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2:00PM Water Cooler 2/24/2022 | naked capitalism

Gun News


“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

Lambert here: I hate to go all airport bookstore business section here and quote Sun Tzu, but nevertheless: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Does our foreign policy establishment know its enemy? Do they know themselves? My answer is no, and no.

Of course, of course:

Let us consult The Great Runes:

Yes indeed. (Kaputtgehn is a good word; it suggests operational breakage.

* * *

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.

* * *

2022


* * *

“Democrats, Speak to Working-Class Discontent” [Stanley Greenberg, WaPo]. “My plan is to focus on working-class voters—white, Black, Hispanic, Asian—and figure out every legal and ethical way possible for Democratic candidates to regain even a few extra points of support from them…. Today, the Democrats’ working-class problem isn’t limited to white workers. The party is also losing support from working-class Blacks and Hispanics—a daunting 12 points off their margin since 2016, according to Ruy Teixeira…. In our message tests, voters are to hear that Democrats are dissatisfied with an economy where many of the voters themselves live paycheck to paycheck. They are that Democrats prioritize big changes in the economy and who holds power. They are Democrats worry about community safety and crime and want to fund and reform police.” • And no wonder. Chronicle of a debacle foretold. Worth a read for the timeline.

“Democrats are engaged in a ‘new politics of evasion’ that could cost them in 2024, new study says” [WaPo]. “The Democrats’ first duty, [Democratic policy analysts William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck] argue, should be to protect democracy by winning in 2024; everything else should be subordinated to that objective. But they argue that the Democrats are not positioned to achieve that objective, that, instead, the party is ‘in the grip of myths that block progress toward victory’ and that too many Democrats are engaged in a “new politics of evasion, the refusal to confront the unyielding arithmetic of electoral success.’ ‘Too many Democrats have evaded this truth and its implications for the party’s agenda and strategy,” the authors add. ‘They have been led astray by three persistent myths: that ‘people of color’ think and act in the same way; that economics always trumps culture; and that a progressive majority is emerging.’ Galston and Kamarck served in the Clinton administration, and Kamarck is a long-standing member of the Democratic National Committee. Both are scholars at the Brookings Institution, and their new study is published on the website of the Progressive Policy Institute, where they are contributing authors…. ‘Democrats,’ they write, ‘must consider the possibility that Hispanics will turn out to be the Italians of the 21st century — family oriented, religious, patriotic, striving to succeed in their adopted country and supportive of public policies that expand economic opportunity without dictating results.’ They note that ultimately, ‘Italians became Republicans. Democrats must rethink their approach if they hope to retain majority support among Hispanics.’ They also use the case of Hispanic voters to make a larger point. ‘The phrase ‘people of color’ assembles highly diverse groups under a single banner. The belief that they will march together depends on assumptions that are questionable at best.’” • I so hate the use of the word “scholar” in contexts like this.

“Dems fear for democracy. Their big donors aren’t funding one of its main election groups.” [Politico]. “Democratic secretaries of state say they’re at the vanguard of protecting democracy, pushing back against election disinformation and attempts to suppress the vote. But while the party’s base has largely rallied behind them, its biggest donors have not. During the last six months of 2021, just one person, Democratic financier George Soros, gave more than $25,000 to the main association involved in electing the party’s candidates for secretaries of state, according to a review of the group’s filings. Four other individuals gave $25,000 precisely. The absence of more big checks is notable considering that the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, a 527 organization, has no limit on the size of the donations it can receive.” • It’s almost as if…. the oligarchs aren’t all that worried about democracy.

