2:00PM Water Cooler 2/1/2021
By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching…. (A reader asked the source of the data: Johns Hopkins CSSE. DIVOC-91 does allow other data sets to be used, like Our World in Data and The Atlantic, and where they provide visualizations similar to those below, a cursory comparison shows that the shape of the curves is the same.)
Case count by United States region:
Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):
Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.
I wondered if New England would repeat its earlier, and unique, stairstep pattern; now it has. Hospitalization is discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.
Case fatality rate (plus deaths):
There’s that slow rise in the fatality rate again. Nice to see a little drop in deaths, may it continue.
“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
“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
Transition to Biden
“Biden confronts the limits of his executive power” [Politico]. “It’s an elaborately planned slate of actions designed to highlight his efforts to shore up the struggling economy while Congress debates whether to pass the $1.9 trillion rescue package he has laid out. But while the executive actions will have a big impact — millions of Americans are behind on their rent and mortgage payments, and tens of millions more hold student loan debt — it’s clear that their effect on the broader economy will be limited at best. ‘It’s on the margins,’ said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. ‘It needs to be more than that.’ What the country needs the most is an influx of cash, Swonk and other economists say, but for that the new president is entirely dependent on lawmakers if he wants to turn the economy around.” • “Dependent on lawmakers”? Biden has no mandate?
“Biden’s Promised $1,400 Checks Are Even Dividing White House” [Bloomberg]. “Even within President Joe Biden’s White House, there’s debate about how to meet his promise to issue Americans another $1,400 each in stimulus checks. At least two of the president’s top economic advisers, Heather Boushey and David Kamin, have privately expressed reservations about the size of the checks and at what level they would begin to phase out for higher-income people, according to three people familiar with internal discussions. The aides worry that the checks will cost so much that there won’t be enough left over in Biden’s proposed pandemic relief bill for other priorities — supplemental unemployment benefits, an expanded child tax credit, or aid to states and local governments, the people said.” • Lol.
“Cutting $2,000 Payments, and Limiting Who’s Eligible for Them, Is Bad Economics and Loser Politics” [The Nation]. “A “go-small” approach to the crisis would surely gain applause from the usual suspects—austerity-inclined members of Congress and the elite editorial pages that cheer them on. But a surrender of ambition at this point would reinforce a sense that, even when Democrats control the presidency and the Congress, they cannot get government to work for the great mass of Americans. That is precisely the vulnerability congressional Republicans hope to exploit in order to regain power in 2022. Don’t think it will happen? Think back to the midterm elections of 1994 and 2010…”
“Court warns Claudia Tenney’s campaign volunteer to stop ‘inappropriate’ texts to judge” [Syracuse.com (bob)]. • The last undecided House race.
“The Bernie movement: An assessment” [Noah Smith, Noahpinion]. “Bernie’s Theory of Change might have been right (see previous section). But his Theory of Power was wrong. This was proven in dramatic fashion on March 3rd, 2020, when Biden crushed Bernie in the Super Tuesday primaries and went on to cruise to a victory infinitely more decisive than Hillary Clinton’s. Bernie believed that only his brand of politics could drive a turnout surge; instead, the turnout surge was all for Biden. Bernie believed that he would be able to unite the White working class and the Black working class; instead, the two united in their support for Biden. Bernie bet on a big surge in youth turnout; it just didn’t happen. America’s young people were willing to pour into the streets to fight racist cops, but they couldn’t be persuaded to pour into the voting booths for single-payer health insurance. And online activism turned out to be less potent of a weapon than some had allowed themselves to believe.”
Democrats en Deshabille
“Ohio Democratic Party is laying off more than half its staff” [Toledo Blade (dk)]. “More than half of the permanent staffers at the Ohio Democratic Party have been let go under the leadership of the party’s new chairman, multiple Democratic sources have confirmed.” And the final paragraph: “In 2018 the Ohio Democratic Party became the first state party to recognize a chapter of the Campaign Workers Guild, which represented seasonal campaign organizers during the 2018 midterm election who sought better pay and working conditions.)” • Oh.
