By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
Winter birds: “Songs and a few calls from an adult male perched at the top of a tall spruce.”
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51
“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson
“January 6 Insurrection: One Year Later, Families Are Still Divided” [Teen Vogue]. “As the insurrection unfolded on television, Jackson says he got a phone call from the FBI asking him to confirm that his father was at the Capitol, which Jackson did. As he struggled with the idea that his father was part of an attempted coup of the United States government, Jackson says his father texted news reports to the family group chat with photos of himself at the Capitol. Friends texted, too, asking Jackson if the images they were seeing on television were really of his father. Even now, Jackson says, it’s difficult to conceptualize that his father was part of something like the insurrection. … , which Jackson did.” • Teen Vogue going of the rails here; as one reader put it, if you want to see a real coup and a real insurrection, look at what’s happening in Myanmar. It’s not cosplay and LARPing there. I’m also not super-enthusiastic about the “society of snitches” Teen Vogue implicitly endorses (cf. The Lives of Others). But I think Teen Vogue buries the lead, which I have helpfully underlined. Was the FBI simply working off a list of leads? “Confirm” would suggest not. So how pervasive was FBI surveillance and/or infiltration at the Capitol that day? Were they using facial recognition? Plausible answers include “very” and “yes”…..
“Florida leads nation in Jan. 6 Capitol riot cases” [Axios]. • Handy map:
The concentration of deep color in OH, PA, NY, NY, VA, and MD is more interesting to me than the state at the top of the leaderboard. What does this auger for 2022 and 2024? (It could be that these states are simply closer to DC, but that CA, TX, and FL are also deep colored, suggesting the rioters were willing to travel.)
“Biden, health officials to lay out path out of Omicron winter” [Politico]. That’s only fair, since they laid the path that got us into it. On Wednesday: “Walensky has also come under fire in recent days from disability rights advocates for saying she finds it ‘encouraging’ that deaths from Omicron have largely happened among people with multiple comorbidities. Walensky attempted a clean-up Sunday night, posting on Twitter that ‘CDC is taking steps to protect those at highest risk, incl. those w/ chronic health conditions, disabilities & older adults.'” So, that Walensky has gone all
Lebensunwertes LebenGreat Barrington is supposed to reassure us? I can’t wait to see what happens next. And on Thursday: “President Joe Biden will make a speech on his administration’s ‘whole-of-government COVID-19 surge response.'” • He’s gonna make me pull on my yellow waders again, isn’t he? Start with the fact that two years in, the Administration doesn’t have a theory of transmission, and because they don’t, they cannot explain to people what actions to take, and hence rely on their authority. Since Zeints, Fauci, Walensky, and Klain are all secure in their positions, I don’t expect Biden’s speech to be anything other than a warmed-over version of the same themeless pudding. A themeless lethal pudding.
“SALT Cap Limbo Threatens Suburban Swing District Democrats” [Bloomberg]. “Democrats risk losing their edge in key suburban districts amid a congressional stalemate over President Joe Biden’s economic agenda that threatens plans to expand a tax break for well-off homeowners. Many voters in affluent suburbs across the country from New Jersey to Washington state abandoned the Republican party in the 2018 congressional elections, helping to swing the House into Democratic control one year after the GOP set a $10,000 limit on the long-standing federal deduction for state and local taxes, or SALT. Those same districts are once again up for grabs as Democrats wrangle over the details of the tax and spending package, including the fate of SALT relief. Uncertainty over when — or if — a package containing SALT could pass threatens to jeopardize Democrats’ chances of maintaining their slim congressional majorities. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, who leads House Democrats’ campaign arm, says delivering relief from the SALT cap is ‘essential’ for the party’s election prospects.” • Because tax “relief” is what liberal Democrats are all about! Idea: Tax breaks for “In this house…” signs?