2024

“Rikers Guards, Newly Emboldened by Adams, Are Punishing Inmates Who Speak Out” [Curbed]. “When Eric Adams took office in January, he replaced [Vincent] Schiraldi with Louis A. Molina and rolled back the policy the former commissioner had implemented to reduce the abuse of the unlimited sick-leave policy by corrections officers, which had required a doctor’s note. He also fired a high-profile investigator who had begun tackling a years-long backlog of use-of-force allegations by guards against detainees and has not appointed anyone to replace her. While it’s difficult to say exactly how these changes have affected the jail in just one month, removing the policy to verify sick-leave requests likely did not help with the chronic understaffing. But the corrections officers are relieved. ‘We’re very happy that the sick-leave policy was reverted back to the way it was supposed to be,’ Boscio said…. ‘You can just die here waiting for court,’ says ‘L.A.,’ a 39-year-old who’s being held in a medical observation unit on Rikers. ‘It’s like torture.’ (He asked that we not use his name, for fear of retaliation.) L.A. and others in his unit have also been participating in a series of hunger strikes and other actions to draw attention to the conditions there.” • Yikes.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Redistricting and Competition in Congressional Elections” [Sabato’s Crystal Ball]. “In this article, I examine the impact of redistricting on the competitiveness of House elections over the past 5 decades. I show that, based on presidential voting patterns, the proportion of districts that strongly favor one party or the other has doubled while the proportion that are closely divided has fallen by 50%. However, this long-term decline in the competitiveness of House districts is not primarily a result of redistricting. In fact, the same trend is evident in U.S. states and counties, whose boundaries do not change over time the way congressional districts do. Despite the growing proportion of districts that strongly favor one party based on presidential voting, the actual margins of House elections have changed very little over the past 50 years, and partisan turnover has fallen only slightly, if at all. The explanation for these contradictory trends is that the personal advantage of incumbency has declined dramatically since the 1980s: The ability of House incumbents to attract votes across party lines and thereby insulate themselves from competition is now much more limited than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.”

#COVID19

Case count by United States regions:

Rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick; the slope of the downward curve is more or less the same as the upward curve. 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 unprecedented. I wonder if there will be plateau when BA.2 takes hold. Since the Northeast has form, that is probably the region to watch for this behavior first. I have added a Fauci Line to congratulate the Biden administration for having passed the former guy’s second highest peak on the way down.

The official narrative was “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! This time, it may be different. But who knows?

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

Continues encouraging (and independent from the CDC).

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:

What’s with Idaho? Not ski resorts, my first thought, at least from a cursory look at the map. Of course, Idaho is not populous, so a small rise in absolute numbers could be considered “rapid.” Maine is a data problem. (Remember that these are rapid riser counties. A county that moves from red to green is not covid-free; the case count just isnt, well, rising rapidly.)

The previous release:

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission:

Yet more speckles of improvement in the solid red.

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Sea of green once more, except for the Northern Marianas. From the point of view of our hospital-centric health care system, green everywhere means the emergency is over (and to be fair, this is reinforced by case count and wastewater). However, community transmission is still pervasive, which means that long Covid, plus continuing vascular damage, are not over. (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: 966,530 963,371. A continous drop in the death date, which is good news. Sadly, as of February 22, 1,000,000 – 960,157 = 39,843, and 39,843 / 6 days until Biden’s State of the Union Speech is 6,640.5, so I guess we won’t break a million in time. I was hoping for a ribbon cutting ceremony of some kind. Maybe the West Wing staff could have staged a photo op with funny hats and noisemakers. Walensky’s staff could have joined in by Zoom. Ah well, nevertheless.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits decreased by 17 thousand to 232 thousand in the week ended February 19th, from a revised 248 thousand in the previous period and compared with market expectations of 235 thousand.”

National Activity: “United States Chicago Fed National Activity Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Chicago Fed National Activity Index in the US increased to +0.69 in January of 2022 from a revised 0.07 in the previous month, suggesting a pick up in economic activity. All four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index made positive contributions in January, and two categories improved from December.”

* * *

Shipping: “Ukraine risk for shipping hinges on sanctions escalation” [Lloyd’s List]. “Financial markets wobbled on Tuesday in the wake of the Russian actions and the response from Western governments, but even as oil prices edged towards $100 a barrel the impact on shipping markets remained muted. Whether that continues to be the case depends on whether sanctions are escalated beyond the initial first tranche imposed by the US, Europe and the UK. The Western sanctions are not — yet — the “massive” response that the West has promised if Russia invades Ukraine. Restrictions on the sale of Russian debt, the freezing of assets of Russian oligarchs, banks and parliamentarians will not affect shipping operations beyond the watching brief already in place across maritime boardrooms.”

Commodities: “Oil Tanker Owners Avoid Russian Crude Amid Ukraine Crisis” [Bloomberg]. “Oil tanker owners are avoiding offering their ships to collect crude from Russia as they wait to see what sanctions the country might face after invading Ukraine. Two shipbrokers and three owners said owners are currently unwilling to make offers to collect Russian barrels. The owners said that oil-freight transportation costs are also very low anyway, making it even more unattractive to do so. Russia relies on tankers for about two thirds of its crude exports meaning that any prolonged disruption to shipping would be more serious. The country’s oil has already been already selling at the deepest discounts in years to an international benchmark as traders fret over how the Ukraine situation will play out.”

