By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
More winter birds.
“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
“Biden administration lays out rules for reimbursing at-home Covid tests” [Politico]. “The Biden administration on Monday issued guidance that will require private health insurers to reimburse people for up to eight over-the-counter Covid-19 tests every month beginning Jan. 15. Under the plan, private insurers can set up programs at preferred pharmacies or retailers where the upfront cost of home tests is covered for beneficiaries. A family of four would be able to have 32 home tests covered by their health plan each month. If a physician orders an at-home test for an individual, it does not count toward the eight test-a-month limit. The new regulations governing reimbursement for at-home tests do not apply to people on Medicare or those without health insurance. State Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program already must cover at-home tests, according to HHS.” • I love it! It’s so complicated!
“We know [schools] can be open safely.”
— MEANS TV (@means_tv) January 9, 2022
Who’s “we”? The chateau generals in the West Wing? Not the people on the front lines: Teachers and students. For example:
— Adam J Calhoun (@neuroecology) January 7, 2022
“Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster” [The Hill]. “Senate Republicans are threatening they will attempt a takeover of the Senate agenda by forcing votes on issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to abortion rules to a U.S-Mexico border wall if Democrats weaken the filibuster. Republicans are also looking at smaller bills such as a proposal to prohibit the administration from imposing a fracking ban by executive order, a prohibition on the IRS implementing new reporting on banks to disclose individuals’ banking activity and mandatory detention for illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.” • I can’t believe that bank reporting thing is still alive…
“Manchin’s Choice on Build Back Better: Mine Workers or Mine Owners” [New York Times]. Thicker seams in the owners, I would say. “So when the miners’ union and the West Virginia A.F.L.-C.I.O. came out last month with statements pleading for passage of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — just hours after Mr. Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, said he was a ‘no’ — the Capitol took notice. With the miners now officially on the opposite side of the mine owners, it signaled the escalation of a behind-the-scenes struggle centered in Mr. Manchin’s home state to sway the balking senator, whose skepticism about his party’s marquee domestic policy measure has emerged as a potentially fatal impediment to its enactment. While most of the attention to the fate of the social safety net and climate change bill has fixed on ideological divisions among Democrats over its largest provisions and overall cost, the battle underway over parochial issues in Mr. Manchin’s state could ultimately matter more than the public pleas of liberal groups and relentless bargaining by Democratic leaders.”
Democrats en Déshabillé
I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:
The Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.
Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.
* * *
“A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” [Justin Feldman]. We’ve already linked to this, but it’s worth repeating this passage:
There has been a failure of various social institutions — the media, the political left, scientists, and unions, to pressure the Biden administration into a course of action that would better prevent mass death. In some other countries, scientists banded together to form organizations like the UK’s Independent SAGE that counters government policy with its own, more precautionary policy recommendations. This has not happened in any substantial way in the US, where scientists have made statements only as individuals or in informal, ad-hoc groups. To the extent they have weighed in, American unions have been narrow in their demands for the pandemic response and have not called major strikes over it. Progressive members of the Democratic Party have not put pressure on Biden over pandemic measures except in narrow ways, such as Bernie Sanders calling for an extension to unemployment programs or Cori Bush demanding the Biden administration fight for an extension of the eviction moratorium. Leftist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America have not developed a pandemic response platform, and to the extent they have politicized the pandemic, it has been to talk about long-standing policy goals like Medicare For All.
Instead, the loudest voices in civil society have largely supported Biden’s approach to the pandemic or pushed him to reject non-pharmaceutical interventions more fervently. This select group of media pundits, public health scientists, and economists has been in direct dialogue with White House officials. The administration has cited their opinion pieces in speeches, coordinated messaging on regular phone calls, and promoted these views on social media (one need only look at the Twitter timelines of Ron Klain, or communication staffers like Ian Sams or Ben Wakana).
In other words, we’re looking at a complete collapse of the PMC that has formed the Democrat base since the Clinton era. They don’t want to govern.
