2:00PM Water Cooler 1/18/2022 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Patient readers, extra rations today because I was on holiday yesterday. Enjoy –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

“Begging calls coming from a nest.”

State birds:


* * *

Politics

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

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

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson

Capitol Seizure

“The Endless Loop of Covid-19” [Peggy Noonan]. Not the topic of the column, but: “What I think will be much more important in the excavation of what happened on 1/6/21—and who was behind it—is the January 6 Committee, set to continue hearings in the early spring. There are reports they may be televised in prime time. If they’ve got the goods, and I hope they do. Only stark facts, not words, will break down the walls of denial that need to be broken.” • If they have the goods, and not a yarn diagram. Televized hearings worked during WaterGate. They did not work during Iran-Contra (and in fact Reagan emerged even stronger). One unexpected benefit of televised hearings might have been that some hitherto unheralded Democrat emerged from the pack, since the current 2024 crop is mighty thin. But the members look like duds, to me. The only one that stood out for me was Stephanie Murphy (Florida), and she’s retiring in 2022.

Biden Adminstration

“FTC, DOJ launch joint inquiry aimed at blocking illegal mergers” [The Hill]. “The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust division on Tuesday launched a new inquiry aimed at updating guidelines to block illegal mergers. The agencies are seeking public input to update guidelines over the next 60 days. ‘Illegal mergers can inflict a host of harms, from higher prices and lower wages to diminished opportunity, reduced innovation and less resiliency,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. ‘We need to understand why so many industries have too few competitors, and to think carefully about how to ensure our merger enforcement tools are fit for purpose in the modern economy,’ assistant attorney general Jonathan Kanter added. The inquiry comes amid a surge in new mergers, filings for which doubled between 2020 and 2021. The two agencies tasked with antitrust enforcement spent 18 months reviewing their joint guidance on vertical mergers during the Trump administration. The FTC voted last fall to withdraw those guidelines on a party-line vote. The Justice Department separately said it intends to review guidelines for both vertical mergers — referring to acquisitions within the same supply chain — and horizontal ones, which deal with competitors. The announcement Tuesday is one of the first major collaborations between Khan and Kanter, two nominees of President Biden who were strongly backed by progressives.” • Khan and Kanter held a presser today. Stoller live-tweeted it:

And:

As of this writing, I can’t find a link where people would make the comments Khan asked for. Perhaps it will come later on in Stoller’s thread, and/or an alert reader will post it.

* * *

“The Week Biden’s Agenda Hit a Wall” [Wall Street Journal]. “Taken together, Mr. Biden’s rough week put into sharp relief the limits of the president’s powers, as he finds himself with little recourse to tame a pandemic, halt inflation or coax victories out of a 50-50 Senate. It also cast a spotlight on key strategic decisions made by the president and his aides: Right out of the gate, Mr. Biden pursued a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid bill that some economists warned would spur inflation. He decided to push an employer-vaccine mandate that was legally questionable and politically controversial. And he cast passage of voting legislation as an absolute moral imperative, even though it would require persuading moderate Democrats to reverse longstanding positions on Senate.” • Joe Biden owes me six hundred bucks.

“4 things Biden got right in a bumpy first year” [Yahoo Finance]. Still, Biden has accomplished a few important things. Pervasive gloom over never-ending COVID and an inflation outbreak obscures an economy that’s still growing nicely and adding millions of new jobs. The daily turmoil of the Trump presidency is gone, and COVID protection is available to anybody willing to get vaccinated and boosted. Here are four things Biden has largely done right, even if many voters aren’t noticing…. Ending Trump’s trade wars…. The forgotten infrastructure bill… Stabilizing foreign policy…. Sensibility and empathy….”

“How the White House hopes to save Biden’s Build Back Better bill” [Reuters]. “Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to pivot from a long-shot attempt to pass voting rights legislation through the Senate, which begins on Tuesday, to renew talks in earnest with lawmakers on a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better bill, the sources said…. The revamped measure would likely run over $1 trillion, these people said, and could jettison hundreds of billions of dollars of funding for new social safety net programs like paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten and home healthcare…. Manchin indicated earlier this month that he supported $555 billion in climate spending, including production tax credits for solar and wind industries, which are seen as vital to ensure the United States reaches its 2030 emissions reduction goals, the sources said.” • The incredibly shrinking bill….

