2:00PM Water Cooler 5/7/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Here is the Principe Golden Weaver, in honor of Machiavelli (one more damn book to read).

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At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching.

Vaccination by region:

When we’re in diminishing returns territory daily numbers are expected to go down. It still worries me.

Somebody has to be last:

Case count by United States regions:

The Midwest in detail:

Continued good news. But Michigan’s decrease is agonizingly slow.

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

Continued good news.

Test positivity:

Down, except for the West, now flat.

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“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

Biden Administration

“Vaccine Waiver Pledge Tests Biden-World’s Pharma Ties” [David Sirota, Walker Bragman, and Andrew Perez, Daily Poster]. “The granular details of the waiver will be negotiated by a Biden administration populated by individuals with significant pharmaceutical investments and whose previous employers worked for a panoply of pharmaceutical giants. That includes drugmakers currently lobbying the White House on intellectual property.” • Antony Blinken, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Anita Dunn, and Steve Ricchetti all have cozy relationships with Big Pharma, as does Biden himself.

Lambert here: It’s really amazing: A 21st Century Marshall plan to build global vaccination capacity would, at a stroke, win back all the soft power squandered by Bush, Obama, and Trump, in addition to saving a few million lives. The realpolitik and the right thing to do coincide, and all you have to do is expropriate a few malefactors that voters hate and who are going to make plenty of money anyhow. Trump, with Operation Warp Speed, thought big. Now Biden is playing small ball, because that’s where the money is for the party (and, to be fair, the ideological commitments slash class interests), It would be surprising and disgusting if it weren’t business as usual for liberal Democrats.

UPDATE “How the U.S. locked up vaccine materials other nations urgently need” [Reuters]. “To fight the pandemic at home, the United States [i.e., the Trump Administration] gave its own vaccine manufacturers priority access to American-made materials needed to make the shots. As a result, the U.S. government [i.e., the Trump Administration] laid claim not only to vast quantities of finished COVID-19 vaccines but also to vaccine components and equipment all along the supply chain, according to a Reuters review of more than a dozen contracts involving some major suppliers. That has left some countries desperately in need of those supplies to scramble for substitutes, exacerbating international disparities in vaccine access, according to interviews with suppliers, foreign manufacturers and vaccine market experts…. [T]he [WTO IP] waiver would not address a less conspicuous but equally pressing problem: the growing worldwide shortage of vaccine ingredients and manufacturing equipment. The United States has a tight grip on a significant amount of those materials, such as filters, tubing and specialized disposable bags essential to making vaccines. Countries ravaged by the virus – including India, where a catastrophic explosion of cases has filled hospitals and morgues – cannot make vaccines without such supplies, even with access to manufacturers’ cookbooks. The problem stems from the U.S. reliance on a law dating to the Korean War in the 1950s, called the Defense Production Act (DPA), which gives federal agencies the power to prioritize procurement orders related to national defense. For decades, the law was used to supply the military as well as respond to everything from natural disasters to roadblocks in the decennial U.S. census. The administration of former President Donald Trump invoked the act to put the U.S. government first in line to buy American-made vaccines as well as other products needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, vaccine makers have priority access to any supplies needed to fill U.S. orders.” • And IIRC, everybody and their sister was screaming at Trump to invoke the DPA. So here we are!

“Bipartisan focus intensifies for crucial weeks ahead as path narrows on infrastructure” [CNN]. “President Joe Biden and senior congressional Democrats plan to make a sustained push for a bipartisan agreement on a scaled-back infrastructure proposal over the next two weeks, according to aides and White House officials. In the latest sign that Democratic leaders are giving bipartisan talks their blessings, aides say that a timeline for passing a budget resolution, the first step in the process that would allow Democrats to pass legislation without GOP votes, has slipped past May. Biden has also made clear he sees the coming weeks as a key test for whether the parties can find a path forward, officials say. He’s instructed his staff to engage in continued negotiations and invited the lead Senate GOP negotiator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, to the White House next week and informed her she could choose the colleagues she wants to attend, according to one official. He’ll also host congressional leadership next week. ‘I’m meeting with my Republican friends up in the Congress to see number one, how much they’re willing to go for, what they think are the priorities and what compromises — I’m ready to compromise,’ Biden said in Thursday remarks in Louisiana. ‘What I’m not ready to do is, I’m not ready to do nothing.’ The Democratic strategy is one that is equal parts sincere and necessity, aides and officials say. Biden has made clear in private conversations with Democrats he thinks there’s both a pathway to an agreement and overall value for the country to the effort, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations. He also understands the political reality, they said.” • Joe Biden owes me six hundred bucks.

