/2:00PM Water Cooler 6/12/2019

2:00PM Water Cooler 6/12/2019

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I got a late start because I had to finish up my photo essay on mitigating “plant blindness,” so I will fill out the Politics section shortly. –lambert


“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 June 11: Biden down 33.4% ( 33.6%) and Sanders steady 17% (17%) stabilize. Warren up 8.0% (7.8%), Buttigieg steady (7.0%), others Brownian motion. Of course, it’s absurd to track minute fluctuations at this point.

* * *


Biden (D)(1): Now he’s just trolling us:

#MedicareForAll is pie-in-the-sky, but a cure for cancer? No problemo! Honestly, I see stuff like this and I question whether Biden is actually running a serious campaign.

Buttigieg (D)(1): “Hollywood political financier Nicole Avant signs on to back Buttigieg for president” [CNBC]. “Mayor Pete Buttigieg has picked up one of the most influential Hollywood financiers as a backer, as he continues to surge in the 2020 fundraising battle, his campaign told CNBC. Nicole Avant, one of President Barack Obama’s lead bundlers during his first run for president, has decided she’s going all-in to back the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s run for president. ‘She’s a key supporter who is bundling for us, and hosting an event for us this month,’ a campaign spokesman told CNBC. The spokesman said tickets for the Avant gathering will go for up to $2,800.” • Ka-ching.

IA: “What’s on Iowans’ minds going into the 2020 caucuses? Climate change” [Grist]. “According to a new poll by CNN… Seventy-five percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers say they will only support a candidate who recognizes climate change ‘as the greatest threat to humanity.’ And 32 percent of say supporting the Green New Deal is a candidate ‘must have.’” • Strange dichotomy there; one would hope GND support builds even after the floods recede.

Stats Watch

Consumer Price Index, May 2019: “Price pressures at the consumer level are losing pace, as the ex-food ex-energy core rate missed expectations” [Econoday]. “At the last FOMC in late April and early May, policy makers were putting a positive spin on a slumping core inflation rate, in this case the Fed’s preferred gauge which is the PCE core which was at 1.6 percent in April. This rate runs several tenths below the CPI core and today’s report is not pointing to acceleration for the PCE core back to the 2.0 percent target. The spin Powell puts on the latest inflation data could well be the most important part of next week’s FOMC results.”

Atlanta Fed Business Inflation Expectations, June 2019: “[Y]ear-ahead inflation expectations at the business level have held at 2.0 percent the last two months which is improvement but not much” [Econoday]. “As long as expectations are at least steady and not cracking lower, the FOMC is less likely to see an urgent need to lower rates.”

MBA Mortgage Applications, week of June 7, 2019: “Homeowners were waiting in numbers for mortgage rates to go down further and as they did in the June 7 week, refinancing demand soared” [Econoday]. “The refinance index surged… to overshadow what was a very sizable… jump in purchase applications, a jump that points to greater strength for home sales.”

Commodities: “U.S. says it will help boost world minerals output to reduce reliance on China” [Reuters]. “The United States plans to help countries around the world develop their reserves of minerals like lithium, copper and cobalt, the State Department said on Tuesday, part of a multi-pronged strategy to reduce U.S. reliance on China for materials crucial to high-tech industries…. Under the plan, the United States will share mining expertise with other countries to help them discover and develop their resources, and advise on management and governance frameworks to help ensure their industries are attractive to international investors.” • More colonization!

The Bezzle: “Uber, Lyft Executives Urge California Compromise on Driver Pay” [Bloomberg]. “Faced with legislation in California that endangers their business model, Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. are urging a compromise that would keep their drivers from being considered employees. ‘We can make independent work better if we update century-old employment laws,’ Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi and Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer wrote…” • I’ll bet they did. “For both companies, which just went public, the prospect of being compelled in their home state to completely overhaul how drivers are compensated is an existential threat…. Under the April 2018 ruling known as Dynamex, workers are employees entitled to state wage-law protections unless they are conducting “work that it outside the usual course” of the company’s business. For companies whose core service is transporting customers via an army of drivers they claim are all contractors, that could be a challenging test to pass.” • So the Dynamex test is something to watch.

Tech: “Uber Trying to Steer Its Vision of Flying Cars Though Regulators” [Bloomberg]. “The company showed videos of a future in which hundreds of vehicles fly off urban landing ports and attendees of the conference could view multiple types of futuristic vehicles built by various companies, including some that are partners with Uber. Allison said the point of holding the conference in Washington was to focus on how government regulators will approve such designs.” • I’m sure that if Uber spun out its video creation division, it would be profitable.

