2:00PM Water Cooler 11/22/2022

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Thrush Nightingale, Moscow, Russia. No, that’s not an editorial comment. Very pretty indeed!

* * *

Politics

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

Biden Administration

“The White House girds for combat” [Politico]. “Outside the White House, Democratic operatives in close coordination with the president’s team are drawing up binders of research on the would-be 2024 opponents and beginning to plot top staff acquisitions. And as the GOP cattle calls begin in earnest, including one event over the weekend in Nevada, Democrats are moving to monitor and attack GOP contenders as they make their swings through various states. Asked about the approach to the former president, a person close to the White House pointed to the rapid-response style videos released by Biden designed to undercut Trump’s term in office and bolster his own. The videos looked at Biden’s push to pass a sweeping infrastructure law compared with Trump’s unfulfilled effort; along with Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election.”

2022

“Midterms highlight GOP crossover victories” [Axios]. “The number of House Republicans in crossover seats — districts carried by President Biden — nearly doubled from 2020 to 2022. This new cast of independent-minded Republicans could act as a moderating force in Kevin McCarthy’s caucus. The new Congress will include 16 to 18 House Republicans in Biden districts — up from nine after the 2020 election. Six of the split-ticket lawmakers hail from New York. Three to five will represent California (pending race calls) The number of Democrats representing Trump districts dipped: There’ll likely be five of them — down from seven in the last Congress. The majority-making Republicans who hail from blue districts want party leaders to focus on the economy, not impeachment.” • Surely Republicans can walk and chew gum?

“Stories from the polls around the country” [Fulcrum]. From California: “Four-day vote center in Northern California in a largely Vietnamese community. Citizenship class going on next door. Pleasant, courteous, older voters proudly exercising their right to vote in free and fair elections. It was heartwarming and encouraging. As a poll worker in our tiny precinct I also had a very positive experience that reinforced my belief in the integrity of our system. Everyone was super happy to be doing democracy. Super cute little kids putting ballots into the big red box and feeling like they helped. I love voting.”

2024

“Democrats Have Some Solid Options If Biden Doesn’t Run in 2024” [Ross Barkan, New York Magazine]. A situation where one prefers solids to liquids. I suppose. Anyhow, the rising stars: Jared Polis (Governor CO), Gretchen Whitmer (Governor MI), Raphael Warnock (Senator GA, maybe), Josh Shapiro (Governor PA), John Fetterman (Senator PA). “If Biden decides to run, the nomination is his. None of these Democrats would dare challenge him. And Harris would surely be the front-runner in the event Biden ever decides, on the advice of his inner circle, to step away after one term. But that shouldn’t be a coronation for the vice-president, either — not with the sheer number of battle-tested senators and governors who stand ready to contend with DeSantis or Trump. The Democrats, for once, have built a political army for tomorrow.” • I have to say, this list can’t be serious if Fetterman’s on it, not because of his stroke (and one hopes continuing recovery) but because he has no experience on the national stage. I’m surprised Stacey Abrams isn’t on it. Or Beto.

“Hunter Biden’s Laptop Is Still Real” [The American Conservative]. “CBS News investigation concluded that Hunter Biden’s “laptop from hell” is authentic. No, this isn’t a time capsule from October 2020. It is a news story from Monday, November 21, 2022, more than two years after the New York Post first reported on the laptop—and for the trouble faced bans on social media and accusations of peddling Russian disinformation…. Politico’s Natasha Bertrand uncritically regurgitated a letter, signed by more than 50 former intelligence officials who falsely claimed, on the basis of exactly zero evidence, that the Post’s reporting was Kremlin-hatched disinformation. This was not the idle speculation of a few ex-spooks. It served to justify in real time what perhaps was the most chilling episode of state-directed private-sector censorship in U.S. history. NPR didn’t even bother to look into the story, with managing editor for news Terence Samuels telling the taxpayer-funded outlet’s public editor that “we don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories.'” • All these people need to be punished, the spooks especially, and I hope the House Republicans have the stones to do it.

“How Panic on the Left Could Spark a Constitutional Crisis” [Politico]. Moore v. Harper. “The most terrifying concern making the rounds is that an endorsement of the independent state legislature theory would, in the words of the Center for American Progress, empower ‘a rogue state legislature … to refuse to certify the accurate results of a presidential election’ and ‘disregard the will of the people and instead appoint its own slate of electors.’ The New York Times reported that ‘many Democrats believe … state legislatures could have a pathway to overrule the popular vote in presidential elections by refusing to certify the results and instead sending their own slates of electors.’ Hillary Clinton recently warned in a fundraising pitch that ‘the right-wing Supreme Court may be poised to rule on giving state legislatures … the power to overturn presidential elections.’ Similar claims made their way into the pages of the New Yorker. And Mother Jones. And the Guardian. And the New Republic. And MSNBC. These claims are unequivocally false. Even if the Supreme Court adopts the most extreme version of the independent state legislature theory, it would absolutely and without question violate the Constitution and federal law for a state legislature to toss out the results of the election and appoint its own ‘alternative’ electors after Election Day. There is a simple reason that a state legislature doesn’t have that power, no matter what the Supreme Court decides in Moore. Article II of the Constitution gives states — or just state legislatures, according to the independent state legislature theory — the power to determine the ‘manner’ of appointing electors. But Article II also gives Congress, not states, the power to determine the “time” when states must choose electors. That’s why Election Day is set by federal law. So it’s clear as day that, no matter how expansive its powers to set the ‘manner’ of appointing electors under the independent state legislature theory, a state legislature’s attempt to appoint electors after Election Day would violate the Constitution. There are real threats to democracy, and those risks must be addressed immediately. This isn’t one of them.”

