2:00PM Water Cooler 11/23/2021 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Rain forest complexity!

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#COVID19

Vaccination by region:

Small dips. (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)

59.2% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, as of November 22. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Czech Republic, and just above Panama in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). We are back to the stately 0.1% rise per day. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the virus…

Case count by United States regions:

Fiddling and diddling.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

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One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). “Here is today’s version of the chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the case data discussed above:

(Note that the highlighted case data is running behind the Johns Hopkins data presented first.) Now, it’s fair to say that the upward trend in case data (black dotted line) is still within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within the grey area (aggregated predictions) It’s also true that where we see an upward trend in the predicted case data (lower right quadrant) it’s much later than where we are now. It’s too early to say “Dammit, CDC, your models were broken”; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. But maybe we’ll get lucky, and the problem, if indeed it is a problem, will go away before Thanksgiving travel begins.

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, not updated since 11/19, oddly after the big jump:

Yikes. As I wrote: “It would be really bad if the case count jumped just as the students headed home for Thanksgiving.”

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.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report November 12, 2021” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

California, New Mexico, Minnesota better. Michigan, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Maine (!) much worse. (Let’s hope those cases up in the County aren’t coming in from Quebec.) More red specks in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. Note that Massachusetts is vertical. We detected a rise first in wastewater data, then in case data, now in hospitalizations. So there are times when the data is good. Just not all the time!

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 794,952 788,012. Fiddling and diddling. But at this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid). More stalled CDC data:

Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is the United States. Needless to see, this is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment’s duty to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital.)

“US COVID-19 deaths in 2021 surpass last year’s toll” [The Hill]. “According to the latest available data from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. has reached at least 770,691 COVID-19 deaths over the full course fo the pandemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the total number of deaths involving COVID-19 in 2020 was 385,343. That means that at least 385,348 COVID-19 deaths — 15 more than the 2020 total —have so far been recorded in 2021, and that number will only rise in the days and weeks to come.”

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

Brazil and Portugal rising, Chile and Peru slowing. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

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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 one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

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

Biden Administration

“Biden has been a disappointment on the pandemic” [Financial Times]. “The US share of world fatalities from Covid-19 far exceeds its share of the world’s population. It ranks between Mexico and Romania for deaths per 100,000 people. America has also been overtaken by Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil on the take-up of vaccines, despite having invented several of them. Under the maladministration of Donald Trump, these numbers could be explained away as something aberrant and fleeting: the wages of populism. But Joe Biden has now been president for around half of the duration of the pandemic. He was elected in large part to contain it. His failure to do so is the central fact of his presidency. It is also a curiously under-discussed one. No, if Biden is being excused his pandemic record, it is on the misplaced premise that he has too many forces ranged against him to succeed…. It is hard to know if his prior experience of government makes this lack of executive grip harder to fathom, or much easier. At least to begin with, Barack Obama’s White House, which he served as vice-president, fell for the idea that effective government is about people of good faith holding office: that first principles are enough. The importance of the grind, of sheer technical slog, dawned on them late, if at all. The mistake recurred upon Biden’s inauguration last January, when much of the US left assumed that not being Trump was half the key to a resolved pandemic.” • West Wing brain.

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“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 that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

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“Midnight is approaching” to pass voting rights protections” [Axios]. “‘Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching,’ according to more than 150 top scholars of U.S. democracy in a new push to temporarily suspend the Senate filibuster and pass voting rights protections on a simple majority vote.” • On that whole “defenders of democracy” thing, anybody remember the 2020 Iowa Caucus? Or Obama’s Night of the Long Knives that installed Joe Biden? All that aside, the Democrat sector is losing its mind over voting rights, while the Democrat electeds don’t seem to care very much.

“Rashida Tlaib warns of “corporate Dems” killing Biden bill” [Axios]. “‘I know that they’ve been influenced and guided by folks that don’t have the best interests of the American people in mind,’ [Tlaib] said. Tlaib spoke Friday morning, shortly after the House passed the sweeping $1.75 trillion ‘Build Back Better’ bill. ‘I’m fearful’ of what might happen as the Senate takes up the bill, she added. ‘I’m fearful that those groups are gonna guide this agenda. It’s gonna be the people that are gonna continue to profit off of human suffering.’ ‘We have corporate Dems,’ Tlaib said. Asked whether she was talking about Manchin and Sinema, Tlaib said: ‘It’s those two, but I think there are some others that … have issues with the prescription drug negotiations there.’ ‘And so I can’t say it’s just those two. They seem to be leading the fight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if folks are hiding behind them.’” • Surely not.