“What Role Will January 6 Play in The 2022 Midterms?” [Amy Walter, Cook Political Report]. “. This is something on which Democratic and Republican strategists I’ve spoken with agree. At the same time, Republicans from swing states or districts who spend their time trying to re-litigate the 2020 election or defend those who attacked the Capitol are putting themselves in political peril. For as horrible as the events of January 6 were, the fact that our constitutional guardrails held is a remarkable and impressive accomplishment. The system bent, but it did not break. But it is this very fact that makes it harder for Democrats to argue that these guardrails are faulty and fragile. Adding to this challenge for Democrats is the fact that many of the voters Biden appealed to in 2020, don’t see this same risk to democracy as he and many Democrats do. Earlier this year, I wrote about two focus groups of white swing voters. One group was more conservative-leaning (all had voted for Trump but were defined as not particularly enthusiastic about him, i.e., these are not Trump superfans ). The other group included those who voted for Biden in 2020 after voting for Trump in 2016. In other words, these are the kinds of voters that would be open to more nuanced arguments about issues. They aren’t simply knee-jerk Trump or Biden voters. My takeaway from listening to them was that both groups of voters believed that fights over voter laws were more about political gamesmanship than an attack on democracy itself. Said one of the Trump voters, ‘everybody just wants to win.’ One of the Trump-Biden voters said, ‘I don’t trust one party more than the other on voter rules.’ In other words, instead of seeing a threat to the very foundation of our political system, these voters saw crass political calculations. This cynicism isn’t confined to just swing voters. When asked about the January 6th commission, one person in a focus group of ‘surge’ (read: infrequent voting) Democrats said: ‘It’s going to be a nice report that no one will read. And by then no one will care anymore.'” Concluding: “For all the arguments about what will ‘resonate’ in 2022 and what won’t, the only way for things to get better for Democrats in 2022, is for things like COVID and the economy to get better.” • And if they don’t, what do Democrats have besides 1/6 and “our democracy”?
“January 5, 2022: National Poll with USA TODAY marginals” (PDF) [Suffok University]. (Marginals appears to refer to a margin of error, rather than those surveyed, who are registed voters.)
Of course, 311 days is a long time in politics.
“One Big Thing Dem Candidates Are Avoiding: Biden’s Agenda” [Daily Beast]. “Salas is far from the only Democratic challenger with a Build Back Better-sized hole in his campaign message: at least seven other Democrats who are running in the most competitive GOP-held House districts—from New York to Iowa to Maryland—have said nothing or vanishingly little about Build Back Better. Most of those candidates have not so much as mentioned the name of the bill in their social media posts and campaign materials. And though these Democrats frequently tout their commitment to advancing the goals set out in the bill—like lowering prescription drug costs, fighting climate change, and improving child care—many don’t explicitly acknowledge that there is, currently, a bill that would achieve those goals. Meanwhile, some Democrats running to break the 50-50 partisan deadlock in the Senate have avoided talking much about the legislation currently languishing in that chamber.” • A big, beautiful tent…
“Kamala Harris channels Jimmy Carter, blames American ‘malaise’ for Biden’s woes” [New York Post]. She actually used the word “malaise.” What staffer let her do that? And: “Harris’s comment aired just hours after she provoked outrage for a speech at the US Capitol equating the Jan. 6 riot there to some of the most harrowing and deadly days in American history, including the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.” • Amy Walter makes a good case on 1/6 (above) but apparently Harris and her entourage do not agree (or nobody in the Democrat leadership bothered to tell them the score).
Realignment and Legitimacy
Corruption is bipartisan:
I have just released the full trading report on politicians in 2021.
In short, many beat the market.
They traded more than ever before.
And they made numerous unusually timed trades, resulting in huge gains.
— unusual_whales (@unusual_whales) January 10, 2022
* * *
I’m putting Covid-related commentary here, because realignment and legitimacy are exactly the stakes.
“Active epidemiological investigation on SARS-CoV-2 infection caused by Omicron variant (Pango lineage B.1.1.529) in Japan: preliminary report on infectious period” [National Institute for Infectious Diseases]. Japan. “. A total of 83 respiratory specimens from 21 cases (19 vaccinees and 2 unvaccinated cases; 4 asymptomatic and 17 mild cases) were subjected to SARS-CoV-2 RNA quantification using quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and virus isolation tests. The date of specimen collection for diagnosis or symptom onset was defined as day 0. over time, with a marked decrease after 10 days since diagnosis or symptom onset (Figure). The positive virus isolation results showed a similar trend as the viral RNA amount, and no infectious virus in the respiratory samples was detected after 10 days since diagnosis or symptom onset (Table). These findings suggest that vaccinated Omicron cases are unlikely to shed infectious virus 10 days after diagnosis or symptom onset.” • Remember when Walensky said that shortening the isolation period to five days was based on science, but then couldn’t rightly put her hand on what the science was? Well, here it is, and it looks like Walensky is sending kids, teachers, and workers back out to save the “economy” when they are most infectious. They really do want to kill us, don’t they?