Karen from HR:
59-seconds of truth bombs on the requirements of elected leaders in America…pic.twitter.com/N2o00KATDC
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) January 29, 2021
“9 Top N.Y. Health Officials Have Quit as Cuomo Scorns Expertise” [New York Times]. “The drumbeat of high-level departures in the middle of the pandemic came as morale plunged in the Health Department and senior health officials expressed alarm to one another over being sidelined and treated disrespectfully, according to five people with direct experience inside the department. Their concern had an almost singular focus: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Even as the pandemic continues to rage and New York struggles to vaccinate a large and anxious population, Mr. Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy. The departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays. The troubled rollout came after Mr. Cuomo declined to use the longstanding vaccination plans that the State Department of Health had developed in recent years….” • Reminds me of somebody….
Realignment and Legitimacy
“DSA After Trump” [Socialist Forum]. “[Maikiko James]: One of the big tasks we face now is figuring out who and what comes next after Bernie. Bernie’s campaigns set the groundwork for DSA to grow the way that it has. He’s helped people connect the dots between the difficulties in their lives and the fact that corporations, the rich, the military are all doing very well. He named this all so explicitly and continues to amplify his criticisms and his program in a way that’s really digestible for people. DSA’s electoral wins and organizational growth is very promising to me, it shows that more and more people are seeing that the powerful benefit from our suffering…. Considering the resources this country has, there’s no good reason for all of the suffering and death we’re seeing right now. And Bernie gave so many of us the vocabulary we need to talk to people who might not think of themselves as socialists about it. Growing up with Bernie Sanders as a household name, I knew my anti-capitalist upbringing to be different. But with these past two campaigns and what Bernie has done – I’m not a weirdo anymore.”
“Bernie’s mittens: A lesson for S.F. high school students in subtle white privilege” [Ingrid Seyer-Ochi, San Francisco Chronicle]. “And there, across all of our news and social media feeds, was Bernie: Bernie memes, Bernie sweatshirts, endless love for Bernie. I puzzled and fumed as an individual as I strove to be my best possible teacher. What did I see? What did I think my students should see? A wealthy, incredibly well-educated and -privileged white man, showing up for perhaps the most important ritual of the decade, in a puffy jacket and huge mittens.” • Owwww! My eyes!!!!!!!!!!!
At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats.
Manufacturing: “December 2020 ISM and Markit Manufacturing Surveys Show Growth” [Econintersect]. “The ISM Manufacturing survey declined but remains in expansion. The Markit PMI manufacturing index improved and remains in expansion. The index value of ISM and Markit are similar…. Based on these surveys and the district Federal Reserve Surveys, one would expect the Fed’s Industrial Production index growth rate to be the same as last month. Overall, surveys do not have a high correlation to the movement of industrial production (manufacturing) since the Great Recession. No question these surveys suggest the economy is no longer in recession.”
Construction: “December 2020 Construction Spending Again Improves” [Econintersect]. “The headlines say construction spending grew month-over-month. Our analysis shows the rolling averages improved…. Construction spending is slightly trending upward but remarkedly strong considering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Private construction had been fueling construction growth (and is still contracting) – but currently, public construction is fueling the growth.”
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Manufacturing: “As new coronavirus strains raise questions about mask quality, the N95 market in the U.S. is still facing supply issues” [MarketWatch]. “The thinking in the U.S. around N95s is that they should be reserved for health care and other frontline workers who are at the highest risk of contracting the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still says that N95s and medical-grade masks “should be conserved for health care personnel.’ But the emergence of new virus variants, including the B.1.1.7 out of the United Kingdom, the B.1.351 strain out of South Africa, and the P.1 from Brazil, has pushed medical experts to rethink what type of mask is safest right now. The CDC has said it expects the B.1.1.7 to be the most dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. by March. ‘N95 masks are the most protective masks, followed by three-ply surgical masks, then fabric masks,’ Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC, tweeted Jan. 24. ‘A fabric mask is a lot better than no mask, but we may need to step up our mask game if contagious Covid variants start to spread widely.’” • “The thinking.” Whose thinking?
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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 38 Fear (previous close: 36 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 58 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 1 at 12:09pm.
Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.
“Once united in support of Biden, environmentalists and unions clash over pipelines” [Reuters]. “The United States is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas. Biden’s administration aims to transition the U.S. economy towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and his initial moves towards that goal included cancelling a permit for the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline (KXL) and reducing oil-and-gas leasing. The reaction from Biden’s supporters, however, illustrates the challenge of managing the impact of the energy transition on different communities. While climate activists celebrated KXL’s demise, labor unions, reeling from the global oil downturn, have mobilized to keep ongoing projects from being derailed.”
