By Lambert Strether of Corrente
“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
Alert reader dk (not to be confused with DK) is in the process of developing the following interactive chart:
And here is (are) the latest poll(s) as of 9/19/2019, 12:00 PM EDT
Biden, Warren, Sanders, Warren nonetheless dropping, with Biden. The swings of the candidates seem much greater now than, say, early August. (Note that the circles denote the size of the population(s) polled; so the big circles are Morning Consult). And the polling detail:
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.”
UPDATE 2019-08-30: Now the polls aggregated (all available) are shown at the bottom of the poll. We also give more detail about each poll than RCP, and allow candidates to be selected or deselected. That’s three reasons what dk is doing beats RCP, and if we can make the individual polls selectable/highlightable, that will be four reasons. With more to come, grid willing.
* * *
Biden (D)(1): “Does Joe Biden have a race problem?” [New York Daily News (UserFriendly)]. “But for me, an African-American voter in his late 40s, there’s something missing in Biden’s candidacy. I view him through the lens of Clinton-era politics, when I cast my first-ever vote. Bill Clinton surely had his tensions with African-American voters, but ultimately, after he was elected in 1992, the party responded to Jesse Jackson’s calls for more inclusion. Ron Brown became first African-American Democratic National Committee chair; the White House political director and multiple cabinet members were black. Can Biden ultimately reflect the optimism of the Obama administration to which he was clearly devoted, or will he prove that outside of Obama, he may not really know us at all?” • Lok, the Democrats “responded” to Jesse Jackson’s calls for inclusion by throwing him under the bus for Dukakis and denying the Rainbow Coalition a place in the party. Where do these people come from?
Biden (D)(2): “Markos Moulitsas: The Idea Of A Biden-Trump Debate Actually Terrifies Me” (video) [RealClearPolitics]. Turn the sound down if you don’t want to hear Kos. “After seeing the word-salads, the jumbles, the half-truths that come out of Biden in last night’s debate and in recent weeks.. These two aging, macho white males, sort of puffing their chest and throwing out stories that are maybe half-true or not true at all trying to score points on each other is absolutely terrifying.” • I’m so very, very tired of the word “terrifying.” (“Now kids, don’t get excited.” “Who’s excited?”)
Sanders (D)(1)(IA): “The Question Dividing Democratic Socialists” [The Atlantic]. “With just five months to go until the Iowa caucuses, chapters in the state have chosen to focus on local projects and tenants’-rights work rather than spend time and resources working for Sanders.” • Flagged here back in March. Maybe if DSA national had listened to — even empowered? — the rural chapters?
Sanders (D)(2): “The Growing Debate Over Elizabeth Warren’s Wealth Tax” [The New Yorker]. “As Senator Elizabeth Warren prepares for Thursday’s Democratic debate, in Houston, she is the first viable contender for the Presidency in decades to have proposed a direct tax on wealth.” • Unless “viable” is doing a lot more work than any mere adjective should be called upon to do (White, Rule 4: “Write with nouns and verbs”), the New Yorker is lying. From Sander’s Senate site, September 6, 2014: “Sanders Proposes Wealth Tax; Piketty, Reich Applaud.” I say “lying,” because I assume the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checking operation still exists; they had to know what they wrote was not true.
Warren (D)(1) (IA): “Elizabeth Warren nabs 2020 backing of Iowa’s state treasurer” [Associated Press]. “Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has announced the endorsement of one of Iowa’s last two uncommitted Democratic elected officials, state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald… Asked what stood out about Warren in a field of Democrats often aligned on key issues, Fitzgerald declared that Warren ‘is a Democrat, she is a capitalist, and she wants to make our system work.” …. Warren’s organization is seen as one of the strongest in Iowa, but compared with the other top-tier contenders in the field Warren has been relatively slow to roll out endorsements in the state. After a trickle of endorsement announcements, her first major haul of supporters in Iowa came out just last week, after her strong performance in the primary debate in Houston.”
* * *
“Republicans Rake in Campaign Cash in August: Campaign Update” [Bloomberg]. “The Republican National Committee raised $23.5 million in August and ended the month with $53.8 million cash on hand as it continues to stockpile money for the 2020 election. It was the third consecutive month that the RNC raised more than $20 million, and the biggest August total in a non-election year for the party. The Democratic National Committee has yet to crack $10 million in receipts in 2019.”
