2:00PM Water Cooler 1/13/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 1/13/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, happy Friday the Thirteenth!

Bird Song of the Day

Snowy-throated Kingbird, Santuario Historico Bosque de Pómac–Ruta de la Cortarrama, Lambayeque, Peru. And I hope the Peruvian general strike is going well.

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Politics

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

“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

Capitol Seizure

“The Failures of the January 6 Report” [Jeet Heer, The Nation]. “But the report issued by the committee also has a broader purpose: to establish a convincing account of the coup attempt that can shape public memory. Harvard historian Jill Lepore, writing in The New Yorker, offered a scathing critique of the report, convincingly portraying it as a narrowly focused indictment of Donald Trump that ignores broader political forces that created the coup. In 2016, Donald Trump ran on the boast ‘I alone can fix it.’ The January 6 report merely flips the script by saying Trump alone can break it…. A truer account of the origins of January 6 that tried to move beyond Trump could find genuine bipartisan responsibility if it focused on shared policy failures. The Clintonian embrace of neoliberalism in the 1990s wreaked economic havoc on the working class that made Trump’s demagoguery more persuasive. Bipartisan support for the Global War on Terror after 9/11 helped legitimize the xenophobia that Trump would come to exploit and created a nation fearful of the world. The failure of the Obama administration to push for a strong stimulus in 2009 and 2010 ensured a lost economic decade, again driving desperation. Lepore doesn’t address any of these salient issues of policy. Her focus is on blaming partisan rhetoric and social media.”

Biden Administration

2024

“McCarthy says he will look at expunging Trump impeachment” [The Hill]. “In the last Congress, a group of more than 30 House Republicans led by Rep. Markwayne Mullin put forward a resolution to expunge Trump’s impeachment in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The resolution was supported by the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.). A smaller group, again led by Mullin, also introduced a resolution to expunge Trump’s December 2019 impeachment for allegedly attempting to withhold military aid from Ukraine in an effort to pressure the country to investigate the business dealings of President Biden’s son Hunter Biden.” • Hmm.

Republican Funhouse

“Rep. George Santos’ finances are raising questions. Here’s what public records show” [USA Today]. “In his first disclosure to the House, filed in May 2020, Santos reported a commission bonus worth somewhere north of $5,000 from a New York company called LinkBridge Investors. The same day, he filed an amendment to the disclosure saying he made $55,000 from LinkBridge in 2019.” • Most of this raises the more interesting question of why this oppo was never done in the first place (or if it was done, why it wasn’t conveyed to Santos’s opponent). I can’t get into a moral panic about campaign finance, my bad.

“House Republicans Can’t Even Tolerate the Word Labor” [Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine]. “But the committee’s rechristening as the House Committee on Education & the Workforce reflects a tradition of Republican labor hostility that has grown more remarkable as the GOP has come to think of itself as the party of working people with white* non-college-educated folk at the core of its electoral coalition. The GOP’s self-identification with the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil is central to its claim that the Democratic Party is now a vassal of woke coastal elitists with Ph.D.’s, whose ground troops are Big Government leeches and the immigrants who want to join them at the welfare trough… But deep-seated Republican fidelity to the interests of capital, as opposed to labor, keeps bubbling up to the surface, not least in GOP refusal to countenance the very term labor. Just as they did when they took over the House in 2010, and before that in 1995, Republicans immediately got labor out of the committee’s title.” • NOTE * Wrong. It’s well-known that Trump increased Republican vote share in what Democrats used to call “the coalition of the ascendant’ (i.e., non-whites). Now, I see the qualifier “GOP’s self-identification,” but self-identification of party apparatchiks will follow the votes.

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:

The Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

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“Democrats’ identification as liberal at new high in Gallup polling” [The Hill]. “While more than 6 in 10 white Democrats identify as liberal, only 39 percent of Black Democrats and 41 percent of Hispanic Democrats also do so. Both figures for the latter two groups still represent almost 20-point increases since 1994.”