“Analysis: U.S. Labor Secretary’s next move on gig workers likely to include company probes – experts” [Reuters]. “Walsh, himself a former union member, told Reuters he thinks a lot of U.S. gig workers in the country deserve employee benefits, and that his department would have conversations in coming months with companies that employ them. These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not (going to) begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America. But we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker,” he said last week.” • “Trickles down”? Can’t the CEOs use a bottle, like the rest of us?

“Trump signed off on last-minute Medicaid changes. Now Biden faces the legal challenges” [NBC]. “Less than two weeks before President Joe Biden came into office, the Trump administration provided Tennessee a 10-year waiver that caps the state’s Medicaid funding. It also allows Tennessee lawmakers to use a portion of any federal cash they save from the program in other areas of the state. Critics say it will encourage Tennessee to make cuts to Medicaid to shore up other state programs and fundamentally change TennCare… This case, and similar ones in other states, has the Biden administration walking a legal tightrope to unwind President Donald Trump’s Medicaid policies… Some observed that will be a challenge while the agency still has key leadership positions unfilled. The agency is working without a permanent general counsel or head of its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Eighteen of the 31 senior leadership positions in HHS are currently filled by those in ‘acting’ roles [How Trumpian!]. … The Tennessee waiver would allow for a capped form of Medicaid funding — commonly called block grant funding — that Republicans have long sought and Democrats have long foiled…. Trump also allowed states to institute work requirements for Medicaid, for example in Arkansas and New Hampshire. This has developed into a case before the Supreme Court and could be a potential legal headache for the Biden administration — though the Supreme Court has pulled the case from its docket for the current session. Around the same time the Tennessee waiver was put in place, Trump further committed the federal government to pay billions to Texas for unpaid medical bills racked up by low-income Texans who can’t afford insurance coverage. (Texas has the largest uninsured population in the country, according to HHS data.) That commitment lasts for the next 10 years, which some say gives state lawmakers the excuse to avoid Medicaid expansion.”

Democrats en Deshabille

“A Top Biden Cybersecurity Aide Donated Over $500,000 to AIPAC as an NSA Official” [David Corn, Mother Jones (via the War Nerd)]. “Several other national security experts—who asked not to be named—say that the foundation’s donations to AIPAC create, at the least, an appearance problem for Anne Neuberger.” • Apparently Neuberger was too much not only for Corn, but for his handlers in the intelligence community, to stomach. The whole piece is well worth a read. It’s all horrible.

“Republicans Will Punish Democrats for Every Reform They Make” [Elie Mystal, The Nation]. “Unfortunately, many centrist and moderate Democrats seem paralyzed by the fear of what Republicans will do if they take back the Senate or the White House. They’re afraid to pass sweeping policy or procedural reforms because of how they think Republicans will punish Democratic politicians in the future. It’s hard to even have a debate about big, structural changes to how government functions because too many arguments devolve to ‘If Democrats do anything, Republicans will be super mean.'” • This is the “Democrats lack a spine” issue that we’ve been hearing for decades. I don’t buy it, because if “paralysis” did not benefit enough individual Democrats, they would, long ago, have overcome their paralysis.* I think it’s fine to point out opportunities today’s Democrats are missing, as I often do, but that’s a matter of voter education, not elected Democrat education. Personally, I’d put corruption higher on the list than fear — especially for health care policy — which makes “Democrats are spineless” a useful alibi, and nothing more. NOTE * For example, the Blue Dogs, who wreaked so much havoc after 2006, were installed by Rahm Emmanuel. Likewise, today’s crop of moderates — especially the CIA Democrats — were installed by Pelosi and her henchpersons. Political, indeed party, calculus, not fear.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “April 2021 BLS Jobs Situation – Job Gains Disappoint” [Econintersect]. “The headline seasonally adjusted BLS job growth was well below expectations, with the unemployment rate worsening from 6.0 % to 6.1 %. Growth was well under expectations. The economically intuitive sectors were negative for economic growth.”