“DNC Creates Super-Duper Delegate, Just in Case” [Beet Press (DonCoyote)] “According to the DNC, the super-duper delegate will be the previous party nominee and will comprise 50% of the vote in the third round of voting.” • Seems to be satire, but I’m not so sure.
“Democratic donor Ed Buck charged with operating drug house after 2 men found dead in home” [Los Angeles Times]. • Ed Buck? Who’s he?
Realignment and Legitimacy
“The Changing Shape of the Parties Is Changing Where They Get Their Money” [Thomas Edsall, New York Times]. “Money is the mother’s milk of politics, as the old saying goes, and the slow motion realignment of our two major political parties has changed who raises more money from the rich and who raises more from small donors. First: Heading into the 2020 election, President Trump is on track to far surpass President Barack Obama’s record in collecting small donor contributions — those under $200 — lending weight to his claim of populist legitimacy. Second: Democratic candidates and their party committees are making inroads in gathering contributions from the wealthiest of the wealthy, the Forbes 400, a once solid Republican constituency. Democrats are also pulling ahead in contributions from highly educated professionals — doctors, lawyers, tech executives, software engineers, architects, scientists, teachers and so on.” • Gee.
“Reform of the Gig Economy A Wonderful Thing” [East Bay Express]. “Shockingly, California has the highest poverty rate of any state today. Gig jobs are part of this travesty…. Silicon Valley’s gig revenue is often based on eviscerating the entire structure of protection for low-wage workers, thin as it is…. while liberals around the Kamala Harris campaign and discredited former progressives shilled for Uber, it was a coalition of established unions and new union formations in the driver community that won the day. Construction unions were the strongest labor supporters of these drivers. While they are often derided as primarily just white Trump supporters, construction workers are more and more Latinx.”
Jobless Claims, week of September 14, 2019: “Jobless claims have been edging lower to confirm that layoffs are low and the job market strong” [Econoday].
Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey, September 2019: “Ongoing strength not weakness is the signal from the Philadelphia Fed’s manufacturing sample where September’s headline index came in… better-than-expected: [Econoday]. “But there is one signal of moderation in today’s report and that’s the 6-month outlook which fell … Confidence in future orders is down sharply this month…. Yet the sample is adding employees, unfilled orders are building and supplier delivery times are slowing, all consistent with healthy activity.”
Existing Home Sales, August 2019: “Existing home sales continue to move higher” [Econoday]. “Home sales have been struggling to move higher in 2019 but move higher they have, though year-on-year improvement is still subdued… which, nevertheless, is the best showing over the last two years. Housing, unlike manufacturing, is not a concern for the Federal Reserve right now.”
Leading Indicators, August 2019: “After a sharp rise in July, the index of leading economic indicators could manage no better than an unchanged reading in August” [Econoday]. “A slight positive is mixed readings, apart from the ISM, for manufacturing with an imputed dip in August consumer goods orders offset by an imputed no change for August core capital goods orders. The trend for this index has been mixed and consistent with slowing conditions six months out.”
Current Account, Q2 2019: “The US current account narrowed in the second quarter” [Econoday]. “Income flows helped the second quarter as the surplus on primary income, boosted by 2017 tax cuts on foreign dividends, rose… These offset a rise in the US goods and services trade gap.”
Shipping: “AAR: U.S. Rail Traffic Still Declining” [Railway Age]. “For this week—as has been the case in week’s past—total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 526,734 carloads and intermodal units, down 4.8% compared with the same week last year…. One of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2018. It was motor vehicles and parts, up 299 carloads, to 17,339. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2018 included commodities such as coal, down 4,950 carloads, to 80,753; grain, down 2,915 carloads, to 18,337; and metallic ores and metals, down 2,360 carloads, to 22,766.” • Interestingly, both Canada and Mexico are up.
Shipping: “FedEx Corp. is feeling the pain after saying it will deliver cuts in its troubled Express unit on a deferred basis. The delivery giant’s shares plunged by the most in a decade after the division showed its vulnerability to global trade disruptions” [Wall Street Journal]. “FedEx is trying to cut Express costs aggressively by pulling older planes from its fleet, but that won’t happen until after the holiday shipping season. At the same time, FedEx is pouring money into the business, projecting $5.9 billion in capital spending over each of the next two fiscal years. Some analysts question that investment amid falling revenue and profit margins in a business undergoing major structural changes. Demand is moving away from premium services toward ground parcel delivery, and e-commerce and digital trends are transforming the economics of express operations faster than FedEx can pull down its planes.”