“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Why Democrats’ ‘Talking Points Are Not Enough’” (interview) [New York Times]. AOC: “We always try to tell people why they need to settle for less, instead of being able to harness the energy of our grass roots and take political risks in service of them, the same way that we take political risks in service of swing voters. We can do both…. You’ve got to give me something to work with, with my communities. And if you’re not, how can I make the argument that they should turn out again? And this notion that saying ‘We’re not Trump’ is enough — this is such a deeply demoralizing message. Democrats have a trifecta and have been unable to pass voting-rights protections. And so people can wring their hands and say ‘but Manchin’ all they want, or ‘but the filibuster’ all they want, but at the end of the day, what people see are the results of their actions and the results of investing their time.” And: “Before the Virginia elections, it was very clear that our help and our participation was not wanted or asked for, which is fine. I’m not here to tell people how to run their races. But at the same time, to consider the members here that have some of the tightest relationships to our political base as just a uniform liability — and not something that can be selectively deployed, or consulted, or anything — I think it’s just sad. I think it was a mistake. And we saw a big youth turnout collapse. Not a single person asked me to send an email, not even to my own list. And then they turn around and say, ‘It’s their fault.’ When I think it was communicated quite expressly that we were unwelcome to pitch in.”

“Will Redistricting Make AOC Westchester’s Congresswoman?” [Yonkers Times]. From August, still germane: “The big takeaway, and possibility for Westchester is that Congresswoman Alexandra-Ocasio Cortez, AOC, and her 14th District, may now include parts of Westchester County. According to Wasserman, and his proposed map, AOC would lose the Queens portion of her district, but would keep the Bronx and NY-14 would run into Southern Westchester, and include the City of New Rochelle, and the Town of Eastchester. ‘Tbh, (to be honest) the only way a Dem gerrymander of Upstate NY would work would be for #NY14 AOC, #NY16 Bowman and #NY17 Jones to absorb heavily GOP parts of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Dutchess counties (while still keeping overwhelmingly safe Dem seats). We’ll see,’ tweeted Wasserman. The Republican majority Town of Eastchester would now be represented by AOC, and create an interesting dynamic between one of the more outspoken progressive democrats in the county representing a Town led by Eastchester Supervisor Anthony Colavita, one of the longest serving republicans in Westchester.”

2024

“Playbook: Biden tries to calm nerves about 2024” [Politico]. “Fresh off a physical that declared him fit for office, President JOE BIDEN ‘and members of his inner circle have reassured allies in recent days that he plans to run for reelection in 2024, as they take steps to deflect concern about the 79-year-old president’s commitment to another campaign and growing Democratic fears of a coming Republican return to power,’ WaPo’s Michael Scherer, Tyler Pager and Sean Sullivan report. ‘The message is aimed in part at tamping down the assumption among many Democrats that Biden may not seek reelection given his age and waning popularity, while also effectively freezing the field for Vice President [KAMALA HARRIS] and other potential presidential hopefuls. … But interviews with 28 Democratic strategists and officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more frankly, show that the assurances have not stopped the internal debate over whether Biden will appear on the ticket. … Ok then: ‘One Democrat involved in campaigns said they couldn’t think of a single person they had spoken to in the last month who considers the possibility of Biden running again to be a real one.’” “• Meaning that they can’t bill to a Biden campaign, but could bill to others (who they are of course talking to). That said, if the Democrats think I’d vote for either Harris or Buttigieg they’re out of their minds.