“Preparing for Ballot Paper Shortages in 2022 and 2024” [Bipartisan Policy Center]. “Paper is foundational to American election administration. Yes, the paper needed for our beloved “I Voted” stickers—but also the paper that is used to create ballots, ballot envelopes, voter registration forms, and other essential elections collateral. Voter-verified paper ballots, the gold standard of secure elections, typically require high-quality paper types. Ballot materials demand specialized production, intentional delivery, and secure storage. Long-term trends, exacerbated by recent market factors, have put the supply of paper for the midterm elections at risk. Paper orders that once took days or weeks are now taking months. Costs have increased by 40% or more.”

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

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!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“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.

* * *

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Where democracy goes to the highest bidder” [Financial Times]. “Corporations spend billions buying influence, and there are any number of academic studies to show that this pays off (one from 2021 found that a dollar spent on political influence is associated with $20.67 in higher future annual earnings; I could list a dozen others with similar findings). Foreign governments do the same. A few days ago, the National Intelligence Council released a report showing that the United Arab Emirates used corporate donations, political lobbying, grants to universities and other types of spending ($164mn since 2016) to influence US foreign policy over several years. This isn’t a nefarious attempt to leverage disinformation by illegal means. This is a friendly government buying power by legal means. And that is the problem. Corporate political action committees, Citizens United and all sorts of loopholes in our very porous political system have turned Washington into a kind of open-air bazaar for influence purchasing. It pays off, and people know it. I actually got a research report from an investment management firm the other day that put forward an extremely convincing portfolio strategy based on buying companies with underutilised lobbying power. Wow. Just wow. To me, this is a huge issue in a world in which the US is trying to present “values” as its competitive edge against China. Supporting liberal democracy is one thing. But what if democracy is for sale? This was the one terrible truth that Donald Trump embedded in his own welter of lies as president. In what must be the greatest irony of all time, a crooked real estate guy from Queens essentially said to the nation, ‘Hey, you see those politicians and CEOs in the back room? They’ve got the system rigged.’ He then went back and continued playing poker with them, and encouraged everyone else to do the same.” • On Trump: As [makes warding sign] Dave Chapelle just said.

“But Seriously, How Do We Make an Entrepreneurial State?” [American Affairs]. “The book is at its strongest when describing the evolution and transformation of various “innovation bureaucracies” across time and around the world. While digging into historical examples like the original Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, the authors surface certain themes that repeat across case studies: the need for flexible hiring rules, the importance of attracting a nation’s best and brightest into public service, and the significance of overarching ‘missions’ to focus the public sector. A unifying theme discussed throughout the book is the idea of ‘agile stability’ for state bureaucracies: the tension between ensuring stability in the core functions that they provide to the public while also maintaining the flexibility to evolve and add new capabilities over time. Nevertheless, the book is frustrating in its lack of practical detail as to how agencies can embed agility into their functions or how to structurally enable bureaucratic actors to take risks. But the fundamental question is an essential one for our current moment, and the book can help point us in the right direction. So, how does one actually make an entrepreneurial state? There is no single correct model, and in fact, an essential element of entrepreneurship is the ability to correct course and revise plans in real time to accomplish overarching goals. With that in mind, some recent attempts at rebuilding state capacity and fostering agile stability within the U.S. federal government can shed some light on the “how” of making an entrepreneurial state.” • No mention of Operation Warp Speed, oddly. Must be a different flavor of conservative?

#COVID19

Lambert here: I can’t call a winter surge, though we’ll really have to wait for Thanksgiving travel. However, high transmission (CDC), the elevation and continued increase in positivity (Walgreens), and the steady takeover of BQ.1* (CDC; Walgreens) are all a little unsettling (as is the apparent proliferation of variants). Stay safe out there! (As far as Thanksgiving travel goes, lacking CDC’s “Rapid Riser” counties feature, the best we can do, I think, is follow the news and look at wastewater. I would order risk from highest to lowest at JFK/LGA (New York), LAX (Los Angeles), ATL (Atlanta), and ORD (Chicago). Since New York — as of this writing, and of course all the data is delayed, making personal risk assessment an effort in delusion, but I digress — is a BQ.1* hotbed, I’d try to use EWR (Newark) not JFK/LGA. My $0.02!

* * *

• ”A tripledemic hurricane is making landfall. We need masks, not just tent hospitals” [STAT]. I am, perhaps, remiss to track only one pandemic:

A viral hurricane is making landfall on health care systems battered by three pandemic years. With the official start of winter still weeks away, pediatric hospitals are facing crushing caseloads of children sick with RSV and other viral illnesses. Schools that promised a ‘return to normal’ now report widespread absences and even closures from RSV and flu in many parts of the country, contributing to parents missing work in record numbers. With this year’s flu season beginning some six weeks early, the CDC has already declared a flu epidemic as hospitalizations for influenza soared to the highest point in more than a decade.

A storm of these proportions should demand not only crisis clinical measures, but also community prevention efforts. Yet instead of deploying public health strategies to weather the storm, the U.S. is abandoning them.

Of course. Everything’s going according to plan.