“Personnel are policy” [Cory Doctorow, Medium]. “It’s hard not to freak out, watching Biden get punked by Joe Manchin over Build Back Better. Manchin’s transparent ruse — splitting the infrastructure bill from BBB — was obviously a prelude to a betrayal. Thanks to Dem leadership’s foolish error, the party that holds the House, the Senate and the Oval Office will go into the mid-terms and the next presidential election having failed to deliver on the vast majority of their campaign promises. Having failed to deliver material improvements to voters’ lives, they are going to struggle to win elections. Joe Manchin seems hell-bent on electing Donald Trump president again in 2024. It’s hard to say whether this is more disgusting or depressing. Maybe both. The sole thing keeping me going is the action in the administrative agencies, where genuine progressives with real political acumen have been promoted to positions of real power. Personnel really are policy, and the administrative agencies are where the rubber meets the road. … Here’s a great example. Biden’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is poised to turn worker misclassification into an “unfair labor practice,” which will give it scope to punish employers who treat their employees as contractors.” • Something to watch…
Democrats en Déshabillé
“Eric Adams taps younger brother Bernard as a deputy police commissioner” [New York Post]. “Mayor Eric Adams has tapped his younger brother to serve as a deputy NYPD commissioner, The Post has learned. Bernard Adams, a 56-year-old retired NYPD sergeant, will oversee governmental affairs, he confirmed Friday. But the full scope of his responsibilities was not immediately clear. Internal documents obtained by The Post show Bernard Adams listed as a deputy commissioner on the official NYPD roster. A civilian post, deputy police commissioners typically make around $242,000, although it was not yet known what his salary would be in the department. Bernard Adams’ LinkedIn profile lists his current job as assistant director for parking at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he’s been employed since 2011.” • So RFK Bernard Adams is not?
“Biden, Democrats head into 2022 midterms with feistier message and slightly better polls. Is it enough?” [USA Today]. About as “feisty” as a soggy Saltine, if you ask me. The lead: “Mary Ann Chaffin, an 86-year-old retired small-business owner from Aurora, Colorado, believes the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was ‘disgusting’ and ‘very disheartening.’ She’s concerned democracy in the U.S. is ‘in peril.’ She wishes ‘more brave Republicans’ would condemn the attack waged by supporters of former President Donald Trump one year ago.” • I can believe that the Democrat leadership is confident that they don’t have to deliver on anything because the Capitol Seizure is their ace in the hole (hence the 1/6 Committee retaining jurisdiction and not turning cases over to Garland for prosecution).
“Republicans narrow search for 2024 convention site to four cities” [The Hill]. “Republicans have winnowed down their list of potential host cities for the 2024 Republican National Convention, picking Milwaukee, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh as the finalists.” • See map under Capitol Seizure, above. I’d argue they’d do well to pick Pittsburgh.
Realignment and Legitimacy
“Mass representative democracy” [Interfluidity]. “what if we elected representatives to participate in this kind of mass-democracy framework? Instead of electing one per 800,000 or one per 80,000, what if we self-affiliated into groups of common interest of no more than, say, 1000 souls, for whom personal, physical “town meetings” could be regularly arranged? Obviously, not everyone would wish to attend all of these meetings, but everyone could if they wished. With no more than 1000 constituents, an elected could become at least acquainted with her full constituency. She could be accessible and available to them all. She could maintain direct relationships with a substantial fraction of the people she represents, and be motivated and held to account by those relationships, by gratitude and shame experienced personally rather than by abstract shifts in what some consultant claims the polls say. Instead of a few hundred Congresspeople, we’d have 250,000 representatives whose full-time job it would be to stay and live among and interact with their constituents, and participate in the online legislature. There would be no Congressional offices in Washington, no risk of going native among colleagues who become much closer than constituents. At a municipal level, there would be no councilmen or supervisors at City Hall. In my San Francisco, there would be roughly 800 legislators and any of us who cared to would know our representative and interact with her as much or as little as we pleased. This proposal recognizes that the hard part of being a representative, or at least what ought to be the hard part, is not fundraising, rising through committees, learning the personalities and peccadillos of influential colleagues so that you can “legislate effectively”. The hard part of being a representative is representing…. So “expand the House” from 435 to, um, 250,000, and put it online…. Cities should give “mass representative democracy” a try, soon. If you live in a city of any size, do you feel, today, like you are adequately represented in city government? If not, what hope do we have to make representative democracy work at a state or national scale? We are collectively, and correctly, coming to understand that we’ve never really had the kind of Our Democracy that talking heads on MSNBC are constantly telling us we must save. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and build institutions we’ll have reason to be less cynical about.” • An interesting proposal by the always interesting Steve Waldman. Well worth a read (and no, he doesn’t mean “put representation on the blockchain,” thank gawd).