Retail: “The Rise of the Zombie Mall” [Smithsonian]. “Over the next 40 years, another 1,500 enclosed malls would dot the landscape, from suburb to shining suburb, insinuating themselves into everyday life so profoundly that just “going to the mall” became a pastime. Hundreds of malls, meanwhile, have closed and been demolished or converted, overtaken by a renewed emphasis on walkable neighborhoods and challenged by that overwhelming force of 21st-century living: online shopping. Americans still go to the mall, spending some $2.5 trillion in 2014, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers… But rumors of the shopping mall’s death may be premature, if the mega-mall opening this October is any indication. The $5 billion, three-million-square-foot American Dream complex in northern New Jersey houses a theme park, a water park, a ski and snowboard park, an ice rink, an aquarium, a movie theater and a Ferris wheel. Oh, and stores. Hundreds of luxury and designer stores.” • I dunno about this. Eschaton has been making fun of the American Dream mall for years. NJ readers, is that mall legit, or a ginormous boondoggle?
Retail: “Creating Competitive Advantage: The Growth of Independent Bookstores in the U.S. 2009–2018” (PDF) [Publishing Research Quarterly]. “Independent bookstores (often called “indies” or “independents”) sustained threats to their basic business model because of the growth of national bookstore chains and the proliferation of book sales online, in price clubs, supermarkets, convenience stores, mass merchants, and specialty stores, the emergence of digital e-books and eReaders, and the U.S. recession of 2007–2009. These events triggered the closing of hundreds of independent bookstores. In spite of stiff online and brick-and-mortar competition and the recession, many independents were able to grow in size and importance. This article outlines the competitive advantages utilized by many inde-pendent bookstores between 2009 and 2018, resulting in an increase in the number of independent bookstores between 2009 (1651) and 2018 (2470). • Awesome!
Tech: “Smart TVs sending private data to Netflix and Facebook” [Financial Times]. “The smart TVs in our homes are leaking sensitive user data to companies including Netflix, Google and Facebook even when some devices are idle, according to two large-scale analyses. Researchers from Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that a number of smart TVs, including those made by Samsung and LG, and the streaming dongles Roku and Amazon’s FireTV were sending out data such as location and IP address to Netflix and third-party advertisers. The data were being sent whether or not the user had a Netflix account. The researchers also found that other smart devices including speakers and cameras were sending user data to dozens of third parties including Spotify and Microsoft.” • Never buy a product that’s smart!
Tech: “Pay to Play” [Real Life]. “Sex robots can be endowed with relatively meager capacities because they don’t need to pass the Turing test to be considered functional. After all, they are being developed not as experiments in machinic autonomy but as consumer entertainment experiences, with a potentially vast market. There is a tendency to perceive the demand for sex robots as an esoteric niche, but sex tech, which comprises technology designed to satisfy, enhance, and innovate the human sexual experience (e.g. vibrators, massagers, etc.), is already a billion-dollar industry, while internet porn maintains a dominant role in online content, with PornHub accruing 33.5 billion unique visits in 2018…. From that perspective, it’s clearer to see that the ‘intelligence’ of sex robots will not need to be directed toward appealing to the lonely or socially estranged to be commercially viable. Instead their technology will eventually be oriented in the same direction as existing entertainment technologies, toward compelling predictable patterns of engagement that manufacturers can exploit. In other words, sex robots share the same imperatives as comparable products like video games, gambling machines, and social media apps, all of which implement feedback reward structures that have been found to engender compulsive behavior. With their more intimate interfaces, sex robots would seem to allow for a more thorough implementation of such “gamification” strategies.” • Wait. The article starts out by saying that sex robots are, incorrectly, treated as “a dystopic menace rather than a banal present-day reality.” But it’s a dessert topping! It’s a floor wax!
Shipping: “Precision Pushback: How CSX Is Changing The Rules Of Railroading” [Jacksonville Business Journal (Another Scott)]. • I would like to know more about “Precision Railroading,” but can’t get behind this paywall. Readers?
