2:00PM Water Cooler 9/13/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 9/13/2022 1

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Pacific Loon, North Slope, Alaska, United States.

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“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

Biden Administration

“Why we need to be talking about vaccines that offer ‘mucosal immunity’” [Axios]. “Next-generation nasal or oral vaccines could quickly boost the immune response in the very airways where COVID-19 enters the body and ultimately break our reliance on the constant development of reformulated shots to target new variants of concern. But the U.S. isn’t putting money into such products, which experts say could augment current vaccines on the market.” That’s odd. I wonder why? Note also: “Late last month, Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Biden administration calling for an Operation Warp Speed-like project for intranasal vaccines to reduce transmission, as well as pan-coronavirus approaches.” • I wish the Republicans would stop asking for my vote. And I wish the Democrats would start.

“Inhofe, Burr Urge President Biden to Create “Operation Warp Speed 2.0″ as New COVID Variants Arise” [James M. Inhofe]. The letter to Biden:

Intranasal products that reduce transmission and pan-coronavirus approaches that provide durable protection against the emergence of new variants could let us turn the page completely on COVID-19 and help other countries do the same. There are promising efforts to achieve these goals, led by American scientists, businesses and the military, but your administration has neither prioritized them nor charted a clear path for their delivery.

The team that led Operation Warp Speed has been disbanded, and the federal government is not reacting with sufficient urgency to new variants of COVID-19.

I assume Big Pharma and the hospitals are fighting “intrasal products” tooth and nail, precisely because they don’t want to “turn the page completely on COVID-19,” ka-ching. It would be nice if the Biden Administration decided to prove it wasn’t eugenicist, at least in regard to Covid, by supporting this proposal.

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“Rail-Strike Deadline Carries Economic and Political Risks for Biden” [Bloomberg]. “Negotiators met through the weekend trying to reach a deal with two unions covering some 57,000 engineers and conductors — a tired-and-riled workforce that emerged from the pandemic-rattled economy. Ten other unions involved have reached tentative agreements, though such deals require ratification by members. US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with both sides last week. Pressure is building from industry groups and Republicans alike for Congress to intervene in the dispute, which the unions have been urging legislators not to do. Lawmakers have the authority to extend the deadline beyond 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time on Sept. 16 or impose a contract on the two sides, preventing workers from striking for a better deal. Still riding the momentum of recent legislative wins, the Biden administration can ill afford work stoppages that clog major arteries of the nation’s food and energy supplies. But neither does the president want to be seen as obstructing workers trying to win more time for their private lives. ‘In this moment where there’s so much public concern about supply chain and inflation, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Congress to step in,’ said Sharon Block, who worked in the Obama and Biden administrations and is now executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program. ‘Certainly the best outcome is for there to be some resolution before then.’” • Nice to see full-throated support for workers from Block, there. Also, nice spin on “public concern.” Who speaks for the public? Harvard Law School?

“Railroad strike negotiations held up by battle over sick time policies” [CNBC]. “Pierce said the unions withdrew their proposal for paid sick leave and substituted their request for unpaid sick time. PEB recommendations suggested the unions withdraw their paid sick leave proposal based on the existing paid time off benefits given to employees. Union negotiators offered the rail carriers a one-page, single-sided proposal to spare employees disciplinary points if they schedule routine medical visits in advance for days they would otherwise have to work, according to Pierce. ‘You have to understand these workers are not on scheduled days. They have no scheduled days off. They work whenever they get called,’ he said. ‘We are just asking for our workers to be able to go get their medical appointment done and not have to be at work that day.’” • Well, of course workers should use vacation days to go see the doctor. Nobody wants to work anymore.

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“These 97 Members of Congress Reported Trades in Companies Influenced by Their Committees” [New York Times]. About what you would expect. And it’s bipartisan. I thought this was the best sentence: “Because the Times analysis focused on committee membership, it did not address trades by the husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who does not sit on legislative committees. But she and other top congressional leaders have wide influence over what legislation is considered, so any trading associated with them could still overlap with their duties.” • Oh.