Tech: Atrios has always been sound on robot cars:

Tech: “If You Think The Reason Internet Companies Snarf Up Your Data Is Because Their Services Are Free, Allow Me To Introduce You To The Telcos” [TechDirt]. “It’s been a few years since this kind of argument has come up, but it’s one that we’ve had to swat down a few times in the past: it’s the argument that somehow if a company offers a service for free, it means that they’ll absolutely snarf up all your data, and that requiring services be paid for directly by users somehow would fix that. This is easy to debunk in multiple directions and yet it still pops up here and there…. it seems rather easy to point out why that’s wrong with two examples. First we pay for other services such as our broadband and mobile data providers and they are so much worse on the privacy front, it’s not even remotely comparable. It’s not as if magically paying for the service has stopped AT&T or Verizon from being horrific on the privacy front. The snarfing up of data doesn’t go away if you pay for services. Second, there are businesses that have been built on giving away free tools without having to snarf up your data. Indeed, that’s actually how Google succeeded for much of its early history. It didn’t need to know everything about you. It just needed to know what you were searching for. And that was massively successful.”

Tech: “Big Mood Machine” [The Baffler]. “Music is emotional, and so our listening often signals something deeply personal and private…. Where other platforms might need to invest more to piece together emotional user profiles, Spotify streamlines the process by providing boxes that users click on to indicate their moods: Happy Hits, Mood Booster, Rage Beats, Life Sucks….. But a more careful look into Spotify’s history shows that the decision to define audiences by their moods was part of a strategic push to grow Spotify’s advertising business in the years leading up to its IPO—and today, Spotify’s enormous access to mood-based data is a pillar of its value to brands and advertisers, allowing them to target ads on Spotify by moods and emotions. Further, since 2016, Spotify has shared this mood data directly with the world’s biggest marketing and advertising firms.” • “Shared.” Honestly, I’m starting to feel — as I did not feel in, say, 1995, when “the Internet” was fresh and clean and new — that using Silicon Valley tech is like opening a kitchen cupboard door and seeing a bunch of cockroaches scuttle for the corners. Just ick. On the bright side, I’m sure Big Pharma loves being able to target users whose moods are consistently “Life Sucks.” So it’s all good. (And see below under Wired for more on music.)

Concentration: “Tech elites dismiss breakup threats from Washington” [Politico]. “The tone at this week’s gathering of tech elite at a cactus-strewn Arizona desert resort — where gift-bag options include a Sonos One speaker, a $100 gift card to the delivery service Postmates and a 23andMe genetic testing kit — suggests that, at least in public and among their peers, Silicon Valley leaders see little to fear in Washington’s raging debate…. But when it comes to becoming the target of breakup talk, the tech leaders here portrayed it as less of a threat than a badge of honor — a natural outcome, as Jassy framed it, of a company succeeding on a grand scale. Of the potential for a breakup, he said: ‘At the end of the day, we operate in the United States, and we follow United States law, so if we’re forced to do it, I guess we’ll have to.’” • That’s nice.

The Biosphere


“He Tried to Plug a Wasp Nest. He Ended Up Sparking California’s Biggest Wildfire.” [New York Times]. “In a report released in recent days, forensic investigators found that a rancher started the fire when hammering a metal stake in his backyard to snuff out a wasp nest. Sparks flew, igniting dry grass stalks and spreading fire quickly across the desiccated landscape…. The ignition of the so-called Ranch Fire is a testament to the extreme fragility and volatility of the American West, fire experts say. California in particular is such a tinderbox that something as seemingly innocuous as hammering a stake into the ground can unleash an uncontrollable inferno.” • 

“The world’s largest pot farms, and how Santa Barbara opened the door” [Los Angeles Times]. “In a sandy draw of the Santa Rita Hills, a cannabis company is planning to erect hoop greenhouses over 147 acres — the size of 130 football fields — to create the largest legal marijuana grow on earth…. The cannabis boom has caused a backlash from residents and vintners afflicted by the smell, and farmers who fear spraying their avocados could make them financially liable for tainting multimillion-dollar marijuana crops.” • Since when did “grow” become a noun? I’m not sure stopping avocadoes from being sprayed is altogether a bad thing. But the whole story stinks of regulatory corruption at the local level. Speaking of which–

“Know where the nearest poultry farm is? Neither do NC regulators” [WRAL]. “The poultry industry brings some 800 million birds through North Carolina every year at thousands of farms across the state, generating millions of tons of waste. North Carolina’s environmental regulators don’t know where most of those farms are. By law, they won’t be told even if they ask the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, which does keep records but doesn’t regulate the industry’s waste operations. Neither agency tracks how many farms are in the flood plain, even though state and federal taxpayers spent more than $12.5 million last year to compost millions of birds drowned in the wake of Hurricane Florence.” • State taxpayers did. Federal taxpayers didn’t.

