By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
I thought I would do Birds of the Atlantic Flyway, and even though it’s very early for them to have returned, I love hummingbirds, so here one is. I love the train whistle in the background!
I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching.
Early in February, I said a simple way to compare Biden’s performance to Trump’s on vaccination would be to compare the curves. If Biden accelerated vaccine administration, the rate of vaccination post-Inaugural would kink upward, as the policies of a more effective administration took hold. They have not. The fragmented, Federalized, and profit-driven lumbering monstrosity that we laughingly call our “health care” “system” has not responded to “energy in the executive,” but has continued on its inertial path.
Case count by United States regions:
No longer an upward blip, but a very ugly trend. Disappointing in the extreme. All I can say is that if you have a system that has worked for you, keep at it. And avoid closed, crowded, close-contact settings, even so-called outdoor dining. Don’t share air!
“Why a 4th COVID-19 wave may look different than previous surges” [ABC]. “With 71.8% of Americans 65 and older inoculated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a fourth wave could look different than those the country has previously experienced, characterized by fewer hospitalizations and deaths, according to experts… Although it is still unclear what may be behind these rising metrics, experts suggest it may be related to the emergence of more contagious coronavirus strains. ‘Increasingly, states are seeing a growing proportion of their COVID-19 cases attributed to variants,’ Walensky said on Monday. Although the U.S. is still sequencing very few COVID-19 cases, over 8,300 cases of the variant first found in the U.K., B.1.1.7, has now been discovered in all 50 states. Health experts in Michigan have also correlated the state’s rising metrics to the variants. According to the CDC, Michigan currently ranks second in the nation for the most reported cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, with under 1,000 confirmed cases. Even with cases increasing, dozens of states have moved to reopen, with governors relaxing restrictions on many businesses like restaurants and gyms.”
Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):
New York in the “lead,” but with a jump after a recent drop. I’m also loathe to give Florida’s DeSantis permission for a happy dance, but there’s no question that in the enormous natural experiment that is our Federalized response to Covid, Florida didn’t do badly, and its case curve looks pretty much like that corrupt crook Cuomo’s, just with a later peak.
Since New York is doing so much worse, here’s a breakdown of the entire Northeast:
Andy, good job, but it looks like the entire Acela + BOS/JFK/EWR/PHL Corridor has problems (and not Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont).
Daily coronavirus cases are increasing again in MA and this rise scares me more than the previous ones.
The first spike I get, no one knew what to do.
The second spike, okay, winter forces indoor activities.
This rise is occurring in the face of vaccinations & mask-wearing. pic.twitter.com/sZQPSIoFEg
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) March 28, 2021
Variants, school reopenings, The two Spring Break peaks are the week of March 7th and March 14th.
“Why a 4th COVID-19 wave may look different than previous surges” [ABC]. I speculated that testing had gone down. It has: “Although nationwide test positivity continues to tick up, testing is declining. The average number of tests has decreased by 12.2% nationally, while the average test positivity increased from 4.2% to 4.8%.”
Hospitalization data is the best data we have, because hospital billing is a highly functional data acquisition system (ka-ching). That said, hospitalization is discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.
Case fatality rate (plus deaths):
Good to see those deaths dropping. I helpfully added a black line to show the new normal The fatality rate in the West is where it was last May.
“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
“GOP senators buck MAGA on Biden’s health” [Politico]. Not all agree, but: “‘In the two meetings I was in with the president, he was as sharp as a tack,’ Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) [said]. ‘I visited with him in the Oval Office, and he seemed well-prepared and well-briefed for the meeting,’ Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who joined Capito at a February meeting with Biden on Covid relief, told me — a sentiment that was echoed by GOP Sens. Thom Tillis, Rob Portman and others.”
“Biden to Reveal Major Spending Plan With Political Battle Ahead” [Bloomberg]. “President Joe Biden this week will reveal the scope and ambition of his plans to expand and reorient the U.S. government, setting the stage for a bitter fight on Capitol Hill that could define his presidency. Biden will unveil the framework for a major infrastructure-and-jobs program on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, and later in the week offer the first glimpse of his 2022 budget — which promises to redirect federal funds to areas such as climate change and health care. The announcements will offer the first concrete details of Biden’s plan to overhaul federal spending, in a sales pitch without the immediacy of the pandemic emergency that he had for his first package. To succeed, Biden will have to convince the public and lawmakers on a multi-trillion dollar investment in infrastructure and social safety nets, along with a revamp of the tax code to help address funding needs and widening inequality.” • Worth noting this is, again, far more ambitious than anything Obama ever attempted (including passing a Republican health care plan).