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NV: “‘Our best opportunity’: Republicans pose serious threat to Cortez Masto in Nevada” [NBC]. “Eight weeks before Election Day, they’re within striking distance of capturing the seat long held by the late Democratic titan Harry Reid before Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won it in 2016. Cortez Masto may be the most endangered Democratic incumbent in this cycle, even though her party hasn’t lost a Senate race here in a decade. While Democrats still project confidence, polls show a dead heat despite massive spending by Cortez Masto and an early assault of negative ads designed to tarnish rival Adam Laxalt…. From June 15 to Aug. 25, Democratic interests backing Cortez Masto spent $20.4 million over the same weeks that GOP interests backing Laxalt spent a total of $12.2 million, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm. Still, she has struggled to consolidate a lead.”

TX: “Along the Texas-Mexico border, GOP enthusiasm mounts as Democrats defect over immigration concerns” [Texas Tribune]. “Democrats nationally weren’t talking about the border issues her community was experiencing firsthand. They were critical of efforts led by Republicans like Gov. Greg Abbott to build a border wall and increase the presence of law enforcement. Democrats, Carruthers said, weren’t listening. So she switched parties. And so did many others. The county’s clerk and treasurer also became Republicans, as have most of the elected officials in county government. ‘Seeing the lack of support from the federal government has really impacted the community and they’re looking and leaning towards the Republican Party,’ Carruthers said. In 2014, the percentage of registered voters casting ballots in the Republican primary in Terrell County was 12%. By 2022, that percentage had more than doubled — with 31% of the county’s registered voters casting ballots in the GOP primary compared to 10% in the Democratic primary. It was the first time in at least eight years that Republicans voting in the Terrell County primary outnumbered Democrats.” • Sanders won these counties in 2020, IIRC. So it didn’t have to be this way.


“Trump spotted at his Virginia golf course after video of him on a flight to the DC area sparked a firestorm of speculation” [Yahoo News]. “A video of Trump departing the flight sparked rumors that the former president was set to be indicted by the Department of Justice.”

“The radical legal theory that could upend the 2024 election” [Popular Information]. “[Leonard] Leo has stepped down from his day-to-day responsibilities at the Federalist Society to pursue an even more audacious agenda. According to reports by ProPublica and the New York Times, Leo recently raised $1.6 billion for a new political advocacy group, Marble Freedom Trust. That money came from a single donor, ‘ultra-secretive Republican businessman’ Barre Seid. These funds will be available for Leo to pursue his latest initiative: an effort to give state legislatures unfettered authority over federal elections. It is a fringe legal argument advanced by Donald Trump’s lawyers in their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. If adopted by the federal courts, it could throw 2024 and future elections into chaos. But it is being taken very seriously by Leo and several of his allies on the Supreme Court. Leo has stepped down from his day-to-day responsibilities at the Federalist Society to pursue an even more audacious agenda. According to reports by ProPublica and the New York Times, Leo recently raised $1.6 billion for a new political advocacy group, Marble Freedom Trust. That money came from a single donor, “ultra-secretive Republican businessman” Barre Seid. These funds will be available for Leo to pursue his latest initiative: an effort to give state legislatures unfettered authority over federal elections. It is a fringe legal argument advanced by Donald Trump’s lawyers in their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. If adopted by the federal courts, it could throw 2024 and future elections into chaos. But it is being taken very seriously by Leo and several of his allies on the Supreme Court.” • Sounds like when Dick Cheney decided the Vice Presidency was a Fourth Branch of government.

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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“Democratic tensions rise to surface in sprint to midterm elections” [The Hill]. “If Schumer goes through with his plan and tacks permitting reform [part of a deal he cut with Manchin] onto the continuing resolution, and if that stopgap passes through the Senate, progressives in the House would be faced with a tough decision: vote ‘no’ and potentially trigger a government shutdown, or ignore misgivings about the legislation and vote ‘yes.’ Schumer could, however, play one more hand that would effectively force his colleagues on the left to support the measure despite their doubts: add a bill protecting marriage equality on the federal level to the continuing resolution.” • Marriage equality but not abortion. That’s clarifying. I mean, why not both? Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb!


Wait. You’re telling me “personal risk assessment” is a death trap?

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First example I’ve seen of something that should be everywhere:

Not just for this pandemic, but the next one. And there will be a next one.

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• Maskstravaganza:

That whole “respect their choice” thing for anti-maskers drives me up the wall, because this is what it leads to. Spitting on a public sidewalk is illegal, but breathing a pathogenic virus into other people’s air is not. I’m convinced — because this is the stupidest timeline — that if we could see the virus, none of this would be happening.

