2:00PM Water Cooler 8/25/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 8/25/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Satin Flycatcher, Devonport, Tasmania, Australia. I like the recordings that are environmental portraits of the bird’s surroundings, besides the bird’s song.

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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

“You can’t really dust for vomit.” Nigel Tufnel, This is Spinal Tap

Abortion

“Judge blocks part of Idaho’s new abortion law in first post-Roe lawsuit by the Biden administration” [NBC]. “A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked part of Idaho’s strict abortion law that’s scheduled to take effect Thursday, handing the Biden administration a narrow courtroom win in its first lawsuit to protect reproductive rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade…. ‘It is impossible to comply with both statutes,’ Winmill wrote. ‘[W]here federal law requires the provision of care and state law criminalizes that very care, it is impossible to comply with both laws. Full stop.’”

Biden Administration

“Biden’s yet to fill the job that may soon matter more than any other” [Politico]. “The fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda could soon rest with the administrator of a tiny office deep within the White House. But first, Biden needs to decide who that administrator will be. After leaving the office without a permanent leader for the first 18 months of Biden’s presidency, the White House is closer to picking someone to run its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The obscure unit is nonetheless poised to wield outsized influence over the administration’s policy ambitions, especially if Democrats lose control of either congressional chamber this fall. The office serves as a gatekeeper for rulemaking government-wide, coordinating, vetting and approving hundreds of federal regulations each year. It has final say over which agency priorities get fast-tracked and which get put on ice, and it will play a direct role in implementing major elements of Democrats’ just-passed climate, health and tax law. ‘The future of the Biden agenda rests on how efficiently large groups of people can edit Word documents,’ said one administration official. ‘When everyone’s aligned, they can move fast. But sometimes, it’s death by a thousand cuts.’”

2022

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“Biden to hold first political rally in run-up to November elections” [Reuters]. “President Joe Biden on Thursday will stage his first political rally in the final stretch to the November midterm congressional elections, looking to give Democrats a boost and prevent Republicans from taking control of Congress. The Democratic National Committee event at Richard Montgomery High School, located in a Maryland suburb of Washington and featuring a host of Maryland political leaders, will begin for Biden what the White House has billed as a coast-to-coast tour to help Democratic candidates…. President Joe Biden on Thursday will stage his first political rally in the final stretch to the November midterm congressional elections, looking to give Democrats a boost and prevent Republicans from taking control of Congress. The Democratic National Committee event at Richard Montgomery High School, located in a Maryland suburb of Washington and featuring a host of Maryland political leaders, will begin for Biden what the White House has billed as a coast-to-coast tour to help Democratic candidates.” •

“Women are registering to vote in Pa. in numbers far exceeding men since the Supreme Court abortion decision” [Philadelphia Inquirer]. “Thousands of women across Pennsylvania and the country have registered to vote since the June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson decision that overturned the federal right to an abortion in the United States. Pennsylvania has had one of the nation’s biggest gender gaps in new registrations, according to Democratic voter data firm Target Smart, which said women have outpaced men by about 12 percentage points in new registrations since June 24. That gap is three times larger than their estimate of a 4-point difference in total registrations. (Gender is an optional field when registering to vote in Pennsylvania, so the state’s voter rolls don’t provide a complete picture of the gender split in registrations.)” • I’m reminded of Tyrion’s speech at the gate of King’s Landing: “Don’t fight for your king [Biden] and don’t fight for his kingdoms [Democrat electeds]! Don’t fight for honour [Biden 2024], don’t fight for glory [“Vote Blue No Matter Who”], don’t fight for riches, because you won’t get any! This is your city Stannis [Trump] means to sack, that’s your gate [uterus] he’s ramming! If he gets in, it’ll be your houses [uterus] he burns, your gold [uterus] he steals, your women he’ll rape [uterus]. Those are brave men [indeed] knocking at our door [uterus]. Let’s go kill them [Republicans]!” • If the Republicans managed to ignite single-issue, culture war voting that works against them, that would be deeply ironic. NOTE I mean no aspersion or irony by the continued use of the word “uterus.” I mean to restructure Tyrion’s argument, which I think is perfectly rational. Kudos to the Supreme Court for clarifying the stakes, and may they suffer greatly for it.

“Swing-State Democrats Not Sold On Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness” [HuffPo]. The headline is a bit deceptive; the reactions are all over the map. This caught my eye: “‘As someone who’s paying off my own family’s student loans, I know the costs of higher education are too high,’ Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said in a statement Wednesday. ‘And while there’s no doubt that a college education should be about opening opportunities, waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message.’ Ohio isn’t really a swing state anymore, but major spending by Republicans to boost Ryan’s opponent, J.D. Vance, in November’s U.S. Senate race shows it’s still in play. Ryan has been courting middle-of-the-road voters by running ads on Fox News and, in some instances, distancing himself from Biden.” • A degree is “on a trajectory to financial security”? What’s Ryan smoking? (Meanwhile, illustrating my point that Ryan will be the new Manchin, and heaven knows the old one is about used up.)