Even before the arrival of the so-called tripledemic, U.S. health systems were on the brink. But as the fall surge of illness threatens to capsize teetering hospitals, the will to deploy public health measures has also collapsed. Pediatricians are declaring ‘This is our March 2020‘ and issuing pleas for help while public health efforts to flatten the curve and reduce transmission rates of Covid-19 — or any infectious disease — have effectively evaporated. Unmanageable patient volumes are seen as inevitable, or billed as the predictable outcome of an ‘immunity debt,’ despite considerable uncertainty surrounding the scientific underpinnings and practical utility of this concept.

The Covid-19 pandemic should have left us better prepared for this moment. It helped the public to understand that respiratory viruses primarily spread through shared indoor air.

CDC may, like the public, “understand” this but (see below) if so their messaging is disinformatilon.

Public health practices to stop the spread of Covid-19 — such as masking, moving activities outdoors, and limiting large gatherings during surges — were incorporated into the daily routines of many Americans. RSV and flu are also much less transmissible than Covid-19, making them easier to control with common-sense public health practices.

Instead of dialing up those first-line practices as pediatric ICUs overflow and classrooms close, though, the U.S. is relying on its precious and fragile last lines of defense to combat the tripledemic: health care professionals and medical facilities.

Not to worry. Those who can afford world-class care will do fine, just fine.

• “Thousands of public health experts are losing their jobs at a critical time” [CNN]. “As covid-19 raged, roughly 4,000 highly skilled epidemiologists, communication specialists, and public health nurses were hired by a nonprofit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plug the holes at battered public health departments on the front lines. But over the past few months, the majority of the CDC Foundation’s contracts for those public health workers at local and state departments have ended as the group has spent nearly all of its almost $289 million in covid relief funding. The CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports the CDC’s work, anticipates that no more than about 800 of its 4,000 hires will ultimately staff those jurisdictions, spokesperson Pierce Nelson said. That has left many local and state health departments facing staffing shortages as the nation eyes a possible winter uptick in covid cases and grapples with the ongoing threat of monkeypox, exploding caseloads of sexually transmitted infections, and other public health issues. The public health workforce in the U.S. has been underfunded for decades — just before the start of the pandemic, only 28% of local health departments had an epidemiologist or statistician, a 2020 Associated Press-KHN investigation found. Then, after the pandemic began, public health officials left in droves as they were lambasted for instituting covid rules, blamed for the economic downturn, and grappled with burnout. And even if funding were available to retain all 4,000 foundation employees, that would not have met public health staffing needs, according to new research in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.” • I don’t understand why public health officials “left in droves.” Surely the Biden administration came vociferously to their defense? (I don’t much like this non-profit, either. Billionaires pulling funding because with a tripledemic we should let ‘er rip?)

* * *

• As usual, the sociopaths in the White House continue the vax-only message:

• As usual, the sociopaths at CDC suppress both aerosols and masking:

Droplet dogma. Can nothing kill it? (Amazing, too, the subliminal message that the common cold and viruses are comparable.)

Pay no attention to the people coughing on the plane! (And not a word about ventilation, let alone masking.)

• “Stay informed”:

Bitterly ironic, since the CDC’s “community transmission”data (the “red map,” shown below, not the deceptive “community levels” green map) is obfuscated on the CDC site, so much so that CDC phone support people can’t even find it.

* * *

“Health + Long Covid” (PDF) [Department of Health and Human Services]. “With between five and 30% of people developing Long COVID after a COVID-19 infection, this report is a call to act with urgency to design and implement solutions for people with Long COVID. While we may not yet have the science to understand why Long COVID happens, we can act now to create what people with Long COVID want and need to improve their health and live a higher quality of life.”

* * *

• Masks and air quality:

Context:

When did this country become so all-fired officiious. Were we always like this, and I never noticed?

* * *

• ”Receptive to an authoritative voice? Experimental evidence on how patronizing language and stressing institutional sources affect public receptivity to nutrition information” [Population Health]. “Importantly, therefore, while our results show that the dominant health-communication strategies do not increase receptivity either, their use will probably not have a negative effect on the general public and so do not need to be discarded.” • Well, that’s a little disappointing.

• A fun thread:

And it’s more than ten…

Transmission

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission. (This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.)

Positivity

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published November 21:

1.4%. Up.

Wastewater

Wastewater data (CDC), November 16:

November 14:

=

• Queens County (JFK/LGA) is elevated (orange) again, just in time for holiday travel:

Cook County (ORD) remains elevated.

Variants

Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), November 6:

Lambert here: BQ.1* moving along quite briskly, though lower than CDC. XBB present here, not in CDC.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), October 29 (Nowcast off):

BQ.1* moving along quite briskly. New York/New Jersey (Region 2) numbers are higher:

• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated November 19:

Lambert here: Looks like it’s leveling out, for the moment.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 1,102,915 – 1,101,843 = 1072 (1072 * 365 = 391,280 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Manufacturing Activity Index in the US fifth district edged higher to -9 in November of 2022 from -10 in October which was the lowest reading since May of 2020, but continued to point to softening conditions for manufacturing firms.”

* * *

Retail: “How deep of a banking threat is Walmart’s One?” [Banking Dive]. “Walmart’s plans to provide banking services to its 1.6 million U.S. employees and more than 100 million weekly shoppers should make bankers uneasy, said David Donovan, executive vice president of financial services for the Americas at digital consulting company Publicis Sapient…’They don’t need to go acquire customers, they already have them,’ said Donovan, whose company worked to build Goldman Sachs’ consumer bank, Marcus. ‘They just have to roll that service out and make it really easy and simple. It’s like, build it, and they’ll come.’ The cost of acquiring a banking customer is typically between $100 and $200, according to a study by Oliver Wyman. ‘Acquisition costs are a lot. It’s a lot to get a new customer when you’re not an established brand,’ Donovan said. It’s not clear what that cost will be for an entity like Walmart, a household name with an established bricks-and-mortar presence, but all the retailer may need to do to find success in banking is to launch a simple, easy-to-use product, Donovan said.”

