By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
“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
Key dates coming fast now, so I added some counters:
Some of the next primaries. (I picked the major dates; here is a complete calendar.)
We encourage readers to play around with the polling charts; they are dynamic, and there are a lot of settings, more than I can usefully show here. Here is a link to alert reader dk’s project. You can also file bug reports or feature requests using the same contact process as for Plants, below. Thanks — but no promises!
Today we have one national poll from YouGov, as of 3/17/2020, 11:00 AM EDT. The empire strikes back:
(Note small sample size.) And the numbers:
Earlier in the year, we often had occasion to comment on the mysterious strength of the Biden Juggernaut, on display here; but it’s also true that .
* * *
Biden (D)(1): “National Primary Results Map: Where Biden and Sanders Have Won” [New York Times]. With handy map:
What’s remarkable is that Biden has built his lead on states that the Democrats are unlikely to win in November (unless suburban Republicans turn out en masse for Biden, in which case the Democrats will have turned into the Republicans in any case.)
Bloomberg (D)(1): “Coronavirus Update: Michael Bloomberg pledges $40M to fight COVID-19” [ABC]. • So, 10% of his advertising spend in the Democrat primary?
Sanders (D)(1): “An Emergency Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic” [Bernie Sanders]. For example:
• Cover all health care treatment for free, including coronavirus testing, treatment, and the eventual vaccine. Under this proposal, Medicare will ensure that everyone in America, regardless of existing coverage, can receive the health care they need during this crisis. We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you’re working class or poor you get to the end of the line. That is morally unacceptable.
Normally, I wouldn’t print direct campaign literature, but since this won’t get any coverage…
Sanders (D)(2): “Sanders to ‘assess his campaign’ after Tuesday losses” [The Hill]. Faiz Shakir: “The next primary contest is three weeks away. Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with his supporters to assess his campaign. In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable.” • And but:
— Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) March 18, 2020
Lambert here: I haven’t had the time-slot or the mental bandwidth to write up my thought on the Sanders campaign, but there are plenty of other hot takes, so let me at least try to put some preliminary thoughts together. (In fact, there are so much that is urgent in the political news flow, and so little that is important, that I’m thinking of converting the Politics section to include more short essays like this one, and not so many snippets.)
My view of the Sanders campaign has been that it was — is — uniquely interesting because it was institutionally unique, for three reasons: Sanders owned his list, which meant he was not dependent on the donor class; Sanders had an independent media operation, which meant he would be insulated from the coming assault of oppo and smears from the usual suspects; and Sanders had the canvassing operation, which meant he could expand the Democrat base into the voting-averse working class, which both the Republican and Democrat parties have resolutly refused to do.
The list. Importantly, the Sanders fundraising was a wild success; it took the entry of a billionaire spending his personal money to beat it. This is an extraordinary accomplishment, far moreso than Warren’s half-hearted and pissant effort, which is naturally being erased and forgotten even as we speak.
The media operation. It is true that Sanders did not succumb to oppo; Peter Daou said there wasn’t any, but that wouldn’t have prevented the usual suspects from making something else. Since I live on the Twitter, the operation seemed effective to me; but I think the absence of successful oppo speaks to its success. (The operation didn’t prevent Obama’s pre-California Night of The Long Knives, but what could have?)