Wholesale Sales: “March 2021 Headline Wholesale Sales Improved and Inventories Grow” [Econintersect]. “The headlines say wholesale sales were up month-over-month with inventory levels growing. Our analysis shows improvement in the rate of growth for the rolling averages. Our view is that this data set is better than last month.”

Rail: “Rail Week Ending 01 May 2021 – Growth Surge Over Lockdown One Year Ago” [Econintersect]. “We are now seeing great rail growth as the data is being compared to the coronavirus lockdown period last year…. Rail is now growing year-over-year.”

Leading Indicators: “30 April 2021 ECRI’s WLI Growth Rate Marginally Improves” [Econintersect]. “ECRI’s WLI Growth Index which forecasts economic growth six months forward was little changed and remains well into expansion.”

* * *

Retail: “Nearly 1 in 3 new stores opening in the US is a Dollar General” [CNN]. “About 45% of the 3,597 store openings that large retail chains in the United States have announced so far this year are from Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, according to the latest figures from Coresight Research, a firm that aggregates the numbers from company filings and press releases. These openings are a continuation of dollar stores’ rapid growth even before the pandemic. Economists and retail analysts say dollar stores are expanding in part because of growing wealth inequality in the United States and the hollowing out of the middle class. The share of American adults who live in middle-income households decreased from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019, according to Pew Research Center.”

Commodities: “Copper Jumps to Record as Growth Bets Supercharge Commodities” [Bloomberg]. “The metal — an economic bellwether — is front and center in a rally that’s driven raw materials from lumber to iron ore to multiyear highs or records. Stimulus measures and vaccine rollouts are fueling prospects for a resurgence in demand that’s set to strain supply, while copper’s crucial role in the green-energy transition is expected to underpin longer-term gains. At the same time, a lack of mine investment may leave the market short of the supply needed to meet demand.”

Commodities: “Steel Giant ArcelorMittal Posts ‘Strongest Quarter in a Decade'” [Industry Week]. “Steel giant ArcelorMittal said Thursday it recorded its best quarterly performance in a decade as commodity prices have soared due to booming demand fueled by an economic recovery from the pandemic. The Luxembourg-based group’s net profit nearly doubled to $2.3 billion (1.9 billion euros) in the first quarter compared to the last three months of 2020, according to an earnings statement. Sales surged by 15% in the first three months of the year to $16.2 billion as steel prices and iron ore revenues rose.”

Commodities: “One Grain Is Keeping World’s Food Crisis From Getting Worse” [Bloomberg]. “As skyrocketing crop prices fuel fears about soaring food costs and hunger around the globe, one of the world’s most consumed staples is bucking the trend and warding off a broader food crisis at least for now. Rice is the predominant source of nourishment each day for more than 3 billion people, and yet it hasn’t rallied anything like other agricultural commodities from corn to soy and meat. While prices are above levels a year earlier, they’ve declined in recent months in some of the top exporters including Vietnam, Thailand and India on improved supplies from new harvests. One reason for the diverging trend is that rice is grown mainly for human consumption, whereas the surge in crop prices has been driven by booming demand for livestock feed. China’s insatiable appetite for hog feed has combined with poor crop weather to drain world grain and oilseed supplies, sending corn and soybeans to the highest level in more than eight years.”

Commodities: “Pandemic-driven upheaval is still spreading across U.S. food supply chains. Chicken stocks that were brimming at the start of the year have become severely depleted…. and prices for various parts are soaring as restaurants scramble for supplies. Independent eateries and bars have gone weeks without wings, cutting into some of their most reliable sales” [Wall Street Journal]. “It’s the latest sign of how changes in consumer markets during the pandemic have shown many supply chains to be surprisingly fragile. Poultry was a cheap and popular alternative to other proteins as production and distribution of various food products was knocked off balance last year. Now fast-food chains are battling for customers with chicken sandwiches and supermarkets are seeing prices climb. Chicken farmers are trying to ramp up production but total chicks hatched over the first three months of the year actually trailed 2020’s first-quarter total.” • Tightly coupled systems, which is what the ubiquitous just-in-time production is, are always fragile. So where’s the “surprisingly”?

