2:00PM Water Cooler 2/8/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/8/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Highway noise, but a lovely chorus anyhow!

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Politics

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

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson

Capitol Seizure

“Jan. 6 defendant asks to subpoena Trump as trial witness” [The Hill]. “Attorney Samuel Shamansky on Friday submitted court filings on behalf of his client, Jan. 6 defendant Dustin Thompson, asking for a judge to allow them to subpoena Trump and others to testify as witnesses in Thompson’s trial. ‘Defendant submits that the individuals he seeks to subpoena are in exclusive possession of information relevant to this case. Moreover, their testimony is necessary to ensure that Defendant’s constitutional right to present a complete defense is safeguarded,’ according to the court filings. ‘It is anticipated that, when called as a witness, Donald J. Trump will testify that he and others orchestrated a carefully crafted plot to call into question the integrity of the 2020 presidential election and the validity of President Biden’s victory,’ the filings add. ‘Moreover, it will be established at trial that Mr. Trump and his conspirators engaged in a concerted effort to deceive the public, including Defendant, into believing that American democracy was at stake if Congress was permitted to certify the election results.’” Here the charge: “According to Thompson’s statement of facts and complaint, security footage inside the Capitol allegedly showed him inside the building holding a bottle of bourbon. The court filings also allege that he ran away from law enforcement after he was found with a coat rack that officials believed was inside the Capitol.” • A bottle of bourbon and a coat rack… Bolsheviks these guys were not.

Biden Adminstration

“The nation’s top health official has been a background player for much of his tenure. He says that’s about to change.” [CNN]. “Becerra and his allies in the administration are embarking on an effort to bulk up the secretary’s role, from having a substantive meeting with Biden, which he has never done, to appearing at White House news briefings, which he has also never done.” Oh. More: “Even before his first day on the job, Becerra was behind. During the transition, Biden officials had zeroed in on Gina Raimondo, the then-governor of Rhode Island, known as a technocrat, who had made a surprisingly strong impression on candidate Biden’s running mate vetting team. Biden called to talk through options, and though he didn’t commit, the conversation left her telling people she thought she’d get the offer, according to three people told about the call. According to two people familiar with the transition, Biden’s team had to quickly recalibrate following a letter from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that had called out a lack of Latino representation in Biden’s Cabinet after New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham dropped out of favor for the job. That letter, combined with pushback from progressives about putting the business-friendly Raimondo in that spot, scrapped the governor’s chances for the role. Biden aides scrambled. Becerra, a former congressman who was then the California attorney general, had hoped to be considered for US attorney general but was never given much consideration for that job. The day before he was announced as health and human services secretary, Becerra was unaware the job was an actual possibility. He was announced on the same day in December 2020 that Zients, who had helped oversee the selection process, was named as head of the White House’s Covid-19 task force and given the true power over the administration’s pandemic response. Raimondo was shifted to Commerce, setting off a minor shuffle of other Cabinet jobs. Lujan Grisham turned down her own follow-up offer to be interior secretary.” • Well, Becerra’s HHS sure “looks like America” in the quality of its response to Covid. So there’s that.

“Gov’t watchdog slams federal COVID response, puts HHS on ‘high risk’ list” [Ars Technica]. “The US Health and Human Service Department has botched multiple aspects of its COVID-19 pandemic response, and those failures can be linked back to longstanding leadership and preparedness deficiencies the department has failed to address for more than a decade, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. ‘These deficiencies have hindered the nation’s response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and a variety of past threats, including other infectious diseases—such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Zika, and Ebola—and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes,’ the GAO concluded.” • Klain was Ebola Czar, so he knew about all this stuff. What did he do about it?

“U.S. to spend $725 mln this year on abandoned coal mine cleanup” [Reuters]. ” The Biden administration on Monday said $725 million in federal funds would be available to states this year to clean up abandoned coal mines, one of several initiatives aimed at reducing pollution from decades of fossil fuel development. The money represents a portion of the $11.3 billion allocated to mine reclamation in the infrastructure law that Congress passed last year…. Pennsylvania is eligible for the most funding, nearly $245 million, followed by West Virginia, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.” • So Biden did have leverage over Manchin… Now do oil. Except that may be harder–

“Earthquakes in Texas doubled in 2021. Scientists cite years of oil companies injecting sludgy water underground.” [Texas Tribune]. “The record-setting seismic activity is largely concentrated in West Texas’ Permian Basin, the most productive oil and gas region in the state. Scientific studies show that the spike in earthquakes is almost certainly a consequence of disposing huge quantities of contaminated, salty water deep underground — a common practice by oil companies at the end of the hydraulic fracturing process that can awaken dormant fault lines. During hydraulic fracking, oil companies shoot a mixture of fluids and sand through ancient shale formations, fracturing the rock to free the flow of oil. But oil isn’t the only thing that’s been trapped underground for millions of years: Between three and six barrels of salty, polluted water also come up to the surface with every barrel of oil. The cheapest, and most commonly used, way to dispose of this “produced water” is to drill another well and inject it into porous rock formations deep underground.” • Since injection wells are the cheapest, that’s what we did.