The canvassing. The canvassing operation was the key to the Sanders campaign theory of change: Draw new and/or discouraged working-class voters into the Democrat base, thereby dragging it left (and changing the composition of the base to Sanders’ advantage). Leaving aside the policy appeal, the technique was “relational organizing” (electronic appeals, mostly through an app, but also through text; laudatory article here). The canvassing operation, in campaign terms, was an unprecedented success: It took the fifth-largest economy in the world (California) from the claws of the vicious liberal Democrat oligarchy that has claimed it; in Nevada, it beat Harry Reid and the union leadership. In demographic terms, the canvassing operation destroyed the myth of the Obama coalition, by taking both the Latin and the youth vote, overwhelmingly. It is extremely hard to see how the Democrat Establishment can bring those demographics back into the fold by running Joe Biden; and the new Democrat base is composed of fear-crazed, loyalist PMCs + converted suburban Republicans + voters controlled by the reactionary Black Misleadership class. This seems like a narrower base than Clinton’s, and certainly Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant”. (Ideologically, it’s clear that this new base is most definitely not composed of “FDR Democrats,” and does not wish for a return to those days.) However, the canvassing operation failed, in its own terms, because it did not draw in enough new working class voters to counter the wave of reaction from the new Democrat base, whose turnout overwhelmed the increased turnout generated by the Sanders campaign. (After seeing Biden falter through IA, NH, and NV, get a boost from reactionary Southern kingmaker Clyburn, and then — after Obama (presumably) organized the Night of The Long Knives, making it clear that Biden was the Establishment choice — win overwhelming victories in states where he didn’t even campaign and in some cases did not visit makes me feel like I’ve been hit on the head with a sack of wet sand. Bitecofer has a point when she regards American politics as a team sport.) I don’t know why relational organizing failed. One idea I had was that “relations” don’t necessarily cross class lines. If you start out with college kids, you end up with them; no matter how many degrees of separation you try, you don’t reach the Walmart workers. (Not true for Latin votes, however. What did Rocha do?) A second idea: You can’t win a working class vote with an identity politics staff, and that’s what Sanders had, and they shape all the messaging. (It’s unconscionable, for example that Sanders lost rural areas.) A third idea: Door-knocking is not enough; after all, the people knocking on doors go home at night; they have no skin in the game. A fourth idea: The candidate himself. Did Sanders’ reluctance to chop his opponents off at the knees lose him the working class vote? Perhaps a real brawler would have done better. A fifth idea: Most non-voters believe their votes don’t matter. The Democrat Establishment is, of course, doing all it can to confirm them in those beliefs. Door-knocking and canvassing simply aren’t enough to overcome that.
Finally, the big question nobody — I can’t imagine why — is asking: What will happen to Sanders’ army of small donors and activists? It’s very hard for me to imagine that it will be easy for Sanders to “sheepdog” them, even if he wishes to do so. It’s quite clear that the Democrat Establishment wants no part of Sanders or Sanders voters. All you need do to see this is look at the extraordinary measures they took to defeat him. So what now for them?
Realignment and Legitimacy
“We Were Warned” [The Atlantic].
We were warned in 2012, when the Rand Corporation surveyed the international threats arrayed against the United States and concluded that only pandemics posed an existential danger, in that they were “capable of destroying America’s way of life.”
We were warned in 2015, when Ezra Klein of Vox, after speaking with Bill Gates about his algorithmic model for how a new strain of flu could spread rapidly in today’s globalized world, wrote that “a pandemic disease is the most predictable catastrophe in the history of the human race, if only because it has happened to the human race so many, many times before.” If there was anything humanity could be certain that it needed to prepare for to prevent the deaths of a lot of people in little time, it was this.
We were warned in 2017, a week before inauguration day, when Lisa Monaco, Barack Obama’s outgoing homeland-security adviser, gathered with Donald Trump’s incoming national-security officials and conducted an exercise modeled on the administration’s experiences with outbreaks of swine flu, Ebola, and Zika.
When the virus was first detected in China, [Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University] told me, a more prepared U.S. government would have immediately begun bracing for the “inevitable arrival of the disease” by bolstering hospitals and helping state and local governments implement the social-distancing and other mitigation measures they are now scrambling to put in place. “It would have been much easier to do those things with more time than we have now,” he explained.
The irony is that this is all occurring in a country, the United States, that for decades “has been a leader in pandemic preparedness,” Toner said. “We were better prepared than others,” he acknowledged, “but no one, no country, is prepared for what we’re seeing now.”