“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pledges to ‘put aside’ differences with Democratic leadership after Republican concessions to far right” [WSWS]. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, confronting growing left-wing opposition to her subservience to the Democratic Party, gave an explanation which was as revealing as it was pathetic. ‘I see some people say Dems should negotiate to get concessions,’ she said in a social media post this week. ‘We do, but what we don’t do is bring them publicly in order to empower not just Republicans but the fascist flank of the Republican Party.’ This statement tracks with her record in Congress: The class struggle must be suppressed for the sake of the institutional security of the imperialist Democratic Party and the Biden administration. For this same reason Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA’s congressional representatives illegalized the rail strike and denounced left-wing criticism of Biden as ‘privileged’ and racist.” • Thomas Frank is right on this. The Democrat Party as presently constituted cannot defeat fascism.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“‘Justice Has Finally Prevailed’: Former Student Celebrates Shutdown of Fundamentalist School Where He Says He Was Abused” [The Roys Report]. • There must be a study out there that compares various Christian denominations for levels of abuse; but I’ve never seen it. However, it doesn’t seem to me that Christianists and Catholics differ much in that regard.

#COVID19

Lambert here: I am but a humble tapewatcher, but unlike Eric Topol, I’m not calling a surge, because the last peak was Biden’s Omicron debacle, and after an Everest like that, what’s left? Topol’s view is the establishment view: Hospital-centric. Mine is infection-centric. I do not see the universal acceleration or doubling in cases that I would expect to see based on past surges.

I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet (but see here for immune system dysregulation, which is looking pretty awful). We are now two weeks away from holiday travel, so we should have a result. See below at case data.

Stay safe out there!

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• “U.S. Public Health Professional Routinely Mislead the Public about Infectious Diseases: True or False? Dishonest or Self-Deceptive? Harmful or Benign?” [Peter Sandman]. From 2016, highly germane. I’ve run this before, but never gotten a reaction, so I’ll try once more, because it’s important. Long, and quoting one passage:

“It is important to say that the dishonesty of public health organizations and practitioners typically is not entirely conscious. They don’t twirl their moustaches and tie maidens to railroad tracks. They don’t say to themselves: ‘Now we’re going to mislead the public. We know we’re doing it. We know why. We’ve decided integrity matters less than the outcome we have in mind.’ I think that kind of self-aware dishonesty is comparatively rare.

17. On the other hand, public health dishonesty is not entirely unconscious either. Somewhere in the middle realm between deception and self-deception is a place where we don’t feel we’re being dishonest because we’re not focusing on the truth we’re hiding. If you catechized us or cross-examined us on the facts of the situation, yes, we do know that X and Y are true, and we do know that what we said gave the impression that X and Y are false … but no, we weren’t intentionally deceiving anyone.

18. Until 2011, the CDC routinely claimed that the flu vaccine was 70–90% effective. When CIDRAP was documenting that this was a wildly optimistic claim, Mike [Osterholm] and I had many debates about whether CDC, ACIP, and the rest of the flu vaccine leadership were misjudging the data or intentionally misrepresenting the data.

I think the truth was somewhere in the middle. When they put their minds to it, they sort-of knew that 70–90% was too high even for healthy young adults in a year with a good match … and way too high for people my age and older in a year when the match was suboptimal. But when they said 70–90%, full stop, they mostly imagined that they were simplifying the science, not misstating the science. I call this ‘misoversimplification.’ And they almost surely thought that claiming high vaccine efficacy was a crucial path to achieving high vaccine uptake.

Almost singlehandedly, CIDRAP forced them to change their efficacy claims. Interestingly, flu vaccine uptake did not collapse as a result.

The issues we’re seeing with scientific communication and organization behavior are not new, at CDC or elsewhere (remember that public health is primarily a local responsiblity. So where was New York when XBB.1.5 was growing like kudzu all over everything?). Bourdieu, of course, would look at “professionals” and see professionals grasping their accumulated symbolic capital like grim death, their basic view being that the public is not educable. (This is, of course, false, as citizen science in Long Covid and citizen engineering in Corsi-Rosenthal box manufacture shows.)

• It’s interesting to think that one of CDC’s social functions is to determine the boundaries of acceptable pro-social behavior:

Of course, when you’re dealing with people who have talked themselves into believing that a policy of mass infection is pro-social, that could be a problem.

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• The role of delusion (“organic” or engineered) in public affairs is often over-estimated:

Tuchman might call “delusion” folly, but I think her March of Folly is primarily an account of how the great and the good think, if think is the word I want.