“Pro-Trump Nonprofit Gives Millions To Groups Boosting His Agenda” [Center for Public Integrity]. ” nonprofit closely tied to former President Donald Trump and his administration gave millions of dollars in 2020 to an array of conservative groups, a new tax filing from the nonprofit, now called America First Works, shows. The largest grant to an outside group, nearly $4.8 million, went to Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund often used by conservative megadonors as a conduit for contributions to other nonprofits. The filing notes the money is “fbo [for the benefit of] Honest Ele,” but cuts off the rest of the description, rendering the ultimate recipient unclear. The information in the disclosure suggests the money could have been for the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group embedded in an opaque network of conservative nonprofits that receives money via Donors Trust. Honest Elections Project advocated against the expansion of access to mail ballots in multiple states last year.” • Honest Elections, I love it. Still, they’re pikers:

RussiaGate

“What to make of the intelligence failure over the Steele Dossier?” [The Hill]. • What failure?

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Manufacturing Activity Index in the US fifth district including the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and most of West Virginia decreased to 11 in November of 2021 from a 3-month high of 12 in the previous month. All three component indexes—shipments, new orders, and employment—continued to reflect growth. Survey results suggested that many firms increased employment and wages in November, but they struggled to find workers with the necessary skills. Survey respondents expected these trends to continue in the next six months.” • Heaven forfend employers should consider on-the-job training!

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Commodities: “The $5 Billion Hoard of Metal the World Wants But Can’t Have” [Bloomberg]. “On an industrial park about an hour’s drive toward the South China Sea coast from Ho Chi Minh City sit giant mounds of raw metal shrouded in black tarpaulin. Stretching a kilometer in length, the much-coveted hoard could be worth about $5 billion at current prices. In the esoteric world of aluminum, those in the know say the stockpile in Vietnam is the biggest they have ever seen — and that’s in an industry that spends a lot of time building stockpiles while analysts spend a lot of time trying to locate them. But as far as the increasingly under-supplied market is concerned, it’s one that may never be seen again…. What the piles of metal can offer is a reminder of the aluminum market’s turbulent recent history [described in the article]. The interest in the unreachable hoard reflects the metal’s watershed moment as an era of oversupply gives way to shortfalls because of Chinese curbs on production to reduce emissions.”

Shipping: “Hapag-Lloyd bids to cut soaring network costs by using fewer hub ports” [The Loadstar]. “Ocean carriers, obliged to temporarily omit severely congested ports during the current supply chain disruptions, are rethinking their network coverage in favour of a permanent change to fewer hubs. Hapag-Lloyd devoted a section of its Capital Markets Day yesterday to its aim of driving down its ‘complex’ network costs, which would help it achieve a top-tier ranking for schedule reliability.It said the complexity of its network had ‘grown historically’ over years of trade evolvement and acquisitions.”

Inflation: “History suggests that the supply-demand imbalances turbocharging consumer prices aren’t likely to be permanent. Transport bottlenecks and robust demand are driving double-digit percentage increases in the costs of cars, appliances and other manufactured goods, but even modest relief of some supply-chain strains could have significant effects…. ” [Wall Street Journal]. “On the supply side, partially built vehicles parked for lack of semiconductors should head for dealerships once auto makers secure enough chips to finish the job. The scramble by businesses to stockpile parts and holiday inventory could be painting a false picture of underlying demand, while lessening Covid-19 risks could shift more spending toward services, easing prices for goods like used cars. Climbing inflation can make it hard to remember that sectors from shipping to meat production routinely swing from shortages to gluts as businesses race to capitalize on rising prices.”

Inflation: “Attention, Inflation Skeptics. Shoppers Are Talking to You” [Bloomberg]. “The robust pace of U.S. consumer spending looks at first glance like evidence that inflation isn’t hurting a resilient U.S. economy. And that’s how Tuesday’s government report on strong October retail sales growth has widely been interpreted. Look harder, though, and a more ominous omen appears: one of inflationary psychology becoming entrenched and the risk of an inflationary spiral so intense it would require a damaging recession to correct. Data from the Commerce Department show that retail sales increased by 1.7% in October, beating forecasts. The gains topped those in September and August, even as consumer prices rose the fastest in 31 years. October’s spending gains were the largest since March. So far, so good. Consumers have money and they’re spending it. That looks like prosperity, not a portent of doom. Quarterly reports from Walmart Inc. and Home Depot Inc. show earnings beating Wall Street’s expectations. Walmart is even planning for inflation’s retreat. Not so fast. Part of the reason sales boomed appears to be that households did more Christmas shopping than usual in October.” • Yeah, because everybody read the news stories that the ports were jammed and Santa might come, ffs. Further, I interpretations of mass psychology should be viewed with caution these days, things being so unsettled. Price rises may or may not be real (some readers have mentioned they are), but the inflation narrative seems completely inorganic to me, and designed to rein in “social spending” by the Biden administration.