The political implications of all this — and the usual presentation of intelligence community officials as the “adults in the room” — do make my Spidey sense tingle a bit. The implicit promise of a Biden restoration is that competent professionals will once more be in charge, and had they been in charge, the administration response would have been better and more timely. There are reasons to doubt this: These are the people who ran the Clinton campaign; who launched the ObamaCare website, after which it immediately collapsed; who cut CDC funding on their watch and left it as a single point of failure; under whose stewardship life expectancy consistently declined; and who butchered the response to the Crash, in all respects, causing untold human suffering (and incidentally creating the conditions for Trump). I’m sure the public relations would be much better, but permit me to doubt that the concrete policy response would have been. Hurrican Sandy, after all, happened on Obama’s Watch, and what a debacle that was.
At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.
Construction: “February 2020 Residential Building Growth Slowed” [Econintersect]. In summary, the rolling averages say this sector is slowing with construction completions significantly slowing. We consider this report worse than last month except for construction completions.”
Housing: “January 2020 CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index: Rents Increasing At Double The Rate Of Inflation” [Econintersect]. “The Single-Family Rent Index (SFRI), which analyzes single-family rent price changes nationally and among 20 metropolitan areas shows a national rent increase of 2.9% year over year, down slightly from 3.2% year-over-year increase in January 2019. Rent prices are now increasing at double the rate of inflation, presenting affordability challenges among current and prospective renters.” • “Affordability challenges.”
Tech: “Internet Traffic Surges As Companies And Schools Send People Home” [NPR]. “More people are shifting to the digital world as life outside the home is put on hold. That’s putting a lot of pressure on companies to keep connections up when all their employees are trying to telework at the same time. It’s also posing challenges for Internet video conferencing…. Visits to news sites went up as much as 60%. And people are spending more time playing online games. A similar pattern is emerging in the U.S. Cloudflare says Internet traffic jumped 20% on Friday, after President Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency. In hard-hit Seattle, Internet use was up 40% last week compared to January. As video chats replace face-to-face meetings, peak Internet use is happening in the middle of the workday.” • If only we had universal broadband, like South Korea, a First World country.
Shipping: “U.S. commercial distribution channels are increasingly being turned toward the demands driven by the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon.com Inc. is taking the strongest step yet in adjusting its supply chain to the changing landscape, locking down part of its distribution operations to save room for items that are in exceptionally high demand during the pandemic” [Wall Street Journal]. “The action highlights the sharp divide between businesses that are struggling with lost sales and those that are swamped as consumers hunker down in their homes and turn to delivery services. Amazon’s move suggests high demand may be creating bottlenecks, and could slow delivery of critical goods like medical supplies.” • Bottlenecks because the MBAs optimized the supply chain so that there’s no slack at all.
Manufacturing: “Manufacturers in the U.S. are improvising to keep factories running as the coronavirus pandemic threatens far-reaching disruption across industrial supply chains” [Wall Street Journal]. “Factories are staggering shifts, banning visitors and installing barriers between workers… even as officials across the country advise more people to stay home, and schools and day-care centers shut down.” • Those bans and barriers are gonna make organizing hard. Who wants to bet they stay up?
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 4 Extreme Fear (previous close: 5 Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 4 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 18 at 12:56pm. Haven’t ever seen the needle pinned at zero. I wonder if the formula permits that.
“Prominent U.S. climate denial group fires president amid financial crisis” [Science]. “The Heartland Institute is undergoing its second leadership change in less than a year. The group, which rejects climate science, is ousting its president, Frank Lasée, after being buffeted by financial turbulence that led to significant layoffs, according to two sources close to Heartland. Heartland has received millions of dollars in funding from the energy industry over the years, but many of those contributions have dried up as major players in the oil and gas industry, like Exxon Mobil Corp., backed away from denying climate change. Other funders, such as Murray Energy Corp., have gone bankrupt.” • Well-deserved, but late.
