2:00PM Water Cooler 4/1/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 4/1/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Readers, a quick update on 2022’s Water Cooler Mini-Fundraiser: We are now at 283 contributions, so we are a little over 80% of the way to our goal of 350. I will be posting some of your very kind comments in a little while, but in the meantime, please do consider clicking the Donate button below, and contribute whatever you can. If you have been dilatory, now is the time! Thank you!

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Bird Song of the Day

Northern Bobwhite week at Naked Capitalism continues, with this recording from 1950 (!!). The introduction is really great.

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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

Biden Adminstration

“CIA director tests positive for Covid-19” [Politico]. “CIA Director William Burns has tested positive for Covid-19, the agency announced on Thursday…. Burns most recently saw President Joe Biden in a socially distanced meeting on Wednesday morning, during which Burns was wearing an N-95 mask, according to the CIA.” • Hmm. Was Biden?

“Senate closes in on $10B Covid aid deal despite Dem frustrations” [Politico]. “Key senators are nearing a deal on a roughly $10 billion package of coronavirus relief, setting Congress on a path to deliver funding Democrats had hoped to pass weeks ago…. The sum — the result of days of negotiations between senior senators of both parties — would leave out a major ask from the White House. It does not include $5 billion in global vaccine efforts, drawing sharp complaints from many Democrats about the nation’s preparedness to fight the pandemic abroad. Lawmakers are now talking about a figure closer to $1 billion in vaccine aid.” • $5 billion wasn’t a lot… Of course, all this will change once Biden gets IP restrictions on vaccines lifted.

“Ex-Google CEO promotes digital West Point” [Axios]. “Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt hit Capitol Hill this week to urge lawmakers to create a digital service academy that would train Americans in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity in exchange for government service.” • Oh, great. More AI Bezzle, more goons.

“White House STANDS BY Biden’s 2020 claim there was nothing unethical about Hunter’s deals in China and Ukraine: Communications director Kate Bedingfield dodges questions on new reports and potential pardons for first family members” [Daily Mail]. The interesting part is at the end, under the headline: “AUTHENTICATING HUNTER’S LAPTOP.” More: “DailyMail.com commissioned cyber forensics experts at Maryman & Associates to examine the hard drive to determine its authenticity….. After an extensive analysis of the hard drive, Greenfield and Maryman produced a report for DailyMail.com detailing their findings…. In conclusion, ‘The operating system timestamps appear to be authentic, and no evidence was found to suggest that the timestamps or data were altered or manufactured,’ the report said. ‘No indications were found that would suggest the data was manufactured.’” • I’m confused. Maryman & Associates would have needed physical possession of the laptop to do this, surely? How was that arranged? And why did it take the Daily Mail, in 2022, to get this done?

“I can no longer live with myself….”:

April Fool! (Normally, I don’t like April Fools’ jokes because I think they’re sadistic, but this one is pretty good.)

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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“Is The Timing Right To Take On The Hudson County Democratic Machine?” [Down with Tyranny]. “Conservative Democrat Albio Sires is retiring from Congress, basically to make room for a little nepotism, specifically for the son of corrupt New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. The mostly Hudson County district– which includes Hoboken, Elizabeth, Union City, West New York, Weekawken, Harrison, parts of Jersey City, Kearny and Bayonne and about half of Newark– is a majority Hispanic district that was D+46 before redistricting and is now D+47. The Democratic primary is the election. Most of the Democrats who wanted to run when Sires said he was retiring have given up, afraid to piss off Menendez Sr and the venal Hudson County Democratic machine. But there’s one brave soul running against them– and we invited him to introduce himself today.” David Ocampo: “I’m not saying that this will be an easy election, but it’s winnable. Autocracies are at their most vulnerable during the transition of power from one generation to the next. When voters in New Jersey’s 8th District step into the ballot box on June 7th, they’ll be faced with a clear question: is it okay for someone to inherit a Congressional seat?” • Worth noting.

2022

“‘We’ve got to stop fooling ourselves’: Enthusiasm gap keeps getting worse for Dems” [Politico]. “At the end of October, Republicans held an 11-percentage-point advantage in voter enthusiasm. By January, that margin had ticked up to 14 points. Now, according to the most recent NBC News poll, it has swelled to 17 — a massive advantage that has foreshadowed devastating losses in Congress in prior years…. It’s beginning to look like nothing is going to bail the party out this year. The last time the enthusiasm gap was this wide, in 2010, Democrats lost more than 60 seats in the House. ‘Things could change,’ said David Axelrod, previously an adviser to former President Barack Obama, in an email. ‘But with only a quarter of the country believing things are headed in the right direction, the president sitting at a 40 or 42 [percent] approval and inflation at a 40-year high, the atmosphere clearly is not promising for Democrats to buck historical trends.’” • The only qualification I’d make here is that Democrats were hysterical about redistricting, too, which in fact turned out well for them.