The Bezzle: “China’s exiled crypto machines fuel global mining boom” [Financial Times]. Handy chart:

The Bezzle: NFTs:

Tech: “Apple’s Mac Software Strategy Is More Confusing Than Ever” [Bloomberg]. “[T]he company must now focus on unifying its Mac software ecosystem—for the benefit of its own products, third-party app developers, and, of course, consumers.” • Maybe if Apple’s suits could figure out taps and swipes from fingers or pen are a completely different UI/UX from mouseclicks and keystrokes — the difference is as great as that between consumption and production — things will improve (and I say this as a heavy user of both technologies). Also, iOS’s windowing and file systems are laughably bad, completely unserious. (Also, I can tell when an iOS team has gone to work ruining a Mac feature; functionality is always buried, and nothing conforms to the Human Interface Guidelines that sold generations of users on the idea — indeed the fact — that the Mac “just works.” At least the mania for slimness is gone, and we producers have some ports and the MagSafe connector back, after years of screaming.

Tech: Kill it with fire:

Supply Chain: “Supply-Chain Snarls Deliver Windfalls to Wall Street” [Wall Street Journal]. ” Charter rates have soared, thanks in part to a global economic rebound that is translating into Covid-19-related labor shortages and port logjams. Cargo ships are in demand, following a yearslong decline in the number of container ships ordered and continued consumer spending on goods rather than services. To capitalize on the boom, hedge funds and lenders are flipping container ships, signing multiyear contracts to charter them out at high rates and taking gains on their equity stakes in container-shipping companies whose stock prices have soared…. The recovery is turning what looked like losing bets for earlier investors in shipping into winning ones.” • It would be a shame if the party ever had to end. Reminds me of something….

Travel: “Thanksgiving Travel to Challenge Airlines as Demand Returns” [Bloomberg]. “Would-be travelers seem optimistic. Tickets sold in the U.S. for domestic and international trips during the 14-day Thanksgiving travel period were 11% below where they were in 2019, according to Nov. 14 data from the Airlines for America lobbying group. …. ‘People aren’t going to be deterred by the possibilities of storms and delays,’ said Christie Hudson, a spokesperson for travel services provider Expedia Group Inc. ‘The pent-up demand is a huge factor, especially if you didn’t get to see your grandparents or family members last year or had to cancel trips earlier this year. Our mentality now is, ‘Screw it, I’m going.’”

Concentration: “Why Amazon’s Higher Fulfillment Fees Could Generate $3.1B In Revenue” [Benzinga]. “Amazon.com, Inc. has announced it will be raising its Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) fees starting Jan. 18, 2022, a move that could generate $3.1 billion in incremental revenue. Amazon will be raising FBA fulfillment fees by an average of 5.2%. The fee changes will be based on package size and weight. FBA monthly storage fees will also increase from 75 cents to 83 cents in off-peak months of January through September…. Assuming Amazon’s claims that alternative fulfilment options are still far more expensive, sellers seemingly have no choice but to pay the higher fees. Given Amazon will be providing no additional services for those higher fees, almost all of the incremental revenue should be profit.” • Because they can.

Labor Market: Interesting animation that contrasts Obama’s debacle and, well, Trump’s success (followed by Biden):

Thanks, Larry!

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 58 Greed (previous close: 64 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 82 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 23 at 1:05pm. Mere greed now.