“POLITICO Playbook: Chuck Schumer’s 51-vote gambit” [Politico]. “But what if, buried in the rules of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, there were a magical parliamentary trick that Democrats could use to unlock a third reconciliation bill this year? Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER believes he has found it. It’s called Section 304, and you’re about to start hearing about it a lot. This section of the law that governs the congressional budgeting process essentially says that Congress may revisit and amend an already-passed budget resolution, like the one used to pass the Covid relief package. Or at least that’s what Schumer aides are arguing. “Recently, top policy aides to Majority Leader Schumer made the argument to the Senate Parliamentarian that Section 304 allows for at least one additional set of reconciliation bills related to revenue, spending and the public debt to be considered for Fiscal Year 2021,” a Schumer aide previewing the strategy told us Sunday night. … If he goes forward with the plan, the Senate parliamentarian will once again be the most powerful person in Washington, just as she was over the debate about whether the minimum wage was eligible for inclusion in the last reconciliation bill.” • This time, can we just fire the Parliamentarian if she doesn’t do the right thing? Who’s working for whom, here?
“Biden’s plan for reelection freezes Democratic field” [The Hill]. “President Biden’s announcement that he plans to run for reelection has frozen the field of potential Democratic contenders for 2024 and could mean a late start to the primary process if he changes his mind. Biden, in announcing his plans this week, hedged by referring to ‘fate’ potentially intervening in his expectation to run. But even if his plans change, Biden has put the future on hold for the next generation of Democrats, many of whom are decades younger and lost to him in the 2020 primaries. That includes Vice President Harris, who would be in a prime spot to carry Biden’s mantle if he decided to step aside.” • I don’t think that’s true of Harris–
Of the last 15 White House pictures published, all 15 include Kamala Harris or her movements.
Just 4 include Joe Biden. pic.twitter.com/gAlBD7Carg
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) March 28, 2021
Democrats en Deshabille
AOC interview with the DSA. Holy moley:
— Aaron Huertas (@aaronhuertas) March 28, 2021
Sounds like a job for Reddit, in fact…
Literally all I said on the topic was that a vehicle miles tax hurts poor people who are forced to drive.
Now I have hundreds of people from NYC and SF saying ludicrous things like this.
We get it, you hate anyone who doesn't already live in the city center. https://t.co/FAla1nAohU
— Lee J. Carter (@carterforva) March 28, 2021
“Boehner throws support behind Republican who backed Trump impeachment” [The Hill]. “Former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is throwing his support behind an Ohio Republican who voted to impeach former President Trump, according to an invitation obtained by Politico. ‘Former House Speaker John Boehner is slated to be the special guest at a Monday afternoon Zoom fundraiser for Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio),’ the invitation for the fundraiser reportedly reads. Boehner’s backing of Gonzalez puts him in direct confrontation with Trump, who is supporting Gonzalez’s primary opponent, Max Miller. Trump recently hosted a fundraiser for Miller at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Trump has vowed to back primary opponents of any Republican who voted to impeach him. Gonzalez was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the House. A number of Trump’s critics in the GOP are already facing primary challenges.”
Realignment and Legitimacy
“The Three Factions of the American Left” [Ross Barkan]. I reserve “the left” for entities that put the working class first, so I disagree with Barkan’s terminology. But I like his “division of labor,” as it were. “When we speak of the ‘left’ in America, ultimately, we speak of the wings of the Democratic Party…. [(1)] Today there is no writing about in America without writing about DSA. If I were writing this essay before 2016, there would be no need to address the socialists at all. They were too small and inconsequential to be considered a faction of the party, with less than 10,000 members nationwide. That changed with Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign in 2016… [(2)] If can be understood as more committed to amelioration than a socialistic reimagining of the economy—for many Americans, this is fine and dandy!—it can also be explained as a class cohort, a set of attitudes, and a certain commitment to identity above class…. Permit me to coin a term here at Political Currents: [(3) ]. There has never been a tidy way to describe the large, well-funded nonprofits and non-governmental organizations that do politics in America. Many of them are based out of large Democratic states like New York. Many are known by their acronyms—hence my use of the word alphabet. Yet the alphabet left is fundamentally different than the socialist left because it still relies on funding from politicians and Democratic donors to survive.” • Well worth a read. I like very much that Barkan includes the NGOs in his description of the Party; I’ve been wrestling with that for some time. (I have not written my master work on the Democrat Party as an institution, but I think about it all the time.)