Commodities: “China lifts all wheat-import restrictions on Russia amid Ukraine crisis” [South China Morning Post]. “China has announced it is fully open to Russian wheat imports, in the latest sign of their strengthening bilateral ties as the Ukraine crisis is unfolding before a global audience and in the wake of fresh sanctions being imposed on Moscow….. China had previously restricted imports of Russian grain due to phytosanitary concerns – measures for the control of plant diseases, especially in agricultural crops – and China’s latest customs statement also said Russia would take all measures to mitigate infestation risks. China began allowing large-scale wheat imports from Russia’s far east region in October, with China’s largest agribusiness firm, the state-owned Cofco, buying the first batch of 667 metric tonnes (1.47 million pounds).”

Commodities: “Shipping braces for impact as Russia-Ukraine crisis intensifies” [Freight Waves]. “Military action could curtail ship movements in the Black Sea, a key transit point for dry bulk exports. In fact, Russian military exercises have already done so. VesselsValue analyzed ship-movement data and found that Russian naval maneuvers ‘visibly impacted traffic.; Russian and Ukrainian waters of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov were designated ‘listed areas’ by the insurance industry’s War Risk Council on Feb. 15, meaning higher war risk insurance premiums. According to BRS [brokerage], the Black Sea area was the world’s second-largest grain-exporting region in 2021, with 111.2 million tons of cargo; Russia and Ukraine accounted for 30% of global wheat exports, and Ukraine accounted for 16% of global corn exports. Ukrainian corn could be first in the line of fire. BRS noted that by the end of January, Ukraine had already exported 71% of wheat predicted for the current marketing period but just 32% of its predicted corn exports. Agribulk exports face risks on land as well, not just at sea. ‘An attack or land grab by Russia could sharply reduce grain production as farmers flee the conflict, agricultural infrastructure and equipment are damaged, and the region’s economy is paralyzed,’ said BRS. “A substantial part of Ukraine’s most productive agricultural land is in the east and therefore vulnerable to any potential Russian attack.’ According to Braemar ACM Shipbroking, this landside risk could affect the coming wheat marketing season. ‘The main grain-producing regions are notably located along the Russian border,’ said Braemar, which pointed out that the military threat coincides with the beginning of the spring wheat planting period.” • How fascinating that the insurance industry has a “War Risk Council.” I wonder if it works like LIBOR used to?

The Bezzle: “Ex-Goldman Sachs banker’s 1MDB trial to be paused on new evidence disclosure” [Financial Times]. “The trial of a former banker at Goldman Sachs charged in connection with the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal will be put on hold after US prosecutors admitted they failed to provide thousands of documents to the defence team. Prosecutors wrote in a letter submitted to Judge Margo Brodie late on Tuesday night that they had just learned a Department of Justice team had failed to provide them and Ng with approximately 15,500 documents from email accounts and a laptop belonging to Tim Leissner, a former Goldman Sachs partner and colleague of Ng’s who has been the government’s star witness. Prosecutors called it an ‘inexcusable’ mistake, according to the letter.” • Welcome to the Third World…

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 19 Extreme Fear (previous close: 27 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 38 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 24 at 12:35pm. Looks like Putin got Mr. Market’s attention.

Games

“These So-Called ‘Casual’ Gamers Are Actually Hardcore Strategists” [Kotaku]. ” In the gaming community, anime gacha games were seen as cheap lotteries for people with more anime thirst than sense. Yet that description fit none of the gacha players I knew in real life. They were programmers and administrative assistants. They were college students and school teachers. And many of them were masterful strategists in the games they played. Despite being popularly maligned as “casual,” many mobile game players track in-game events, min-max using custom tools, and study the tactics of streamers to improve their gaming prowess. They think about mobile games on a deeply strategic level, and the games they were playing required just as much investment as the games played by mainstream console players. This is because fully leveling a character in a gacha game can take anywhere from weeks to months. And not all of the leveling materials could be collected every day. It’s common for one type of material to only be farmable on Mondays, and a different material farmable on Tuesdays.” • “Farmable”?

Zeitgeist Watch

“Thank you for inhaling our virions!” (1):

“Thank you for inhaling our virions!” (2):

Walensky is a fine example of elite upspeak; listen, if you can stand it. But listen also to her logic: She’s saying that college students have a higher tolerance for risk, and therefore should not have to wear masks indoors. So, (a) drunken frat parties in ill-ventilated basement rooms are jake with the angels, but (b) wear a mask when you go home to see the grandparents after you’ve already contracted the virus (and while you’re still asymptomatic). The stupid, it b-u-r-r-r-r-r-n-n-n-n-n-s-s-s-s!!!!!!