Health Care

“Do childhood colds help the body respond to COVID?” [Nature]. “Some people are better at fighting off seasonal flu when the strain of influenza virus is similar to the first one they encountered in childhood — a phenomenon evocatively dubbed ‘original antigenic sin’, or OAS. Now, there is increasing evidence that people’s immune responses to COVID-19 could be shaped in a similar way by previous infections with common-cold coronaviruses…. But OAS also has potential downsides. Sometimes, antibodies produced as a result of imprinting are not a very good match to the virus causing an infection, but their production suppresses the activation of naive B cells that would otherwise produce more-protective antibodies…. It is difficult to tell from such early results whether OAS is beneficial or detrimental to the immune response against SARS-CoV-2, and the results of preliminary studies are open to interpretation.” • Important to remember that we do not actually understand the immune system.

MMT

“Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day” [Bloomberg]. Joe Weisenthal’s section: “[T]he last 18 months have vindicated many of [MMT’s] core ideas. 1. Fiscal expansion is incredibly powerful. … 2. Inflation happens when we see real resources stretched to capacity…. 3. Bond vigilantes still MIA. As MMTers would anticipate, the spending boom and the major Fed balance sheet expansion have not dented the stability of the dollar or Treasuries. … 4. You can’t win playing by the CBO’s rules. … [O]ne of the arguments made by its proponents is that the deck is stacked against fiscal expansion, by arbitrary “scores” (by the likes of the CBO) that establish whether a spending plan adds to the deficit or not. Given the contortions that the Democrats have made to satisfy its members in the Senate, while also aiming to get a good score by the CBO (not add to the deficit too much), this is another point of vindication…. Obviously, elevated inflation has caused a drop in people’s perceptions of the economy. And it’s possible that this will sour consumer spending plans in the future. So that’s potentially something to be reckoned with. But for one thing, it seems awfully premature to look at random polls in November 2021 and pronounce anything big about how the future will go. And regardless, a number of core MMT concepts have been empirically vindicated over the last year and a half or so.”

Guillotine Watch

“Wall Streeters Are Scouting Condos and Yachts Ahead of a Record Bonus Season” [New York Magazine]. “On Wall Street, 2021 will be remembered as the year things got really weird and everyone got crazy rich. Meme stocks like GameStop and AMC entered the lexicon in January, and then there were a record number of companies filing their initial public offerings, the rise and fall and resurrection of SPACs, and the biggest year ever for private equity deals. On Tuesday, Wall Street compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates put out a report confirming that just about everyone who had a hand in this financial free-for-all is going to get rewarded more handsomely than any time since at least the financial crisis. In its report, the company predicts a double-digit increase in bonuses this year practically across the board, with as much as a 35 percent bump for bankers who helped bring new companies to the public markets. For Wall Street’s biggest earners, though, they’re looking at much more than that — as much as three times their biggest bonus, ever, Intelligencer was told. For established bankers, that could mean millions more in their total compensation, just for this year.” • I hate the very idea that capitalism is anti-fragile, especially financialized capitalism. But it does look like it, doesn’t it? Anti-fragile until the planet steps in and takes care of the problem, anyhow.

Class Warfare

A lot of material on cities and suburbs lately:

The automobile and the city of Buffalo:

Like a plague of locusts.

“In Cities Around the US, Redistricting Is a Major Threat to Progressive Politics” [Jacobin]. “ies are crucial hubs for progressive politics. Places like Chicago, Illinois, and Buffalo, New York, are making historic advances by electing a record number of democratic socialists to the city council and winning mayoral primaries. Democratic socialists are on the front lines of efforts to reallocate police funds to mental health and social services, raise the minimum wage, implement rent control, and crack down on public utility monopolies. The advancement of democratic socialists and independent politics in cities, however, faces a looming threat: municipal redistricting. Redistricting is often seen as a competition between Democrats and Republicans, and gerrymandering in city councils (where Democrats dominate) receives less attention. The data, however, paint a different picture. To explore the consequences of municipal redistricting for independent politics, my research team digitized and analyzed ward maps from the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee from their founding in the 1800s to the present. We tracked the movement of wards within each city over time, paying attention to instances when wards were redistricted from one end of a city to another, as well as instances when wards never moved. Our study’s findings are troubling for progressive elected officials. .” • See India Walton…

“The Total Shame of LA City’s Redistricting System, Yet Again” [Tony Butka, City Watch]. The conclusion: “Even as our fly by night Mayor and 15 City Councilmembers celebrate their rapacity, in a State where the judicial system actually worked, they would all be in the slammer. Such is not the case, obviously, with only three of this rotten body headed for prosecution and hopefully jail time.” • The ins and outs are too complicated to summarize, but… Everything is like CalPERS.