Tech: “Cable company’s accidental email to rival discusses plan to block competition” [Ars Technica]. “‘Challenging publicly funded overbuilds is becoming one of the most important tasks we do as a company,’ Cable One Assistant General Counsel Patrick Caron wrote in the email. ‘Overbuild’ is a term cable and telecom companies use to describe what is more commonly known as ‘competition.’ But in the case of East Carroll Parish, the grant was awarded because of evidence that homes in the area are unserved or underserved. US broadband maps are often inaccurate, but the existing data shows East Carroll Parish needs more and better broadband, [Conexon’s Jonathan] Chambers said. ‘My market is the places where nobody’s built networks. I’m not even trying to go into areas that are already served,’ he said. Cable One challenged the East Carroll Parish grant after it was awarded, claiming that Cable One already serves the area where Conexon would build. Cable One lost that initial protest and was chided by the state broadband office for not providing evidence to back up its claims. But the company is appealing, so it isn’t clear when or if Conexon can start installing fiber. he purpose of Caron’s misdirected email was to set up a meeting to discuss similar challenges the company can make in other states. Besides Chambers, the email went to several Cable One executives. ‘We have to get together and determine strategy around Arkansas and Missouri challenges immediately,’ Caron wrote.” • Cable scum. The very last thing broadband in this country is, is “overbuilt.” I hope Cable One gets indicted. And convicted, naturally.

Tech: “GM Dealers Have Been Quietly Repairing Teslas For Over a Year” [Jalopnik (Re Silc)]. “Speaking at GM’s Investor Day 2022, GM President Mark Reuss might have surprised some when he revealed that a small number of GM dealers have been doing repairs on thousands of Teslas for over a year. Since 2021, GM dealers across the country have repaired 11,180 Teslas in total…. This is a big deal for GM as well as Tesla customers. Not only does it give GM a chance to look inside at the intervals of a rival automaker’s product and learn from that, it also gives Tesla customers easier access to service that’s sometimes hard to find. Reuss pointed out in the presentation, more than 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a GM dealership. Because of this, Tesla may be on the offensive. Reuss says that Tesla is now investing millions to build more of its Tesla repair facilities near GM dealerships, likely in a move to try to keep its customers going to Tesla facilities. It’s also a win for Tesla customers because of how crappy Tesla’s own service can be.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 63 Greed (previous close: 62 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 67 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 22 at 12:34 PM EST.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. (Remember that bringing on the Rapture is good.) It seems that 190 is an important psychological barrier.

The Gallery

Gustave Moiré:

Zeitgeist Watch

Innocent times:

Innocent production values….

“Column: It takes only one to tango? The revolutionary clarity of the ‘Ejaculate Responsibly’ movement” [Los Angeles Times]. “‘Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion’ [is] a modest but extensively footnoted little book that places blame for unwanted pregnancies squarely on men…. [Gabrielle Blair] argument is deceptively simplistic, but it makes sense. If sperm does not meet egg, pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, cannot occur. At this point, writes Blair, ‘men have two options for birth control — condoms and vasectomies. Both are easier, cheaper, more convenient and safer than birth control options for women.'” • Blair is right on the merits. Waiting for the public health campaign on this.

Feral Hog Watch

“Bankman-Fried’s FTX, senior staff, parents bought Bahamas property worth $300 mln” [Reuters]. “The documents for another home with beach access in Old Fort Bay — a gated community that was once home to a British colonial fort built in the 1700s to protect against pirates — show Bankman-Fried’s parents, Stanford University law professors Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried, as signatories. The property, one of the documents dated June 15 said, is for use as a ‘vacation home.’ When asked by Reuters why the couple decided to buy a vacation home in the Bahamas and how it was paid for — whether in cash, with a mortgage or by a third party such as FTX — a spokesman for the professors said only that Bankman and Fried had been trying to return the property to FTX. ‘Since before the bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Bankman and Ms. Fried have been seeking to return the deed to the company and are awaiting further instructions,’ the spokesperson said, declining to elaborate.” • Of course, of cours. I like the “pirate bay” angle. Must have amused Mom and Dad.

Class Warfare

Social capital:

A parable of how social capital (“weak ties” being one form) works:

Not a bad thing! Although, if you transposed the conversation from professor/parking lot attendant to banker/regulator….

“The Rise of Influencer Capital” [New York Magazine]. “In his 1910 book, Finance Capital, the Austrian-born economist Rudolf Hilferding introduced the idea of “promoter’s profit.” Unlike an industrial capitalist, the promoter harvests their gains not from the sale of a widget at a price above its cost but from the sale of promises — of claims to future profits. Hilferding saw the promoter as being particularly useful for selling stocks, to the benefit of big banks and others that managed those sales, and he predicted that corporate dividends would dwindle as the financiers captured an increasing profit share for themselves. For a promoter, being famous clearly helped…. Convincing people to buy something regardless of its underlying value is the job description of our era’s version of the celebrity spokesperson: the influencer. In “influencer marketing,” firms hire — or, on the lower end, offer freebies to — popular social-media users to post about a product or service…. [I]f being a company founder is about influencing the capital markets more than it is about running a business, then it makes sense to get the most influential founder you can.” • And if the founder is playing League of Legends during his pitch, so much the better!