Shipping: “Key Container Freight Index Hits Milestone” [Maritime Logistics]. “The Valencia Containerized Freight Index (VCFI) continues its upward trend, reaching 2,314.89 points in April, an increase of 17.39% over the previous month. In a global context marked by the generalized growth of freight rates, the VCFI links its ninth consecutive month of growth and exceeds two thousand points for the first time in its history since the index began in January 2018. The effects of the incident with the Ever Given vessel in the Suez Canal, released at the end of March, have added to the complexity of an already stressed market. To this, we must add the upward forecasts for world GDP which reinforce market demand, the congestion in the main US ports and the increase in the price of some fuels…. According to Alphaliner data, the commercially idle fleet remains at minimal levels, i.e. 56 vessels, representing 0.8% of total capacity. In terms of equipment, some shipping lines have announced orders for new units to alleviate the market situation.”

Shipping: “US regulator probing China’s role in container shortage” [Freight Waves]. “Carl Bentzel, a U.S. Federal Maritime Commissioner (FMC), told attendees at a virtual business meeting hosted by the Intermodal Association of North America that he is looking into the availability of containers, intermodal chassis and railroad equipment, and whether the U.S. has become overly dependent on such equipment owned and managed by China. ‘I am concerned that this equipment is controlled by a state-owned enterprise and that we’re completely reliant, and I have questions about whether or not there’s been market manipulation of what is potentially a monopoly,’ Bentzel said at the meeting on Wednesday. ‘We really need to take a look at our reliance on that segment of the industry, and evaluate how important it is to our nation.’ Bentzel made public months ago his concerns about shortages of equipment used to support cargo moving in the U.S. trans-Pacific trade in the wake of volume surges at the country’s major container ports, particularly the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex.”

Shipping: Handy map:

Manufacturing: “The factory floor in China is going global. State-owned companies are roiling global markets with low-price goods across a range of sectors, but… the familiar story has a twist because they’re doing it from factories in Europe and other locations far from China’s own manufacturing centers” [Wall Street Journal]. “Chinese companies have been using state backing over the past decade to acquire Western rivals like French rail equipment supplier Valdunes and build factories beyond the country’s borders. Such purchases have brought more industrial know-how to China’s factory owners and greater access to foreign markets. Western officials and executives are raising alarms, saying the state support allows Chinese-owned manufacturers overseas to operate on razor-thin margins or at a loss while they grab market share or serve Beijing’s strategic objectives. But addressing the issue is difficult when the manufacturer in question is operating inside a Western market.”

Manufacturing: “The global chip shortage is starting to have major real-world consequences” [CNBC]. “Nations are now being forced to think about how they can increase the number of chips they produce. The vast majority of the world’s chips are made in China, while the U.S. is the second biggest producer. The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has said it wants to build up chip manufacturing capacity in Europe as part of an effort to become more self-reliant on what it sees as a critical technology. U.S. tech giant Intel has offered to help but it reportedly wants 8 billion euros in public subsidies toward building a semiconductor factory in Europe. Intel also announced in March that it intends to spend $20 billion on two new chip plants in Arizona.”

The Bezzle: “Tesla tells regulator that full self-driving cars may not be achieved by year-end” [Reuters]. • Little children everywhere burst into tears. Lambert staggers in amazement. Comment (note source):

UPDATE The Bezzle: “The hidden work created by artificial intelligence programs” [MIT Sloan School]. “AI has created millions of new jobs, including for human workers who do things like labeling images so a machine learning model can learn, said Saiph Savage, director of the Civic Innovation Lab at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Other human tasks might include transcribing audio, which helps voice assistants understand the world, or flagging violent content or disinformation on social media platforms. The workers operating behind the scenes, often called ghost workers or invisible workers, are usually hidden to the end user, Savage said. Her research shows that these workers often earn below minimum wage and have limited opportunities for career growth and development.” • Sounds to me like the data sets are unmaintainable, never mind biased.

UPDATE “The art of the SPAC: from sublime to ridiculous” [Reuters]. “Breakingviews has written about blank-check companies since the SPAC equivalent of the Renaissance – the mid-2000s. Much like art, the output and influences in successive eras have evolved. Old Master SPACs are relatively rare, cautiously constructed works. More recently, the rush to cash in on the craze has brought creations verging on the surreal.” • The supporting tweet:

Warhol, however, is not a surrealist. His school is…. Pop. Subtext from Reuters?

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 55 Neutral (previous close: 51 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 56 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 7 at 12:54pm.