“Swing-district Democrats in need of a midterm reboot push leadership to break up BBB” [WaPo]. • It used to be the Republicans who were “the party of stupid.” These “moderates” seem to have forgotten why BBB was structured as a reconcilation package. Can they really imagine that Republicans will help them to midterm victories by passing individual bills?

* * *

Biden’s Covid speech:

“The Endless Loop of Covid-19” [Peggy Noonan]. “The president spoke to the nation about Omicron on Tuesday, but that speech was thin, reheated gruel.” Looks like Nooners and I are on the same page. And: “On testing: ‘I know this remains frustrating, believe me it’s frustrating to me, but we’re making improvements. . . . Google—excuse me—‘Covid test near me’ on Google to find the nearest site where you can get a test most often and free.’ I did this. The page that came up was cluttered with the propaganda we’ve all grown used to—the first words you see are “COVID-19 tests are available at no cost nationwide at health centers and select pharmacies.’ No admission of any difficulties. The first link offered for testing was a private company that barked in its automated message that walk-ins cannot be guaranteed service, and you cannot come if you are showing signs or symptoms of Covid or have experienced them in the past 10 days. The earliest test offered was in seven days. Omicron seems often to last about seven days….” And of course, Nooners being Nooners: “The biggest single thing he could say to convince American parents that he was on their side, being serious and trying to end this pandemic well is to put himself and his party in some jeopardy by finally, late in the game, going forcefully against the most reactionary force in American public life, the teachers unions.” • This is purest West Wing brain. I bet one of Biden’s advisors suggested it.

Hoisting this important comment from alert reader Dave in Austin. I appreciate especially the critique of the set and setting:

NCers should immediately Google “Biden’s speech 1/13/2022” and watch the original from C-Span. This is the saddest speech by a sitting President I’ve seen since… Lyndon. Biden looks and speaks like a broken man. The actual speech is much more devastating than Lambert’s line-by-line analysis.

First, the setting. Four people including Biden on the stage looking at a screen with the pictures of three armed service medical people dressed in camouflage fatigues not scrubs on it. The three other live participants come in first from stage rear-right led by a fourth person. All are masked. Biden enters with short tentative steps, unmasked, and as soon as he gets to his little school desk, he puts out his hand to steady himself as he goes around the desk to sit. The four desks are facing the wall of pictures, not the audience or each other. Why this un-Presidential setup? As soon as Biden begins to speak the answer was obvious. Normally the President would use a podium but Biden is too unsteady. The Oval Office is intimate and small, too small for the three other people, the big screens plus the camera crew.

So the use of the Old Executive Building auditorium. Biden’s desk faces toward the flag in the back right of the stage and he begins to speak. The camera is hidden behind the flag. And based on the one white dot in each of Biden’s eyes, the camera is also the only light source. His eyes never move up or down, left or right- the camera and a brightly lit screen with the text he is repeating are one. This is not a standard teleprompter which is very close to the speaker and betrayed by the speaker’s eye motion as the speaker follows the text near at hand.

Biden speaks as if he were speaking to children; no analysis, no taking ownership of the past year, no path forward. He holds up what appears to be an N 95 mask. He skips from one point to another, one “you should do this please” to another with no plan. No admission that the unmasked are reasonable people making a dangerous decision for themselves and their loved ones, a decision he understand but thinks is the wrong decision. No professional speech writer would have written this.

And not knowing how to pronounce Jeff Zeints’ name was an extraordinary indication of how poorly the speech was prepared- any pro would have the phonetic version of the name on the teleprompter.

Then when Biden ends and the next speakers don’t cue-up immediately, a reasonable and not hostile question comes from the press. Biden looks like a trapped animal, dispirited, alone. More questions follow, no baying from the press, no hostility and an odd sense of respect for the moment. Biden bows his head and says nothing; an old man, over his head and out of his element, silent, waiting. I’ve never felt more sympathy for Joe Biden as a man than I did at that moment.

Perhaps it dawned on Biden that Vax only was a bad mistake. Worse than Vietnam, if you go by U.S. body count. Or institutional damage.

But I’ve seen that performance once before. During the week of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and the USS Liberty President Johnson was carrying in his pocket a letter from a man of his social class from Oklahoma. The man had helped map Vietnam in the 50s and now his 18 year-old son was a Marine on the DMZ. So he did what a lot of fathers wanted to do. He got a ticket to Saigon and flew there. When he arrived he asked “How do I get to Da Nang?” got a ticket and went. When he landed in Da Nang he just walked up to the nearest Marine and said “My son is with the following regiment, battalion and company; how do I get out there? God love the Marines. Two helicopter rides later he was with his son in a bunker. All the Marines said the same thing: “This war is a loser”. The father went back to his home in Oklahoma and prayed. His prayers were not answered. So he wrote a letter to the President explaining who he was, who his son had been and simply asking “Why?” That was the month Johnson collapsed morally. From then on he spoke, looked and acted like Biden did on the 13th.