* * *

“Inside an Amazon rocked by news of 10,000 planned layoffs, employees are livid that there has been no official communication from executives” [Business Insider] • Always a hellhole, and not just for the warehouse workers.

“HR Director Reminds Employees That Any Crying Done At Office Must Be Work-Related” [The Onion]. • From 2015, still germane.

Kill it with fire:

Gonna be handy for union-busting.

News of the Wired

Tufte’s “power of small multiples“:

* * *

Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) 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. From JJD:

JJD writes: “Amorphophallus bulbifer. A true botanical oddity that produces corms on the leaf veins. Do not plant near a door or window, The inflorescence smells like rotting squirrel.” My heavens! I wonder if one of the platforms would flag this….

* * *

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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.

71 comments

    1. polar donkey

      Today in Tupelo, MS, population of 38,000, Lane furniture closed without notification. 2,100 out 3,000 employees worked at the Lane Furniture plant in Tupelo.

      Reply
  1. Wukchumni

    “Inside an Amazon rocked by news of 10,000 planned layoffs, employees are livid that there has been no official communication from executives” [Business Insider] • Always a hellhole, and not just for the warehouse workers.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    We circle Pavlovegas on our Colorado River trip and this time we went to the Valley of Fire state park (about an hour east of LV) and then drove home west on interstate 15-slicing through sin city.

    Hadn’t approached Vegas this way in 3 or 4 years coming from the east, and there used to be a whole lotta nothing until North Las Vegas, but shazam! and Amazon Vegas popped up, warehouses to service your every desire.going for a mile or 2 along the interstate.

    What happens in Vegas-stays in Vegas, but what to do with all the warehouses when Amerikanski GUM loses flavor?

    p.s.

    No building cranes visible in Vegas, but lots of billboards of lawyers who wish to right your wrongs with their assistance and a slice of your pie.

    You almost wonder if the town runs on personal injury lawsuits and the like?

    Reply
  2. Jason Boxman

    The videos looked at Biden’s push to pass a sweeping infrastructure law compared with Trump’s unfulfilled effort

    Like when liberal Democrats refused to work with Trump, because The Wall funding, and now Biden is continuing to dutifully build that “big beautiful wall” anyway. What a joke. And remember liberal Democrats shutdown the government as well over The Wall that Biden is dutifully continuing! Performative theatrics indeed! How quickly all is forgotten!

    And no serious electoral price to pay!

    Reply
        1. tegnost

          In my neck of the woods I think it was more local interest voting in the midterm that (imo) won’t be replicated in the main event…sheriff was was really unpopular (he lost), library funding (new digs, rejected, but I didn’t get to vote on that I’d have voted for more funding if i could), property tax increase to give the port more dough (from.56 per thousand to 1.00 per thousand, a big increase), that kind of thing.
          Stuff that matters to people.

          Reply
  3. 430MLK

    A few weeks ago, there was a conversation in here or Links about a mural at the University of Kentucky that was under threat of being taken down, which lead to a lawsuit by Wendell Berry to stop its removal. From today’s Lexington Herald Leader, “UK updates campus diversity efforts — including removal of controversial mural — after attack”:

    https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/education/article269076877.html

    Looks like it will be removed but not destroyed. (Previously, UK admin claimed that the mural could not be removed without destroying it.)

    Reply
    1. JBird4049

      Much like the murals that they tried to destroy in San Francisco because it was somehow offensive for depicting the truth; the truth can be offensive, but showing it can never be so.

      The murals in both cities look to have been done by artists from the 1930s WPA (Works Progress Administration) whose work often offended people for depicting working class, union members, minorities, as well scenes showing evil that American did. Showing the little people as well as actions both good and bad by the nation. The nerve and paid for by the government!

      I wish that I could take all those Awoken (and those “patriotic” conservatives) and make them read real books and see real documentaries from other than that lying 1619 Project or the Dunning School and its Lost Cause propaganda; I would not only show American history, but the political philosophy that came out of the Enlightenment that forms American government, society, and political economy, arts, music, painting, poetry; Native American history as well for they are also American. All that makes us, us, and of which too many are deeply, profoundly, horrifically ignorant of. We have created our own barbarians.

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Here is the mural:

      The message is crystal clear and a child of six can read it: The Black people doing stoop labor in the tobacco fields are the foundation of everything. This is underlined by the top portion of the picture: Whites and Blacks are separated, and the Blacks are behind the locomotive, the power source, “the engine of prosperity.”

      That is the history. The people who want to take the mural down are officious fools (successor ideology, no doubt).

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        >>>Welcome to Year Zero

        Whenever I hear the term year zero, I recall Pol Pot‘s Year Zero and his “reforms” in Cambodia. It might seem hyperbolic to say this, it might actually be overwrought, but it seems to me that those who wish for grand change and seek it by eliminating the past, end by eliminating themselves in a kind of suicide, and not really changing anything; the past is always with us, it never goes away, not entirely; its stain, its influence is always there acting on you, whether you choose to see it or not and only by acknowledging, seeing it, and changing yourself, family, society, or an entire nation. Hacks do not work.

        But that takes real work. Time, brain sweat, emotional turmoil, even pain. To see the humanity in others and to treat as human, not as a problem. However, it is apparently much easier to denigrate and then eliminate, hide really, what is the perceived cause of a problem. A quick shortcut that almost always becomes a longcut.

        But Americans, more than most, really like the shortcut, don’t we?