Health Care

“Association of Vitamin D Levels, Race/Ethnicity, and Clinical Characteristics With COVID-19 Test Results” [JAMA (DG)]. Conclusions: “The findings of this cohort study support a role of vitamin D levels in COVID-19 risk. Randomized clinical trials of interventions to raise vitamin D levels into ranges at or above levels currently considered sufficient are needed to determine if those interventions could reduce COVID-19 incidence, perhaps especially in Black and other populations known to be at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. Because such levels exceed levels recommended for other reasons, individual and policy decisions about higher supplement dosing and vitamin D testing to achieve such levels should be even more carefully considered than dosing to avoid vitamin D deficiency as currently defined, which some have argued should be pursued given current evidence that vitamin D might reduce the risk of COVID-19.”

Police State Watch

“Grand jury indicts 4 ex-police officers in George Floyd’s death” [The Hill]. “A federal grand jury has indicted all four former Minneapolis police officers involved with the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, including Derek Chauvin, who was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges last month. The multicount indictment from the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, accuses Chauvin along with Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao of violating Floyd’s constitutional rights. All of the men were charged with failing to administer first aid to Floyd as Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. Additionally, Chauvin, Kueng and Thao are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and excessive force.” • Good.

“The exonerative voice”:

“The exonerative voice” is a keeper.

L’Affaire Joffrey Epstein

“Melinda Gates Warned Bill About Jeffrey Epstein” [The Daily Beast]. Normally if I want to quote a gossip rag, I go for Page Six. Nevertheless: “Melinda Gates met with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein alongside her husband, Bill, in New York City and soon after said she was furious at the relationship between the two men, according to people familiar with the situation. The previously unreported meeting occurred at Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion in September 2013, on the same day the couple accepted the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award at The Pierre hotel and were photographed alongside then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The meeting would prove a turning point for Gates’ relationship with Epstein, the people familiar with the matter say, as Melinda told friends after the encounter how uncomfortable she was in the company of the wealthy sex offender and how she wanted nothing to do with him. Gates’ friendship with Epstein—who for years was accused of molesting scores of underage girls—still haunts Melinda, according to friends of the couple who spoke to The Daily Beast this week in light of the pair’s divorce announcement, which had been weeks in the making.” • So the Gates divorce will be ugly? That’s a damned shame.


Leitmotifs (!):

The Conservatory

UPDATE From Teen Vogue’s labor reporter:

Book Nook

“Matt Taibbi’s ‘Hate Inc.’ Getting Turned Into Documentary by Vespucci (EXCLUSIVE)” [Variety]. “‘As a company that works closely with journalists from around the world, we remain conscious of the evolution of media and audio-visual news,’ said Vespucci co-founders Johnny Galvin and Daniel Turcan. ”Hate Inc.’ expertly dissects the current state of the media landscape, and through the lens of Noam Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent,’ Matt asks of us, viewers, to hold accountable our news providers. The timing of the book couldn’t be more critical and a documentary as an extension of Matt’s commentary feels only fitting.’…. ”Hate Inc.’ is a book about the way the news media business has commoditized anger and division, eschewing traditional fact-based reporting and objectivity in favor of a new strategy based on telling audiences what they want to hear,’ Taibbi said. ‘Because much of this transformation took place in visual and auditory media, the subject easily lends itself to a documentary – in fact, even as I was writing the book, I was aware it may be a story more easily told on screen.'”

Bible Corner

“Six Ways to Protect Your Church From Fraud” [The Roys Report]. “About one in every three churches gets robbed. And it’s not just the megachurches that fall prey to thieving employees. Most church fraud happens in small, local churches that don’t have enough employees to easily provide accountability…. The average amount lost in a church fraud case is $180,000 over 18 months, he said. Yet these cases add up to billions of dollars in fraud each year. Thankfully, with good accountability, churches can usually detect fraud cases in two months or less, Clark-Hoyos said. Accountability systems also prevent mistakes and protect employees from false fraud accusations.” • Worth a read, especially if you are a church-goer.

