2:00PM Water Cooler 1/6/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 1/6/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Melodious Warbler, Ribeira de Pena, Vila Real, Portugal.

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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

Biden Administration

“Biden launches defense of student debt relief at Supreme Court” [Politico]. “President Joe Biden’s efforts to cancel student debt for millions of Americans “fall comfortably” within the law and enjoy ‘clear authorization’ from Congress, the Justice Department argued Wednesday in its opening brief defending the policy before the Supreme Court. The court filing, submitted late Wednesday evening, marks the beginning of a high-stakes battle at the court in the coming months over the fate of one of Biden’s major domestic policy programs…. Biden administration officials have extended the pause on federal student loan payments and interest while the Supreme Court considers the case. The administration has said that payments could remain suspended through as late as Aug. 30.”

2024

Third Way readies its endorsement:

“The Partisan Ghost In The Media Machine” [Lever News]. ” As up to one million travelers were stranded by Southwest Airlines over the holiday season, The Lever uncovered documents (here, here, here and here) showing that Democratic state officials and congressional lawmakers had repeatedly begged Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to toughen rules to deter airlines from mistreating their customers. As those documents and our new video detail, Buttigieg — the sole airline regulator under federal law — has plenty of power at his disposal. But he’s refused to use that authority, even after Southwest had experienced a similar meltdown a year ago. As William McGee of the American Economic Liberties Project put it: “Southwest was inevitable after [Buttigieg] failed to punish awful behavior all year.’… Buttigieg’s inaction was part of a larger pattern of lax regulation and weak enforcement that by some measures have been even weaker than those under the Trump administration. This is hardly surprising, considering Buttigieg is a political appointee who had never managed a major transportation system before being given his Cabinet job. His formative experience was working at a corporate consulting giant that would later suggest ways airlines could extract more fees from passengers.”

Republican Funhouse

“McCarthy flips 14 dissenters on 12th speaker ballot but still falls short” [Politico]. “Kevin McCarthy came up short in the 12th ballot in his bid for speaker on Friday, but chipped away at his dissenters by winning the support of 14 members who previously opposed his bid for the top gavel…. “We’re at a turning point. I’ve negotiated in good faith, with one purpose: to restore the People’s House back to its rightful owners. The framework for an agreement is in place, so in a good-faith effort, I voted to restore the People’s House by voting for @gopleader McCarthy,” Perry, chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus, tweeted during the vote. It’s a significant show of momentum for McCarthy, with one person close to Republican leadership indicating that the number of flips exceeded internal projections. Even so, it’s unclear what more the Californian can do to placate the remaining seven Republicans opposed to his bid…. All the while, McCarthy’s moderate allies, many of whom represent districts won by Biden, are increasingly leery of the number of concessions getting made to the right. ‘If this remains the face of the GOP in 2024 we will get pummeled in the Presidential and Congressional elections,’ said centrist Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). ‘We would have won more seats in 2022, but too many feared the extremes in the GOP even before this.’”

“Chip Roy, Bless His Heart” [Texas Monthly]. “This week, he has picked one of his biggest battles in years, as he serves as the most prominent Texan in the crew of congresspeople who began the ongoing ritual humiliation and sacrifice of would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Roy and a small group of like-minded warriors for freedom have effectively vetoed the nomination of the representative from Bakersfield, California, whom they view as a weak-kneed ‘Republican in Name Only,’ for an incredible eight rounds of voting. Typically, Texas politicians who fall in the That Guy category rail against the system and the establishment, which they say is a threat to the Texas values that many That Guys have dedicated their lives to defending. Roy, who was born inside the D.C. swamp in Bethesda, Maryland, and raised in Virginia, does precisely this, but he is a prominent member of a subcategory of That Guys who are also consummate insiders. He is a miniature of his longtime mentor and ally Ted Cruz: a veteran political operative from out of state, bound for the upper class, who rode to office on the back of a folksy populist persona and a nickname. They’re even both now experimenting with facial hair.”