        Reply
  4. Hepativore

    So, it was rather obvious this would happen, but if there is a railroad strike, Biden is all set to join the Republicans in cramming the rejected railroad union contract down labor’s throats, anyway.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1LO7voa7IJM

    Biden could just as easily end the dispute by forcing the railroad companies to give anything they asked for, but neoliberal ideology still dominates both parties our political system and will probably continue to do so for the forseeable future.

    The real question is, will Biden still try and maintain the pretense of being “Pro-union Joe” after he does this?

    Reply
  5. Carla

    Re: Preparing for Ballot Paper Shortages in 2022 and 2024

    This article is dated June 6, 2022. Seems we squeaked through ’22 with enough ballot paper. Now surely even the utterly incompetent US of A can come up with enough ballot paper for 2024 with 2 years notice.

    Coming up with viable candidates, however, will be MUCH harder.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > surely even the utterly incompetent US of A can come up with enough ballot paper for 2024 with 2 years notice.

      I would certainly think so. A competent administration would be making sure of this now.

      Reply
  6. Questa Nota

    Down East Observation.
    Got a catalog from those in Freeport. Hadn’t looked through one in ages. Was shocked at the prices. The value proposition is not there. Recycling the rag.

    Reply
    1. petal

      Haven’t bought from them in many years. The quality evaporated and stuff was falling apart after one washing, sometimes one wear. And the prices went through the roof. No thanks.

      Reply
  7. Wukchumni

    Batman was the first color tv show I remember and it was perfectly targeted @ anybody from 5 to 65 with snide inside jokes for the adults and giant signs exclaiming Bat-fight words for the kiddies such as BIFF!, BONK!, KAPOW! or whimsy such as ZLOPP! or VRONK!

    Reply
  8. griffen

    Tweeting truth and full virtue from our sitting Pres Joe Biden. The pandemic is over and you can thank me. But in case be sure to update your vaccines and additional booster shots without worry or anxiety!

    Some of the responses to the tweet are comical. For some reason i am now thinking of the wisdom from George on Seinfeld…”it’s not a lie if you believe it…”

    Reply
  9. Matthew G. Saroff

    You write about the Dem party backdated thread, “Hopefully, some Bourdieu,”

    I assume that you mean, Bordeaux wine? If so, I’m more of a Merlot kind of guy.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I assume that you mean, Bordeaux wine?

      French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Here is a paper by Oxford’s Trish Greenhalgh et al. on droplet dogma v. aerosols: “Orthodoxy, illusio, and playing the scientific game: a Bourdieusian analysis of infection control science in the COVID-19 pandemic.” Greenhalgh has been sound on airborne throughout. Very dense but worth a read:

      The two scientific sub-fields on which we focus have differently valued forms of scientific capital. Broadly speaking, in the West the scientific capitals of infectious disease scientists are symbolically valued and promoted as robust and relevant evidence, whereas the scientific capitals of aerosol scientists, who occupy a heterodox position, are framed as weak, soft, or limited. These framings present uneven power relations. Our data also powerfully illustrate the role of illusio (ie., the belief of players that the game they play is worthy of playing) in the unfolding of national and international infection control policy68. Illusio is the allure [I might say “glamour,” rather than “allure”] of a game, which on the one hand draws in and keeps the players who find it worthy to be in a game, and on the other strips them of developing a healthy and critical view of the processes and outcomes of the game. By joining its routines and activities, individuals start accepting the rules of the game in a particular field as natural and objective, even when the game that they play may be to their own detriment or harmful to others. An epistemic break from the illusio [say, from droplets to aerosols] is hard to achieve from within the game because the rules of the game appear innocuous to the players, who either join the game knowing them or come to accept them over time.

      The “illusio” concept would seem relevant to other fields, especially journalism, especially especially political journalism (“the belief of players that the game they play is worthy of playing”). I’m connecting the construction of illusio (not in my OED!) with the various powerful delusions that have taken hold of the PMC.

      Reply
      1. Steve H.

        Thank you, hunkerdown. The term Interventions is scary, but small island of stability anchors have promise. I tuned on my HappyClapper Innoculation of Joy on Sunday, and the choir was a-goin’. Two dozen people onstage and the only one wearing a mask is on the Board of Directors of our local community theater with me. And I bang bang bang the drum, every effn time.

        I was proud of her. Evang’lizing, as it twere.

        This Christakis stuff is wild. Gotta sleep on it. ‘Collective immune response.’

        Reply
        1. hunkerdown

          Wild is a good word for it. Tip in light of Christakis, when offering masks, offer to someone and one for their friend. It causes more behavior contagion. It’s all just a matter of manipulating social capital…

          Reply
  10. Mark Gisleson

    I checked and yes there is a Reddit thread on Batman and Joker’s surfing competition:

    [[SPOILER ALERT]]

    Lets be real here for a second. In the surfing competition Joker smoked BatMan. The Joker was going for points, he went for the hard tricks and style. That requires alot of skill and handling and is why I think he should have won the competition.

    Reply
  11. Glen

    Anecdotal so be careful.

    We have quite a few engineers that go to work for Amazon in Seattle. They pay well, but most of the people that go expect to work there only a couple of years. It is not considered a good place to work. An engineer that has been at Amazon over five years is considered an “old timer” since they purposely manage their employees to burn them out and make them leave similar to what they do with the warehouse/driver employees. I don’t know how the layoffs will shake out there. It must be some culture shock. Layoffs where I work are part of the company culture, unfortunately.