I’ll put money down that Biden will announce that will not run again within the next 12 months. Biden’s a pro after all. And he knows that the people waiting in the wings need the nod to move forward.

Biden also knows the people in the wings, far better than we do. It’s hard for me to imagine he would want any of them to move forward. Dave in Austin’s reaction that the speechwriting was awful is shared by me (and my new compadre, Nooners). But that’s so weird: If the West Wing can mobilize anything, it’s speechwriters. What the heck is going on up there?

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!). ; 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, 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.

I’m still puzzling over the PMC’s willful refusal to govern, which goes back at least to 2008 — Obama’s miserably inadequate stimulus package and the ACA debacle being two prime examples — and this article from Thomas Frank popped into my mind. It’s even more biting than Listen, Liberal. From Harper’s, “Nor a Lender Be“:

Sitting there in gilded Manhattan, I thought of all the abandoned factories and postindustrial desolation in the surrounding regions, and I mused on how, in such places, the Democratic establishment was receding into terminal insignificance. It had virtually nothing to say to the people who inhabit that land of waste and futility.

But for the faithful liberals at the Clinton Foundation gathering in New York, none of that mattered. The party’s deficit in relevance to average citizens was more than made up by its massive surplus in moral virtue. Here, inside the theater, the big foundations and the great fashion magazines were staging a pageant of goodness unquestionable, and the liberal class was swimming happily in its home element.

They knew which things were necessary to make up a liberal movement, and all of the ingredients were present: well-meaning billionaires; grant makers and grant recipients; Hollywood stars who talked about social media; female entrepreneurs from the Third World; and, of course, an audience of hundreds, who clapped and cheered enthusiastically every time one of their well-graduated leaders wandered across the stage. The performance of liberalism was so realistic one could almost believe it lived.

If the primary social relation (funders aside) between liberal Democrat electeds and Democrat NGOs is sycophantic groupthink, and the primary expression of that groupthink is performative virtue signalling, one can see why these components of the Democrat Party are incapable of governing, let alone politics. We can see these tendencies in RussiaGate, but they are visible all the more strongly in vaccination policy, where vaccination and virtue are equated, and Fauci embodies both. Note that with Vax only, nothing more is required of liberal Democrats than, essentially, the consumption of a consumer product. Nothing fundamental will change.

* * *

Look in the mirror (1):

Look in the mirror (2):

“CNN’s Paul Begala: Democrats don’t have ‘bad leaders,’ they have ‘bad followers’” [FOX]. Lot of dunking on Begala. Here’s the context: “The former Clinton aide went on to cite an essay he had read from former MLK confidant Andrew Young which he recalled an exchange he had with the civil rights icon after President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed he used all his power to get the Civil Rights Act passed and that he didn’t have enough political capital to tackle voting rights. ‘As they left the White House, Andy Young’s words. He said, ‘I asked- softly asked Dr. King, what he thought. He said, ’I think we got to go get the president some power,’ Begala told Harlow. ‘And so you know what they did? They organized. These are Andy Young’s words, ‘We mobilize the churches, the universities, the labor unions, the business community, a coalition of people of goodwill.’ ‘In other words, those of us who want to say voting rights- we need to get to work. I do think Biden is putting everything behind this. But he needs- he needs better followers, so he needs all of us in the game as well,’ Begala added.” • This is Obama’s “make me do it” all over again. Of course, this is what the Sanders campaign did, and the collective Democrat leadership, especially the electeds, wasn’t having any of it. And here we are!

2022

“Beto O’Rourke announces $7.2 million in fundraising in first 46 days of campaign; Greg Abbott touts $18.9 million over last six months” [Texas Tribune]. “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke raised $7.2 million in the first 46 days of his campaign, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott raked in $18.9 million over the last six months as his war chest topped $65 million…. The figures confirm what has long been considered the case: O’Rourke is a strong fundraiser, but he is up against a juggernaut in Abbott, at least when it comes to the money the governor has saved up. O’Rourke did not release his cash-on-hand number, but he was effectively starting from scratch when he launched his campaign in November, and his $7.2 million period means his cash on hand remains a fraction of Abbott’s reserves. Abbott had $55 million saved up for his reelection campaign at the end of June.”