I hate the very idea of a video Op-Ed (“Blue States, You’re the Problem“) so I couldn’t bring myself to run this until now, when it seems to fit in:





“How A History Of Racial Discrimination Created ‘Islands of Disadvantage’ In Northern Virginia” [DCist]. “Looking at overall statistics, Northern Virginia is a healthy and wealthy place. But within the prosperity of the region are “islands of disadvantage” — communities cut off from the good outcomes of their neighbors. Those neighborhoods are at the heart of a new report that examines the region’s 400-year history of racial segregation between Black people and white people, tracing its effects on the health of residents today. The report, “Deeply Rooted: History’s Lessons for Equity in Northern Virginia,” authored by Dr. Steven Woolf at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a sequel to a 2017 study that originally identified 15 “islands of disadvantage,” census tracts in Northern Virginia experiencing high rates of poverty, unaffordable housing, poor education, and lack of health insurance — measures widely regarded by public health researchers as social determinants of health. Life expectancy for some of the census tracts could be as much as 18 years below neighboring communities…. One central theme in the report is the history of Black community displacement as Northern Virginia shifted from rural plantations and farms outside D.C. to a collection of bustling, built-up suburbs. That transition started, Woolf says, after the Civil War, when newly-freed African-American residents set up communities in Northern Virginia — only to be pushed aside to make room for railroads, housing for federal workers during World War II, and, ultimately, Northern Virginia’s tangle of highways.”

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John Deere:

And:

Good. Finally I can get a job:

“Higher Income Associated With Greater Compliance with Public Health Measures During Pandemic” [Johns Hopkins Hub]. “The higher a person’s income, the more likely they were to protect themselves at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Johns Hopkins University economists find. When it comes to adopting behaviors including social distancing and mask wearing, the team detected a striking link to their financial well-being. People who made around $230,000 a year were as much as 54% more likely to increase these types of self-protective behaviors compared to people making about $13,000.” • I am looking for a similar result on vaccination, but haven’t found one yet.

“Does QE Cause Wealth Inequality?” [Lynn Alden]. “Nobody should expect wealth to be equal in a society, but when wealth becomes extremely concentrated (way more unequal than usual), it’s often a sign that something isn’t working well and the society shifts towards higher levels of populism. After a while of that, the odds start to increase for some sort of major policy reversal (soft case) or outright revolution (hard case). That’s why it’s a macro topic that is important for investors to keep track of; extreme wealth concentration affects the likelihood of various otherwise-improbable fiscal or monetary policy changes occurring. And famous fallen empires in history often had very high levels of wealth concentration in the years leading up to their unraveling.” Sort of amazing to read this from an investment analyst; maybe Furman (above) is right…. On the issue of the headline: “QE and interest rates by themselves are significantly uncorrelated (or even inversely correlated) variables vs how much wealth concentration a country has, when comparing between countries. That is an uncommon view, but that’s simply how the math works out. Clearly we need to look at the nuances. The reason the math works out that way, is that fiscal decisions have larger effects on wealth concentration than central banks. Central banks facilitate fiscal policies, but are only one variable involved in a much more complicated set of policies. ” • I thought this was interesting and not full of crank theories; I’d be interested to see what readers think.

News of the Wired

“Cosmo is a cutting-edge take on the electric guitar by Verso” [Wallpaper]. The body is metal: “Because guitar pickups are magnetic, they naturally clamp themselves onto the surface of the body. ‘It was almost an accidental discovery that I turned into a unique selling proposition,’ [industrial designer Robin Stummvoll] says. Because the pickup can be moved around beneath the strings, the tonal characteristics of the guitar can be finely tuned. ‘Combine this with the steel plate and the instrument has a unique timbre with a lot of body resonance.’, he says.” • That, at least, sounds neat. The design? I dunno….

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

A busy bee!

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!2:00PM Water Cooler 6/8/2021

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