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Yet another CDC dereliction:

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‘Tis a mystery!

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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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A lot of modest upticks right now: Case counts, positivity, wastewater, deaths. Schools are open and it’s after Labor Day, so….

Case Count

Case count for the United States:

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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 ~72,500. Today, it’s ~79,500 and 79,500 * 6 = a Biden line at 477,000. (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.

Lambert here: The fall in case count looks impressive enough. What the Fauci Line shows, however, is that we have at last achieved the level of the initial peak, when New York was storing the bodies in refrigerator trucks. So the endzone celebrations are, to my mind, premature. Not that anyone will throw a flag. Of course, the real story is in the charts for California and the South. See below.

Regional case count for four weeks:

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The South:

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The South (minus Texas and Florida):

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The West:

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Wastewater data (CDC), September 9:

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For grins, September 6:

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From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, September 9:

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NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. 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), September 9:

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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), September 9:

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First time in a long time I’ve seen only green. I do wonder if there’s a Labor Day effect, though; not just on the data side, but people thinking “I’m not gonna miss the family barbecue for a little ol’ cough.” So let’s see if this persists.

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


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 27:

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Still no sign of BA.2.75 at Walgreens, despite its success in India and presence in Bay Area wastewater.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), August 20 (Nowcast off):

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Still no sign of BA.2.75. I looked at all the regions, too.

BA.2.75 in Ontario and Quebec, Canada:

• Here is a chart of BA.2.75 from Raj Rajnarayanan:

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Not very many cases; no wonder they don’t show up in the national or regional stats. But BA.2.75 is here.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

Lambert here: It is interesting that the deaths per 100,000 curve — with its curious recent flattening — has more or less the same shape as the case curve, suggesting that a “Biden Curve” would have more or less the same shape as the case count curve, as opposed to the straight line I am drawing for the current level.

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Total: 1,076,053 – 1,074,787 = 1266 (1266 * 365 = 462,090, which is 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.

• Here is a total deaths and cases chart from Raj Rajnarayanan:

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Stats Watch

Inflation: “United States Inflation Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The annual inflation rate in the US eased for a second straight month to 8.3% in August of 2022, the lowest in 4 months, from 8.5% in July but above market forecasts of 8.1%. The energy index increased 23.8%, below 32.9% in July. Smaller increases were reported for gasoline costs (25.6% vs 44%) and fuel oil (68.8% vs 75.6%) while inflation sped up for natural gas (33% vs 30.5%) and electricity (15.8%, the highest since August 1981). On the other hand, inflation rose for food (11.4%, the most since 1979), shelter (6.2%, the most since 1984), and used cars and trucks (7.8%). Compared to the previous month, consumer prices were up 0.1%, following a flat reading in July and compared to forecasts of a 0.1% drop. Meanwhile, core CPI, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, increased 6.3% on a year, the most since March, and up markedly from 5.9% hit in both June and July.”

Sentiment: “United States Nfib Business Optimism Index” [Trading Economics]. “The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index in the United States increased for a second month to 91.8 in August of 2022 from 89.9 in July, with falling energy and specially gas prices offering companies some relief.” • In time for the midterms?

Sentiment: “United States IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index” [Trading Economics]. “The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index in the US rose to 44.7 in September of 2022 from 38.1 in August. Despite gaining ground, the index remained in negative territory for the 13th consecutive month.”

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The Bezzle:

Yeah, where are the web3 bros? It’s gone quiet suddenly.

The Bezzle: “‘Scary easy. Sketchy as hell.’: How startups are pushing Adderall on TikTok” [Vox]. • Ugh, but hard to get excited about TikTok after what Big Pharma and the school systems have alread done.

Tech: “Google’s ‘Rest and Vest’ Days for Senior Employees Are Over, Says the CEO. It’s a Brilliant Idea” [Inc.]. “With looming recessions and inflationary pressures, there’s growing concern of slower growth and fiercer competition. At the conference, Pichai talked about TikTok and other entrants in the Chinese market. Things that they didn’t have to think about two years ago are suddenly becoming real issues for the big guns. There will be a number of solutions put in place to find efficiencies and weather this economic downtown. One of the approaches just may be a concerted effort in uncovering the resters-and-vesters and calling them out. Or getting rid of them altogether.” • If you think Google sucks now, just wait ’til the coders don’t get free lunches and massages any more.