“How a GOP majority in Congress might handle Biden in 2023” [Politico]. “[T]here’s no unified GOP agenda for voters to examine this fall — other than an up-or-down vote on Biden and congressional Democrats’ record. Republicans aren’t sure what will happen next if they actually win.”

2024

“Second gentleman Emhoff acts as public link to White House” [Associated Press]. “The couple’s biggest evening challenge, he said, is sometimes settling on what to watch on Netflix — especially when there are so many choices that they never actually make one. Emhoff said the couple will finally think, ‘We should watch that.’ ‘And then we realize it’s getting late, and we’ve had a long day, and we’ve got a big day tomorrow,’ he said, ‘and we just don’t watch it.’” • Hmm.

“RNC moves to require presidential candidates to skip traditional commission debates” [The Hill]. “The Republican National Committee (RNC) alerted the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) on Thursday that it plans to require GOP presidential nominees not to attend debates run by the commission going forward. ‘The RNC will initiate the process of amending the Rules of the Republican Party at our upcoming Winter Meeting to prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in CPD-sponsored debates,’ wrote Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill.” • Swell. The debates are awful and everybody knows it. I only wish that giving the debates back to the League of Women Voters was what the RNC had in mind.

* * *

“Eric Adams, the Mayor of Big Real Estate” [Ross Barkan]. ““Close the door” was the message Eric Adams had for the City of New York after its deadliest fire in 30 years. Fire safety, Adams argued, comes with personal responsibility. Since malfunctioning doors allowed the fire to spread, along with space heaters that sparked the blaze, Adams believes a public education campaign can ensure 17 people don’t die of smoke inhalation in an apartment building ever again. It was no accident Adams refused, even when pressed by reporters, to hold the building owners of Twin Parks North West in the Bronx accountable. One of them, Rick Gropper, was a member of his transition team, offering advice on housing issues. Adams said on Thursday he had not spoken to Gropper since the fire tore through the Bronx building.” • Filing stories on Adams here, for obvious reasons. “Hero Veep Cop Saves Democrat Party.” OK, OK, I’m spitballing. But who else is there? Tim Kaine? Again?

“A pro-business retired cop sparks liberal revolt in first few weeks as mayor” [Politico]. “The intra-party dispute is somewhat unconventional: Adams, the city’s second Black mayor who won with deep union support, often speaks about his time as a dishwasher and one of six children whose single mother held low-wage jobs. His biography makes him an uneasy target for the left, as he is keenly aware. ‘I was a dishwasher. I went to school at night. My mom was a cook in a daycare center,’ Adams said during a TV interview last week, when asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s response to his remark about ‘low-skill’ workers. “The blue-collar workers run this city in a real, productive way. So the word police are going to try to criticize. Eric is so focused and disciplined, and won’t be distracted by Twitter.’” • “The word police.” Ouch.

“‘His First Week in Office Has Been Quite Extraordinary’” [New York Magazine]. There is this: “After first announcing his brother would be a deputy NYPD commissioner, Adams downscaled his proposed responsibilities to running the mayor’s personal security detail, and he agreed to abide by whatever guidance comes from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board. ‘I need someone that I trust around me during these times for my security, and I trust my brother deeply,’ he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.” • Nimble.

Trump Legacy

“Fed scrambled to make sense of Trump’s 2016 election, transcripts show” [Reuters]. “‘According to some interpretations of the Book of Revelations, when three unusual events occur together, they may be a sign that the apocalypse is near. Let’s take stock,’ St. Louis Fed President James Bullard joked, referring to the final book in the Bible’s New Testament and placing Trump’s victory in a category with the Chicago Cubs long-awaited World Series victory that year and folk singer Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize. ‘Does the recent election usher in a regime change with respect to growth prospects for the U.S. economy? The short answer to this is ‘maybe,’ and we are treating this as an upside risk,’ he said, according to one of the transcripts, which were released by the Fed on Friday. Fed staff promptly tried to build best guesses about whether the Republican businessman would follow through with tax cuts and fiscal spending, tariffs on trading partners or new immigration rules. The market reaction – a jump in stock prices – took some at the central bank by surprise, while others noted that their business contacts ‘used words like ‘exuberance’ and ‘euphoria,” because they expected lighter regulation and lower taxes, said Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed at the time.”

