2:00PM Water Cooler 12/15/2021 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Nice and long, so you can make your coffee now. Another migratory bird (with accompaniment).

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#COVID19

Lots of charts today:

Vaccination by region:

A roller coaster. More data problems? (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, despite all the sturm und drang in the press.

61% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, such as it is, as of December 14. The stately 0.1% rise per day returns. We have broken the important 61% psychological barrier! Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Peru in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday).

Case count by United States regions:

I whinged about the period of fiddling and diddling that appeared before the previous peak (and hadn’t appeared hitherto). Things went up, peaked, or went down. Now we are fiddling and diddling again. I have helpfully highlighted both periods. Also, as happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for no other reason.

I find the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West fanning out like that concerning, so here are the individual regions:

Northeast:

New York and Pennsylvania leading in tandem, as they have for some time. I would have expected Massachusetts to be worse.

Midwest:

Ohio and Wisconsin coming up.

South:

Yikes, Texas! And things were going so well…

West:

Yikes, California!

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.)

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 the current 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:

Case data (black dotted line) has been within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within aggregated predictions (the grey area).

I wrote: “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. The case data still looks like it’s trying to break out of the grey area. We shall see.” The case data has now broken out of the grey area (see at “Oopsie!”). Since the models are aggregated conventional wisdom, it’s not fair to call them propaganda, exactly. Nevertheless. conventional wisdom is looking a little shaky, and anybody who relied on them to predict that we would be “back to normal” by early next year should be taking another look at their assumptions. And this is — I assume — before Omicron!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, not updated:

A steep drop in the average, like the last peak. We’ll see if gets choppy again, or not.

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” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

West Coast much better, Midwest better, New England going solid red. More flecks of red, especially in Texas. 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 trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 821,335 819,315. Modest rise. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):

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

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

South Africa’s rise looks linear, even though this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

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 Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Capitol Seizure

“One of These Riots Is Not Like the Other” [National Review]. “What has been clear to some of us for a long time — and what is becoming more difficult to deny every day — is that the events of January 6 were part of an attempted coup d’état, one that proceeded on two fronts: As the rioters occupied the Capitol and disrupted the process of certifying the Electoral College votes, Trump’s legal minions sought madly for some pretext upon which to nullify the election. Meanwhile, Trump allies occupying several points on the far-right tail of the bell curve of glue-sniffing madness hatched all kinds of supplementary schemes, some of them involving the military. A riot that is part of a coup d’état is not very much like a riot that is part of a coup de Target.” • Quoting a RINO on this because I so don’t want to have to master the detail in WaPo and the Times. Based on past form, every lead paragraph is going to quote anonymous sources, and then everything will go downhill from there.

Biden Administration

“Top secret JFK assassination files are FINALLY released: Lee Harvey Oswald was in contact with member of KGB two months before shooting and anonymous phone calls said Russia was behind it, trove of 1,500 documents reveal” [Daily Mail]. • Those darn Russkies! I knew they were behind it!

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So do something about it (1):

So do something about it (2):

So do something about it (3):

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.

For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.

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.

Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.

And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…

NEW A second example of the PMC’s inability to govern comes under the rubric of “our democracy.” Of the various components of the Democrat party, NGOs, miscellaneous mercenaries, assets in the press, and the intelligence community all believe — or at least repeat vociferously — that “our democracy” is under threat, whether from election integrity issues, or from fascism. But other components — funders, vendors, apparatchiks, and electeds — don’t believe this at all. On election integrity, HR 1 has not passed. Gerrymandering continues apace (also a sign that Republicans take their politics much more seriously than Democrats do). On fascism, I suppose we have Pelosi’s January 6 Commission. But nothing unlawful took place, or we would have Merrick Garland’s January Investigation. The combination of hysterical yammering from some Democrats and blithe indifference from others is extremely unsettling. (This leaves aside the question of whether Democrats, as a party, have the standing to whinge about either the erosion of democracy or the imminence of fascism. I say no.) Of course, there is a solution to the problems with “our democracy”:


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“Democratic governors worry about threat to democracy but don’t see it as a winning message for 2022” [CNN]. • Oh.

“The Democrats Fighting to Protect the Coastal Elite” [The Atlantic]. “[Robert Menendez, the senior senator from New Jersey] leading the opposition to a first-of-its-kind policy that would force homeowners with property closest to the water to pay more for federal flood insurance. The pricing scheme, known as Risk Rating 2.0, was first developed under the Obama administration, but the Trump administration delayed its implementation. Now it represents one of the most progressive changes that President Joe Biden can make without new approval from Congress: By overhauling premiums in the National Flood Insurance Program, the government can simultaneously price-in the risks posed by climate change and correct historic inequities in which millions of lower-income homeowners have essentially subsidized flood protection for their much wealthier neighbors. At the center of the fight are the questions of who gets to live by the water, and who should shoulder the burden of costs that rise with the sea level. The estimated 13 million people who reside in the officially designated floodplain are divided between those who can buy pricey waterfront homes and those consigned to live in less desirable, low-lying areas because that’s all they can afford.”