“Democrats Worry That What Happens in Nevada Won’t Stay in Nevada” [New York Times]. “Democrats have long relied on working-class and Latino voters to win Nevada, but the loyalty of both groups is now in question. Young voters who fueled Senator Bernie Sanders’ biggest victory in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary remain skeptical about President Biden. And Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat and the country’s first Latina senator, is one of the party’s most endangered incumbents. She must overcome the president’s sagging approval ratings, dissatisfaction with the economy and her own relative anonymity. And she lacks the popularity and deep ties with Latino voters that Senator Harry M. Reid, who died in December, harnessed to help build the state’s powerful Democratic machine. The state has long been a symbol of the Democratic Party’s future by relying on a racially diverse coalition to win elections, but those past gains are now at risk.” • Hey, remember when a DSA slate took control of the party apparatus, and the Democrat loyalists, before they left, wrote themselves severance checks and quit? I wonder if that has anything to do with it>

“Youth turnout could save, or sink, Democrats in 2022” [CNN]. “Soaring turnout and big margins among young voters were central to the Democratic victories in the 2018 congressional and 2020 presidential elections. But with many young people expressing disenchantment with President Joe Biden’s performance, preserving those advantages looms as one of the biggest challenges facing Democrats in the 2022 midterms…. [I]n 2018 and 2020, Democrats… carried at least two-thirds of voters aged 18-29, according to sources such as the exit polls conducted by Edison Research, the Pew Research Center’s validated voters study and the analysis by Catalist, a leading Democratic targeting firm. In 2020, all three of those sources (as well as CIRCLE’s analysis) found that Biden carried around three-fifths of young adults…. [W]ithout exception, each activist and operative I spoke with said the most important thing Biden could do to energize more young voters would be to cancel more student debt.” • Without a doubt, that would be a good thing. But — the NGOs have spoken?

Obama Legacy

Thanks, Obama:

Biden’s body count is bigger, though.

Our Famously Free Press

“NYT Painted Matt Gaetz as a Child Sex Trafficker. One Year Later, He Has Not Been Charged” [Glenn Greenwald]. “On March 30 of last year, The New York Times published an article that was treated as a bombshell by the political class. Citing exclusively anonymous sources — “three people briefed on the matter” — the Paper of Record announced that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) ‘is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.’ The headline chosen by Times editors was as inflammatory and provocative as possible: ‘Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.’… Only in the seventh paragraph — well below the headline casting him as a pedophile and sex trafficker — did the Times bother to note: ‘No charges have been brought against Mr. Gaetz, and the extent of his criminal exposure is unclear.’ Exactly one year after publication of that reputation-destroying article, this remains true: while the DOJ may one day formally accuse him, Gaetz has not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a single crime which The New York Times stapled onto his forehead. From the start, the GOP Congressman vehemently denied these accusations. And he went further than mere denials: he claimed that these allegations arose as part of a blackmail and extortion scheme to extract $25 million from his family in exchange for not publicizing these accusations, which his father promptly reported to the FBI. While many scoffed at Gaetz’s story as fantastical and bizarre, that part of his story was vindicated last August….” • But the walls are closing in!

“Psaki leaving White House for MSNBC” [Yahoo News]. • This isn’t even a revolving door; it’s just another room in the same house (or perhaps home; shouldn’t there be a home for sufferers from West Wing Brain?)

Realignment and Legitimacy

Sure, elites that the working class, but they reallly hate masks, too:

Nothing less pleasant than a rhapsodizing Dean: “What has been most surprising is the sense of joy that has come from seeing each other’s in person again.” (Two other data points on elite hatred of masks: David Rubenstein and Rochelle Walensky; getting rid of masks is really a major concern for them.) It’s pretty hard to imagine essential workers at a Starbucks, or a meatpacking plant, or a daycare center feeling a “sense of joy” at the prospect of being infected in the workplace. I honestly don’t understand the psychology of it, which seems to be go beyond all reason.

Class, like everything else, is contested. Gonsalves, a professor at Yale School of Public Health, is as PMC as they come:

The whole thread is worth reading. But here he is, and I suspect some of the medical professionals on this site are in the same headspace as Gonsalves (and good for him and them). What I lack is an analytical tool to characterize the evident contradiction between the dominant PMC worldview, and the class or subclass of people like Gonsalves. “Class traitor” individuas and psychologizes, and in any case I am sure that Gonsalves views himself as not coming to abolish but to fulfill the highest traditions of his profession. Perhaps I need to read further in Bourdieu.