“Axios-Ipsos poll: America retrenches on COVID” [Axios]. “Social distancing and self-quarantining have spiked in recent weeks as Omicron puts the nation in a crouch like last spring before vaccines became widely available, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. We all know or have heard stories about people saying they’d like to just get it over with and get Omicron because it sounds milder than earlier strains. But the survey results suggest most Americans are worried about Omicron and modifying their behavior to try to minimize exposure and spread. They also suggest a possible reason for that fear: vaccines aren’t as effective in stopping infections as they used to be before Omicron.” • Just possibly — hear me out — we’ve all “heard these stories” because the press keeps amplifying them, out of class interest. LIttle Madison is so tiring, especially now that Maria can’t come to take care of her. And how to we get her into Yale if she’s not in school? For example–
“Two Years Is Long Enough” [Helen Lewis, The Atlantic]. “Helen Lewis is a London-based staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights.” Let the whinging and bleating begin! “Yet to publicly question the current level of restrictions is to invite accusations from your more COVID-averse friends, or even strangers on social media, that you hate doctors, reject science, and .” “Actively is doing a lot of work, there: “There will be trade-offs, and , but you can’t remove all risk from human existence.” Casualties are OK, as long as they happen in the passive voice! And the cherry on top: “For any country without the discipline, collectivism, and surveillance technology of China, the zero-COVID dream is over. Two years is long enough to put our lives on hold.” Personally, I’d be in favor of putting Lewis’s life on hold for several more years, along with her war criminal editor at The Atlantic. But that’s just me. More important is the admission — it’s not even reluctant — that China’s political system is better at saving lives than the West’s. Oopsie.
“Column: Mocking anti-vaxxers’ COVID deaths is ghoulish, yes — but may be necessary” [Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times]. Leaving the inflammatory headline aside, this: “Vaccine mandates themselves have been part of the educational system for longer than anyone can remember in every state in the Union: California requires K-12 pupils to have as many as 20 doses of immunizations against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria, hepatitis and chicken pox.” Those vaccines are well-tested and sterilizing. The mRNA vaccines, at least, are not. And then there’s this: “By the way, no one has ever claimed that the COVID vaccines are a ‘cure’ — another smidgen of misinformation Ernby purveyed. The COVID vaccines, however, have been spectacularly effective in reducing the severity of the infection, a result that appears to hold true for the extremely transmissible Omicron variant.” Both Biden and Walensky claimed, in so many words, that with the vaccines, “You are protectedk,” period. The later “reduce the severity” argument was retconned onto the original claims. Finally: “But mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled. Nor is it wrong to deny them our sympathy and solicitude, or to make sure it’s known when their deaths are marked that they had stood fast against measures that might have protected themselves and others from the fate they succumbed to. There may be no other way to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard.” • So how’s the mocking and shaming strategy been workin’ out for ya?
“This Is NOT a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” [Peter Daou]. “Let’s look at two interconnected myths being disseminated by liberal pundits and corporate media outlets… Falsely claiming Omicron is mild has led to one of the most egregious and reckless public policies in recent memory: forcing workers and children into the flames of a raging virus that has unknown long-term effects…. [And,] while it is true that resistance to vaccines and masks has made things worse, the phrase “pandemic of the unvaccinated” is demonstrably false in several ways. First, Biden and Democratic leaders have been abject failures at containing the spread of the virus because of their own actions and decisions. From day one, their approach has been vaccine-only…. “Pandemic of the unvaccinated” lulls people by reassuring them that there’s a vast swath of Americans who are unvaccinated and only those people will feel the effects of the virus. Which is flatly untrue.”