Trump Legacy

Graphic treatments aside, Trump creating his own media platforms doesn’t seem like such a bad idea:

If he can execute. Or pick the right people. There, Trump has uneven form, to put it mildly.

Republican Funhouse

Here we go:

“Max Linn, a colorful candidate, dead at 62” [Sun-Journal]. “Max Linn, one of the more colorful characters in Maine politics and perhaps the first Mainer to catch COVID-19, died over the weekend.” • On a visit to Wuhan in December 2019! Commentary:

Just another liberal Democrat celebrating the death of a political opponent….

Clinton Legacy

“Hillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems’ best hope” [The Hill]. • I think a Trump v. Clinton rematch would be… beautiful, somehow. As flaming rubble sometimes is, particularly in the gathering darkness.

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States NY Empire State Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The New York Empire State Manufacturing Index rose to 31.9 in December of 2021 from 30.9 in November, beating forecasts of 25, pointing to strong growth in business activity in the New York State…. Labor market indicators pointed to a solid increase in employment (21.4 vs 26) and a longer average workweek (12.1 vs 23.1)…. Plans for capital and technology spending were strong.”

Retail: “United States Retail Sales]” [Trading Economics]. “US retail trade rose 0.3 percent from a month earlier in November 2021 after surging 1.8 percent in October and well below market expectations of 0.8 percent, adding to signs of slowing domestic demand amid the fastest inflation in decades. The so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of GDP, edged down 0.1 percent in November.”

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 43 thousand from the previous period to 184 thousand in the week ending December 4th, the lowest level since early September 1969 and below market expectations of 215 thousand, as demand for labor remains strong amid the ongoing economic recovery and as many employers seek to retain workers.”

Manufacturing: “United States Kansas Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Kansas City Fed’s Manufacturing Production Index fell to 17 in November of 2021 from 25 in the previous month. Factory growth was driven by increased activity at durable goods plants, particularly machinery manufacturing, electrical equipment, transportation equipment, and furniture production. ‘Regional factory activity continued to grow but at a slower pace than in recent months’, said Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.”

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Retail: “‘Diet’ soda is disappearing from store shelves” [KMOV4]. “That’s because some diet sodas are disappearing — or at least, that packaging is gone. Instead you’ll find those beverages under their new branding: zero sugar. ‘Zero sugar’ has replaced ‘diet’ for many no-calorie soft drinks. Canada Dry and Schweppes ginger ales, 7Up, A&W and Sunkist, made by Keurig Dr Pepper, now label their diet drinks ‘zero sugar.’ (One exception is the namesake Dr Pepper brand, which will still come in ‘diet’ packaging in addition to a different zero sugar version.) The reason for the overhaul: The word ‘diet’ has fallen out of fashion — especially for Millennials and Gen Z-ers…. Evolving attitudes toward dieting as a concept mean soda makers have to de-emphasize diet branding as they steam ahead with zero-sugar offerings — even when, as in the case of those brands owned by Keurig Dr Pepper, they’re selling the same exact drink. The tactic could help soda makers bring more consumers, especially younger ones, into the fold. The industry needs those customers if it wants to grow the soda market.” • How about “Additive Free”?

The Bezzle:

The Bezzle: “Digital Scarcity”:

Walter Benjaman, right-click stan.

The Bezzle: “Dr. Seuss Characters Get NFT Treatment in ‘Seussibles’ App (Exclusive)” [Hollywood Reporter]. “Through a partnership with Dapper Labs — the company behind CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot — and the NFT startup Tibles, Dr. Seuss Enterprises is releasing its NFT offerings through a mobile and web app called Seussibles. Users 18 and over can sign up for an account and purchase packets of Seuss collectibles with their credit cards, with “blind” five-packs — where the buyer doesn’t know what five NFTs they’re receiving — starting at $4.99. , and users can use the Seussibles app to chat with other fans and trade their collectibles.”

Tech: “The Log4J Vulnerability Will Haunt the Internet for Years” [Wired]. ” A vulnerability in the open source Apache logging library Log4j sent system administrators and security professionals scrambling over the weekend. Known as Log4Shell, the flaw is exposing some of the world’s most popular applications and services to attack, and the outlook hasn’t improved since the vulnerability came to light on Thursday. If anything, it’s now excruciatingly clear that Log4Shell will continue to wreak havoc across the internet for years to come…. The hard part will be tracking all of those down. Many organizations don’t have a clear accounting of every program they use and the software components within each of those systems…. By its nature, open source software can be incorporated wherever developers want, meaning that when a major vulnerability crops up, exposed code can lurk around every corner. Even before Log4Shell, software supply chain security advocates had increasingly pushed for “software bills of materials,” or SBOMs, to make it easier to take stock and keep up with security protections.” • Commentary:

Tech: “Her Instagram Handle Was ‘Metaverse.’ Last Month, It Vanished.” [New York Times]. “n October, Thea-Mai Baumann, an Australian artist and technologist, found herself sitting on prime internet real estate. In 2012, she had started an Instagram account with the handle @metaverse, a name she used in her creative work. On the account, she documented her life in Brisbane, where she studied fine art, and her travels to Shanghai, where she built an augmented reality company called Metaverse Makeovers. She had fewer than 1,000 followers when Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, announced on Oct. 28 that it was changing its name. Henceforth, Facebook would be known as Meta, a reflection of its focus on the metaverse, a virtual world it sees as the future of the internet. In the days before, as word leaked out, Ms. Baumann began receiving messages from strangers offering to buy her Instagram handle. ‘You are now a millionaire,’ one person wrote on her account. Another warned: ‘fb isn’t gonna buy it, they’re gonna take it.’ On Nov. 2, exactly that happened. Early that morning, when she tried to log in to Instagram, she found that the account had been disabled. A message on the screen read: ‘Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else.’…” • After the Times starting calling Facebook, Baumann’s account was restored. But Facebook can do whatever it wants with Instagram handles, so the situation hardly seems stable.

Tech: “Five Former SpaceX Employees Speak Out About Harassment At The Company” [The Verge]. “A group of former SpaceX employees are coming forward about their experience working at the commercial rocket company, claiming that there is a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace and that managers and the human resources department handled complaints poorly. The individuals are speaking out in light of an essay published by one former employee, Ashley Kosak, who left SpaceX in November. In her account, Kosak details multiple instances of being groped and feeling uncomfortable after fending off sexual advances by her male co-workers. Four additional people who spoke with The Verge described their own troubling experiences at SpaceX or witnessing other women and nonbinary people being harassed. In three cases reviewed by The Verge, SpaceX HR was made aware of the allegations and had inconsistent responses that the employees felt were inadequate.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: The Fear and Greed screen is blank again! [CNN]. Last updated Dec 15 at 11:27am. New intern?

Health Care

Unsettling Omicron anecdote:

Plenty more downthread. What’s frustrating about Omicron is that there doesn’t seem to be any new tactic I can employ against it. The virus ups its game. I can’t up mine.

Unbelievable that people are being forced to take N95s and replace them with surgical masks:

I have read that this is a continuing problem in Canadian hospitals, because they’re run by infection control droplet goons, who actively oppose the notion of airborne transmission. I have also heard anecdotes of officious PMC gatekeepers doing the same thing in the United States. So by “unbelievable,” I mean “all too believable.”

“Sinovac Provides Inadequate Shield Against Omicron in Hong Kong Study” [Bloomberg]. “Among a group of 25 people vaccinated with two Coronavac doses, none showed sufficient antibodies in their blood serum to neutralize the omicron variant, said a statement from a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong released late Tuesday night. The Beijing-based company then released its own findings on Wednesday, saying that seven of 20 people — 35% — who received two doses in its study showed sufficient antibodies to neutralize omicron. The picture improved somewhat when a booster shot was added into the mix, with Sinovac’s lab results showing that among a group of 48 people who had received three doses, 45 of them, or 94%, had sufficient antibodies to neutralize omicron, the company said. It didn’t elaborate on details of its study or whether findings were going to be published in a scientific journal.”

Is “disinformation” too harsh a word for what CDC and WHO have done with airborne transmission?

Whoops:

Be prepared:

Feral Hog Watch

“30–50 feral hogs? Why Twitter memes are more positive (and much faster) than you might think” [The Conversation]. “The seeming absurdity of the response, along with the format of the tweet, made for ideal meme material. The jokes soon began, and the meme quickly evolved and began referencing other Twitter memes.” • And very funny it was, too!

Zeitgeist Watch

No wonder:

Whatever pr0n is about, it’s not about sex.

Groves of Academe

This is a very sweet-tempered thread:

Why not, say I.

Black Injustice Tipping Point

Reminds me of Reconstruction:

Since that worked out so well…

Class Warfare

“‘Pollution everywhere’: how one-click shopping is creating Amazon warehouse towns” [Guardian]. “The Inland Empire region, where Parker lives, is now one of the biggest national hubs for the e-commerce industry. The changes it has undergone are being replicated in cities and towns across the country. To feed the one-click, one-day delivery demands of the nation, new warehouses are opening quickly, often in Black and brown neighborhoods. They sometimes chew up entire suburban blocks and communities in the process, crowding roadways with delivery trucks and vans and air space with cargo planes, clouding the air with more pollution. Located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, the Inland Empire has the third-largest concentration of Amazon warehouses in the US, according to a database of Amazon facilities Consumer Reports (CR) purchased from MWPVL, a logistics consulting firm.” • I wonder how earthquake-proof they are?

News of the Wired

I seem not to be wired today. Oh well!

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

SR writes: “November in So Vermont. We’ll eat the tops of the kale and the hens will finish
the rest of it before the first of the year. It’s been a warm fall so they are all still
out on the grass right now.”

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Readers, thank you for all the plant pictures!

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