Democrats en Déshabillé

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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“Memo To Dems: Stop Taking These Maskless Pictures” [The Bulwark]. “Over the past two weeks, several Democratic politicians have found themselves in the Twitter barrel as a result of photographs featuring their maskless (gasp!) faces in situations where either a) officials from their party had instituted a mandate on masks or b) the plebeians who surrounded them were unable to show their pearly whites due to the stringent social covenant in their environs.” • I don’t see the point. Inventing complex algorithms for others and then exempting yourself from them is the essence of what it means to be a liberal Democrat. How would anybody know who the dominant figure in the photo op is if everybody were wearing a mask, for pity’s sake? Let’s be reasonable.

“Data-driven mask policies are a smart approach to managing the pandemic” [Julia Raifman, Linsey Marr, and Alexandra Skinner, The Hill]. “Vaccines and mask policies are among the most effective public health tools for addressing the virus, and these strategies work best in concert. Vaccines remain effective for reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, even with the Delta variant. At the same time, 42 percent of Americans remain unvaccinated and the Delta variant presents a formidable challenge that makes vaccines less effective for preventing transmission. Outbreaks at college campuses, dinner parties and concerts show that the virus can spread widely, even in highly vaccinated populations. Mask policies can protect vaccinated and unvaccinated people and reduce COVID-19 cases and deaths during surges. As policymakers consider when to require masks now that vaccines are available, data-driven mask policies such as Nevada’s are a practical and effective approach. The state’s simple policy is based on the CDC’s guidance. The policy requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors in areas with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ levels of COVID-19 transmission, as defined by the CDC. The policy is implemented at the state level and is linked to local, county-level data. Counties can lift indoor mask requirements once COVID-19 transmission rates drop to ‘low’ or ‘moderate’ levels for seven days.” • Marr is certainly a highly competent aerosol scientist and fighting the good fight. Perhaps I’m too pessimistic, but this reads to me like a desperate attempt to get liberal Democrats to save masking at all, in the face of a bad-faith libertarian onslaught many of them secretly agree with (having abandoned the notion of “public health,” or even of a public). The trigger is “smart,” a putative value in which liberal Democrats deeply believe; in practice, it means complexity and deference to gatekeepers, as here. If, a year ago, the Biden Administration had mounted a public relations effort on the scale of “This is your brain on drugs,” universal masking wouldn’t even be a problem.

“Disease, Disability, and Paternalism in the Fight for Medicare for All” [Monthly Review]. “The U.S. for-profit health care system is so profitable, in fact, that it spares no expense to ensure that our politicians parrot industry propaganda. The health care lobby is not just pulling the strings on Republican policy. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats raked in 63 percent of the lobby’s $452 million in individual and political action committee contributions in the 2020 election alone. Including shady soft money contributions, the health care industry spent a total of $639 million on political influence in the most recent election cycle. Since the election, the president and Congress have reaffirmed their fealty to the health care lobby by subsidizing the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act rather than guaranteeing health care for all of us. After all, no candidate accepted more money from the health care lobby in the 2020 election than Joe Biden.” • Oh.

“California’s single-payer healthcare effort is dead. Why it isn’t going away” [Los Angeles Times]. “Newsom has since focused on a more attainable path to universal healthcare by offering coverage to the largest uninsured population in the state — people living in the country illegally.” • That should play well in 2024.

2022

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“Crossing lines, Manchin endorses Murkowski’s Senate campaign” [Associated Press]. “Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Sunday endorsed Republican colleague Lisa Murkowski for reelection, crossing party lines to back the incumbent from Alaska who faces a primary challenger supported by former President Donald Trump. The conservative West Virginia lawmaker said he has teamed well with Murkowski in the 50-50 Senate to build bipartisan support for legislation such as President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law. He said Alaska and the Senate are well-served with her in office. ‘It’s hypocritical to basically work with a person day in and day out and then, when they’re in cycle, you’re supposed to be against them because they have an R or D by their name,’ said Manchin, who appeared with Murkowski on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ to promote the values of bipartisanship.” • “In cycle.” I’ve never heard that phrase.