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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“SBF and the Injustice Democrats” [Max Berger, Optimism of the Will]. “I found more evidence SBF was collaborating with AIPAC and Trump supporting billionaires to stop the growth of the squad and the electoral left. Five billionaire funded PACs were coordinating closely on a strategy to defeat progressive candidates in Democratic primaries — a kind of Injustice Democrats. Mark Mellman, a long-time operative and AIPAC ally, appears to be at the center of the effort and likely spearheaded the shared campaign. He was hired by four of the five groups this cycle, who collectively paid his firm $476,016.67. As you may have heard, SBF gave nearly $40 million to Democrats in 2022. But, I found that SBF wasn’t primarily funding groups that help Democrats defeat Republicans. According to FEC data, over 75% of the money SBF contributed to Democrats in 2022 went to groups that spent nearly all their money on competitive primaries in the Democratic Party.” So that’s what “Effective Altruism” means. More: “SBF personally contributed $29,250,000 to Protect Our [whose?] Future and DMI PAC (which later contributed the money to Web3 [ugh] Forward). Both of these groups spent the vast majority of their money on Democratic primaries. They also worked closely with two AIPAC affiliated SuperPACs called the United Democracy Project (UDP) and the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), and a group called Mainstream Democrats which aimed to defeat the ‘far-left.’… SBF was one of the key funders of the Injustice Democrats. But, SBF wasn’t the only billionaire to support the effort. Trump supporting billionaires Bernard Marcus (owner of Home Depot), Robert Kraft (owner of the Patriots), and Paul Singer (owner of Elliot Investment Management) each gave a million dollars to help defeat working class candidates. Overall, the five groups that make up the Injustice Democrats spent $44,454,111 on outside expenditure this cycle. What did SBF have in common with the pro-Israel lobby and pro-Trump billionaires? In short, a desire to staunch the rise of the left, and keep the Democratic Party in the hands of financial and political elites who protect the status quo.”

“Roaming Charges: No Speaker, No Cry” [Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch]. “There are 100 members of the “Progressive Caucus,” who capitulated within seconds to nearly every demand Pelosi made, and 40 members of the Freedom Caucus who don’t mind waterboarding their own leader in public to get their way & ditching him if they don’t.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

“My Week Inside a Right-Wing “Constitutional Defense” Training Camp” [The New Republic]. “The idea of combining political instruction and 35 hours of intense, combat-focused pistol training in 2023 America seems insurrectionary on its face. And it is, but not in the immediately obvious way. The guns are a red herring. The insurrection, if Patriot Academy has its way, will be bloodless: a heart transplant for the body politic. Patriot Academy, along with many fellow-traveler evangelical organizations across the country, is engaged in a life-and-death struggle to rewrite America’s Constitution—and teaching its supporters how to defend themselves with a handgun, just in case…. Constitutional Defense is shockingly affordable for what it offers: $500 for four days of handgun training and a day of lectures. Comparable classes elsewhere cost up to $500 per day. Nor is the training shoddy. As a veteran and a longtime gun owner, I have been through my share of firearms courses. Constitutional Defense is far and away the best training I have ever received. Only after the class is over do I put it together. The handgun course is a loss leader. The ideology is the product. This moral marketing began before the class did. Upon registration, Patriot Academy automatically enrolled us in Biblical Citizenship, an eight-week online course hosted by Rick Green and a man named Mark Meckler. Halfway through Constitutional Defense, a cheerful Patriot Academy employee delivered a half-hour–long seminar on the virtues of becoming a Constitution Coach, complete with a prize for the person who signed up first. Constitution coaching, Patriot Academy’s flagship program, is a fascinating spin on a now-common concept: online conservative education. Unlike many other courses, Patriot Academy does not intend for participants to take these classes in the privacy of their home. Instead, the organization encourages interested parties to recruit a class of people to watch the material and go through the workbook together. These Constitution Coaches then encourage their students to form groups of their own and bring the material to new people. Classic MLM recruiting technique, but with ideological downlines instead of monetary ones. The organization claims over 500,000 students trained in “Constitutional Foundations of Freedom” so far.” • I don’t want to be cranky about it, but this program sounds fantastically well-designed. Why can’t the left (assuming there is such a thing) put a program like this together? Have they left everything to the NGOs? The whole article is well worth a read. Once again, conservatives are serious about their politics.