Groves of Academe

“Campus Police and the AAUP” [Academe Blog]. According to the AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, faculty have “primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum . . . and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process,” and, even in areas outside of faculty primary responsibility, there should still be “agencies for faculty participation in the government of the college or university.” Campus police may not fall directly under the primary responsibility of faculty, but faculty should still play a role in their oversight, accountability, and policy making. Generally, however, campus police forces are ultimately accountable only to the university president and the governing board. This poses two related problems. First, unlike municipal police forces, which are ultimately accountable to elected officials and therefore to voters, a university president is an unelected figure appointed by a governing board. Public safety on campus is therefore in the hands of an individual who is not accountable to the university’s “public” of staff, faculty, and students…. Second, and related to the issue of public accountability, is the perennial struggle over finances and which aspects of the college or university’s mission are prioritized through funding. Campus police force budgets have, in general, only increased over time, and their departments are often protected from budget cuts that are imposed on academic departments, effectively undercutting the primary educational mission of the institution in favor of expanding the administration’s police force. Campus police forces thus pose a threat to the principle of shared governance because they are not accountable to faculty and the campus community in any direct or meaningful way, and they often directly compete with academic units for scarce financial resources, attenuating what the AAUP views as the core purpose of higher education: research and teaching. ” • Stuff and nonsense. The core purpose of higher education is to aggrandize the administration (as this post clearly shows).

Class Warfare

“Early Draft of AFL-CIO’s Report on Police Reform Shows a Commitment to Defending Police Unions” [In These Times]. “Last June, as the clamor over [the murder of George Floyd] reached its peak, [Liz Shuler, the AFL-CIO’s second-in-command] suggested that rather than kicking out police unions, the AFL-CIO should have them adopt ​“codes of excellence” to change police behavior from within. And that is exactly what the draft of the long-awaited AFL-CIO report on policing says. The 13-page draft report, titled ​“The Labor Movement’s Public Safety Blueprint for Change,” is not final and presumably could still change before being made public. But it is the product of many months of work, and is currently being considered inside the subcommittee. The draft report’s introduction makes clear that it is written from the perspective of police unions themselves: ​“Union public safety professionals, and our unions, have a duty to call out the wrong doers and actions that damage people in these communities and, in doing so, the integrity of our profession. We can no longer stand idly by when those who fail to uphold their oath and duty take actions that stain the work of law enforcement,” it says. ​“We must also advocate to protect the right of all working people to have a voice on the job and bargain collectively with their employer.” (The insistence on protecting collective bargaining for police is not an idle issue — days ago in San Antonio, voters narrowly rejected a ballot proposition that would have rescinded that police department’s collective bargaining rights.)” • Hmm.

Why don’t they just leave:

News of the Wired

“Forgetting the Body” [The Convivial Society]. “Digital culture is material culture, but it’s easy to imagine otherwise…. [Alasdair] MacIntyre mentions this forgetfulness in a book titled Dependent Rational Animals. In it he argues that this forgetfulness of the body leads us to ignore how thoroughly dependent we are as creatures, especially in childhood and old age but also under countless other circumstances throughout our lives. …. As I thought about this and how digital media seems to encourage the myth of immateriality and disembodiment, it occurred to me that this might be an interesting clue as to the source of the worst elements of our digital public spaces To forget the body is to forget our dependence, our frailty, our limitations. To forget these is also to forget the value, indeed the necessity of humility, generosity, care, patience, and mercy. These and other like them are what MacIntyre called ‘the virtues of acknowledged dependence,’ and they were, in his view, grounded in a recognition of our limitations and weaknesses as embodied creatures. If digital culture tempts us to forget our bodies, then it may also be prompting us to act as if we were self-sufficient beings with little reason to care or expect to be cared for by another.”

Cornellà is an acquired taste that I have never really acquired. Still, the soul of man under neoliberalism;

Gladly the cross-eyed bear:

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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 (JF):

JF writes: “Offering up some iris from last May. My mom planted a clump of these about 40 years ago and then gave some to my aunt and uncle a few years later. When I bought my house, my uncle divided them up, and gave some to me. We often talk about heirloom plants, but not as much about plant as heirlooms. My mom and uncle have both passed, and I feel a connection to both of them when my iris bloom every spring.” I love iris but I am bad at dividing them. It’s too much like work.

And also for plant lovers:

Bleeding Heartland is a blog about Iowa politics of very long standing, so do give them a clickthrough.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. flora

    re: The Midwest in detail.

    Whoa! Kansas doing very well. Didn’t USA Today or NYTimes (the article has since vanished from goog/duck searches) earlier this year opine Kansas had a death wish for some reason or other? Maybe not. / ;)

  2. flora

    Thanks for the beautiful iris photo. Wonderful flowers. (Don’t let walnut trees start seedlings in the iris bed. Walnut trees and iris are not best friends. :) )

    1. stowers_joe@yahoo.com

      All walnut trees or are there certain walnuts less friendly — e.g. black walnuts? [I don’t know trees or irises but love irises and have noticed many black walnut trees around where I live.]