“General Motors to eliminate gasoline and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs by 2035” [WaPo]. “General Motors has pledged to stop making gasoline-powered passenger cars, vans and sport utility vehicles by 2035, marking a historic turning point for the iconic American carmaker and promising a future of new electric vehicles for American motorists…. GM has said it would invest $27 billion in electric vehicles and associated products between 2020 and 2025, outstripping its spending on conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles. That figure includes refurbishing factories and investing in battery production in conjunction with LG Chem, a South Korean battery maker.”
“How do different root structures affect soil?” [Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!]. “The soil is not a very welcoming environment for plant growth. It does not provide everything a plant needs freely and without reservation. In fact, left as is, the soil probably would not produce very many plants at all. Proof of this is found in the tremendous amount of soil modification plants engage in just to improve their chances of survival. Plants modify soil. That is a fact. They spend a lot of energy doing it, and they do it to their own advantage. Organisms (which, of course, include plants) are even one of the five soil formation factors, along with climate, relief/topography, parent material, and time. Plants modify the soil chemically, biologically, and physically in very substantive ways. This blog entry focuses mostly on the physical side of things by considering how root structures affect the soil.” • Introduces the concept of “root architecture.” Well worth a read even if your garden consists of a single pot on the windowsill.
“Covid-19 Vaccines to Stress-Test Grocery Stores and Pharmacies” [Wall Street Journal]. “Not all Americans are eligible for the vaccines, and shots remain in short supply. But vaccines are becoming more broadly available in some states, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aims to make them available in local pharmacies beginning next month. There is no cost to receive the vaccine.”
“With new COVID variants looming, Dr. Peter Hotez says Biden will have to step up his vaccine game” [Houston Chronicle]. Hotez: “The rate of new cases is going down a little bit, for reasons I don’t think we really know. Some say it’s because the post-holiday surge is over — the surge that follows Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. There may also be a component of seasonality to the virus that people like Marc Lipsitch, at Harvard School of Public Health have been modeling. Maybe people are finally socially distancing and mask-wearing to a greater extent. Or it could be some combination of all those three things. I don’t think we really know. But it’s going down: That’s the good news. The terrible news is, these new variants are turning out to be a much bigger factor than a number of us thought they would be. The Centers for Disease Control said recently that the new UK variant, which seems to be more transmissible, may become the dominant virus type in the U.S. by March. Here’s where I’m starting to have differences with what we’re hearing from the Biden administration. They’re laying out a plan that will get us through vaccinating the American people by the fall. . I’m saying, ‘Well, no, that’s that’s not gonna work.’ Telling us ‘by the fall’ is like telling us ‘when the glaciers are gonna come back down from Quebec.’ I mean, that’s not adequate. . That’s a tall order.” • “By the fall” is good. But is it good enough?
“American Healthcare System Failed Black Americans. Medicare for All is the Most Pro-Black Policy Platform” [Nick’s Newsletter]. “Big Pharma’s investment in Black leaders bought their opposition to Medicare for All. Jim Clyburn has been a vocal advocate against it. Barack Obama worked behind the scenes to stop it and continues to undermine it at every turn. The leader of the Democratic Party, President Joe Biden, said he would veto it if it somehow magically passed through the House and the Senate. 46% of Republicans support Medicare for All. Our Black Leaders and Democrats are to the RIGHT of almost half of Republicans voters on healthcare. What has been the result of our leaders cozying up to health insurance companies? Black Americans suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the country. Despite being only 13% of the population, we hold 31% of the recurring medical debt. Black men have the lowest life expectancy and it’s not even close. Black women face intense racial bias in the healthcare field. Black women suffer from the highest rate of infant mortality in America, a rate 3-4 times higher than white women. How can liberals so easily ignore the grim reality that our healthcare system has brought upon black Americans?” •
“How a Bounty of Vaccines Flooded a Small Hospital and Its Nearby College” [Kaiser Health News]. “When administrators at Hillsdale College, a conservative liberal-arts school in Michigan, heard its local hospital didn’t have a way to store the Pfizer-BioNTech covid vaccine, they offered the use of its science department’s ultra-low temperature freezer. The vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. With that help, the small hospital — employing about 400 — was able to receive vaccines from the state: 1,950 doses in late December, more than twice what it requested, according to the hospital CEO. Two weeks later, college faculty, staffers and administrators were among 900 people who received vaccinations at an on-campus clinic run by Hillsdale Hospital, even though college workers were not in the state-recommended priority groups eligible to get the vaccine in Michigan. The clinic was also open to faculty at the local beauty college. Meanwhile, the number of doses allocated to the public health department of Hillsdale County, home to 46,000, was only 400, leaving the department scrambling to try to vaccinate front-line health workers in the region. The hospital’s willingness to vaccinate Hillsdale College faculty outside of recommended state guidelines following the loan of a refrigerator comes amid growing concern nationally that younger, healthier, more privileged or merely lucky people can ‘jump the line’ while others in the priority groups can’t get shots.”