“Poultry through time” [Nature]. “Birds can be divided into crown-group birds (all living birds plus all relatives of their most recent common ancestor) and stem-group birds, which fall outside this group but are closer to it than they are to other major related groups, such as the dinosaurs ancestral to birds. Fossils of stem-group birds include specimens of Archaeopteryx, Enantiornithes, Hesperornithes and Ichthyornithes. Such stem-group creatures had wings, but lacked some hallmarks of crown-group birds. Field et al.1 report the discovery of a 66.7-million-year-old crown-group fossil bird that they call Asteriornis maastrichtensis. This fits on the tree near Anseriformes (duck- and goose-like birds) and Galliformes (chicken- or quail-like birds), but the fossil remains are insufficient to determine whether it is closer to the Galliformes than to the Anseriformes, or whether it is outside the group formed by Galliformes and Anseriformes. Regardless of this, the fossil reveals that the duck and chicken lineages, together with the mostly flightless birds called ratites (such as ostriches) plus other living bird lineages, had evolved by at least 66.7 million years ago.”
“Trump Pushed Aides to Seek a Trillion Dollars in Virus Response” [Bloomberg]. “President Donald Trump encouraged aides to enhance an $850 billion stimulus package to address the coronavirus crisis, telling them to go big and bump the number up to a trillion dollars, people familiar with the matter say.” • Assuming it’s true, this is in great contrast to Obama’s behavior in 2008; and even if it’s not, it shows the Republicans know what message to send.
“Trump invokes Defense Production Act as coronavirus response” [The Hill]. “President Trump announced Wednesday he will invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow the administration to force American industry to ramp up production of medical supplies that are in short supply in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. ‘It can do a lot of good things if we need it,’ Trump said during a White House briefing with reporters.” • If the supply chain provides the raw materials… .
“MSNBC Legal Analyst: Trump Must Be Investigated For Negligent Homicide And Manslaughter” [Jonathan Turley]. “The courts have long recognized that discretionary actions by public officials is not the subject of civil, let alone criminal, liability. The Federal Tort Claims Act waives sovereign immunity for negligence with the express exception for discretionary functions. Such functions generally mean under cases like Berkovitz v. United States , 486 U.S. 531 (1988), that public officials are protected in making choices that are based on public policy or priorities. As the Supreme Court reaffirmed in United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 325 (1991). the federal law protects decisions that are based on policy choices and courts will not second guess such choices. Seeking criminal charges is even more difficult with a higher burden of proof. Bad policies choices are not crimes. The government has killed millions of people through bad choices from lax environmental protections to health care choices to the failure to act upon various crises. Obviously, the federal government is unlikely to bring such a charge criminalizing federal decisionmaking. Moreover state prosecutions on such theories have failed.” • I say let’s impeach Trump again.
“Does disinfecting surfaces really prevent the spread of coronavirus?” [Science]. “According to a variety of local news reports from cities including Shanghai and Gwangju, South Korea, the disinfectant most commonly used outdoors is a diluted solution of sodium hypochlorite, or household bleach. But it’s unclear whether bleach destroys coronaviruses outside, and if it does kill them on surfaces it’s unclear whether it would kill viruses in the air. Bleach itself breaks down under ultraviolet (UV) light. Then again, Leon says, UV light seems to destroy coronaviruses as well. And coronavirus exposure from outdoor surfaces may be limited already: ‘Nobody goes around licking sidewalks or trees,’ Leon says. There may even be downsides to widespread overzealous disinfection with bleach, notes Julia Silva Sobolik, a graduate student in Leon’s lab. ‘Bleach is highly irritating to mucous membranes,’ Sobolik says. That means people exposed to sprayed disinfectants—especially the workers who spray them—are at risk of respiratory troubles, among other ailments.”
Department of Feline Felicity
Because of course:
A VFX producer friend of a friend was hired in November to finish some of the 400 effects shots in @catsmovie. His entire job was to remove CGI buttholes that had been inserted a few months before. Which means that, somewhere out there, there exists a butthole cut of Cats
— Jack Waz (@jackwaz) March 18, 2020
Something to look forward to!