#COVID19

If you missed it, here is yesterday’s post on my queasiiness with CDC numbers, especially case count, which I (still) consider most important, despite what Walensky’s psychos at CDC who invented “community levels” think. But these are the numbers we have.

Case count by United States regions:

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Fellow tapewatchers will note that “up like a rocket, down like a stick” phase is done with, and the case count– such as it is — is now leveling out. At a level that, a year ago, was considered a crisis, but we’re “over” Covid now, so I suppose not. I have added a Fauci Line. Perhaps this says more about my temperament than it does about the data, but occasionally I watch Japanese tsusami videos. The first signs, at least in the videos I’ve watched, are not roaring sounds or giant waves, but strange ripples in the water, boats rocking when they should not, and so on. And so, for those inclined to pick up on creepy little signals, we seem to be getting rather a lot of them, even leaving Europe out of the equation.

The official narrative is “Covid is Over.” In the fall, 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). That narrative was completely exploded. What a surprise! This time, it may be different. But who knows?

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. For these reasons, case counts — known to be underestimated, due to home test kits — deserve to stand alone as a number to be tracked, no matter how much the political operatives in CDC leadership would like to obfuscate it.

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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The MRWA is divided into two sections, North and South. North is distinctly up, South is rising slowly. The rise has visibly affected this chart, which aggregates them. The aggregate of the enormous Omicron spike conceals change, but change there is. Of course, it’s a very small rise. Maybe this time the movie will end differently.

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.

For grins, here is the national Biobot data for the last six weeks:

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Uptick in the South?

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

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Every so often I think of doing away with this chart. I remember using the metaphor of flying coals in a forest fire — many land, but sputter out; a few catch, and the first spreads. What I notice about this round of flareups is that the “coals” are the size of multiple counties, not, as previously, single ones. FWIW! (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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Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission:

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Continuing slow improvement as the map shifts from mostly red to mostly yellow (assuming the numbers aren’t jiggered).

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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Again, I don’t like the sudden effloresence of yellow and orange. I don’t care that the baseline is low. From the point of view of our hospital-centric health care system, green everywhere means the emergency is over (and to be fair, this is reinforced by case count and wastewater). However, community transmission is still pervasive, which means that long Covid, plus continuing vascular damage, are not over. (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.)

Note that you, dear readers, are not supposed to be looking at this chart, per CDC:

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,007,320 1,006,445. We did it. Break out the Victory Gin. Fortunately, the numbers are headed downward. I have added an anti-triumphalist Fauci Line.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

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The excess deaths chart appears weekly, on Friday:

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Look at the qualifications in that drop-down. And the ginormous typo, helpfully highlighted, has been there for weeks. CDC, if you’re reading this, please send a signal by getting this fixed. And then throw some documents over the transom. In complete confidentiality! Obviously, nobody at CDC is checking the excess deaths chart, because otherwise the typo would be fixed. I certainly hope there are no “coding errors” in the algo.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Unemployment Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The US unemployment rate declined to 3.6 percent in March of 2022 from 3.8 percent in the previous month, the lowest since February 2020 and below market expectations of 3.7 percent. The number of unemployed people declined by 318 thousand to 5.952 million, while employment levels rose by 736 thousand to 158.458 million. Meanwhile, the labor force participation rate edged up to 62.4 percent in March, the highest level since March 2020.”

Manufacturing: “United States ISM Purchasing Managers Index (PMI)” [Trading Economics]. “The ISM Manufacturing PMI for the US fell to 57.1 in March of 2022 from 58.6 in February, well below market forecasts of 59 and pointing to the slowest growth in factory activity since September of 2020. “The U.S. manufacturing sector remains in a demand-driven, supply chain-constrained environment. Progress was made to solve the labor shortage problems at all tiers of the supply chain, which will result in improved factory throughput and supplier deliveries. Panelists reported lower rates of quits and early retirements, as well as improving internal and supplier labor positions. March brought back increasing rates of price expansion, due primarily to instability in global energy markets. Suppliers are not waiting to experience the full impacts of price increases before negotiating with their customers. Panel sentiment remained strongly optimistic regarding demand”, Timothy Fiore, Chair of the ISM Manufacturing Business Survey Committee.”