“Sandel: ‘Summon Chance to Chasten Meritocratic Hubris'” [Equality by Lot]. “[Michael Sandel’s] condemnation of actual existing Meritocracy is well worth a read, not least the societally damaging effects of hubris and self-worth among the elite ‘winners’; and the despondency and nihilistic voting for Brexit and Trump by the ‘losers’ and indeed all the non-credentialled…. Chapter 6 [of The Tyranny of Merit] makes a heartfelt and extended plea for the extensive use of lotteries for admission to not just Ivy League, but all selective colleges and universities. This Sandel says would “summon Chance to chasten Merit”.
“Election Fraud Cases” [The Heritage Foundation]. • Of all people. If their database is to be believed, there’s really not a lot of fraud; onesies and twosies. (Note that election fraud and election theft are different. The first is done by individual voters, the second by party insiders. (In the past, the two blurred, as voters were bribed to vote a certain way, but now election theft takes place through control of the voting machinery, including ballot rolls, as in Florida 2000.)
Case count by United States regions:
More small jumps, but I think this is data, given that the CDC rapid riser counties show a collapse of reorting in a number of states. (I wrote: “As happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for no other reason.” Here we very are. This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.) It would sure be nice if “rise like a rocket (and fall like a stick)” applied, but we can’t know that yet. To be fair, previous peaks — how small the early ones look now — have been roughly symmetrical on either side. But the scale of this peak, and the penetration into the population, is unprecendented.
The official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is completely exploded. What a surprise!
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.
I have helpfully marked states where no data is being reported in gray. Systems are breaking down. The rest of the country looks somewhat worse (though in most of the country it couldn’t be worse).
The previous release:
Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):
Makes you wonder when the entire map will be orange, especially since hospitalizations lag cases (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)
Death rate (Our World in Data):
Might as well check out where we go, in case we bring something back (as from Italy to New York in 2020). This is a log scale. (Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away. (The data is from 2019, and so subject to subsequent events, but this is the best I can find.)
The excess deaths charts will appear weekly, on Friday.
There are no official stats of interest today.
The Bezzle: “Fake COVID testing sites are popping up across the US, officials warn. How to spot one” [Sacramento Bee]. “So what are the tell-tale signs of a rogue testing site? ‘If someone is asking for personal information, credit card information or asking you to pay, that might be a tip off to the rip off,’ Steve Bernas, president of BBB of Chicago & Northern Illinois, told WLS.” Wait, what? Sounds like insurance companies! More: “To protect yourself from being scammed, the BBB advises talking with your doctor about COVID-19 testing and where to find a legitimate testing clinic.” What doctor? More: “Avoid sharing sensitive information with strangers, the watchdog group warned, and don’t be afraid to ask for credentials. Test providers should also be able to answer questions about whether the test is FDA-authorized and which laboratory will process your results.” • Just spitballing here, but if some entity, an entity with some scale, were simply to — hear me out — mail free tests to every US resident, wouldn’t this problem go away?
Tech: “Taking a driverless Waymo in Phoenix over the holidays was fun but unsettling” [CNBC]. “Phoenix is the only market where Waymo is currently operating its self-driving ride-hailing service, Waymo One, to the general public, though test rides are available in San Francisco…. Waymo only reaches a portion of the sprawling Phoenix area. I knew this because earlier in my stay I’d tried to order a car, but the app told me I was outside its service region. According to its website, Waymo One operates in suburbs.” So, Phoenix suburbs are a proxy for traffic in the test of the country? Wide roads, big grids are the training set? Two incidents, one at the start: “I approached the van and was again surprised. It was illegally parked in a fire lane, which was apparent by the brightly painted red curb. It was also partially blocking a lane used by cars entering and exiting the shopping center. One car had to go around the Waymo to get into the parking lot.” And the other at the end: “Just as the car neared Trader Joe’s, it came to an abrupt stop, slamming the brake for an apparent pedestrian. It nearly gave me whiplash and made me particularly grateful for the working seatbelt. The jolt was surprising, as the car was going no more than seven miles an hour in a parking lot.” • So, problems with parking lots, then? Good to know.