The Bezzle: “Truly autonomous cars may be impossible without helpful human touch” [Reuters]. “Autonomous vehicle (AV) startups have raised tens of billions of dollars based on promises [grifters gotta grift] to develop truly self-driving cars, but industry executives and experts say remote human supervisors may be needed permanently to help robot drivers in trouble. The central premise of autonomous vehicles – that computers and artificial intelligence will dramatically reduce accidents caused by human error – has driven much of the research and investment. But there is a catch: Making robot cars that can drive more safely than people is immensely tough because self-driving software systems simply lack humans’ ability to predict and assess risk quickly, especially when encountering unexpected incidents or ‘edge cases.’ ‘Well, my question would be, ‘Why?’ said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, a unit of General Motors (GM.N), when asked if he could see a point where remote human overseers should be removed from operations.” • Why? Because Silicon Valley squillionaires want to do that for all operations generally (except for their security teams, servants, and service providers).

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 44 Fear (previous close: 48 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 40 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Sep 13 at 1:42 PM EDT.

Rapture Index: Closes down one on Civil Rights. “The lack of negative activity has downgraded this category” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 188. (Remember that bringing on the Rapture is good.). Finally, climate. I like “maxium,” because it menas a human is reallly doing this.

The Gallery

Still life (1):

Still life (2):

You can see Cubism sorta sneaking up behind Cezanne, here.

Still life (3):


Seems like rather a lot:

Guillotine Watch

Opportunity knocks:

Class Warfare

Morale booster:

“Starbucks adds benefits for non-union U.S. workers ahead of investor day” [Reuters]. “Starbucks announced new student loan repayment tools and a savings account program for all U.S. employees who are not union members, the company said on Monday, amid a growing union drive and soaring demand for coffee. The move comes ahead of the chain’s annual Investor Day on Tuesday, when Wall Street expects it to lay out next year’s growth prospects. Boosting benefits to non-unionized workers while saying that unionized cafes must first bargain for those same benefits may be slowing the pace of union organizing. The company has lifted hourly U.S. pay for non-unionized cafe workers to an average of nearly $17 as of Aug. 1. ‘We believe the recent wage hikes… are having an adverse effect on the labor unions, with the number of stores filing for a vote declining to the lowest level all year in August,’ BTIG analyst Peter Saleh wrote in an Aug. 31 note.” • Is that even legal?

News of the Wired

“They wanted their drought-tolerant yard to spark conversations. But not on Nextdoor” [Los Angeles Times]. The story is not as grim is that, although the home-owners had to go through a permitting process for their swale. But this: “Most striking is how a front yard that started as a family affair ended up as a bridge to connect with others. ‘Last week, when I was weeding outside, a woman I’ve never met before stopped to tell me that our garden brings her joy,’ Susan says with a smile.” • The same thing has happened to me, too!

“Night Terrors How TikTok has supercharged the age-old debate over sleep training” [New York Magazine]. The whole piece is cranky and exasperated. Then, at the very end: ”

Lee and his wife didn’t follow any baby-sleep social media. They sleep-trained, and they tracked their first son’s progress using an app. There was so much data. Lee wanted to document this time in some way — “lots of late nights and early mornings together” — so his son would know it had been important. But what was he going to do, show him a screenshot? He decided to knit a blanket: “When you graph out all that data, it’s in a rectangle. A blanket could represent that data in a way that you can sort of read.”

The resulting “Sleep Blanket” is gray and blue. (Lee later made one for his daughter in gray and purple.) It is a visualization of his son’s sleep from birth to age 1. Each row represents one day. Each stitch represents six minutes of time, awake (gray) or asleep (blue). You “read” the blanket from left to right, top to bottom. At first, the awake and asleep patches are completely random — showing the normal sleep pattern of a newborn who does not know day from night. Over time, the gray and blue sections consolidate. Row by row, you can see Lee’s son go from random naps, to three regular naps, to two regular naps and 12 hours at night. It is a commemoration of a baby learning to sleep. The finished blanket, which his son cuddles up under every night, consists of 185,000 stitches.

What a lovely idea!

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. From Re Silc:

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Re Silc writes: “Elderberries. Bumper crop!”

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