The Carceral State
“Inmates in Ohio being released due to concern of coronavirus spread” [WJHL]. “The Cuyahoga County Court in Ohio is looking to release hundreds of inmates from the Cuyahoga County Jail Saturday morning due to coronavirus concerns, according to our sister station WJW in Cleveland. Judges concerned about the virus spreading through the jail. Cuyahoga County judges are holding a special Saturday morning session to try to settle cases with guilty pleas, release inmates or send them to prison, or release them on house arrest.” • Jail, not prison.
“Defying Virus Rules, Large Hasidic Jewish Weddings Held in Brooklyn” [New York Times]. “As city and state officials warned on Tuesday about the danger of large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of revelers celebrated at a Hasidic wedding in Brooklyn and huddled together in the street after the Fire Department broke up the celebration. ‘Everything was exactly how it would have been if there hadn’t been any kind of a pandemic,’ said a musician who played at the event, which he said drew more than 200 people.”
“Fleeing to Hamptons, Buying Beans: NYC Virus Fears Trace Wealth Gap” [Bloomberg]. “A group of industry professionals banded together to create a “bond” program to support trendy restaurants. Others are focusing on following wealthy clients with offers of specialized services at their second homes. The Major Food Group, whose restaurants include Carbone, Dirty French and the Lobster Club, sent an email offering catering and home-chef services to customers in the Hamptons.” • That’s nice:
The rich in NYC are all bunkered in the Hamptons, while the people keeping us fed & functioning—truck drivers, warehouse workers, grocery stockers, health care workers, maintenance workers, pharmacy workers—are here with us. It's pretty clear who we need—and who doesn't need us.
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) March 16, 2020
UPDATE Equity? What’s that?
I always thought wartime rationing was about scarcity – I suddenly appreciate that it was also about equity. pic.twitter.com/0JjVGqvz5a
— Amanda Walsh (@DrAJWalsh) March 16, 2020
UPDATE Hey, maybe this dude can file a lawsuit or something:
My brother got laid off yesterday from Marriott.
He applied for unemployment; they called to check his employment status.
Marriott HR says he’s NOT laid off but on a ZERO hour schedule. So he can’t qualify for unemployment NOR does he have health insurance.
— thot leedurr (@DocDre) March 17, 2020
UPDATE “Get Ready, A Bigger Disruption Is Coming” [Bloomberg]. “The opening years of the 20th century, too, were defined by a free global market for goods, capital and labor. This was when, as John Maynard Keynes famously reminisced, ‘the inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth.’….. The First World War not only brought the period of friction-free globalization to a gruesome end. It also cruelly exposed an intelligentsia which had believed in irreversible progress…. As with our own crisis, the seminal crashes of the 20th century — the First World War followed by the Great Depression — were harder to grasp because their principal causes were set in motion decades before, and largely neglected by mainstream politicians and commentators…. Once the series of economic shocks that began in the late 19th century climaxed in the Great Depression, the elevation of the far-right to power, and intensified conflicts between states, was all but guaranteed. In our own conjuncture, all ingredients of the previous calamity are present, if ominously on an unparalleled scale.”
News of the Wired
“The OODA Loop and the Half-Beat’ [The Strategy Bridge]. “What does it mean to get inside an opponent’s OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) loop? The answer for a whole generation of Western military officers is to cycle through a decision-action framework quicker than the adversary, orienting to situations and acting faster than they can adapt….. The reality is that speed is only one component of a fight. What is lost in a focus on faster decision-making is another equally important component, timing. Indeed, by definition, speed is derived from time, yet poor timing has prevented success in battles from Napoleon at Borodino to General Lee’s offensive at Gettysburg. While speed is undoubtedly important, the key to interrupting an opponent’s OODA loop lies not in acting faster, but in acting at the right time.”
Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (Skookum Red):
Skookum Red writes: “From Valentines day: on the edge of my driveway we have yellow, white and purple crocus planted. When they pop up I know spring has come and in another week the birds will be arriving to stay or pass through on to Canada…” My mailer builds and displays photos from the top down, so at first I thought I was seeing clouds!
If you have a knitting project underway, please feel free to send in photos to the address above. To encourage the others. (Gloves looked complicated, so I chose mittens instead.)
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