Tech: “My first impressions of web3” [Moxie.org]. “One thing that has always felt strange to me about the cryptocurrency world is the lack of attention to the client/server interface. When people talk about blockchains, they talk about distributed trust, leaderless consensus, and all the mechanics of how that works, but often gloss over the reality that clients ultimately can’t participate in those mechanics. All the network diagrams are of servers, the trust model is between servers, everything is about servers. Blockchains are designed to be a network of peers, but not designed such that it’s really possible for your mobile device or your browser to be one of those peers…. For example, whether it’s running on mobile or the web, a dApp like Autonomous Art or First Derivative needs to interact with the blockchain somehow – in order to modify or render state (the collectively produced work of art, the edit history for it, the NFT derivatives, etc). That’s not really possible to do from the client, though, since the blockchain can’t live on your mobile device (or in your desktop browser realistically). So the only alternative is to interact with the blockchain via a node that’s running remotely on a server somewhere. A server! But, as we know, people don’t want to run their own servers. As it happens, companies have emerged that sell API access to an ethereum node they run as a service, along with providing analytics, enhanced APIs they’ve built on top of the default ethereum APIs, and access to historical transactions. Which sounds… familiar…. These client APIs are not using anything to verify blockchain state or the authenticity of responses. The results aren’t even signed. An app like Autonomous Art says ‘hey what’s the output of this view function on this smart contract,’ Alchemy or Infura responds with a JSON blob that says ‘this is the output,’ and the app renders it. This was surprising to me. So much work, energy, and time has gone into creating a trustless distributed consensus mechanism, but virtually all clients that wish to access it do so by simply trusting the outputs from these two companies without any further verification. It also doesn’t seem like the best privacy situation.” • Well worth a read.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 45 Neutral (previous close: 53 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 67 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 10 at 1:29pm.
Rapture Index: Closes up one on unemployment. “Covid is causing more people to quit their jobs” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.)
“You bought horse armor. You bought loot crates. You’ll buy in-game NFTs” [Quarter to Three (RH)]. “The gold rush for gaming Non-fungible Tokens (NFT) is on! Ubisoft is the first big-name publisher dipping into the “investment” fad by introducing Ubisoft Quartz. Think of it as a way to make your digital in-game doodads, (now called “Digits” because everything needs a brand name) artificially scarce by adding unique serial numbers to them.” • Libertarian brain geniuses have actually managed to create digital scarcity. Walter Benjamin would be stunned.
The United States is the only major economy in the world where the economy as a whole is stronger now than before the pandemic.
— Secretary Marcia L. Fudge (@SecFudge) January 8, 2022
And as a bonus, life expectancy is falling. And has been for years!
“Workers across the US are rising up. Can they turn their anger into a movement?” [Guardian]. “Millions of workers are angry – angry that they didn’t get hazard pay for risking their lives during the pandemic, angry that they’ve been forced to work 70 or 80 hours a week, angry that they received puny raises while executive pay soared, angry that they didn’t get paid sick days when they got sick. Out of this comes a question that looms large for America’s workers: will this surge of worker action and anger be a mere flash in the pan or will it be part of a longer-lasting phenomenon?… So why isn’t the labor movement seizing on this year’s burst of worker energy to build something bigger? I was discussing this with friend who is a professor of labor studies, and she said she thought that most of today’s union leaders were “constitutionally incapable” of building big or being bold and ambitious. She said that after decades of being on the defensive, of being beaten down by hostile corporations, hostile GOP lawmakers and hostile judicial decisions, many labor leaders seem unable to dream big or think outside the box on how to attract large numbers of workers in ways beyond the traditional one-workplace-at-a-time union drives. But building big and outside the box isn’t impossible for labor.” • If “Fight for $15” is “outside the box,” then heaven help us all. Outside the box would be — work with me, here — controlling the means of production.