Republican Funhouse

“DeSantis refuses to say with whom he sides in Trump-Pence rift” [The Hill]. “Former President Trump has repeatedly asserted that Pence had the authority to toss out the election results. Pence, however, sharply rebuked that idea, saying at a Federalist Society event in Florida on Friday that it is ‘un-American’ to think that one person could overturn the will of the voters.’There are those in our party who believe that as the presiding officer over the joint session of Congress, I possessed unilateral authority to reject Electoral College votes. And I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to ‘overturn the election,” Pence said. ‘President Trump is wrong,’ he continued. ‘I had no right to overturn the election.’ Asked on Monday about where he stands on the issue, DeSantis declined to weigh in. ‘I’m not. I …’ DeSantis said, according to NBC News. After being pressed on the question by reporters, the Florida governor abruptly changed topics, saying that he had a ‘great working relationship’ with the Trump administration.” • Which is no longer an Administration.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities” (PDF) [Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]. From 2020, still germane. “We investigate the consequences and predictors of emitting signals of victimhood and virtue. In our first three studies, we show that the virtuous victim signal can facilitate nonreciprocal resource transfer from others to the signaler. Next, we develop and validate a victim signaling scale that we combine with an established measure of virtue signaling to operationalize the virtuous victim construct. We show that individuals with Dark Triad traits—Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy—more frequently signal virtuous victimhood, controlling for demographic and socioeconomic variables that are commonly associated with victimization in Western societies. In Study 5, we show that a specific dimension of Machiavellianism—amoral manipulation—and a form of narcissism that reflects a person’s belief in their superior prosociality predict more frequent virtuous victim signaling. Studies 3, 4, and 6 test our hypothesis that the frequency of emitting virtuous victim signal predicts a person’s willingness to engage in and endorse ethically questionable behaviors, such as lying to earn a bonus, intention to purchase counterfeit products and moral judgments of counterfeiters, and making exaggerated claims about being harmed in an organizational context.” • Hmm. Certainly gives an account of Successor Ideology. Perhaps some readers can evaluate the methodology?

Trusting the science:

Nice shot of Monica Ghandi. Notice what’s attached to the ribbon for the “ribbon cutting ceremony”:

Child, listening to the story: “And then what happened?” Adult: “The ghouls won, sweetie. But only temporarily.”

#COVID19

Case count by United States regions:

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I have added an anti-triumphalist “Fauci Line” to highlight that the peak created by Biden and his team — Klain, Zeints, Fauci, Walensky — was so enormous that even now, after rapid decline, the case (under-)count is still higher than the best the former guy could do. This is an impressive achievement by the adults in the room! (Rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick; the slope of the downward curve is more or less the same as the upward curve. Previous peaks — how small the early ones look now — have been roughly symmetrical on either side. But the scale of this peak, and the penetration into the population, is unprecedented.) I wonder if there will be plateau when BA.2 takes hold. Since the Northeast has form, that is probably the region to watch for this behavior first.

The official narrative was “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) was completely exploded. What a surprise!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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Continues encouraging. No jump from the return of the students yet, which is even more encouraging, especially if you’re in “Waiting for BA.2” mode.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

A good question:

From CDC Community Profile Reports (PDFs), “Rapid Riser” counties:

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Continued improvement (Remember that these are rapid riser counties. A county that moves from red to green is not covid-free; the case count just isnt, well, rising rapidly.)

The previous release:

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Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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Guam finallly gets it together, so I can make the joke I’ve been waiting forever to make: “Sky of blue And sea of green In our yellow Submarine (submarine, ya-haa!” (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Just a reminder:

As with everything else, because the United States is not a serious country, our hospitalization data is bad. Here the baseilne is off:

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 928,879 926,029. I sure hope we break a million before Biden’s State of the Union speech.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

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Good news here too. For the time being.

Stats Watch

Small Business Optimism: “United States NFIB Business Optimism Index” [Trading Economics]. “The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index in the United States fell to an 11-month low of 97.1 in January of 2022, compared to 98.9 in December, as labour shortages and high prices weighed. “More small business owners started the New Year raising prices in an attempt to pass on higher inventory, supplies, and labor costs. Supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages will limit the ability of many firms to meet increased demand of their products and services,” NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said.”

* * *

The Bezzle: Amazon, the sucking vampire:

A third seems rather a lot, particularly when (a) Amazon will steal your project and make it their own and (b) their marketplace is entirely unregulated and a cesspit of counterfitting and fraud.