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• WaPo Reporter Adds Value:

I don’t wish to seem churlish, but three years in?! (I suppose the interval between the invention of the Corsi-Rosenthal box in August 2020 and WaPo taking notice in January 2023 — that’s [breaking out my calculator] 29 months — is a good metric for the length of time an idea takes to penetrate the PMC hive mind; although acceptance takes longer. That’s almost six Friedman units!

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Case Data

The latest BioBot data:

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Lambert here: If we take wastewater data as the best proxy for case data (ignoring the clinical data portion of this chart, which in my view “goes bad” after March 2022), then we’re on the downside of a less-than-Biden surge, much like 2021, which also unexpectedly dropped after holiday travel in January. It looks like such data as we have — positivity, New York hospitalization, and MWRA wastewater — confirms this. (I watch New York and Boston so closely because they are both the source of major previous outbreaks and both have international airports, and Boston has lots of students.) It’s good that we didn’t have a major outbreak, but a return to our previous plateau of mass infection is not good. (This national scenario does not rule out regional surges at all.) Of course, the future lies ahead. Let’s wait and see.

Lambert here: The situation with what seems to have been our latest narrow escape reminds me of this passage from H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth (similar in theme to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros come to think of it). The protagonist is in his hotel room at night:

After a time I seemed to hear the stairs and corridors creak at intervals as if with footsteps, and wondered if the other rooms were beginning to fill up. There were no voices, however, and it struck me that there was something subtly furtive about the creaking. I did not like it, and debated whether I had better try to sleep at all.

Then, after a long, dreary interval, and prefaced by a fresh creaking of stairs and corridor, there came that soft, damnably unmistakable sound which seemed like a malign fulfilment of all my apprehensions. Without the least shadow of a doubt, the lock on my hall door was being tried—cautiously, furtively, tentatively—with a key….

After a time the cautious rattling ceased, and I heard the room to the north entered with a pass-key. Then the lock of the connecting door to my room was softly tried. The bolt held, of course, and I heard the floor creak as the prowler left the room. After a moment there came another soft rattling, and I knew that the room to the south of me was being entered. Again a furtive trying of a bolted connecting door, and again a receding creaking. This time the creaking went along the hall and down the stairs, so I knew that the prowler had realised the bolted condition of my doors and was giving up his attempt for a greater or lesser time, as the future would shew.

I heard a muffled creaking on the floor below, and thought I could barely distinguish voices in conversation. A moment later I felt less sure that the deeper sounds were voices, since the apparent hoarse barkings and loose-syllabled croakings bore so little resemblance to recognised human speech

We are the protagonist; the noises are the fragmentary data; the monster making the noises by rattling the doors and croaking hoarsely is Covid; and the darkness is the collapse of our public health system. It has been, and continues to be, a very nervous time (or, to pre-empty and convert away from a “living in fear” trope, a theme of the work is that the protagonist is making a “personal risk assessment” (“debated whether I had better try to sleep”), and that the results of said assessment are, well, unexpected.

Transmission

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map,” which is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.) The map is said to update Monday-Friday by 8 pm:

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The previous map:

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NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.

Positivity

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published January 13:

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-3.8.%. Still heading down, faster.

Wastewater

Wastewater data (CDC), January 9:

Holy moley. That’s a lot of red!

January 8:

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And MWRA data, January 10:

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Lambert here: Unmistakably down, north and south. However, not all the students are back; BU classes begin January 19; Harvard’s January 22.

Variants

Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), December 30:

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Lambert here: BQ.1* still dominates, XBB moving up fast. Note all the BQ subvariants; it’s almost like something’s encouraging them, like maybe a policy of mass infection. Sure hope none of ’em get lucky, like XBB.

Variant data, national (CDC), December 24 (Nowcast off):

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BQ.1* takes first place. XBB coming up fast. (For BQ.1/XBB and vaccine escape, see here.) Here is Region 2, the Northeast, where both BQ.1* and XBB are said to be higher, and are:

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Holy moley, XBB.1.5! (Makes clear that Region 2 (New England) varies greatly from the national average. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we ended up with different variants dominating different parts of the country.

• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated January 12:

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A retreat from the steady rise I have found so concerning.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated January 8:

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Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,124,399 – 1,123,466 = 933 (933 * 365 = 340,545 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

Lambert here: Deaths lag, so we have a nice little jump here as a consequence of whatever it is we’ve been going through.

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

Stats Watch

There are no statistics of interest today.

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Finance: “Holy high rollers: prosecutors take down phony pastors who targeted immigrants in $28 million Ponzi scheme” [MarketWatch]. “‘I’m everything you imagine me to be, as long as it’s good and it’s Godly.’ That’s how Dennis Jali, a South African self-proclaimed finance guru sold his Christian-themed program of financial success to crowds of mainly African immigrants at churches and banquet halls in and around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But while Jali claimed he could multiply their money by as much as 35% through cryptocurrency and foreign exchange investments, prosecutors say it was simply an unholy scam. Not only were Jali and his accomplices not pastors like they claimed, they never made any investments with their clients’ money, instead using it to finance lavish lifestyles of private jet travel, luxury homes and fleets of fancy cars.” • How anybody could read the Bible and imagine Jesus wants them to be rich astonishes me.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 62 Greed (previous close: 57 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 47 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 13 at 1:38 PM EST.

Under the Influence

A strong dynamic, not only imposing itself on influencers:

Health Care

“Health Care Giants Are Making Millions off of Unfair Medicare Overpayments” [Jacobin]. “his year, for the first time, a majority of seniors eligible for Medicare will be on privatized Medicare Advantage plans. Now, the insurance companies raking in giant profits from these for-profit plans are mounting a pressure campaign and planning to sue the government to protect years of overpayments they’ve extracted from Medicare. A cash cow for big insurers, the for-profit version of Medicare has not been a great deal for the American public. Medicare Advantage plans cost the government more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare, and often wrongfully deny care. What’s more, federal audits have found Medicare Advantage plans systematically overbilling the public — mostly by billing as if patients are sicker than they really are, a scheme known as ‘upcoding.’ Officials estimate that the private plans collected $650 million in overpayments from 2011 to 2013. The Biden administration is expected to finalize a rule next month to try to recoup some of these overpayments — but Medicare Advantage insurers are threatening to sue if the rule moves forward as written, according to Stat News. If insurers sue, it could further delay the government’s efforts to claw back excess payments stretching back more than a decade, as well as future overpayments. The health insurance industry argues that regulators should allow for some level of payment errors — and should only apply new rules to audits moving forward, instead of retroactively punishing past misconduct.” • Because of course they do. If only there were some way to deliver health care to without going through the insurance companies at all! Maybe some Democrat elected could hold hearings or sumpin. NOTE On upcoding see NC here, here, and here. Coding is for billing; it has to do with health data only tangentially. Medical coding is a solid and well-paid professional job, even if as presently constituted it should not even exist.

Class Warfare

“NUGW union with United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers of America authorized following two-day election” [The Daily Northwestern]. “The [graduate student] union was authorized after a majority (1,644 to 114) voted in favor of the union.” • Holy moley!

“The bishop’s profitable sex workers” [Wellcome Collection]. Pursuant to KD’s comment here: “Although the medieval Church condemned vice, they also viewed sex work as a necessary evil that protected ‘respectable’ women from the lusts of men. St Augustine (354–430), for example, is quoted as saying: ‘Suppress prostitution, and capricious lusts will overthrow society.’… Medieval brothels were commonly known as ‘stews’ or ‘stewhouses’, as they were once bathhouses where you could literally stew yourself in the hot water…. Considerable evidence survives about life in the Southwark stews because of a remarkable document, drawn up in the 15th century, which allowed the Bishop of Winchester to sanction and profit from sex work in his jurisdiction. The ‘Ordinances Touching the Government of the Stewholders in Southwark under the Direction of the Bishop of Winchester’ sets out 36 regulations for those working in the stews, and the fine each infraction would incur. So profitable did this venture prove that the sex workers of Southwark came to be known as ‘Winchester Geese.’”

News of the Wired

Does anybody know ground zero for the gas stove moral panic? It randomly appeared on timeline, but I have no idea what triggered it:

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral 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. From CW:

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CW writes: “We had a pretty big snow fall the week before the big Xmas storm. Readers will see some young beech trees with leaves still attached as discussed recently.”

Readers, I could use just a few more plants!

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