Hard to imagine any liberal Democrat achieving this level of engagement:

“I just want to win this one for the fans.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Autocracies outdo democracies on public trust – survey” [Reuters]. “The biggest losers of public trust over the last year were institutions in Germany, down 7 points to 46, Australia at 53 (-6), the Netherlands at 57 (-6), South Korea at 42 (-5) and the United States at 43 (-5). By contrast, public trust in institutions in China stood at 83%, up 11 points, 76% in United Arab Emirates (+9) and 66% in Thailand (+5). The trillions of dollars of stimulus spent by the world’s richest nations to support their economies through the pandemic have failed to instil a lasting sense of confidence, the survey suggested.”

#COVID19

Case count by United States regions:

Quite a drop! I’m reluctant to call a peak, since today follows a weekend, when data is bad, and the weekend itself will increase cases. If you look at previous peaks, you’ll see we’ve had declines, followed by rises, followed by final declines.That said, it would sure be nice if “rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick” applied, but we can’t know that yet. Previous peaks — how small the early ones look now — have been roughly symmetrical on either side. But the scale of this peak, and the penetration into the population, is unprecendented. I broke down the national aggregates into regional numbers, to see if I saw a pattern:

Northeast:

First in, first out. Looks like the MWRA is a good check.

West:

I looked for California wastewater data, but the data seems to be weekly (why??), and the last date is 1/12/2022. If anyone has better data, please post in comments.

Midwest:

South:

The official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) was completely exploded. What a surprise!

* * *

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

Continues encouraging (this data is not updated. I mistakenly cropped the data off when I posted it on Friday).

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 Reports (PDFs), “Rapid Riser” counties:

I don’t see much improvement. There is more yellow and green in Lousiana, a little more pink in the Northeast. Kansas (not Nebraska) is worse.

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Still brutal. (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: 874,347 869,212. Oops, dropped the last digit….

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

Might as well check out where we go, in case we bring something back (as from Italy to New York in 2020). This is a log scale. (Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away. (The data is from 2019, and so subject to subsequent events, but this is the best I can find.)

The excess deaths charts will appear weekly, on Friday.

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States NY Empire State Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The New York Empire State Manufacturing Index plunged to -0.7 in January of 2022 from 31.9 in December, well below market forecasts of 25. The reading pointed to the first contraction in NY manufacturing activity since the second quarter of 2020, as demand for goods declined amid the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant. It also ends 18 straight months of expansion.” • Where Omicron hit first.

* * *

Tech: “Here’s what it’s like watching an NBA game courtside — in the metaverse” [CNBC]. “[Rob Shaw, Meta’s director of sports leagues and media partnerships] envisions immersive VR ads and allowing users to purchase avatar jerseys from a metaverse NBA store. Then, for an extra fee, private live-screening options. There are ideas around a sports bar courtside seat experience and VIP options that include watching games with an NBA legend or celebrity. ‘I do think sponsorship can be redefined,’ Shaw said. ‘The brand activation that is historically limited in-venue suddenly becomes more accessible and customizing to the metaverse.’” • Fascinating to watch capitalism create digital scarcity.

The Bezzle:

Of course, when the Supreme Court legalizes the crypto bros copyright theory, I’ll need to refile this under “Tech.”

The Bezzle: “The crypto-communists behind the Web3 revolution” [Protocol]. “a recent dispute among some of the industry’s top figures have served as a reminder of digital currency’s libertarian-anarchist roots. Alongside the hedge-fund cowboys arbitraging and leveraging their way to fresh fortunes, there’s a culture war being waged, with big implications for anyone thinking that the blockchain is just a cool way to lower the cost of cross-border remittances. Hidden in the army of moneymen is a fifth column of revolutionaries. Meet the new crypto-communists. The crypto culture war exploded into a full-scale tech feud as 2021 was ending when Twitter co-founder and Block CEO Jack Dorsey lashed out at critics who suggested that he was a Web 2.0 remnant trying to reinvent himself as a Web3 pioneer. His now-famous tweet — “You don’t own ‘web3.’ The VCs and their LPs do.” — triggered a bitter tit-for-tat with Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz, who blocked Dorsey on Twitter, then taunted him for weeks. Andreessen’s firm has backed Coinbase, OpenSea and other crypto firms that many view as centralizing the crypto world. Dorsey has made a fortune off of the VC-backed Block, but he’s also backed decentralized crypto projects that don’t seem to have any near-term payoff. One way of looking at crypto is the classic alchemy where Silicon Valley transmutes technological disruption into gold; the other prizes disruption as a goal in and of itself. It’s easy to see the ideological fault lines between the two — even the historical resonances between the compromising Mensheviks, who were willing to work with less-purist parties to bring about change, and the hardline Bolsheviks.” • Fun. Perhaps a little….. glib.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 52 Neutral (previous close: 57 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 59 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 18 at 1:20pm.