    Bezo’s rocket company is also in a serious hiring upswing right now. You don’t hear much about working conditions there. In fact, you don’t hear much of anything from there.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      It’s been awhile since the book The Everything Store came out but it said Bezos liked the General Electric social Darwinism approach of firing employees with the lowest evaluations just to keep the others on their toes. It said the corporate culture was the opposite of warm and fuzzy.

      Reply
      1. Hepativore

        Many of the companies that I have worked for in the biotech industry loved the “forced stack ranking” employee evaluation model. This is because it made the perfect excuse to weed out any employees in their R&D personnel that were about to qualify for an automatic raise or 401k and healthplan benefits according to the company’s policies on paper.

        It did not matter what you did or did not do for these companies. The moment an employee would supposedly reach any sort of benefit or compensation milestone, the person would invariably be ranked for termination and let go. This was in addition to the regular termination of laboratory personnel who were all automatically fired the moment the project they had us working on was concluded.

        Many private companies in the STEM fields have long ago decided that it was cheaper to hire their lab techs and researchers on a permatemp basis and recycle the same positions over and over rather than retain them for the next project as they would not have to be obligated to provide any benefits like the healthplan or retirement perks.

        Reply
  12. digi_owl

    Funny how the drone video talks all about AI, but then go out of their way to show the human operator making the final button push. Makes no sense for an ambush (aka mine) mode to need human interaction. That thing is basically an electronic claymore tripwire.

    And i am curious about the “enemy classification” system, as we have seen all kinds of “AI” confuse humans and apes. So will it confuse a broom for a rifle? Or “blue” with “red” in a highly mobile scenario? Or will “blues” need to wear special badges?

    There are so many nasty ways that system can fail.

    I can’t help feel i have read about something akin to influencer capital before. But it involved getting people to mention product/service being marketed in casual conversations.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      I like the assumption how they will always be in the driver’s seat with these drones and that they will always have total dominance of the battlefield. Remember when the US brought out drones big time about twenty years ago – and now everybody is using them to the point that now the US military is vulnerable to drone attack? Nothing like a Russian Lancet drone to ruin your morning. So what happens if Hamas starts to use their own drones in action against the Israelis? Actually it could get worse. Hamas could announce that they intend to use the exact same Rules of Engagement that the Israelis use.

      Reply
    2. Sin Fronteras

      Elbit Systems (Israel) also built the surveillance towers used in Arizona along the Mexico border. They had an annoying ad showing a video screen of 3 people, fuzzy at first, which sharpens to a man and woman holding a child’s hand. Battle tested, for sure, on Palestinians.

      The ad style was hi-tech: jumping from scene with scene with tension-inducing music (bass drum beats) going.

      Reply
    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I can’t help feel i have read about something akin to influencer capital before. But it involved getting people to mention product/service being marketed in casual conversations.

      Ha ha! I should have noted this. There is a minor character in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (2003) who does that kind of marketing. Not quite the same as influencers today, who are online and accumulate followers (i.e. clout (i.e social capital)).

      Reply
  13. Louiedog14

    Re: Social Capital (weak ties)

    I dunno, maybe I’m just a horrible cynic, but it strikes me that the good doctor’s relationship with the security guard boils down to : he covers for me when I lose my badge and gets me good parking spots. See, it pays to treat the servants well!

    I might be completely wrong about her though, but it’s one of the suspicions I always have about social media – the very existence of such a post screams “Look at Me! Look at Me!” and so I instantly assume selfish intent.

    Reply
      1. Polar Socialist

        “A gentleman is one who treats his inferiors with the greatest courtesy, justice and consideration, and who exacts the same treatment from his superiors”, they said back in the days when we still admitted there is a class society.

        Reply
    1. CanCyn

      Chiming in belatedly on this one….
      I had those exact thoughts, I wondered if she ever brought him a so much as a coffee or a pastry on a Sunday. I then surprised myself by thinking about ‘weak ties’ more generally and remembering how much they were a big part of my Dad’s social life after my Mom died. They lived in a small Northern Ontario town, my siblings and I many hours away. He had friends and a social life that mostly involved fishing and woodworking projects but he also had many of those weak ties, just without the ‘be nice to the help’ aspect. He got into the habit of running small errands every day. A trip to pick up a prescription which should have taken about 15 minutes would inevitably take much longer as he had a chat with the pharmacist about fishing or whatever. He was an avid user of the public library and spent many hours chatting with staff about books and what to read next. He had a massive stroke at age 80 and while he was in hospital I found some library books that were probably overdue. When I took them in to return them, they had been very concerned about my Dad’s absence and one actually broke into tears when I related the news about the stroke. Nobody doing anyone favours here or any BS wokist diversity solidarity. Just people caring about each other.

      Reply
  14. mrsyk

    “Democrats Have Some Solid Options If Biden Doesn’t Run in 2024”
    Dear god. No they certainly do not. And the inclusion of Fetterman on the list. I guess even the Bernie Bros have an option! Like Fetterman wouldn’t get the Bernie treatment in the primaries.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      I’m trying to think what the Democrats could run on in 2024. Ending the the Pandemic? Yeah, nah! Better not go there. Not sending the planet into thermo-nuclear war over the Ukraine? Democrats will want people to forget the Ukraine by 2024. They could always pretend that they will finally pay the $600 that they owe people but I don’t think that voters will pretend to believe them. They can’t run on bringing back Roe-Wade as they were the ones that lost it as they couldn’t be a***** about it except as a fundraiser.