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“A “Tragedy of Capitalism”? BLM Faces Growing Questions Over Millions in Donations” [Jonathan Turley]., “The California Department of Justice recently issued a notice to Black Lives Matter not only that it was in violation of state law over the failure to disclose financial records, but also that its leadership could be personally liable for the resulting fines for failing to account for $60 million in donations. Indiana also is questioning the organization, and Amazon has suspended BLM donations due to concerns over the handling and reporting of donations by the group’s leadership. The problem is determining who that leadership is on an organization racked by internal conflicts, resignations and scandals. The move, however, highlights a glaring contrast to how state officials have treated BLM as opposed to the far more aggressive efforts targeting organizations like the National Rifle Association. New York is seeking to dissolve the NRA for some of the same allegations leveled against BLM, including the use of funds by BLM officials for personal benefits. I would oppose an effort to dissolve BLM, just as I oppose the efforts to dissolve the NRA. However, the favored status afforded to BLM by the news media, corporations and state regulators has magnified the problems for the organization. There are also obvious free speech and association questions raised by such selective or disparate enforcement policies.” • Hardly a tragedy for capitalism; in fact, an enormous success (and ia success in the same way that NGOs generally are a success, except with a virtually Trumpian crassness and disregard for cut-outs and money launderers norms). Well done, “voices.”

Class Warfare

“The PRO Act Won’t Solve Labor’s Woes” [Jonah Furman, Jacobin]. “he gist of the AFL-CIO response to this year’s predictably bad news was, “We need labor law reform. Pass the PRO Act!” That press release came out the day after the majority party’s own voting rights reform, backed by the president, had failed in the face of the filibuster. No major organizing drives to point to, no plan to build density in core industries, no reallocation of budgets, no member-to-member education or outreach programs — just a wish that the ruling class would change the rules. Let’s be real: the PRO Act isn’t going to pass anytime soon. We need a plan B where we figure out how to organize under current conditions. Besides, even if the PRO Act were enacted tomorrow, a union revival wouldn’t be automatic — it would take organizing plans, analyses, campaigns, budgets. So where are they? The labor movement is not dead; its 14 million members are a base to build from. But those who command the union treasuries can’t just whine for legislation — they have to get back on the horse and try to organize. And those of us who have their ear (and pay their salaries) must help them find the courage.”

Ka-ching:

“Starbucks diversity chief seeks ‘a sense of belonging’ among workers amid union push” [Yahoo News]. “In an interview with Yahoo Finance, chief inclusion and diversity officer Dennis Brockman insisted the company — which has openly lobbied against the union push — is dedicated to making all its employees ‘feel valued’ and have ‘a sense of belonging’ while working at Starbucks.” They say that the best things in life are free….. More: “‘Starbucks is pro-partner, we’re not anti-union,’ said Brockman, a 14-year Starbucks veteran who’s held his current job for about a year who joined the company as a District Manager in Kansas City. ‘We want every single partner who works for Starbucks to love working for this organization,’ he added, using the term Starbucks calls its workers. ‘Our mission and our values is what has guided us for the last first 50 years and it will continue to guide us.’: • Key words being “every” and “single.”

“Guy Debord, an Untimely Aristocrat” [Theory, Culture, and Society]. Locked, so Abtract only: “This essay excavates the pre-capitalist influences of the thought of Guy Debord, French postwar critical theorist and founding member of the Situationist International. Tracing a lineage of what can be described as Debord’s aristocratic sensibility, we discover not simply an aesthetic approach to navigating social life, or guidelines for outmanoeuvring an adversary, but also contempt for honest labour, monetary transactions in cultural affairs, and conventional political gestures. Together these themes remain part of a legacy of an aristocratic past, one that, as will be examined here, informed Debord’s acrimony towards his own mid-20th-century moment. The following discussion will advance a genealogy of Debord’s thinking with these themes from late antiquity to the Italian Renaissance, and finally with an extended examination of the baroque, a concept that helps advance Debord’s diagnostic concept of the society of the spectacle.”

News of the Wired

“The Nocturnals” [The Atlantic]. “Many of the people I spoke with had felt trapped in contemporary life—depressed, on edge, and guilty for feeling that way in the first place. But then, each came to the realization: It doesn’t need to be this way. There’s already a time when the noise and chaos of society falls away. They just need to be awake for it.” • I guess I’ve got my own little form of identity politics here… But you don’t hear introverts screaming to “Let ‘er rip!”, do you?