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Tech: “Metaverse builders grapple with sex harassment conundrum” [Bangkok Post (Furzy Mouse)]. “‘I entered the shared space and almost immediately three or four male avatars came very close to me, so there was a sense of entrapment,’ Patel told AFP. “They touched and they groped my avatar without my consent. And while they were doing that, another avatar was taking selfie photos.’ Patel, whose company is developing child-friendly metaverse experiences, says it was ‘nothing short of sexual assault.’ Her story and others like it have prompted soul-searching over the nature of harassment in the virtual world, and a search for an answer to the question: can an avatar suffer sexual assault?” • Apparently, bodily autonomy isn’t programmed in? I’m all for realism, but perhaps that’s too realistic? An experience isn’t good just because it’s “immersive”….

Tech: “Surfing the Metaverse’s Real Estate Boom” [IEEE Spectrum]. “For speculators, that goal is obvious: profit. For everyone else, virtual real estate is a bet on the metaverse, an attempt to boost a brand, an opportunity to generate revenue on virtual goods, or possibly all that, and more. A high-traffic spot is a bit like a flagship property in downtown San Francisco or Hong Kong. British multinational bank HSBC, for example, owns land in The Sandbox and aspires to entertain users with educational games.” • So, we’ve enabled property speculation and sexual assault. Tech bros, good job.

Tech: “A $300,000 Dolce & Gabbana Tiara You Can Only Wear in the Metaverse” [Wall Street Journal], “Digital sharks wearing Burberry. A virtual Gucci purse that cost more than its real-life equivalent. A one-of-a-kind electronic Dolce & Gabbana tiara that fetched over $300,000 at auction.” Why go to the trouble? Why not just sell price tags? More: “The world’s biggest luxury brands have been dipping their toes into the world of digital fashion, and the early evidence suggests there are eager buyers willing to pay premium prices for virtual products. Upstarts are diving in, too. In February, Cult & Rain, a New York-based sneaker maker, sold 1,179 pairs of real shoes, each paired with a digital version in the form of a NFT, or nonfungible token, and priced at 0.5 ethereum, equivalent to about $1,635. The combination was a bet on two groups of consumers: sneaker enthusiasts and NFT speculators, according to George Yang, the company’s founder. He wasn’t sure either would show up to buy.” • So, property specualtion, sexual assault, and conspicuous consumption. What’s so “meta” about the metaverse, anyhow?

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 49 Neutral (previous close: 51 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 46 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Apr 1 at 1:21pm.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 188. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.)

Photo Book

“Made in Pain” [The Beauty of Nature]. “Almost no post processing can do without masks. In this case I ended up with quite a couple of masks – more than just a hand full as can be seen. The right level of intersection masks was used to highlight the bush in the top left and give it a nice yellow feeling. The caves on the other side of the creek just needed some additional light as they just looked ways too dark otherwise. I paid quite some attention to the water. After removing the leaves and the reflections, it just deserved some additional care. I also lowered the clarity in areas that were packed full of tiny details so that the focus wouldn’t be lost too much.” • Photo editing has always been part of photography, I suppose. The diagrams of today’s version of dodging and burning are interesting. I try to maintain the philosophy that all I’m doing is presenting “what’s really there” or “what I saw,” but I know that’s an absurdly naive position to take.

The Gallery

Plus ça change….

Class Warfare

Great news (1):

Great news (2):

Great news (3):

“Amazon Spent $4.3 Million On Anti-Union Consultants Last Year” [HuffPo]. “Faced with a wave of worker activism in its warehouses last year, Amazon paid anti-union consultants roughly $4.3 million in an effort to beat back union organizing campaigns, according to new filings with the U.S. Department of Labor. The disclosures from Amazon offer a glimpse into how far the online retailer is willing to go to stay union-free. Many employers hire anti-union consultants to hold meetings with workers and dissuade them from unionizing, but none seem to match the scale or price tag of Amazon’s efforts over the course of just one year in its sprawling warehouses.”

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“Warrior Met Coal strike reaches one year mark, possibly longest in Alabama history: ‘We didn’t want to do this’” [AL.com]. “In the tentative offer, the company proposed a $1.50 raise over five years, the union says.” • Wowsers.

“A ransomware attack on a Pfizer vendor triggered overpayments to hourly staffers — and now the pharma giant wants most of that money back” [Endpoints News]. • Paywalled, so I summarize: Workers: “We didn’t ask for it, and we already spent it.”

News of the Wired

I seem not to be wired today. Maybe on the weekend!

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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. Via TH:

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TH writes: “After hours of walking around the Huntington Library Gardens in San Marino, I spotted this lovely red grape vine gracing the walkway near the entrance.” Wow!

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