  3. flora

    re: Lambert here: It’s really amazing: A 21st Century Marshall plan to build global vaccination capacity would, at a stroke, win back all the soft power squandered….

    True. Thanks for pointing this out.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I began but controlled tearing at that link and extract — no sarc!
      Forget whatever soft power the US has or had … as a member of Humankind … I am not pleased to be part of this country or its policitical-military-economic-politics.

  4. fresno dan

    Ben Wakana
    *Republicans* saw the BIGGEST shift towards COVID vaccine confidence over the last month.
    1. Covid will come back in the fall
    2. republicans will say the wealthiest should be vaccinated first because they are the backbone of the economy…
    3. An unmasked nose will be considered attempted murder, and the police will have the right to shoot you dead (well, they always have the defacto right to shoot you dead)

  5. fresno dan

    John Pfaff
    May 5
    Here’s a remarkable case of the exonerative voice.

    Do you know how this baby died? From some of the 20 bullets the police fired into the car, knowing the baby was in the car.
    NRA: guns don’t kill people, people kill people
    NRA regarding police: police don’t kill people, somehow bullets from police guns kill people…inexplicably
    I’m pretty sure the police may claim the baby was holding something that they mistook for a gun, which actually was a pacifier, which any unbiased observer would agree could easily be mistaken for a Sig Sauer P320

  6. steve

    Re Today’s Plant (JF), in the south at least we refer to these gifted plants as passalong plants. In a time long past there was a family tradition of providing passalong plants to family members when they bought their first house. I remember seeing driveways filled, looking like a plant sale.

  7. R

    Don’t worry quite so much about diminishing returns on vaccination, Lambert. Remember that the pool of susceptible is shrinking. So vaccinating X people daily when at 50% vaccinated is the same per capita rate as vaccinating 2X people at the beginning.

    Obviously vaccinating a tenth as many would be bad!

  8. Pat

    Does anyone but me wonder if we are getting real numbers regarding Covid positivity, especially as many are vaccinated? Without regular testing we will not have a clear picture. Proof of vaccination has replaced required negative tests, so those with mild or no symptoms may not even realize they are ill. Yes we are now seeing numbers about people getting Covid post vaccination, but part of the point of the vaccines is that the protection is not getting the disease OR getting a milder case if exposed. How many people are going to think I have respiratory symptoms I could have Covid after our largely caveat free get vaccinated sales pitch.

    It is in the country/state/city’s best “interests” to have a Covid free population for reasons not related to public health. And that could lead to either optimistic or active avoidance of recognition.

    Like I said it could just be cynical me.

  9. The Rev Kev

    “US regulator probing China’s role in container shortage”

    Sounds like more China bashing here with promises of ‘enforcement proceedings’. And there is already enough things to bash China on without trying to make up new cases. If China is flipping empty containers back to China instead of having them filled with US exports first, there is a name for that – capitalism. A capitalist country will always prioritize themselves first over other countries as it is the nature of the beast. It’s not right but there it is. You might as well have a Chinese official probe America’s role in vaccine shortages because of what Trump ordered and Biden is continuing, that is easily provable. And going by that other article in Water Cooler “How the U.S. locked up vaccine materials other nations urgently need” that can be easily proven.

  10. lobelia

    Some updates regarding Gavin Newsom’s no bid contract – with huge Newsom donor (donating to him since 2002), Blue Shield Insurance – and the resultant MyTurn [1] grifter boondoggle (to say the least). Emphasis mine:

    05/07/21 By Barbara Feder Ostrov Pediatricians can bypass MyTurn as they vaccinate children

    State officials will allow pediatricians to bypass their cumbersome vaccine management system in a move intended to speed COVID-19 vaccinations for children, CalMatters has learned.

    The decision comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize vaccines for children ages 12 to 15 as early as next week, which would add 2.1 million kids to the number of Californians eligible.

    The move is a tacit recognition of the problems that the massive, $50 million MyTurn system poses for doctors and smaller medical groups wanting to immunize their patients.


    04/22/21 By Barbara Feder Ostrov State’s ‘MyTurn’ website bypassed for most vaccine appointments.

    I’ll subtitle this excerpt from the piece, Grifters Delight and Likely HIPAA Nightmare:

    MyTurn was developed with unusual speed for a government website.