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

Truckers

I believe Sefcik is also a convoy organizer. He seems more serious than Bolus (which isn’t saying much):

Biden Adminstration

Lambert here: I hate to go all airport bookstore business section here and quote Sun Tzu, but nevertheless: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Does our foreign policy establishment know its enemy? Do they know themselves? My answer is no, and no.

Of course, of course:

Let us consult The Great Runes:

Yes indeed. (Kaputtgehn is a good word; it suggests operational breakage.

* * *

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.

* * *

2022


* * *

“Democrats, Speak to Working-Class Discontent” [Stanley Greenberg, WaPo]. “My plan is to focus on working-class voters—white, Black, Hispanic, Asian—and figure out every legal and ethical way possible for Democratic candidates to regain even a few extra points of support from them…. Today, the Democrats’ working-class problem isn’t limited to white workers. The party is also losing support from working-class Blacks and Hispanics—a daunting 12 points off their margin since 2016, according to Ruy Teixeira…. In our message tests, voters are to hear that Democrats are dissatisfied with an economy where many of the voters themselves live paycheck to paycheck. They are that Democrats prioritize big changes in the economy and who holds power. They are Democrats worry about community safety and crime and want to fund and reform police.” • And no wonder. Chronicle of a debacle foretold. Worth a read for the timeline.

“Democrats are engaged in a ‘new politics of evasion’ that could cost them in 2024, new study says” [WaPo]. “The Democrats’ first duty, [Democratic policy analysts William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck] argue, should be to protect democracy by winning in 2024; everything else should be subordinated to that objective. But they argue that the Democrats are not positioned to achieve that objective, that, instead, the party is ‘in the grip of myths that block progress toward victory’ and that too many Democrats are engaged in a “new politics of evasion, the refusal to confront the unyielding arithmetic of electoral success.’ ‘Too many Democrats have evaded this truth and its implications for the party’s agenda and strategy,” the authors add. ‘They have been led astray by three persistent myths: that ‘people of color’ think and act in the same way; that economics always trumps culture; and that a progressive majority is emerging.’ Galston and Kamarck served in the Clinton administration, and Kamarck is a long-standing member of the Democratic National Committee. Both are scholars at the Brookings Institution, and their new study is published on the website of the Progressive Policy Institute, where they are contributing authors…. ‘Democrats,’ they write, ‘must consider the possibility that Hispanics will turn out to be the Italians of the 21st century — family oriented, religious, patriotic, striving to succeed in their adopted country and supportive of public policies that expand economic opportunity without dictating results.’ They note that ultimately, ‘Italians became Republicans. Democrats must rethink their approach if they hope to retain majority support among Hispanics.’ They also use the case of Hispanic voters to make a larger point. ‘The phrase ‘people of color’ assembles highly diverse groups under a single banner. The belief that they will march together depends on assumptions that are questionable at best.’” • I so hate the use of the word “scholar” in contexts like this.

“Dems fear for democracy. Their big donors aren’t funding one of its main election groups.” [Politico]. “Democratic secretaries of state say they’re at the vanguard of protecting democracy, pushing back against election disinformation and attempts to suppress the vote. But while the party’s base has largely rallied behind them, its biggest donors have not. During the last six months of 2021, just one person, Democratic financier George Soros, gave more than $25,000 to the main association involved in electing the party’s candidates for secretaries of state, according to a review of the group’s filings. Four other individuals gave $25,000 precisely. The absence of more big checks is notable considering that the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, a 527 organization, has no limit on the size of the donations it can receive.” • It’s almost as if…. the oligarchs aren’t all that worried about democracy.

2024

“Rikers Guards, Newly Emboldened by Adams, Are Punishing Inmates Who Speak Out” [Curbed]. “When Eric Adams took office in January, he replaced [Vincent] Schiraldi with Louis A. Molina and rolled back the policy the former commissioner had implemented to reduce the abuse of the unlimited sick-leave policy by corrections officers, which had required a doctor’s note. He also fired a high-profile investigator who had begun tackling a years-long backlog of use-of-force allegations by guards against detainees and has not appointed anyone to replace her. While it’s difficult to say exactly how these changes have affected the jail in just one month, removing the policy to verify sick-leave requests likely did not help with the chronic understaffing. But the corrections officers are relieved. ‘We’re very happy that the sick-leave policy was reverted back to the way it was supposed to be,’ Boscio said…. ‘You can just die here waiting for court,’ says ‘L.A.,’ a 39-year-old who’s being held in a medical observation unit on Rikers. ‘It’s like torture.’ (He asked that we not use his name, for fear of retaliation.) L.A. and others in his unit have also been participating in a series of hunger strikes and other actions to draw attention to the conditions there.” • Yikes.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Redistricting and Competition in Congressional Elections” [Sabato’s Crystal Ball]. “In this article, I examine the impact of redistricting on the competitiveness of House elections over the past 5 decades. I show that, based on presidential voting patterns, the proportion of districts that strongly favor one party or the other has doubled while the proportion that are closely divided has fallen by 50%. However, this long-term decline in the competitiveness of House districts is not primarily a result of redistricting. In fact, the same trend is evident in U.S. states and counties, whose boundaries do not change over time the way congressional districts do. Despite the growing proportion of districts that strongly favor one party based on presidential voting, the actual margins of House elections have changed very little over the past 50 years, and partisan turnover has fallen only slightly, if at all. The explanation for these contradictory trends is that the personal advantage of incumbency has declined dramatically since the 1980s: The ability of House incumbents to attract votes across party lines and thereby insulate themselves from competition is now much more limited than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.”