“EXCLUSIVE: Alberta warned it could take 2,800 years to clean up oilpatch” [Canada’s National Observer]. “It’s unlikely that well-owning companies will be around to clean up the mess in a few hundred years, said Blake Shaffer, a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University who has studied well liabilities in Alberta. ‘This is a big issue, and we need some policy changes,’ said Shaffer, who is also a C.D. Howe Institute fellow and economist at the University of Calgary. ‘These shouldn’t be things that are multi-generational.’” • The unlikeliness is a feature, not a bug.

“Study reveals how social relationships transform bird flocks” [Phys.org]. “Victorian naturalists were so perplexed by flocks moving together like a single super-organism that they thought birds must be communicating telepathically. Since then, scientists have shown that this collective behaviour can emerge if every bird in a flock responds to its neighbours by following identical rules. But a new study by biologists at the University of Exeter, physicists at Stanford, USA, and computer scientists at Simon Fraser University in Canada shows that flocking jackdaws do not all follow identical rules. Instead, pairs of jackdaws—which mate for life—fly together within the crowd. The findings reveal a trade-off: paired birds benefit because they use less energy in flight, but the existence of pairs reduces the flock’s ability to react to predators.”

Health Care

“Lower Cardiovascular Mortality Linked to Medicaid Expansion” [Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics]. “After accounting for demographic, clinical, and economic differences, counties in expansion states had 4.3 fewer deaths per 100,000 residents per year from cardiovascular causes after Medicaid expansion than if they had followed the trajectory of non-expansion states…. The counties in these expansion states had a population of 47.4 million middle-aged adults in 2014. The findings translate to a total of 2,039 fewer deaths per year in 45-64 year old residents from cardiovascular causes after Medicaid expansion.” • Good to know that health care (not “access” to health care, mind you, which implies gatekeepers and eligibility determination) saves lives.


“Ask MLive reporters about PFAS contamination in Reddit ‘AMA’” [Mlive] (Reddit AMA here). This article aggregates MLive reporting and gives bios of the reporters.

Class Warfare

“On Eve of Union Vote, Chattanooga VW Workers Describe Rampant Workplace Injuries” [Labor Notes]. “‘I’m only 33 and I can’t see myself working here for another 10 years,’ said Ashley Murray. ‘I would be disabled by then. We need a union because they are a multibillion-dollar company and they treat us like shit.’ Murray is a production employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, one of 18 hourly employees there I interviewed for this story. Comments like hers were almost universal.” And: “These conditions are not unique to the German automaker. They pervade the nonunion manufacturing industry in the U.S. And to remain nonunion, companies like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Boeing have chosen to locate their production facilities in the South, where the union density is 5 percent—less than half the rate of unionization for any other region in the country.” • Opportunity! And in Chattanooga:

“Employee relations fray as Millers All Day vies to become Charleston’s leading brunch spot” [Post and Courier]. “[M]agazine editors making room on their hot lists for [Millers All Day, the] lower King Street breakfast spot. Behind the scenes, though, employees say the situation was chaotic at best. They allege they were addressed disrespectfully; denied meal breaks and made to do side work and food prep in an unheated second-floor room. ‘You’re polishing silverware for four hours, and your fingers are freezing,’ says Charnele Landingham, a former CO manager who was hired by Millers as a bartender, but soon thereafter reassigned to the host stand. ‘The cooks peeling shrimp couldn’t feel their fingers.’ For their part, Johnsman and Thurston say the restaurant’s challenges weren’t out of the ordinary, especially in light of how many customers were won over by Millers’ successful publicity campaign.” • One of the things I so enjoyed about Anthony Bourdain is that he focused not just on the food, but on the workers. This article has implications that go beyond Charleston.

A highly disconcerting and disappointing thread on lacunae in Jared Diamond’s scholarship:

News of the Wired

“The Day the Music Burned” [New York Times (JP)]. “Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. The Decca masters also included recordings by such greats as Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.” • A long-form piece, well-researched and reported. A must-read. Archival preservation just isn’t something capital can do. UMG’s master archive went up in flames on a Hollywood lot, ffs.

* * *

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:

DCBlogger’s eggplant, evidently on a porch (and in line with today’s post on avoiding plant blindness, which is why I’m allowing the small size).

* * *

Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So do feel free to make a contribution today or any day. Here is why: 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 small donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals. So if you see something you especially appreciate, do feel free to click this donate button:

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!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email