Rapture Index: Closes down one on Persia (Iran). “Iran has been less active on the world stage” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 185. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.)

Poetry Nook

Baudelaire:

Book Nook

“Implications for the Economy of Biological & Cultural Human Evolution” [Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality]. “[W]e should not forget that this book, Machiavelli’s The Prince, was hastily written as an audition for a job in the post-coup Medici régime of Florence (and also as an attempt to make them realize that he was a useful tool they could use, rather than an obstacle to be tortured)—not one in which every comma was labored over to ensure that the key esoteric message was conveyed to a small hermetic circle of cognoscenti while escaping the notice of casual or even careful-but-not-initiate readers.” • So Machiavelli, as a writer, was more like four–cents-a-word Philip K. Dick than, say, Oscar Wilde (“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma. In the afternoon—well, I put it back again”).

Zeitgeist Watch

Too meta (and I will never forgive Zuckerberg for hijacking that perfectly good word for his vile brand):

Black Injustice Tipping Point

Happy anniversary (1):

Happy anniversary (2):

Class Warfare

“The week in US unions, January 8-15, 2022” [Jonah Furman, Who Gets the Bird]. “UFCW Local 7 took the mantle of organizing the largest strike in the country, when some 8,400 grocery workers walked off the job Wednesday morning, beginning a three-week strike at nearly 80 Kroger-owned King Soopers grocery stores in the greater Denver area. It’s the first of many grocery contract expirations this year, with 100,000 workers covered by the nascent west coast UFCW coalition (a bit of a misnomer – it includes locals in Colorado, Southern California, and Washington). Several thousand could theoretically join the Local 7 strike as contracts expire on a rolling basis over the next few weeks. It’s the largest private sector strike in Colorado since the last time grocery workers struck King Soopers in 1996 (when they also struck Safeway). BCTGM Local 26 members who represent some King Soopers workers in Colorado voted to authorize their own strike as well.” And: “I don’t usually cover non-US unions, but there’s a potentially big development in the Mexican labor movement at a big US-based company that is really worth following. More than 6,000 GM workers in Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico, at one of GM’s most profitable plants, will be voting on February 1-2 on a new union to represent them after they voted to abandon their existing contract in August. The initiative is being driven by autoworkers organizing against the entrenched corrupt/company/protection union that’s a part of CTM, the big politically influential Mexican labor federation, and comes in the wake of new domestic labor law requiring the right to vote on union contracts and to “legitimate” all existing contracts by 2023 (under the assumption that many of these are not actually legitimate union contracts that workers approve of); after a tampered vote in April of last year, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai intervened under the labor provisions of the new USMCA and in a vote last August, the contract was rejected. Now a new independent autoworkers union, SINTIIA, is on the ballot to be an actually representative union bargaining legitimate contracts with GM. The upshot is this could be a big development for independent unionism in Mexico, with all the obvious ramifications for runaway manufacturing and other shops from the US, feeding the international race to the bottom.” • This is a really good weekly round-up, and I recommend you subscribe to it.

News of the Wired

“It’s pronounced ‘GIF’” [Protocol]. “It’s GIF, with a hard ‘G.’ I don’t make the rules, and neither does the guy who invented the file format in the first place. This week, the internet decided. Out of 114,495 votes (and rising), a whopping 80% said GIF sounds more like ‘gift’ than it does a brand of peanut butter. The pronunciation debate was the first question on Neal Agarwal’s website, Let’s Settle This. Among the other long-debated questions posed to users: whether cereal is a soup (no, by a landslide), ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ is better (‘Wars’ for the win) and which way you should roll your toilet paper (over, in a truly crushing victory).”

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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 (ChetG):

ChetG writes: “The best icicles (in my opinion) owe their existence to plants, bushes, and trees, so I figure the icicles might earn a place in your Water Cooler. The first is a fine example of pointillism (or sunlight highlighting points); and the second could be considered a decorated Christmas tree. The next-door PA game land is part-owned or -leased by Penn State, which uses the land as a water recycling system. Consequently, in the winter there are wonderful examples of ice formations. More so years ago, when the land was somewhat more wild, but still impressive today.”

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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!

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