#COVID19

Case count by United States regions:

Rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick; the slope of the downward curve is more or less the same as the upward curve. 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 unprecedented. I wonder if there will be plateau when BA.2 takes hold. Since the Northeast has form, that is probably the region to watch for this behavior first. I have added a Fauci Line to congratulate the Biden administration for having passed the former guy’s second highest peak on the way down.

The official narrative was “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! This time, it may be different. But who knows?

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

Continues encouraging (and independent from the CDC).

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:

What’s with Idaho? Not ski resorts, my first thought, at least from a cursory look at the map. Of course, Idaho is not populous, so a small rise in absolute numbers could be considered “rapid.” Maine is a data problem. (Remember that these are rapid riser counties. A county that moves from red to green is not covid-free; the case count just isnt, well, rising rapidly.)

The previous release:

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission:

Yet more speckles of improvement in the solid red.

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Sea of green once more, except for the Northern Marianas. From the point of view of our hospital-centric health care system, green everywhere means the emergency is over (and to be fair, this is reinforced by case count and wastewater). However, community transmission is still pervasive, which means that long Covid, plus continuing vascular damage, are not over. (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: 966,530 963,371. A continous drop in the death date, which is good news. Sadly, as of February 22, 1,000,000 – 960,157 = 39,843, and 39,843 / 6 days until Biden’s State of the Union Speech is 6,640.5, so I guess we won’t break a million in time. I was hoping for a ribbon cutting ceremony of some kind. Maybe the West Wing staff could have staged a photo op with funny hats and noisemakers. Walensky’s staff could have joined in by Zoom. Ah well, nevertheless.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits decreased by 17 thousand to 232 thousand in the week ended February 19th, from a revised 248 thousand in the previous period and compared with market expectations of 235 thousand.”

National Activity: “United States Chicago Fed National Activity Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Chicago Fed National Activity Index in the US increased to +0.69 in January of 2022 from a revised 0.07 in the previous month, suggesting a pick up in economic activity. All four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index made positive contributions in January, and two categories improved from December.”

* * *

Shipping: “Ukraine risk for shipping hinges on sanctions escalation” [Lloyd’s List]. “Financial markets wobbled on Tuesday in the wake of the Russian actions and the response from Western governments, but even as oil prices edged towards $100 a barrel the impact on shipping markets remained muted. Whether that continues to be the case depends on whether sanctions are escalated beyond the initial first tranche imposed by the US, Europe and the UK. The Western sanctions are not — yet — the “massive” response that the West has promised if Russia invades Ukraine. Restrictions on the sale of Russian debt, the freezing of assets of Russian oligarchs, banks and parliamentarians will not affect shipping operations beyond the watching brief already in place across maritime boardrooms.”

Commodities: “Oil Tanker Owners Avoid Russian Crude Amid Ukraine Crisis” [Bloomberg]. “Oil tanker owners are avoiding offering their ships to collect crude from Russia as they wait to see what sanctions the country might face after invading Ukraine. Two shipbrokers and three owners said owners are currently unwilling to make offers to collect Russian barrels. The owners said that oil-freight transportation costs are also very low anyway, making it even more unattractive to do so. Russia relies on tankers for about two thirds of its crude exports meaning that any prolonged disruption to shipping would be more serious. The country’s oil has already been already selling at the deepest discounts in years to an international benchmark as traders fret over how the Ukraine situation will play out.”