#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). Wastewater has taken off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, right on time, two weeks after Thanksgiving. Those are not only in themselves large cities, they are all the sites of international airports (reminiscent of the initial surge in spring 2020, which emanated, via air travel, from New York). Wastewater is a leading indicator for cases, which in turn lead hospitalization (and death). In addition, positivity has reached its highest level ever, at least at Walgreens, and BQ.1* has taken over, closely followed by XBB, and both are immunue escape variants. UPDATE Walgreen’s positivity, Boston MWRA data going vertical, and the rapid rise of XBB in the Northeast are all very concerning. The effects of all our holiday travel should be playing out in the next two weeks. Readers, please feel free to add holiday anecdotes.

Stay safe out there!

“Meet the biology professor who named the surging ‘Kraken’ COVID variant. He has more to help make sense of Omicron’s ‘alphabet soup’” [Fortune]. “New strains of Omicron are becoming increasingly more transmissible and evasive, with the ability to dodge immunity from prior vaccination and infection. And using the term ‘Omicron’ or something like XBB.1.5 to describe them just isn’t cutting it anymore, Dr. Ryan Gregory, a biology professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, told Fortune. ‘Kraken’ is what he calls XBB.1.5, which the WHO just declared the most transmissible Omicron variant yet. For months, Gregory has worked to offer up ‘street names’ for complicated COVID strains, in a bid to better communicate the evolving Omicron threat to the public. And as pseudonyms go, he’s got a lot more where the Kraken came from. With input from both professional and ‘citizen’ scientists around the globe, Gregory has compiled a list of memorable monikers from Greek mythology and other realms— Chiron, Argus, Basilisk, and Typhon—for the Omicron spawn that medical experts believe pose the greatest threats in the near future. He told Fortune he was inspired by a Twitter user who dubbed the Omicron strain BA.2.75 ‘Centaurus’ this summer, and saw the media and some experts pick up the moniker. Since Gregory began using Kraken—an aggressive sea monster from Scandinavian folklore—shortly after Christmas, it’s quickly gained steam, as reported by Bloomberg. The term has been picked up by a host of other international and national news outlets including Insider and Sky News. Centaurus was named in journal articles and used by the likes of Nature and the Guardian. And some variant trackers are now using the proposed names as hashtags on Twitter.” • WHO dropping the ball at best; at worst, leaving the variants unnamed is a subtle form of minimization (“Omicron is mild,” right?)

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• “Firefighter arsonists”:

Firefighter arsonists are a real thing…

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• More good news on XBB.1.5:

China should really be testing US travellers. XBB.1.5 could be worse than what they’ve already got (they say BA.5.2 and BF.7).

• “Mid- and Long-Term Atrio-Ventricular Functional Changes in Children after Recovery from COVID-19” [Journal of Clinical Medicine]. n=157. “Our study demonstrated for the first time the persistence of [Left ventricular (LV)] myocardial deformation abnormalities in previously healthy children with an asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic (WHO stages 0 or 1) COVID-19 course after an average follow-up of 148 ± 68 days. A more significant involvement was found in children affected during the second wave. These findings imply that subclinical LV dysfunction may also be a typical characteristic of COVID-19 infection in children and are concerning given the predictive value of LV longitudinal strain in the general population.” Perhaps somebody from the Brain Trust can translate “given the predictive value of LV longitudinal strain in the general population.” Dry, very dry.

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• Maskstravaganza: Canada’s public health brain geniuses pushing surgical masks:

It’s the same for our own CDC. They seem to have settled on “high quality” (which doesn’t mean anything, since who would recommend a “low quality” product?) because “N95” is verboten, or scary, or something.

• Maskstravaganza: Fashion forward masking:

I applaud the effort, but the masks should be designed so that they can be styled in the first place. If they didn’t look like medical appliances, but looked like athletic shoes or even Venetian carnival masks — masks would then be seasonal, a marketing opportunity — people would be much more likely to wear them.

Transmission

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map”). (This 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 6:

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0.1%. Decreasing rate of increase, but still the highest ever.

Wastewater

Wastewater data (CDC), January 2:

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Too much red (even with Illinois offline). JFK/LGA (Queens County, NY), SFO (San Francisco, CA), LAX (Los Angeles) are all red. ATL (Cobb County, GA) no longer. ORD (Cook County, IL) is offline.