OH: “We reject the free speech-trampling rules set by J.D. Vance and Ron DeSantis for covering their rally: Letter from the Editor” [Cleveland Plain-Dealer]. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate in 2024, scheduled a trip to Ohio Friday to stump for Senate candidate J.D. Vance, and our reporters were not there because of ridiculous restrictions that DeSantis and Vance placed on anyone covering the event. The worst of the rules was one prohibiting reporters from interviewing attendees not first approved by the organizers of the event for DeSantis and Vance. When we cover events, we talk to anyone we wish. It’s America, after all, the land of free speech. At least that’s America as it exists today. Maybe not the America that would exist under DeSantis and Vance. Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime. A wannabe U.S. Senator, and maybe a wannabe president. Another over-the-top rule was one reserving the right to receive copies of any video shot of the event for promotional use. That’s never okay. News agencies are independent of the political process. We do not provide our work product to anyone for promotional use. To do so would put us in league with people we cover, destroying our credibility.” • And:

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2024

“Washington’s Mar-a-Lago Prosecution by Leaks” [The Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal]. “It sure looks like someone is prosecuting the case through the media. The latest example arrived Monday in a dispatch in the New York Times that Justice has recovered “more than 300 documents with classified markings” from Mr. Trump since he left office. Which documents? The report doesn’t say. But, rest assured, they ‘included documents from the C.I.A., the National Security Agency and the F.B.I. spanning a variety of topics of national security interest, a person briefed on the matter said.’ Ah, there’s our old friend, a person briefed on the matter. Nice to hear from you again, whoever you are…. Meanwhile, Mr. Garland’s lawyers are telling federal Judge Bruce Reinhart that the legal affidavit with more details about the search shouldn’t be released to the public. Or that, if the judge releases it, the affidavit should be so heavily redacted as to tell the public and Mr. Trump’s lawyers very little. In other words, ‘a person briefed on the matter’ can leak details about the investigation to the press that the public is supposed to credit as true. But the actual ‘court filings and its work,’ in Mr. Garland’s phrase, must remain secret. And these people wonder why tens of millions of Americans don’t trust the Justice Department and FBI?” • The Democrats have actually managed to make the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page look sane and balanced. Quite an achievement!

“Biden says he had ‘zero’ advance notice of FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate” [USA Today]. • Right [nods vigorously]. The only way this could possibly be true is if Biden told Garland “don’t tell me anything.”

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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“Post-Roe political regrets sink in” [Politico]. “Even Democrats who were initially skeptical about the political effect of Roe v. Wade’s overturning have by now come around to the idea that it’s significantly altering the midterm election landscape….. A year ago, “when we knew this eventually was going to happen,” grumbled one Democratic strategist who advises major donors, why weren’t Democrats preparing to put abortion-related initiatives on ballots across the country to juice turnout? That’s what Republicans did in 2004, when the cultural flashpoints of the day appeared to favor the GOP more than Democrats. That year, conservatives orchestrated the placement of anti-gay marriage measures on ballots in 11 states to lift turnout. Karl Rove knew what he was doing. The Democrats?”

“Progressives hail Biden for action on student loans” [The Hill]. “‘Today is a day of joy and relief,’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted after the announcement.” • Hard to disagree:

Which doesn’t prevent the pearl-clutching about Biden’s meagre “breathing space” from being even more absurd:

And since PitchBot is on fire:

“Joe Biden Outlines New Steps to Ease Economic Burden on Working People” [Joe Biden, Medium]. April 9, 2020: “The concept I’m announcing today will align my student debt relief proposal with my forward-looking college tuition proposal. Under this plan, I propose to forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities for debt-holders earning up to $125,000, with appropriate phase-outs to avoid a cliff. The federal government would pay the monthly payment in lieu of the borrower until the forgivable portion of the loan was paid off.” • Plus, Joe Biden owes me six hundred bucks.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are asking for my vote again:

Of course, Cotton’s idea of “bloat” might not be mine; he might want to fire professors, not administrators. Nevertheless, at least he’s trying to think about systems, even if his ideas are bad.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Inside The Right’s Historic Billion-Dollar Dark Money Transfer” [Lever News]. “An elderly, ultra-secretive Chicago businessman has given the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history — worth $1.6 billion — and the recipient is one of the prime architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court. Through a series of opaque transactions over the past two years, Barre Seid, a 90-year-old manufacturing magnate, gave the massive sum to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society. The donation was first reported by The New York Times on Monday. The Lever and ProPublica confirmed the information from documents received independently by the news organizations. Our reporting sheds additional light on how the two men, one a judicial kingmaker and the other a mysterious but prolific donor to conservative causes, came together to create a political war chest that will likely supercharge efforts to further shift American politics to the right.” And: ‘In practical terms, there are few limitations on how Leo’s new group, the Marble Freedom Trust, can spend the enormous donation. The structure of the donation allowed Seid to avoid as much as $400 million in taxes. Thus, he maximized the amount of money at Leo’s disposal. Now, Leo, 56, is positioned to finance his already sprawling network with one of the largest pools of political capital in American history. Seid has left his legacy to Leo. ‘To my knowledge, it is entirely without precedent for a political operative to be given control of such an astonishing amount of money,’ said Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance lawyer at the nonpartisan watchdog group Documented. ‘Leonard Leo is already incredibly powerful, and now he is going to have over a billion dollars at his disposal to continue upending our country’s institutions.’” • The analogy is not Soros, but Soros giving — well, it’s hard to find an example of a Democrat operative as effective as Leo — say David Axelrod a billion dollars. Of course, Trump proved that money isn’t everything. But. Here is a long thread on the article:

#COVID19

• This extraordinarily long Twitter thread — we used to have technology for this sort of material, called a “blog” — is well worth a read. #90:

Following the science at the Centers for Disease!

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• Jerome Adams asks a good question politely:

Ghandi and Wen, together at last: It’s like a tag team for socipaths (although only Wen actually holds the title; I will have to turn my attention to Ghandi, who is richly deserving).

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• Maskstravaganza:

• Mastravaganza:

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If you missed it, here’s a post on my queasiness 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.

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Case Count

Case count for the United States:

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Inching upward….

Query: Do any readers know of a map that shows when public schools re-open for the Fall 2022 semester in the United States? I can’t find anything current. Thank you!

Cases are undercounted, one source saying by a factor of six, Gottlieb thinking we only pick up one in seven or eight.) Hence, I take the nominal case count and multiply it by six to approximate the real level of cases, and draw the DNC-blue “Biden Line” at that point. The previous count was ~87,700. Today, it’s ~88,400 and 88,400 * 6 = a Biden line at 530,400 per day. (Remember these data points are weekly averages, so daily fluctuations are smoothed out.) The black “Fauci Line” is a counter to triumphalism, since it compares current levels to past crises. If you look at the Fauci line, you will see that despite the bleating and yammering about Covid being “over,” we have only just recently reached the (nominal) case level of November 1, 2021, and we are very far from that of July 1, 2021. And the real level is much worse.

Regional case count for four weeks:

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The South:

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Florida Man still grabbing cases out of the drawer.

The South (minus Texas and Florida):

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Tennessee still bouncing around.

The West:

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Up again…

Wastewater

NOT UPDATED Wastewater data (CDC), August 20:

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Not happy with the grey dots in California, or virtually no dots in Texas and Florida. We have no check on case numbers in critical states.

For grins, August 19:

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What I’m really worried about is an increase in grey dots (“no recent data”). because that would mean the effort is being shut down or defunded.

Positivity

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, August 25:

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-1.2%. (Date is at bottom left, not in header.)

Transmission

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. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal. Use the community transmission immediately below.

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission. (This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.)

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NOT UPDATED Rapid Riser data, by county (CDC), August 24:

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I suppose that if case counts are indeed level, it’s likely there would be few rapid risers.

Previous Rapid Riser data:

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NOT UPDATED Hospitalization data, by state (CDC), August 24:

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Lots of green, which should make the hospital-centric goons at the Centers for Disease happy.

NOTE: Rapid Riser and Hospitalization data are updated Wednesdays and Fridays.

Variants

Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. I looked for more charts: California doesn’t to a BA.4/BA.5 breakdown. New York does but it, too, is on a molasses-like two-week cycle. 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? Additional sources from readers welcome [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk].

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), August 13:

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No sign of BA2.75 at Walgreens, despite its success in India and presence in Bay Area wastewater.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), July 30 (Nowcast off):

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BA.5/BA.4 moving along nicely.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,067,549 – 1,066,416 = 1,133 (1,133 * 365 = 413,545; today’s LivingWith™* number (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, thought they can talk themselves into anything. Fluctuates quite a bit, but even the low numbers are bad). I have added an anti-triumphalist black Fauci Line. 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.