Commodities: “China lifts all wheat-import restrictions on Russia amid Ukraine crisis” [South China Morning Post]. “China has announced it is fully open to Russian wheat imports, in the latest sign of their strengthening bilateral ties as the Ukraine crisis is unfolding before a global audience and in the wake of fresh sanctions being imposed on Moscow….. China had previously restricted imports of Russian grain due to phytosanitary concerns – measures for the control of plant diseases, especially in agricultural crops – and China’s latest customs statement also said Russia would take all measures to mitigate infestation risks. China began allowing large-scale wheat imports from Russia’s far east region in October, with China’s largest agribusiness firm, the state-owned Cofco, buying the first batch of 667 metric tonnes (1.47 million pounds).”

Commodities: “Shipping braces for impact as Russia-Ukraine crisis intensifies” [Freight Waves]. “Military action could curtail ship movements in the Black Sea, a key transit point for dry bulk exports. In fact, Russian military exercises have already done so. VesselsValue analyzed ship-movement data and found that Russian naval maneuvers ‘visibly impacted traffic.; Russian and Ukrainian waters of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov were designated ‘listed areas’ by the insurance industry’s War Risk Council on Feb. 15, meaning higher war risk insurance premiums. According to BRS [brokerage], the Black Sea area was the world’s second-largest grain-exporting region in 2021, with 111.2 million tons of cargo; Russia and Ukraine accounted for 30% of global wheat exports, and Ukraine accounted for 16% of global corn exports. Ukrainian corn could be first in the line of fire. BRS noted that by the end of January, Ukraine had already exported 71% of wheat predicted for the current marketing period but just 32% of its predicted corn exports. Agribulk exports face risks on land as well, not just at sea. ‘An attack or land grab by Russia could sharply reduce grain production as farmers flee the conflict, agricultural infrastructure and equipment are damaged, and the region’s economy is paralyzed,’ said BRS. “A substantial part of Ukraine’s most productive agricultural land is in the east and therefore vulnerable to any potential Russian attack.’ According to Braemar ACM Shipbroking, this landside risk could affect the coming wheat marketing season. ‘The main grain-producing regions are notably located along the Russian border,’ said Braemar, which pointed out that the military threat coincides with the beginning of the spring wheat planting period.” • How fascinating that the insurance industry has a “War Risk Council.” I wonder if it works like LIBOR used to?

The Bezzle: “Ex-Goldman Sachs banker’s 1MDB trial to be paused on new evidence disclosure” [Financial Times]. “The trial of a former banker at Goldman Sachs charged in connection with the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal will be put on hold after US prosecutors admitted they failed to provide thousands of documents to the defence team. Prosecutors wrote in a letter submitted to Judge Margo Brodie late on Tuesday night that they had just learned a Department of Justice team had failed to provide them and Ng with approximately 15,500 documents from email accounts and a laptop belonging to Tim Leissner, a former Goldman Sachs partner and colleague of Ng’s who has been the government’s star witness. Prosecutors called it an ‘inexcusable’ mistake, according to the letter.” • Welcome to the Third World…

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 19 Extreme Fear (previous close: 27 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 38 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 24 at 12:35pm. Looks like Putin got Mr. Market’s attention.

Games

“These So-Called ‘Casual’ Gamers Are Actually Hardcore Strategists” [Kotaku]. ” In the gaming community, anime gacha games were seen as cheap lotteries for people with more anime thirst than sense. Yet that description fit none of the gacha players I knew in real life. They were programmers and administrative assistants. They were college students and school teachers. And many of them were masterful strategists in the games they played. Despite being popularly maligned as “casual,” many mobile game players track in-game events, min-max using custom tools, and study the tactics of streamers to improve their gaming prowess. They think about mobile games on a deeply strategic level, and the games they were playing required just as much investment as the games played by mainstream console players. This is because fully leveling a character in a gacha game can take anywhere from weeks to months. And not all of the leveling materials could be collected every day. It’s common for one type of material to only be farmable on Mondays, and a different material farmable on Tuesdays.” • “Farmable”?

Zeitgeist Watch

“Thank you for inhaling our virions!” (1):

“Thank you for inhaling our virions!” (1):

Walensky is a fine example of elite upspeak; listen, if you can stand it. But listen also to her logic: She’s saying that college students have a higher tolerance for risk, and therefore should not have to wear masks. So, (a) drunken frat party in ill-ventilated basement room jake with the angels, but (b) wear a mask when you go home to see the grandparents after you’ve already contracted the virus. The stupid, it b-u-r-r-r-r-r-n-n-n-n-n-s-s-s-s!!!!!!