“The Vaccine Line Is Illogical” [The Atlantic]. “What needs to happen? First, the deficit Kabuki theater about how to shrink the pandemic relief bill needs to stop. America is going to need far more than what’s on the table now ($1.9 trillion) to vanquish this plague. The past few weeks have also shown that inequity is built into distribution systems in the U.S. Instead of blaming the Trump administration’s failed rollout, the Biden administration needs to fix it. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have recommended using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index to guide vaccine efforts with equity as a primary consideration.” • Hmm. Shouldn’t breaking the pandemic be the primary consideration? For example, if superspreaders were primarily to be found among the rich, wouldn’t it make sense to vaccinate the rich first? (In practice, equity and effectiveness are probably not in conflict, as poor and working class people are more likely to be exposed in crowded, closed, close-contact living and working conditions, and hence to transmit the virus. But you see the contradiction.)
“One Percent Republic” [The American Conservative]. “Citizen armies had waged the wars that made the nation powerful (if not virtuous) and Americans rich (if not righteous). The character of those armies—preeminently the ones that preserved the Union and helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan—testified to an implicit covenant between citizens and the state. According to its terms, war was the people’s business and could not be otherwise…..In their disgust over Vietnam, Americans withdrew from this arrangement…. As a result, in formulating basic military policy and in deciding when and how to employ force, the state no longer requires the consent, direct participation, or ongoing support of citizens. As an immediate consequence, Washington’s penchant for war has appreciably increased, without, however, any corresponding improvement in the ability of political and military leaders to conclude its wars promptly or successfully. A further result, less appreciated but with even larger implications, has been to accelerate the erosion of the traditional concept of democratic citizenship.” • From 2013, still germane.
Donald Lee Cox was not wrong:
“Lenin either gave no consideration to, or ignored the fact, that whenever a member of the human species gets into a position to exercise power, something goes haywire.”
— Black Socialists in America (@BlackSocialists) July 7, 2020
What to do about that, I don’t know. Madison’s answer was “ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” but it’s hard to see how a revolutionary party could function on that principle, either.
“The Future Encyclopedia of Luddism” [MIT Press Reader]. “Many stories and legends have grown up around the esteemed figure of General Ned Ludd, named by “Passage Zine” as one of the “Top 10 Most Influential People of the Last Thousand Years.” Hailed as a visionary even in his own time, the Luddite Councils are named in his honor. The complete story of Ludd’s life and times is told in “The Epic Saga of General Ludd.” While stylized, the Saga has largely been corroborated with the archaeological records.”
News of the Wired
I couldn’t work this into my post on Roadside America:
My mom and step-dad have spent the better part of quarantine building what they call their “Mini Modern House.”
It is, quite literally, a miniature marvel, and the world needs to see it.
Fully built and designed from scratch, the MMH comes with…
+Functioning electricity pic.twitter.com/t4TONj0ynJ
— Scott T. Miller (@byscottmiller) January 30, 2021
“Microsoft Files Patent to Create Chatbots That Imitate Dead People” [IGN]. “[T]he tech giant has raised the possibility of creating an AI-based chatbot that would be built upon the profile of a person, which includes their ‘images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages,’ among other types of personal information. It’s understood that the chatbot would then be able to simulate human conversation through voice commands and/or text chats. However, Microsoft has taken the concept a step further by suggesting that a 2D or 3D model of a specific person could potentially be created, using “images and depth information, or video data” of an individual in order to build a chatbot that has the same characteristics and behaviour based on the digital output of a specific person.” • No.
— Andy Warhol (@artistwarhol) January 26, 2021
… like son:
— Jean-Michel Basquiat (@artistbasquiat) February 1, 2021
Ann Landers: either a nut or a communist pic.twitter.com/Zr7fSqGuRi
— Matt Baume (@MattBaume) January 31, 2021
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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) 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. Today’s plant (ChiGal):
ChiGal writes: “More fabulous fungi! Dunno if these are turkey tails…”
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