get enough Democratic votes to pass the budget — because Christie had pledged to line-item Democratic-backed spending if lawmakers didn’t pass the Horizon bill” [Philadelphia Inequirer].

Fiscal (States): Chris Christie’s beach outing:

Forgive my counter-suggestibility here — NJ residents please chime in — but it looks to me like Christie was at least trying to look like he was clawing back some profits from Big Pharma. It also looks to me like all the snark and derision about the beach photo didn’t mean squat as far as the budget deal went, and might also have been Christie’s Trumpian-style gigantic upraised middle finger to his detractors (and perhaps Christie’s sign-off from the national stage. It’s hard to imagine him running for President again; they will write “Defenestrated by Jared Kushner” on Christie’s tombstone).

Shipping: “New Panama Canal Boosts Ship Sizes” [Port Technology]. “Most interesting of all was the average 5.9 daily vessel transits (of which containerships accounted for about 51%) – far above the original forecast of two to three daily transits expected in the first year.”

Rail: “Railroads adding more cars to trains in effort to trim costs, raising some concerns about safety” [Omaha World-Herald]. “[John Risch, national legislative director for the Sheet Metal, Air and Rail Transportation union, or SMART] said all the talk and statistics are one thing, and what his union members see on the ground is another: trains of up to three miles long, sometimes with hazardous materials, such as chlorine or ammonia. This year, the SMART union sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration asking for an investigation and an order ending ‘excessive train length.’ The letter cited what the union said was higher likelihood of mechanical failure, difficulty maintaining brake pressure when a trains exceed three miles and communications problems.” It’s all about the operating ratio in rail…

The Bezzle: “Export documents are taking a role in a federal probe of Caterpillar Inc. Federal investigators believe the heavy-equipment manufacturer failed to submit numerous required export filings in recent years, the WSJ’s Andrew Tangel and Aruna Viswanatha report, potentially as part of an effort to avoid paying taxes. It’s the latest inquiry centered on Caterpillar’s management of its international supply chain as the company handled sales and replacement-parts distribution overseas. Investigators are finding discrepancies between Cat’s filings through the U.S. Automated Export System and documents seized from the company” [Wall Street Journal]. Out of curiosity… Are there any heavy machinery geeks out there who can say if Caterpillar’s newest lines are being crapified? I remember driving through Peoria as a child, and seeing miles of tractor parts in Caterpillar’s iconic yellow. But they have brutal relations with their workers, and this “latest inquiry” reminds me of the crooks in Silicon Valley. So maybe the bad business practices have corroded product quality?

The Bezzle: “If the dawning of the Age of the Woke VC feels a little bit late in coming and, at this point, a bit self-serving, it’s also ridiculously vague. So I have a suggestion: Rather than grandstanding about decency, Silicon Valley venture capitalists might try something of substance—such as, for instance, doing something about the industry’s culture of secrecy. In particular, tech companies should stop abusing nondisparagement and nondisclosure agreements.” [Bloomberg]. “These clauses are common in Silicon Valley. They are not supposed to apply in cases where an employee is acting as a whistleblower, but in practice that is exactly what they do.”

The Bezzle: “China’s Vision for a Straddling Bus Dissolves in Scandal and Arrests” [New York Times]. “‘The truth is the bus was a fake science investment scam, with no scientific innovation,’ a Beijing News op-ed said on Monday. ‘The test was nothing more than a trick to attract investors.’… A New York Times reporter who visited Huaying Kailai’s office in September saw walls lined with photographs of the owner, Bai Zhiming, with celebrities, entrepreneurs and local officials. A half-dozen investors stopped by over an hour. Some left with gifts and grocery bags full of cash.” Classy!

Honey for the Bears: “The slowdown in the auto industry is only getting deeper, putting a cloud over U.S. industrial demand” [Wall Street Journal]. “Adding to the troubling trend are significant reductions in deliveries to car-rental companies, long the Motor City’s biggest customers, suggesting that auto makers are girding for a longer-term retrenchment. Auto makers traditionally have used lower-margin sales to rental companies to keep factories rolling even as dealership traffic slowed, but now it looks like they want to clear unsold inventory from dealer lots before they take another look at factories. That’s already evident in shipping networks, with U.S. railroad shipments of motor vehicles and auto parts down 4.9% in the first five months of the year.”

Rapture Index: Closes up 1 on drought. “Drought is burning up crops in the Upper Midwest” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 182.

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 48 Neutral (previous close: 47, Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 52 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed. Last updated Jun 30 at 12:50pm.

Crapification Watch

Readers, please feel free to contact me with other examples of crapification, digital or otherwise, using the contact information below. –lambert

Google’s new misdesign of the news page. The “View Full Coverage” link:

The entire screen for four links? Really, Google?? Really??? Could Google actually be so impoverished or indifferent that they didn’t bother to do usability testing for laptops? Or could it be that my screen real estate [sniff] simply doesn’t mean anything to a ginormous monopoly? Maybe if Google were broken up, the News functionality could become standalone, and a smaller, nimbler, more focused company wouldn’t suck do badly. Heck, maybe the search would improve. It needs improving.