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“A “Tragedy of Capitalism”? BLM Faces Growing Questions Over Millions in Donations” [Jonathan Turley]., “The California Department of Justice recently issued a notice to Black Lives Matter not only that it was in violation of state law over the failure to disclose financial records, but also that its leadership could be personally liable for the resulting fines for failing to account for $60 million in donations. Indiana also is questioning the organization, and Amazon has suspended BLM donations due to concerns over the handling and reporting of donations by the group’s leadership. The problem is determining who that leadership is on an organization racked by internal conflicts, resignations and scandals. The move, however, highlights a glaring contrast to how state officials have treated BLM as opposed to the far more aggressive efforts targeting organizations like the National Rifle Association. New York is seeking to dissolve the NRA for some of the same allegations leveled against BLM, including the use of funds by BLM officials for personal benefits. I would oppose an effort to dissolve BLM, just as I oppose the efforts to dissolve the NRA. However, the favored status afforded to BLM by the news media, corporations and state regulators has magnified the problems for the organization. There are also obvious free speech and association questions raised by such selective or disparate enforcement policies.” • Hardly a tragedy for capitalism; in fact, an enormous success (and ia success in the same way that NGOs generally are a success, except with a virtually Trumpian crassness and disregard for cut-outs and money launderers norms). Well done, “voices.”

Class Warfare

“The PRO Act Won’t Solve Labor’s Woes” [Jonah Furman, Jacobin]. “he gist of the AFL-CIO response to this year’s predictably bad news was, “We need labor law reform. Pass the PRO Act!” That press release came out the day after the majority party’s own voting rights reform, backed by the president, had failed in the face of the filibuster. No major organizing drives to point to, no plan to build density in core industries, no reallocation of budgets, no member-to-member education or outreach programs — just a wish that the ruling class would change the rules. Let’s be real: the PRO Act isn’t going to pass anytime soon. We need a plan B where we figure out how to organize under current conditions. Besides, even if the PRO Act were enacted tomorrow, a union revival wouldn’t be automatic — it would take organizing plans, analyses, campaigns, budgets. So where are they? The labor movement is not dead; its 14 million members are a base to build from. But those who command the union treasuries can’t just whine for legislation — they have to get back on the horse and try to organize. And those of us who have their ear (and pay their salaries) must help them find the courage.”

Ka-ching:

“Starbucks diversity chief seeks ‘a sense of belonging’ among workers amid union push” [Yahoo News]. “In an interview with Yahoo Finance, chief inclusion and diversity officer Dennis Brockman insisted the company — which has openly lobbied against the union push — is dedicated to making all its employees ‘feel valued’ and have ‘a sense of belonging’ while working at Starbucks.” They say that the best things in life are free….. More: “‘Starbucks is pro-partner, we’re not anti-union,’ said Brockman, a 14-year Starbucks veteran who’s held his current job for about a year who joined the company as a District Manager in Kansas City. ‘We want every single partner who works for Starbucks to love working for this organization,’ he added, using the term Starbucks calls its workers. ‘Our mission and our values is what has guided us for the last first 50 years and it will continue to guide us.’: • Key words being “every” and “single.”

“Guy Debord, an Untimely Aristocrat” [Theory, Culture, and Society]. Locked, so Abtract only: “This essay excavates the pre-capitalist influences of the thought of Guy Debord, French postwar critical theorist and founding member of the Situationist International. Tracing a lineage of what can be described as Debord’s aristocratic sensibility, we discover not simply an aesthetic approach to navigating social life, or guidelines for outmanoeuvring an adversary, but also contempt for honest labour, monetary transactions in cultural affairs, and conventional political gestures. Together these themes remain part of a legacy of an aristocratic past, one that, as will be examined here, informed Debord’s acrimony towards his own mid-20th-century moment. The following discussion will advance a genealogy of Debord’s thinking with these themes from late antiquity to the Italian Renaissance, and finally with an extended examination of the baroque, a concept that helps advance Debord’s diagnostic concept of the society of the spectacle.”

News of the Wired

“The Nocturnals” [The Atlantic]. “Many of the people I spoke with had felt trapped in contemporary life—depressed, on edge, and guilty for feeling that way in the first place. But then, each came to the realization: It doesn’t need to be this way. There’s already a time when the noise and chaos of society falls away. They just need to be awake for it.” • I guess I’ve got my own little form of identity politics here… But you don’t hear introverts screaming to “Let ‘er rip!”, do you?

* * *

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 (TH):

Says Ms. Bee: “The bummer about these Chinese Lantern flowers is there’s no place to sit–you gotta hover to get the pollen.”

* * *

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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