“Helicoptering” [Water Quality Monitoring & Research]. “There was a recent New Yorker article that really irritated me. Full disclosure, reporters flying in and out of Iowa twice and writing long pieces about the state tend to make me cranky in general. But this one was focused on “rural white grievance”, misinformation and the changes we have been seeing in state politics, and of course it had a strong agricultural focus… It is not a coincidence these helicopter reporters often speak to older farmers. The young ones are hard to find, what with them having off-farm jobs and there being so few of them. What is the real story here? Less than 4% of Iowans are farmers, even using USDA’s overly generous definitions. What this means is that a minority of farms and farmers drives Iowa’s agricultural policy and economy. Young farmers are struggling to make it in a sector where land has become very expensive and hard to come by because of ongoing subsidies that most benefit the silent generation, boomers and Gen Xers. Iowa’s agriculture is eating itself, on our dime.” • Identity is not enough. Who knew? Here is that New Yorker article–
“The Power of Political Disinformation in Iowa” [The New Yorker]. “A central lesson is that facts matter little when the opposition chooses demonization over debate and pivotal groups of voters stick to what they think they know.” • Yeah, sheesh, look at RussiaGate and what a debacle that was. Remember when people were naming their dogs after Mueller?
Manufacturing: “United States Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ general business activity index for manufacturing in Texas increased 11.7 points from the previous month to +28.9 in March of 2021, the highest since August of 2018. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, surged 28.1 points to 48, the highest on record…. Meanwhile, labour market measures indicated robust growth in employment.”
Real Estate: “Old golf courses and office buildings are turning into retail warehouses as demand for industrial space keeps climbing” [CNBC]. “The next big industrial warehouse might find itself on top of a former golf course. Or in an empty office building. Maybe in a vacated shopping mall. The Covid pandemic has accelerated e-commerce sales globally, with digital sales driving a larger portion of retailers’ and grocers’ businesses. That has sparked a race for warehouse space and caused companies to seek creative commercial real estate alternatives as they strive to fulfill online orders and avoid delivery delays. Demand for industrial, big-box facilities — warehouses or distribution centers of 200,000 square feet or more — hit a record in North America last year, according to commercial real estate services firm CBRE. It was the strongest performer among all industrial real estate.”
Commodities: “China rare earths extend surge on worries over Myanmar supply, inspection threat” [Reuters]. “About half of China’s feedstock of heavy rare earths comes from Myanmar, and the coup unleashed fears of a supply cutoff even though the mines are in that face no clear threat.” • Well, well.
Shipping: “Giant container ship that blocked Suez Canal is finally free” [Associated Press]. “Salvage teams on Monday freed a colossal container ship stuck for nearly a week in the Suez Canal, ending a crisis that had clogged one of the world’s most vital waterways and halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce. Helped by the tides, a flotilla of tugboats wrenched the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since March 23…. The giant vessel headed toward the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal, where it will be inspected, said Evergreen Marine Corp., a Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship. The Suez Canal Authority also will inspect the area where the vessel ran aground, to see if it is safe for shipping to resume through the waterway and clear a traffic jam of ships waiting to enter.” • Bulbous-prow McBulbous-prowFace on the move! Here’s a video:
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) March 29, 2021
Shipping: “Global shipping was in chaos even before the Suez blockage. Shortages and higher prices loom” [CNN]. “‘One year ago, global trade slowed to a crawl as the Covid-19 pandemic first hit China and then spread worldwide,’ Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of Los Angeles, said in a presentation this month. ‘Today, we are in the seventh month of a historic import surge, driven by unprecedented demand by American consumers,’ he added.