The Bezzle: “Dark crystals: the brutal reality behind a booming wellness craze” [Guardian]. “Five years ago, crystals were not a big deal. Now, powered by the lucrative combination of social media-friendly aesthetics, cosmic spirituality and the apparently unstoppable wellness juggernaut, they have gone from a niche oddity associated with patchouli and crushed velvet to a global consumer phenomenon. On Instagram, hashtags for #crystals and #healingcrystals tick into the tens of millions…. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, but beneath its soil is a well-stocked treasure chest. Rose quartz and amethyst, tourmaline and citrine, labradorite and carnelian: Madagascar has them all. Gems and precious metals were the country’s fastest-growing export in 2017 – up 170% from 2016, to $109m. This island country of 25 million people now stands alongside far larger nations, such as India, Brazil and China, as a key producer of crystals for the world…. While a few large mining companies operate in Madagascar, more than 80% of crystals are mined ‘artisanally’ – meaning by small groups and families, without regulation, who are paid rock-bottom prices.” • Love that word, “artisan ally.” And yes, “wellness” is a bezzle, totally.
* * *
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 66 Greed (previous close: 66, Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 65 (Greeds). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Sep 19 at 12:12pm. Note that the index is not always updated daily, sadly.
“What if the Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t the ocean’s biggest plastic problem?” [Grist]. “The science of ocean plastic pollution is so new, it’s still hard to tell what’s doing the most harm, and what most needs fixing. Macroplastics like single-use bags get into sea turtle stomachs, but microplastics are small enough to embed in organisms like shellfish. Scientists still don’t know how the chemicals that leach off plastics might affect marine organisms like the bacteria that produce our oxygen.” • Ulp.
“Alternative meat products are not the answer for poorer countries” [Financial Times]. “In many developing countries and less affluent economies, animal-source food is less a consumer product than a vital source of income, food and livelihood. For the one in 10 people living on less than $2 a day, ‘alt-meats’ are unlikely to be a viable dietary solution for the simple reason that most people would be unable to access or afford them. Samburu livestock herders in northern Kenya, for example, live in rural areas with little access to grocery stores that might sell plant-based meat or soy milk. Instead, they rely on their cows, goats and sheep for both food and income.”
“Health Insurance That Doesn’t Cover the Bills Has Flooded the Market Under Trump” [Bloomberg]. “On her way out, Marisia gave the billing clerk David’s health insurance card. It looked like any other, listing a copay of $30 for doctor visits and $50 for ‘wellness.’ She’d bought the plan a year earlier from a company called Health Insurance Innovations Inc., with the understanding that it would be comprehensive. She hadn’t noticed a phrase near the top of the card, though: ‘Short-Term Medical Insurance.’” • I’m sure you can guess the rest of the story. Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.” Never buy a product that’s “smart.” And don’t do business with a company that has “Innovation” in its name!
Police State Watch
“‘I’m the bad guy now’: A retired cop on outing police misconduct” (interview) [Chicago Reader]. • A whistleblower. “Has the ostracism been worth it? I know right from wrong. I couldn’t perceive what good you did by putting an innocent man in jail for something he didn’t do. I know it’s the perception of some officers: We know he’s a bad guy, so we’re gonna slam him on this [other thing]. That’s not justice, that doesn’t work for me.”
Our Famously Free Press
“WaPo No Longer Discloses Its Owner’s Uber Investment” [FAIR]. “Despite California legislators’ clear intent that the new law applies to ride-hailing companies, the Post says it doesn’t. In a recent news story, Post reporter Faiz Siddiqui offered this questionable legal opinion as fact…. Siddiqui’s Uber-friendly legal opinion, which he later (accurately) attributed to Uber…may have been an innocent mistake (albeit one the Post has yet to acknowledge, as no correction has been posted), but it looks less innocent when considering Bezos’ ties to Uber. Bezos is a major Uber shareholder, whose stock in the company is worth an estimated $400 million. The Post’s recent pro-Uber reporting is not an anomaly, but part of a pattern at the paper (HuffPost, 6/21/16), which no longer bothers to inform readers of Bezos’ ties to the ride-hailing company.” • For some definition of “worth.”
Big Brother Is Watching You Watch
“Seriously, this sh!t again? 24m medical records, 700m+ scan pics casually left online” [The Register]. “Around 24 million medical patients’ data is floating around on the internet, freely available for all to pore over – thanks to that good old common factor, terribly insecure servers. German vuln-hunting firm Greenbone Networks found 590 “medical image archive systems online” containing a startling 737 million images, of which it said around 400 million were downloadable…. Dirk Schrader, a cyber-resilience architect at Greenbone Networks who led the research, said today: ‘A significant number of these servers have no protection at all, they aren’t password protected and have no encryption. Indeed, everyday internet users could gain access to these servers with very little effort – there’s no need to write any code or deploy any specialist hacking tools.’” • That’s a lot of pre-existing conditions!