    State officials told CalMatters that they spent $50 million building the site. A contract obtained by CalMatters shows up to $18 million will be paid to multinational consulting giant Accenture. Of that, $6.9 million was spent on development, but there’s another $5.7 million management cost in the first year and another roughly $6 million a year for two more years. Accenture used technology from Salesforce, a San Francisco-based software company, and was assisted by a workforce management consulting company called Skedulo.

    MyTurn isn’t just an appointment clearinghouse. It has other critical functions: It tracks vaccine orders and distribution, collects reams of vaccination data and helps organize volunteers statewide. It can also transmit data to California’s immunization registry, which maintains confidential vaccination records [or not, I ‘suppose’ – lobelia].


    More on workforce management consulting company™, Skedulo, here, but trigger alert (e.g. you know your health and HIPAA rights are in good hands™ when you read: Microsoft VC fund; and from garage band to San Fran): https://www.afr.com/technology/brisbane-founded-skedulo-closes-us28m-raise-with-microsoft-s-vc-fund-20190320-p515ox .

    [1] Remember Michele Obama’s MyPlate™? Always a joy to know how our amoral (to say the least), faux caring nanny Demorats refer to the majority of the populace they are supposed to be serving, by slyly addressing them as if they are sandbox bully children who have not gotten past their ghastly first person possessive years –when it’s actually those Demorat elites who never got past their sandbox bully children, first person possessive years, and likely never will.

    gotta run

  11. drumlin woodchuckles

    A post of links looks to be missing. What happened to the post for which the video antidote was the junior and senior potoo birds?

  12. tegnost

    “Trickles down”?

    You can only have one increment at a time,
    but you should at least get an increment…it’s who we are,
    the leftish center wing of the republican party

  13. fresno dan

    test, test, test,
    something seems wrong – that is too few comments. Why is that?

    1. The Rev Kev

      Been trying to work that out myself. There is nothing wrong with the assortment of links and material in Water Cooler today. Maybe it is just a statistical fluke.

      1. skippy

        I was worried that Lambert fell asleep in the bath with lappy … JK …

        Actually I think neoliberalism is on its last legs, admin of it is currently under going a near psychotic episode of various degrees depending on how factions roll and the desire to come out on top when the dust settles.

        Covid really presented a situation which has removed so much ideological PR fog, for so many people, that the GFC was just a bad patch or some nefarious plot by outside forces which would snatch their dreams away.

      2. Alternate Delegate

        Everybody is out enjoying the spring weather. Or else sitting in moderation for saying that conscience takes precedence over law … watching the shadow of the window bars move across the jail cell floor …

    2. lambert strether

      Something I said? Too much com commodities? You may not be interested in commodities, but commodities are interested in you…

      1. Terry Flynn

        In Soviet Russia….that joke might be a day early if I know my history :)

      2. tegnost

        it’s spring time and in dc the smoke filled rooms are where the action is so it’s wait and see what comes out of the infra negotiations. It’s not that the rulers have decided to change course, they just can’t figure quite how to message it, so it’s mum’s the word. Luntz is probably working a lot of OT

  14. cnchal

    > Manufacturing: “The factory floor in China is going global.

    . . . Western officials and executives are raising alarms, saying the state support allows Chinese-owned manufacturers overseas to operate on razor-thin margins or at a loss while they grab market share or serve Beijing’s strategic objectives. . .

    Were these not the same Western officials and executives that sent all the jawbs to China in the first place, and now are complaining of being on the losing end of the deal? I mean it has been a decade since China bought up half the kill floor in the US and in my town bought up the biggest tooling shop and who knows, what else. So China has been eating us with our own money for moar than a decade.

    The same thing has been happening in the Canadian housing market, Chinese “investors” come in to launder their loot and because it benefits the FIRE sector by forcing huge debt onto Canadian’s shoulders to compete with the Chinese buyer, it is seen as the natural order of things by those that profit the most from this arrangement.

    (thinking . . . thinking)

    I’m so stupid, and should have seen right through the alarm raiser’s cry. They want subsidies too, so the executives can run their companies on razor thin margins or losses to compete with the Chinese firms, but still retain their obscene pay packages.

    1. eg

      Yup. See Judith Stein’s “Pivotal Decade” along with Klein and Pettis’ “Trade Wars Are Class Wars” for more grim detail.

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