Case count by United States regions:
Giant steps return. (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!
NOT UPDATED MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:
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.
Oof. That’s not looking good (though congratulations, Maine. Makes me wonder if General Winter is protecting Maine and the Great Plains, not because “Covid is seasonal,” but because everybody’s hunkered down because of the snow. Ski resorts the exception, I suppose; they’ve been hot spots before). It also looks like CDC got its spreadsheet fixed — the one where they’d dropped data from the first seven states in alpha order. Brilliancy prize to alert reader johnherbiehancock for catching this.
The previous release:
I had helpfully marked states where no data is being reported in gray.
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.
Small Business Optimism: “United States Nfib Business Optimism Index” [Trading Economics]. “The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index in the United States increased to a 3-month high of 98.9 in December of 2021 from 98.4 in November, beating market forecasts of 98.6. More firms are planning to increase employment and capital outlays, improving earnings. There was also a slight recovery in expectations of business conditions over the next six months. Also, the share of owners raising average selling prices decreased two points to 57% and 49% of owners reported job openings that could not be filled, up a point from November.”
The Bezzle: “Why We’re Still Waiting For the iCar” [Bloomberg]. “My wife and I absolutely love our Subaru Outback, but since Google Maps started freezing recently (and dangerously) on Apple CarPlay, we found ourselves blaming Subaru—not Google or Apple—for the glitches. After searching online, it seems increasingly likely that my Outback is not at fault (sorry, Subie!). Until the problem is fixed, I’ll be driving my car the old-fashioned way, without any plugged-in Apple, Amazon or Google apps. So far, I haven’t notice a difference.”
The Bezzle: “Web3 had better not be Transaction Cost Hell” [Noah Smith, Noahpinion]. “So far, the main difference between web3 and webs 1 & 2 seems to be that web3 allows you to pay for stuff in cryptocurrency…. This suggests that the main attraction of web3 might not be decentralization, but rather what economists call excludability — it will be stuff people pay for, rather than free stuff… Imagine if everything you do online required you to decide whether to make a tiny payment. Send an email? Pay a few cents. Read one more paragraph of an article? Pay a few cents. And so on. It would be an utter nightmare. The psychic cost of having to decide whether to pay a tiny amount for a tiny piece of product, dozens or hundreds of times a day, would be enormous. Some people would just choose not to deal with the hassle, and instead to simply use a ton of paid services and see their bill at the end of the month, like they do when using electricity in their house; but this carefree attitude would naturally lead them to buy far more than they really wanted, and when they saw a few of those monthly bills, they would reconsider. In the end, most of these users would likely migrate back to either free ad-supported services or to subscription services that only make you think about payments once in a while. This is why the people trying to build web3 should probably steer away from making it just ‘micropayments, but in crypto’. I know this might sound crazy, but having to pay for stuff is not a feature.” • Using the blockchain for micropayments seems…. ill-advised. So that’s probably what they’ll try.
Tech: “On Releasing Annotator-Level Labels and Information in Datasets” [Vinodkumar Prabhakaran, Aida Mostafazadeh Davani, Mark Díaz]. “A common practice in building NLP datasets, especially using crowd-sourced annotations, involves obtaining multiple annotator judgements on the same data instances, which are then flattened to produce a single “ground truth” label or score, through majority voting, averaging, or adjudication. While these approaches may be appropriate in certain annotation tasks, such aggregations overlook the socially constructed nature of human perceptions that annotations for relatively more subjective tasks are meant to capture. In particular, systematic disagreements between annotators owing to their socio-cultural backgrounds and/or lived experiences are often obfuscated through such aggregations. In this paper, we empirically demonstrate that label aggregation may introduce representational biases of individual and group perspectives.” • So, a lot of those training sets the AI crowd uses are really, really bad.
Mr. Market: This is fine:
— Barry Ritholtz (@ritholtz) January 11, 2022
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 59 Greed (previous close: 50 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 67 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 11 at 1:59pm
L’Affaire Joffrey Epstein
“Ghislaine Maxwell Juror Who Could Upend Conviction Works for Carlyle Group” [Bloomberg]. Plot twist: “The juror in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial whose press comments may result in a new trial for the convicted socialite works as an executive assistant at private-equity giant Carlyle Group Inc. In video and newspaper interviews since the Dec. 29 verdict, the juror said he was a victim of sex abuse as a child and that his story helped sway other members of the panel who questioned the credibility of some of Maxwell’s accusers…. Following his interviews, prosecutors asked the judge for an inquiry into Scotty David’s comments. Maxwell’s lawyers said the judge should skip straight to ordering a new trial.”