• “How to Compare COVID Deaths for Vaccinated and Unvaccinated People” [Scientific American]. “Taken at face value, these numbers may appear to indicate that vaccination does not make that much of a difference. But this perception is an example of a phenomenon known as the base rate fallacy. One also has to consider the denominator of the fraction—that is, the sizes of the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. With shots widely available to almost all age groups, the majority of the U.S. population has been vaccinated. So even if only a small fraction of vaccinated people who get COVID die from it, the more people who are vaccinated, the more likely they are to make up a portion of the dead.”

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits went down by 2 thousand to 243 thousand in the week ended August 20th from a downwardly revised 245 thousand in the previous period and well below the market estimate of 253 thousand. It was the lowest level for initial claims since the week ended July 23rd.”

Manufacturing: “United States Kansas Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Kansas City Fed’s Manufacturing Production Index fell to -9 in August of 2022 from 7 in the prior month, reaching the lowest level since May of 2022. The slower pace of factory growth was contributed to less activity in wood products, machinery, and computer equipment. Meanwhile, gauges measuring employment, supplier delivery time, raw materials inventories, volume of shipments and volume of new orders backlog of orders also deteriorated. On a positive note, monthly price indexes fell to their lowest in over a year.”

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Real Estate: “America’s Office Glut Started Decades Before Pandemic” [Wall Street Journal]. “America’s office glut has been decades in the making, real-estate investors, brokers and analysts say. U.S. developers built too many office towers, lured by federal tax breaks, low interest rates and inflated demand from unprofitable startups. At the same time, landlords largely failed to tear down or convert old, mostly vacant buildings to other uses. As a result, the country has too many offices and too few companies willing to pay for space in them. The rise of remote work during the pandemic aggravated a problem that was already emerging, analysts say. The office surplus is primarily an American issue. About 19% of U.S. office space was vacant in the second quarter, compared with 14% in the Asia-Pacific region and 7% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to brokerage JLL. Analysts expect that share to grow as more leases expire and more companies cut down on their real estate.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 48 Neutral (previous close: 46 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 54 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 25 at 1:59 PM EDT.

Zeitgeist Watch

“Silicon Valley should spare us the guff about doing good” [Financial Times]. “If you believe the spin, the reason that Andreessen Horowitz — or a16z — is betting billions of dollars on the chimerical, crypto-powered idea of ‘Web3’ is because the current version of the internet, ‘Web2’, gives too much money and power to Big Tech, and not enough to users. You might wonder whether one of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capital funds might themselves be trying to grab as much money and power as they can but no, really, it’s you they care about. ‘My hope is through Web3, we can return to . . . a much more decentralised distribution of power and control,’ Chris Dixon, head of the firm’s $7.6bn crypto fund, told the FT’s Tech Tonic podcast. ‘Facebook, Instagram . . . They figured out a way to have other people create their content and take basically all of the money,’ he said. This is bemusing. Isn’t a16z at the very heart of Big Tech, having massively profited from Web2? Is co-founder Marc Andreessen not still on the board of Meta — the company that owns both Facebook and Instagram — and doesn’t he still own millions of dollars’ worth of shares in it? And anyway, isn’t the whole point of venture capital to generate returns? Why does this company — and the tech sector more broadly — feel the need to insist that their raison d’être is saving the world, when in reality they are simply out to make as much money as they can? Shouldn’t it be OK to say that? Dixon in fact went still further. Web3, he said, wouldn’t just follow the old Google mantra of ‘Don’t be evil’ — which was quietly abandoned a few years ago — because this relies on fallible human beings sticking to it. Making the internet run on blockchains instead, and introducing new financial incentives in the form of crypto tokens, would actually somehow mean this idea was built into the system: ‘That’s a very, very important concept in Web3: ‘can’t be evil’ instead of ‘don’t be evil’.’ Now this, of course, is a farcical idea, as a quick glance at some of the projects that a16z’s crypto fund has invested in can demonstrate.” • Ouch. Why not roll everything back to Web1?

Class Warfare

This is very pure (and I mean that in a good way):

News of the Wired

“Developers help older Macs do something Apple won’t allow” [Digital Trends]. “They said your Mac was too old for the latest and greatest Mac OS upgrade. They told you to buy a new Mac instead. Apple can be a harsh companion. But I’m here to tell you there is another way, the way of MacOS Ventura on older Macs…. Apple said macOS Ventura will not run on iMacs from before 2017, MacBooks from before 2018, and Mac Minis made before 2018. But the OCLP developers said “Hogwash! We shall bring Stage Manager to the masses who insist on still using ancient computers!” And this they have done. You can download OpenCore Legacy Patcher from GitHub here.”

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