“Local UAW Shop Chairman Says Unions Are Prepared for Up to a Year of Striking: ‘As Long as It Takes’” [Industry Week]. “According to Al Tiller, shop chairman of the Local 1005, United Auto Workers members are in for the long haul in their strike of General Motors. ‘We’ve been getting everybody ready for a year for this strike,’ he said, speaking in the parking lot of the Parma, Ohio union headquarters. Members have been discussing the necessity of saving money at union meetings, and dues were temporarily increased from two hours’ pay a month to two and a half hours’ pay in preparation. That extra money will go towards augmenting workers’ $250-a-week strike pay and providing benefits while GM isn’t. Despite the bruising loss of income, Tiller says members are ready and willing to strike for much longer than the last UAW strike of GM in 2007, which lasted less than two days. ‘We’re prepared for six months to a year,’ Tiller said. He emphasized the necessity of the strike by claiming that GM owed its continued existence to the UAW, and that it was time for the workers to share GM’s current success: ‘We’re the reason they’re open still.’” • Which is always true.
News of the Wired
“Enterprising Florida Woman Makes $100,000 a Year Off of Tongue Pics” [New York Magazine]. “Mikayla Saravia is not like other influencers. In addition to standard Instagram fare (butts, bikinis, etc.) the 21-year-old has gained internet fame by elevating an unlikely asset: her tongue, which stretches an impressive 6.5 inches long…. Like any good entrepreneur, Saravia has leveraged her tongue into a larger brand proposition, selling merch like apparel, sex toys, and phone chargers via her app and website, supplementing the cash she makes with Instagram ads. It’s enterprising to say the least, and absolutely genius when you consider she’s making roughly around as much as an investment banker in 2019.” • And to be fair, she does a lot less damage than the typical investment banker.
“How Did Lauren Duca’s Revolution Backfire?” [Buzzfeed]. “Duca also spent this past summer teaching ‘The Feminist Journalist,’ a six-week New York University journalism course for both high school and college students. Nearly four weeks after the [Duca’s course ended, however, her students sent a collective formal complaint to the heads of the NYU journalism school about Duca’s conduct. ‘We are disappointed at the department and NYU for hiring a group of students eager to learn,’ they wrote. In the days after the course ended, several of the students also reached out to me to share more of their concerns. ‘Her ability to is really frustrating,’ one former student said.” • But those are very important lessons!
“”Wanderlust: The Amazing Ida Pfeiffer, the First Female Tourist” by John van Wyhe” [Asian Review of Books]. “When [Pfeiffer] became famous, she got used to being treated to free hotel accommodation and tickets on steamers, and sometimes reacted angrily when these were not forthcoming, especially (as in Montreal) the clerks issuing them didn’t know who she was. She may have been too parsimonious to pay for first-class accommodation, but when it came free she was gracious enough to waive any objections she may have had to it. None of this, however, takes away from the sheer courage, endurance and stubbornness Pfeiffer displayed on her travels, even when she was confronted by head-hunters, cannibals, thieves and horrible weather. Having narrowly escaped (with a little help from her friend Count Friedrich von Berchtold, a Czech botanist) being fatally knifed in Brazil, for example, she finally decided to carry a pistol, as Isabella Bird would a few years later. In Canton, against male advice, she cheerfully wandered the streets without an escort, was attacked by a huge snake in Singapore and went on a dangerous tiger hunt in India. In her last travels she went to Madagascar, where she survived intrigues at the court of the murderous Queen Ranavalona I, aka “the female Caligula”, whom she charmed by giving a bad recital on an out-of-tune player piano.”
“Amish man and teen drinking in horse and buggy run after police pull them over” [MSN]. Says the teen: “I started running because I’m underage and I was drinking. I know it was a stupid mistake because you don’t know what a horse has on his mind — what he is going to do.”
* * *
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 (CW):
CW writes: “My wife and I were in Ecuador a year ago and I found these big ferns fascinating as they were in the process of unfurling. It was in a cloud forest where we were staying — Mindo is the nearby town.”
* * *
Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser.Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:
Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.
If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!