Dear Old Blighty

Episode 116 (podcast) [Chapo Trap House]. I have Chapo Trap House in heavy rotation, and I really enjoy it. Boy howdy, do they skewer the phonies! (They seem to have cut back on the scatology, sometimes taken to be a sign of authenticity or transgressiveness, which I found distracting.)

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“The Devastation of Black Wall Street” [JSTOR]. The Tulsa “race riot” of 1921.

Guillotine Watch

“NASA Revives Plan to Put Nuclear Reactors on Mars” [NBC]. Elon might need them?

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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 allegic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. And here’s today’s plant:

NOTE Readers, if you want your handle to appear as a credit, please put it in the subject line. Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. Thank you!

UPDATE Now that that the 2017 Water Cooler fundraiser post is launched, I can say that directions for sending a check will include a request to send me a parallel email so I can thank you. I was not able to thank all you sent me checks this year, because I was unable to connect physical mail identities to online identities. Apologies!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

14 comments

  1. dcblogger

    Given decades of FBI witch hunts against Democrats generally and Hillary in particular, the Democrats would have been insane to have handed over their servers and in effect invite a data-dive. The thing to do is invite a trusted third party to search the drives and hand them over and evidence of Russian hacking to the FBI. Washington DC has several firms that specialize in exactly this sort of data recovery.

    Reply
    1. fred

      “Democrats would have been insane to have handed over their servers and in effect invite a data-dive”

      You mean Obama couldn’t be trusted or just Comey and his “professionals”?

      Reply
  2. mitzimuffin

    I’m a Jersey Girl. Christie closed the beaches on 1 of the 3 weekends in the year that tourists spend big on, and when small businesses, life guards, restaurants (and tipped staff) earn their money. This was a swollen middle finger to the taxpayers of this state. Then he vacationed privately on the beach w/family and friends because “they had planned this for months,” just like everyone else who plans to get away for the 4th! What a POS, and his wife, Pat, as well. But that is only hubris on their selfish parts. They cost people a big part of their livelihood for the year. That is the real crime. The rest is just Christie being his bully self.

    Reply
    1. Alex Morfesis

      The trappings of office…christie is never going to make enough money in private practice to enjoy a private beach in such a public place…perhaps he never had any interest or intention on signing the budget…maybe he wanted the beach to himself…his ratings are as close to zero as a breathing carbon based life form can obtain…his days of living off the commonweal are done..this was his last bite at the apple…

      Reply
  3. Alex Morfesis

    $hillary productions presents: the con-ducers…what if hillary didn’t actually want to win…but simply wanted to cash out the clinton foundation “futures” with no intention of delivering by actually being in office…none of that silly ethics and disclosure and “responsibility” of being elected…

    A simple multi billion dollar scam…just need to create the delusion of intent and then find some cheap excuse to bail out…clintons canadian buddy with ties to russian uranium deal…

    No…did not put on too tight triple layer shiny hat…

    the ultimate graft…

    not quite “honest” graft…

    but she certainly had no great “feel” for the election…upon reflection, instead of being lackluster due to an expected coronation, mayhaps she was just in it to spread the billion dollars in campaign money around to her friends and associates…

    A grifters gotta grift…and other than some minor noise about his misogyny…did she actually run a campaign…a slow motion pan of atlantic city and trumps failures there would have toasted his campaign…
    she never really went after him…

    And with podesta sticking to the russian puppet meme…

    A grifters gotta grift…

    Reply
    1. optimader

      what if hillary didn’t actually want to win
      Just as easily one can speculate Trump also didn’t want to win. So, how could she loose to someone who didn’t even want to win, let alone such a polarizing figure as DTrump?

      I believe HRC would have sacrificed Chelsea’s first born in a satanic ritual if it ensured her winning.

      All roads lead back to if she is so brilliant and effective, how could she have possibly lost to Trump even with all the speculation about “Russian hacking”, which everyone who buys into seem to concede at this point in time, doesn’t involve any voting irregularities or inaccurate information?

      Puzzle me that any HRC supporter.

      Reply
    2. Ian

      I think more then money, Hillary loves power and the accolades that come along with it. Being the first female president going into a new cold, potentially hot war with Russia (largely by US dictate) on the cusp of ecological and economic catastrophe with the ability to pick a large portion of the winners and losers (us) is a role that she genuinely lusted for.

      Reply
  4. optimader

    C C on the beach..

    The guy in the pic left and behind reminds me of the Sopranos episode w/ the goomba parasite sitting at the construction site in a lawnchair reading the racing form.

    I would not want to be CC’s bicycle…

    Reply
  5. B1whois

    Lambert, the NAFTA agreement, Mexico, corn article contains a duplicated second comment. I’d be interested to know what the second comment was originally intended to contain.

    Reply

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