The Agony Column
“The Wisdom of Trauma” [Gabor Maté]. “Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love and the way we make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Dr. Maté gives us a new vision: a trauma-informed society in which parents, teachers, physicians, policy-makers and legal personnel are not concerned with fixing behaviors, making diagnoses, suppressing symptoms and judging, but seek instead to understand the sources from which troubling behaviors and diseases spring in the wounded human soul.
Groves of Academe
“Yale, Georgetown, Other Top Schools Illegally Collude to Limit Student Financial Aid, Lawsuit Alleges” [Wall Street Journal]. [faints]. “Sixteen major U.S. universities, including Yale University, Georgetown University and Northwestern University, are being sued for alleged antitrust violations because of the way they work together to determine financial-aid awards for students. According to a lawsuit filed in Illinois federal court late Sunday by law firms representing five former students who attended some of the schools, the universities engaged in price fixing and unfairly limited aid by using a shared methodology to calculate applicants’ financial need. Schools are allowed under federal law to collaborate on their formulas, but only if they don’t consider applicants’ financial need in admissions decisions. The suit alleges these schools do weigh candidates’ ability to pay in certain circumstances, and therefore shouldn’t be eligible for the antitrust exemption. The suit seeks damages and a permanent end to the schools’ collaboration in calculating financial need and awarding aid.” • Sortition!
“The Dawn of Antitrust and the Egalitarian Roots of the Sherman Act” [Pro Market]. “The conventional interpretation of American antitrust law’s origins has under-emphasized their pro-democratic and egalitarian tenor. This has come to pass, in part, by reading them through the analytical prism of the self-coordinating market—a theoretical construct that tends to naturalize some legal and social allocations of economic coordination rights, while casting others as deviant. While I do not claim that antitrust’s legal and political origins were homogenous, the legislative history of the first and foundational federal antitrust statute, the Sherman Act, indicates a legal purpose whose primary target was the concentration of economic coordination rights—as embodied, for instance, in the late nineteenth-century business trusts, which left the coordination of markets “to a few men sitting at their council board,” as Senator Sherman put it at one point—rather than economic coordination as such. While the self-coordinating market ideal can obscure this fact, the legislative history does not indicate disfavor of other, more democratic forms of economic coordination—for instance, coordination between farmers, small producers, and workers. The legislation was essentially aimed at dispersing economic coordination rights, a conclusion reinforced by earlier precedents.”
News of the Wired
“Landmark Webb observatory is now officially a telescope” [Nature]. “After several tense days of unfurling and clicking its various parts into place, the biggest and most sophisticated space telescope ever launched is now complete. On 8 January, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope slowly swung the last 3 of its 18 hexagonal mirror segments into position, locking them together into one 6.5-metre-wide, gold-coated cosmic eye. The move capped an essentially flawless two weeks of engineering manoeuvres — the most complex astronomical deployments ever attempted in space — since the telescope’s Christmas Day launch…. Photons are now bouncing between Webb’s mirrors, making it an operational observatory. ‘This is unbelievable,’ said Bill Ochs, NASA’s project manager for Webb, in a 5 January webcast from mission control at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. ‘We actually have a telescope.’… Next up, Webb will begin tweaking the positions of the primary mirror’s 18 segments to align them to properly focus light that they collect. The telescope also continues to cool down towards its operating temperature of around 40 °C above absolute zero, or –233 °C. It is currently nearly –200 °C on its cold side, behind the sunshield. After Webb reaches L2 in about two weeks, it will have around five more months of set-up before it can start returning science results. ‘I cannot wait to see the first data,’ Nota says.” • I’m very pleased this hasn’t screwed up. Encouraging!
JC writes: “For some reason whenever I see this photo (taken a few years ago on Makinac Island, MI) I think of the Water Cooler. Perhaps you can make this tree famous. Carry on with your good works.”
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