      And Bernie and the Squad plus the other Progressives are just a bad joke. Bernie said that he was giving up on healthcare for all in April of 2020 and I don’t think that he has talked about it since. Too busy calling out hecklers as Russian agents I guess. And the Squad/Progressives are seen to vote tens of billions of dollars for the Ukraine without demanding a single solitary dollar for anything at home in return. Not even for things like a minimum wage or supporting striking workers. I guess that in the end, you can’t run for something on nothing.

      Reply
  15. Wukchumni

    Suspect using a walker robs bank of $200, Fresno police say. He did not get far. (Fresno Bee)

    What happens in Fresno, stays in Fresno.

    Reply
  16. Michael McK

    Re. Independent State Legislature theory. I hate to be a downer or give corrupt Legislatures (hopefully poor) advise but I don’t think Congress setting a time would stop a determined Legislature from declaring the winning (in the manner they chose) slate of Electors at the close of the polls on voting day.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > a time would stop a determined Legislature from declaring the winning (in the manner they chose) slate of Electors at the close of the polls on voting day.

      Hard to imagine that would play well. I dunno, though, maybe that’s where all this is going, via some lunatic theory from a conservative law school.

      Reply
      1. mrsyk

        To me, It’s the signal that’s the most distressing. The majority of us have polarized into two camps that run primarily on hatred of the other. Blind hatred. It’s making people stupid and it’s everywhere.

        Reply
    2. scott s.

      We need to keep in mind US Cons provision for election of Reps and Sens is separate from appointment of presidential electors. IIUC the theory at play is primarily in regards to election of Reps and Sens if the “time place and manner” in Art I Sec 4 within constraints set by Congress (eg election of Reps by geo district) is solely the purview of legislatures as agents of the US Cons, or by legislatures acting within the scope of state constitutions and the prescribed law-making authority therein, subject to the US Cons Art IV/4 guarantee of a “republican form of government”.

      Pres electors are covered under US Cons Art II/1 provisions giving Congress giving option “may determine the time of choosing electors”, the “manner” being exclusive to legislatures.

      Under this authority Congress enacted the act of 23 Jan 1845 after concerns about early voting in 1840 and 1844 elections led Congress to adopt a single day in November. Obviously then and now it was not expected that electors would literally be appointed on that day. The 1845 Act included provision that if a state failed to make a choice on that day “the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such manner as the legislature of such State may direct”. This was codified as Revised Statutes 1874 Sec 134 and subsequently recodified as USC Title 3 Sec 2 in 1948.

      Reply
  17. Pelham

    Re SBF: On the one hand, we’re assured he’s a long-termism effective altruist who lives a very spartan life. On the other hand he lives on a $300 million estate in the Bahamas.

    More philosophically, I’m less concerned about the threat posed by artificial intelligence than I am by the threat and harm repeatedly thrust upon us by natural intelligence. My theory is that once a person accumulates a certain number of egghead certifications from certain august institutions, pretty much all that IQ tends to be turned off. From that moment forward, any crackpot idea that pops into these geniuses’ heads is a guaranteed go. Hence FTX. And effective altruism, long-termism and, for that matter, eugenics.

    Reply
  18. GF

    Tech: “Cable company’s accidental email to rival discusses plan to block competition” [Ars Technica].

    In our neck of the woods monopoly Cable One is now called Sparklight. Since they changed the name our cable/internet bill has risen from $172 to $240 a month.

    Reply
  19. FreeMarketApologist

    Re: Walmart as bank: The chilling words in that article were “earned wage access company”. This is a not subtly hidden term for ‘payday lender’. A look at the web site of any EWA company should make people nervous.

    It’s a tell that Walmart is trying out the idea on their employees (since they know how much they earn, and when, so they have great data to analyze how much people are drawing against future earnings).

    Also interesting that the guy quoted helped build Marcus, which hasn’t turned a profit yet.

    Reply
  20. Jason Boxman

    There’s just no editing anymore. Obvious typos that change the entire meaning:

    Fabletics was a huge success, racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from customers, most of whom probably realized they were signing up for monthly athleticwear subscriptions.

    From the next sentence, it seems likely the author meant did not realize and the sentence links to a story that says exactly that!

    Maybe it’s always been this bad, and I never noticed until the past few years?

    Reply
  21. The Rev Kev

    “Column: It takes only one to tango? The revolutionary clarity of the ‘Ejaculate Responsibly’ movement ”

    Ejaculate responsibly? So are we to believe that all those pron videos had it right all along? (shudder)

    Reply
  22. caucus99percenter

    The same pair of tweets about San Francisco appear twice, once under “• Masks and air quality” and then under “Context”.

    Presumably the latter was supposed to show something different, not just be a repeat?

    Reply
  23. Pat

    One of the articles about the massive losses in the Alexa division of Amazon got me thinking. The numbers just don’t make sense if they really are selling the hardware at cost.

    Now that may be the lie, but a throw away statement made me wonder more. The division doesn’t just include the voice assistant area, it apparently includes the Video division. And that makes me wonder how much of those losses are really from that area. VOD services have shown some of the strains on them in the last year. And Amazon has an ambitious production program. Netflix has finally had to come clean about their losses and they face many of the same problems in regard to licensing and their crazy stupid production budgets. Amazon not only has a smaller subscription fee, it also has to split their subscription fees with other divisions. That division has to be losing money, and a lot of it. Maybe not half of what has been reported but very likely a significantly larger portion of it they would prefer not to get into.

    The biggest difference is that there are some clear monetizing opportunities with the Video division, while there really haven’t found any with Alexa. Why not stack all the losses on something you are now writing off. Just saying.

    Reply

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