US seaborne imports were nearly 30% higher in February than the same month last year and 20% up on February 2019, according to S&P Global Panjiva.
The import surge in the United States and elsewhere has led to a worldwide container shortage. Everything from cars and machinery to apparel and other consumer staples are shipped in these metal boxes. The factories that make them are mostly in China and many of them closed early in the pandemic, slowing down the rate at which new capacity was coming on stream.”
Supply Chain: “Fridges, microwaves fall prey to global chip shortage” [Reuters]. • What a shame, the Internet of Things is feeling pressure.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 41 Fear (previous close: 52 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 54 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 29 at 12:28pm. One year ago, just after the end of the Before Times: 23 (Extreme Fear).
Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 188. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.)
I do not think we need to see the pilot run screaming from the cockpit at this time:
"Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth and I have to hope and trust you will listen," Walensky said, saying she's going to pause and "reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom."
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) March 29, 2021
“Hold on” by sending kids to schools for which your agency issued bad guidance? Yves was right about Walensky. Get a grip. (What really frosts me is that I can’t recall a single word of thanks from any political person to the American people for “holding on” as well as we have, in the face of a complete collapse of government at all levels — with the single exception of Operation Warp Speed, amazingly enough, and vaccination generally — and repeating bungling, both technically and in messaging, by public health “experts.” The people who saved the country were on the front lines in the workplace, both in health care and more broadly, and who cares about them? Remember when “essential workers’ were important?)
Our Famously Free Press
has anyone done this one yet pic.twitter.com/DnoMxCot4Z
— Will Oremus (@WillOremus) March 26, 2021
“As the Hard-Fought Amazon Union Vote Ends, a Movement Begins” [WIred]. The article begins with a count of supportive celebrities, and then a count of the generated news stories. Bad sign. “Today marks the end of the voting phase: The warehouse’s 5,800 eligible workers have until the end of the day to get their ballots into the hands of National Labor Relations Board officials. Then all eyes turn to the board’s Birmingham office, where, starting tomorrow, NLRB staffers will begin tallying up the votes. For the union to win, a majority of those votes need to be ‘yes.’ Fair warning: You’re not going to get the result overnight. If even half of the eligible workers return ballots, it could take days for the board to finish its tally. NLRB representatives will conduct a hand count in front of observers from both sides, first extracting each ballot from its signed yellow envelope. As officials read off the names, both sides can (and probably will) issue challenges, either on procedural grounds—things like unreadable signatures—or by disputing a worker’s eligibility to vote. Challenged ballots will be set aside, and the remaining anonymized ballots will be placed inside a ballot box for a public count. If, after the count, the number of challenged ballots is enough to affect the outcome, it means more waiting. The regional board will hold a hearing to rule on the disputed votes, potentially adding weeks to the process. Things could get gnarlier from there.”
“Historic Amazon Union Vote Count Begins This Week For Alabama Warehouse” [NPR]. “Not only has the vote prompted hundreds of inquiries to labor unions from workers at other Amazon warehouses, but workers at southern auto plants and other facilities are watching, too. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is looking to represent Amazon workers in Bessemer, has called this union push ‘the most important labor struggle in more than half a century.’… Workers at Bessemer reached out to the union last summer, a few months after the warehouse first opened. They described grueling productivity quotas, wanting more say in how people at Amazon work, get disciplined or get fired. ‘It could be an awesome place to work … but there are some things that need to be repaired. And so I chose and others chose to stand up and do something about it,’ said Jennifer Bates, one of the pro-union workers at the warehouse.”
“Milestone Amazon union vote nears end, but the battle may just be beginning” [CNN]. “The workers at Bessemer are just a fraction of the company’s hundreds of thousands of US-based warehouse employees. While the pandemic has been a boon for Amazon’s business, safety precautions related to the virus, as well as general workplace conditions, have also been a factor behind a more general employee uprising at its facilities. In recent months many of the same frustrations that Bessemer workers are hoping to improve with the help of union representation have similarly been expressed by Amazon workers at other facilities. The issues involved include adequate break time, better procedures for filing and receiving responses to grievances, higher wages as well as protection against Amazon wrongfully applying policies like social distancing to discipline workers. More than 1,000 warehouse workers around the country have contacted the RWDSU union, according to [Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union], as well as others outside the United States…. , adding that the Bessemer workers pushing to unionize have changed the conversations amongst workers at his facility. ‘Ultimately I think it is inevitable that Amazon warehouses — maybe not all of them, but I’m sure a good number of them — will become unionized.” • Let’s hope so.