Tne Bezzle: “Why the Hell Is the World Wildlife Fund Selling Animal NFTs?” [The New Republic]. “WWF’s entry into the cryptocurrency space raises a number of questions, including: “Why?” and, “Aren’t animals definitionally non-fungible?” It’s easy to skewer this as a shameless fundraising gimmick, because that’s exactly what it is. But it’s also part of a broader movement toward financializing nature and its protection: NFTs for conservation are the natural extension of a philosophy that suggests asset ownership can save the planet. Environmental economists have long argued that assigning a more accurate value to greenhouse gas emissions—namely through various sorts of carbon pricing—will allow markets to better reflect their costs, sending a signal to companies and consumers to weed out planet-killing activities. In recent years that logic has created an enthusiasm among finance types for so-called “nature-based assets” that monetize the protection of endangered species and biodiversity, among other things. That’s included a push to assign prices to traditionally free ecological processes that maintain amenities like clean air and water, transforming them into “natural capital” so that markets can recognize their worth. In 2019, for instance, the International Monetary Fund estimated the value of a whale at $2 million, thanks to the amount of carbon dead whales capture.”

The Bezzle: “NFTs Are the Ticket to New York’s Newest Social Clubs” [Bloomberg]. “When Maxwell Tribeca opens its doors in July, it will have all the elements that define a certain kind of social club: a prestigious address, swanky decor, exclusive perks for members, and a well-heeled and well-connected founding team. But that’s not enough for David Litwak, founder and former chief executive officer of the tech travel platform Mozio. To become a member, you’ll also need to get involved in one of the buzziest corners of the crypto market. The 8,000 square-foot space, which will be located at 135 Watts Street, is modeled after the eating clubs known as txokos of San Sebastian, Spain. Entry will require owning a so-called nonfungible token, or NFT—a kind of crypto asset being touted by everyone from Tom Brady to Melania Trump. NFTs are digital tokens that act like certificates of authenticity for, and in some cases represent ownership of, assets that range from expensive illustrations of apes to collectibles like celebrity autographs and physical goods like a case of rare whisky. Increasingly, as is the case with Maxwell Tribeca, they operate as a kind of passport to rarefied spaces and experiences—access that in this case includes your own liquor lockers.” • If Jeffrey Epstein had owned some NFTs he would be alive today….

The Bezzle: “Celebrities and NFTs Are a Match Made in Hell” [The Atlantic]. “If Hilton and Fallon and their celebrity friends are going to go out there and pump-and-dump their way to additional wealth, they could at least do the rest of us the courtesy of being a little more discreet about it. Instead, they sound like they think this is stupid, and like they think the rest of us might be stupid enough to buy in.”

The Bezzle: “Tesla Subpoenaed by SEC About Complying With Musk Settlement” [Bloomberg]. “Tesla Inc. received another subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about a subject that keeps coming up: Elon Musk’s tweeting in 2018 that he was considering taking the carmaker private. The SEC issued the subpoena Nov. 16, seeking information about Tesla’s governance processes and compliance with a settlement reached with the agency in September 2018, the company said in a regulatory filing. Tesla had agreed to put in place controls to oversee Musk’s communications — including his tweets — after the SEC alleged the chief executive officer committed securities fraud by saying he had secured funding for the company to go private. Musk and the SEC have been at loggerheads ever since.”

Tech: “Mac malware spreading for ~14 months installs backdoor on infected systems” [Ars Technica]. “Mac malware known as UpdateAgent has been spreading for more than a year, and it is growing increasingly malevolent as its developers add new bells and whistles. The additions include the pushing of an aggressive second-stage adware payload that installs a persistent backdoor on infected Macs…. Microsoft said UpdateAgent masquerades as legitimate software, such as video apps or support agents, that is spread through pop-ups or ads on hacked or malicious websites. Microsoft didn’t explicitly say so, but users apparently must be tricked into installing UpdateAgent, and during that process, Gatekeeper works as designed.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 36 Fear (previous close: 34 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 34 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 8 at 1:29pm. Been stuck in the mid-30s for awhile. This is boring!

Health Care

Good question. Remember when liberal Democrats wanted us to be “smart shoppers” for ObamaCare? In other words, to “do our own research”?

So why shouldn’t we be “smart shoppers” for vaccines, NPIs, and treatments, such as they are? (The real answer is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to buy an insurance policy, horrid though the experience is, than it is to became a layperson expert on Covid. That’s what Yves and I and many readers have done here, and it takes a lot of time and dedication, and we had to go it because the CDC, the Administration, and the PMC weren’t doing their jobs (supposing their jobs to be saving lives, instead of culling the population).

MMT

Correct:

Apparently the Lisa Cook hearing didn’t go so well either….

Zeitgeist Watch

How it started:

How it’s going:

Class Warfare

From one of our very few labor reporters:

News of the Wired

Public service announcement:

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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. Today’s plant (Carla):

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Carla writes: “Shaker Lakes Nature Center, Cleveland, OH.” Not daisies, but asters?

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