December 27:

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And MWRA data, December 29:

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Lambert here: Still yikes, even if both North and South are down. And certainly 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 23:

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Lambert here: BQ.1* 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 17 (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 5:

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Quite a jump, this time. Of all the charts, I find this steady rise the most worrisome, because it doesn’t fit into any of the narratives.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 31:

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I don’t know whether this is a genuine jump or a backward revisions, but I’ve been waiting for Queens to move after the holidays, because (I assume) a lot of LGA/JFK workers live there, or at least commute through there.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,120,804 – 1,120,040 = 764 (764 * 365 = 468,295 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).

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

Employment Situation: “United States Unemployment Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The unemployment rate in the US dropped to 3.5 percent in December 2022, falling below market expectations of 3.7 percent and matching the rates seen in September and July, which were the lowest since February 2020. The latest jobs report came on the heels of a sharp decline in weekly jobless claims to three-month lows and a smaller-than-expected decrease in the level of job openings in November, pointing to a still-tight and strong labor market, which could mean the US central bank will continue hiking interest rates for a while.” • Maybe the new metaphor for “pushing on a string” should be “tightening a rubber thumbscrew.” Because Jay Powell doesn’t seem to be torturing the workers nearly hard enough. (Or maybe “the fool in the torture chamber”?) Then again–

Manufacturing: “United States Factory Orders” [Trading Economics]. “New orders for US manufactured goods decreased by 1.8 percent in November of 2022, down following three consecutive monthly increases and after a downwardly revised 0.4 percent increase in October. It compared with market expectations of a 0.8 percent decline.”

Services: “United States ISM Non Manufacturing PMI” [Trading Economics]. “The ISM Services PMI for the US fell to 49.6 in December of 2022, pointing to the first contraction in the services sector since May of 2020 in the height of the covid pandemic, and well below market forecasts of 55.”

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Manufacturing: “Tesla, EV rivals absorb costs after China pulls plug on subsidy” [Reuters]. “China’s decision to end a more than decade-long subsidy for electric vehicle purchases has forced automakers, including Tesla, to deepen discounts to maintain sales as demand eases in the world’s largest market. The government originally planned to phase out the support scheme for EV makers and battery suppliers by the end of 2020, but extended it until the end of December in response to the pandemic. As China grapples with the upheaval of an upsurge in COVID-19 cases and its economy grows at the slowest pace in decades, Tesla, Xpeng (9868.HK) and SAIC-GM-Wuling (600104.SS), (GM.N) have opted to hold consumer prices flat in January. The subsidy accounted for around 3% to 6% of the cost of the best-selling electric vehicles in China last year, a Reuters analysis found. Other EV makers, including Tesla’s larger rival BYD and SAIC-Volkswagen, have raised prices for some models but opted to absorb most of the cost of the subsidy, the Reuters tally showed.”

Tech: “Whatever happened to Google Search?” [Financial Times]. “In the meantime, we will have to adapt to the prevalence of ads. Just as we trained ourselves to use key words when searching online, we may start using Google Search for purchases rather than factual queries. The change could be positive. Outsourcing our collective knowledge to a single tech company never made much sense to begin with.” • What a weak conclusion!!!!

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 45 Neutral (previous close: 43 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 37 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 6 at 1:27 PM EST.

The Gallery

Looks crunchy:

Zeitgeist Watch

If not in your backyard, what about on your roof?

Health Care

“‘We’re Going to Need Everybody’: Recordings Captured Response to N.F.L. Crisis” [New York Times]. • Everybody should have spectacularly good health care, not just football stars. Maybe we could spend our “Ukraine dividend” on that.

Class Warfare

“Forcing Railroad Workers to Accept a Contract They’ve Rejected Is Violence” [Foundation for Economic Education]. The deck: “In a capitalist society, exchange is not just mutually beneficial but voluntary.” • This is a libertarian view. Lying in the street for conservatives to pick up, should they wish to.

News of the Wired

A neat trick, transferable elsewhere?

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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 Carla:

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Carla writes: “My winter garden. I potted up the coleus from garden cuttings rooted in water in Sept. Brought the pink flowering begonia in from the patio. In summer, the blooms are lush & a vibrant red. The orchids on the mantel were all under 10 bucks each at Home Depot, but they’re grown in Oberlin, Ohio, so we actually have local orchids in NE Ohio! They bloom year after year, thanks to the bright indirect light in our sunroom.”

Oops, I deleted my bleg for more plants, implying I have enough. I do not! Readers, please send me more plants!

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