“Deliveroo riders can earn as little as £2 an hour during shifts, as boss stands to make £500m” [Bureau of Investigative Reporting]. “As Deliveroo prepares for a multibillion-pound stock market flotation that could net its chief executive as much as £500m, an investigation by the Bureau has found that some of the riders upon whose backs the business was built have been receiving less than the minimum wage per shift. Our analysis of thousands of invoices from more than 300 riders over the past year shows that one in three made on average less than £8.72, the national minimum wage for those over 25, for their overall time per session in the app. Some earned even less: a cyclist in Yorkshire was logged in for 180 hours and was paid the equivalent of £2 per hour. This is perfectly legal because riders are treated by Deliveroo as being self-employed.”
News of the Wired
“Ban Garamond? C’mon, People, It’s Not Exactly Comic Sans” [Bloomberg]. “The D.C. Circuit is reportedly worried that use of a narrow font like Garamond allows lawyers to squeeze extra text into mandated page limits But the font has other virtues. Experts praise Garamond as an ‘elegant typeface’ with ‘high legibility” — ideal for ‘reading material that includes continuous text.'” • Correct. I expected to discover that Garamond was being cancelled because it’s not woke. Phew!
“Sequoyah and the Almost-Forgotten History of Cherokee Numerals” [MIT Press Reader (nvl)]. “Unlike the Hindu-Arabic, or Western numerals 0123456789, Sequoyah’s numerals had principally a ciphered-additive structure. That is, instead of place value and a zero, there are separate signs for each decade and unit, which combine together, so that 67 would be the sign for 60 followed by 7, rather than 6 followed by 7 as in Western numerals. Beyond 100, the system became multiplicative-additive — instead of developing nine new signs for 100 through 900, Sequoyah invented only one, which combined with the signs for 1 through 19.” • I selected this passage simply to describe the system, but this is really a history of numerical notations, and fascinating: “Over 5,500 years of written history, there are around 100 numerical notations well-attested enough that I could describe them in my previous work, including the Cherokee case. Each of the basic structures was invented multiple times independently of one another. While, in broad strokes, the history of numerical notation converged on one overwhelmingly popular system, the Western numerals, by around 1700 or so, numerical innovation never ceased. What changed was the likelihood that a community would adopt a numerical system widely, because of the overwhelming frequency-dependent and prestige biases in favor of Western numerals.”
“Sex, Drugs, and Antiquity” [Quillette]. The conclusion: “Advocates for a liberal, open society are becoming restless and active in favor of a growing movement for the freedom of consciousness, which is key to all the other freedoms. We’ve come of legal age to enter and take control of our own minds. It’s time for the governments of the world to listen to us, and pay attention to people like Muraresku and Siegel as they make sober arguments for the right to intoxication.” • Lots of interesting historical nuggets before this (though I’m also reminded of The Bacchae, by Euripedes, discussed by Melvyn Bragg and his friends in a recent and extremely creepy podcast.
“Military and spy agencies accused of stiff-arming investigators on UFO sightings” [Politico]. “Some military and spy agencies are blocking or simply ignoring the effort to catalog what they have on ‘unidentified aerial phenomenon,’ according to multiple current and former government officials. And as a result, the Biden administration will likely delay a much-anticipated public report to Congress. The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the director of national intelligence to work with the Defense Department to provide a public accounting by June 25 on unexplained sightings of advanced aircraft and drones that have been reported by military personnel or captured by radar, satellites and other surveillance systems…. The good news,” [said Christopher Mellon, a former Pentagon intelligence official] added, ‘is the leadership on both sides appear to be taking this issue seriously and are acting in good faith.'”
TH writes: “A Leucadendron bloom in our front yard. The topic of bloom colors for this plant came up on a FaceBook interaction with a friend. I had to run out front to confirm for myself that the blooms on ours are indeed yellow, even though I see them every year.”
Readers, I’m a little short of Spring plants, having put the remainder of my winter plants into inventory.
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!