“The Double Bind Of Maintaining The Schismogenesis: A Theory Of Wokeness” [Down with Tyranny]. “The U.S. during the 1960’s suffered an eruption of domestic rebellion, ranging from the civil rights movement and the feminist revolution to organized labor and the anti-war movement. Strangely enough, most of the leaders in these movements were assassinated (RFK, MLK, Malcolm X) or died under mysterious circumstances (Walter Reuther). Was it enough for the ruling elite that the leaders of these movements were dead (neutralized)? I contend that it was not and that the elites embarked on an additional strategy: capture of the movements to 1) prevent a resurgence of rebellion against the ruling elites and 2) prevent cross alliances between the various rebel factions, a reason theorized by some to explain the death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, who was trying to unite the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the organized labor movement at the time of his death. From feminism, where a movement leader (Gloria Steinem) has been revealed to have worked for the CIA, to civil rights, where Black Lives Matters is subsidized by the Ford Foundation to the tune of $100 million, to organized labor, where the AFL-CIO provided assistance to various U.S. government regime change efforts, these movements are infested with corporate and state actors. Meanwhile, concrete measures of material progress, such as increased wages for the working class, universal healthcare, and support for organized labor remain curiously out of reach. There is a name for this highly effective signal jamming by government and corporate elites: maintaining the schismogenesis. Schismogenesis means the beginning of the breakdown of a relationship or a system…. The elite project of maintaining the schismogenesis has been effective for generations and was put into overdrive by the wokeness campaign. Now, with the need for national solidarity to address existential threats to the nation, set against the rise of the populist Right, are U.S. elites capable of retiring wokeness as a weapon, surrendering some material power to the non-elites, and therefore saving themselves and everyone else from the fallout of national collapse?” • Here’s a straw in the wind–
We have to be able to talk abtthe harms of remote learning in a society where vaccines are available for all teachers without being accused of being anti-union or anti-teacher. We can disagree on what is the best thing to do when there are no good options without that accusation.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) January 5, 2022
Hannah-Jones is, of course, toeing the party line–
“As More Teachers’ Unions Push for Remote Schooling, Parents Worry. So Do Democrats” [New York Times]. “in a number of other places, the tenuous labor peace that has allowed most schools to operate normally this year is in danger of collapsing. While not yet threatening to walk off the job, unions are back at negotiating tables, pushing in some cases for a return to remote learning. They frequently cite understaffing because of illness, and shortages of rapid tests and medical-grade masks. Some teachers, in a rear-guard action, have staged sick outs.” A rear-guard action? Fighting against whom? More: “National teachers’ unions continue to call for classrooms to remain open, but local affiliates hold the most power in negotiations over whether individual districts will close schools.” Ah, here we go. Guess who the Democrats are really worried about: “In Chicago and San Francisco, working-class parents of color disproportionately send their children to the public schools, and they have often supported strict safety measures during the pandemic, including periods of remote learning. And in New York, the nation’s largest school district, schools are operating in person with increased virus testing, with limited dissent from teachers. But the politics become more complicated in suburbs, where union leaders may find themselves at odds with public officials at pains to preserve in-person schooling.”
“What Is the Point of Economics?” [Matt Stoller, BIG]. “[T]his brings me to the point of economics, which has taken me a long time to understand. There are many economists who focus on trying to uncover important truths about the world, and there are many economists who seek to serve concentrated capital. There are smart ones, and dumb ones. But truth or falsehood, or empirical rigor, is besides the point. The point of economics as a discipline is to create a language and methodology for governing that hides political assumptions from the public. Truly successful economists, like Summers, spend their time winning bureaucratic turf wars and placing checks on elected officials.” • Certainly true of mainstream macro. Not, in my view, true of MMT. Or other more…. heterodox forms of economics.
News of the Wired
“The triffid’s day has come: designing with invasive plants” [Financial Times]. “These designers have a simple proposition: in society’s quest to find renewable raw materials, why not make use of sources that are abundant and unwanted, thereby also incentivising their removal? Their efforts fit into a counter-narrative outlined by the likes of the permaculture designer Tao Orion, whose 2015 book Beyond the War on Invasive Species describes the growth of the mechanical, chemical approach to managing weeds, arguing instead for a more pragmatic, incremental approach. After all, the term ‘invasive’, she says, is subjective. Many plants that are now considered invasive were transported deliberately during the Victorian era and, later, to tackle environmental inconveniences. The rapidly growing vine kudzu, for example, was promoted in North America in the 1920s and 1930s as a way of controlling soil erosion.” • ”We don’t sell anything that isn’t invasive,” say the ladies at the annual church flower sale.
Well, it works for us (dk):
A farmer in Turkey has fitted his cows with virtual reality goggles to make them think they are outside in summer pastures. Izzet Kocak found out the pleasant scenes make the cows happier and produce more milk.Future is metaverse! pic.twitter.com/DNZze8Wm5n
— Shuja ul haq (@ShujaUH) January 8, 2022
— World Bollard Association™ (@WorldBollard) January 8, 2022
AG writes: “The afternoon sun is back lighting these Western Redbud seed pods and leaves…” I wonder what these same seed pods would look like at the same hour, covered with snow….
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