2:00PM Water Cooler 2/28/2024

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

For G&S fans, for the upcoming Leap Year day:

“You’re only five and a little bit older.”

Bird Song of the Day

Winter Wren, Ferd’s Bog, Hamilton, New York, United States.

* * *


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


Less than a year to go!

* * *

Trump (R): “Trump leads in Wisconsin and overtakes Biden in all swing states” [Washington Examiner]. Yee haw:

I think the multiway polls, as opposed to Trump-Biden head-to-head, are more likely to be predictive this year (all other things being equal), since so many people loathe both major candidates and are looking for alternatives. Of course, 250 days is a long time in politics, but for the Democrats base — not the professionals — these numbers must be deeply, existentially disturbing, since they live in a mental universe where “this can’t be happening.”

Trump (R): “Why the chief of one of the most powerful unions in America is courting Trump” [MSNBC]. “Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien met with Trump twice in January, including a private visit to Mar-a-Lago, after which the union posted a photo of the pair. Then news came out that the Teamsters donated $45,000 to the Republican National Committee’s convention fund — the maximum amount allowed from the union’s political action committee. It appears to be the most significant contribution that the Teamsters have made to the RNC in two decades.” And: “Organized labor experts say that O’Brien appears to be strategically positioning himself, both for internal political reasons and because he could be trying to put a good word in with Trump in case he wins the election. That maneuvering raises two concerning questions. One, is a major union playing footsie with Trump because it views President Joe Biden as particularly weak in this election cycle? Second, could this process result in the union effectively nudging some on-the-fence union members and their communities to think of Trump as anything but the foe of labor he really is?” • Good questions!

* * *

Biden (D): “Should Biden Drop Out and Pick a New Candidate? Maybe Later. It’s almost panic time” [Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine]. “Trump is currently leading the national polls by about two points. In each of the last two elections, the Electoral College has given Trump a clear advantage, and the current polls show the same dynamic. The tipping point state in the Electoral College right now is Michigan, where Trump has been leading consistently and currently has a five-point edge in the polling average. The next best chance for Biden after Michigan would be North Carolina, where he trails by 6 percent, and then Georgia, where he trails by 6.8 percent. So as of now, it would take a five-point national swing to make the race a pure toss-up. Keeping Biden makes sense if you think he’s running just a hair behind Trump. My read is that he’s in a dire spot, though not quite a hopeless one. It’s not quite a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency scenario, but if he sees no improvement within a few months, it will be.” • A “few months” being uncomfortably close to the Convention.

Biden (D): “Trump Keeps Biden in the Race” [RealClearPolitics]. “Donald Trump is keeping Joe Biden in the race. This is true on several levels; the one that matters most is numerical: Trump cannot pull away in the polls. Trump may end up winning, but he appears unable to put Biden away – now or for the remainder of the campaign. Biden, therefore, has reason to stay in and Democrats reasons to stick with him… By all approval measures, Biden should be heading for the exit, not the campaign trail. So, why is he still running? Because in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, Biden is outperforming his presidential performance, trailing Trump by two points – even in a five-way contest, he trails 38-41. Despite his low approval ratings, Biden remains within striking distance of victory. Biden is still in because he is running against Trump.” And: “However, today’s polling results against the currently unpopular Biden raise the question of whether Trump hit his ceiling in 2020. While Biden is unquestionably losing support, most is not going to Trump; instead, it is parked in the undecided column or with third-party candidates.” And: “Biden and his team are still in the race because Trump has not put him out of it.” • Yep. Where’s that compilation of Biden’s gait problems? The shadows cast by both Biden and Trump loom far larger than the actual figures of both man.

Biden (D): “It’s still a Biden referendum. That’s not good for him” [Stuart Rothenberg, Roll Call]. “And yet, even with Biden’s weak poll numbers, many Democratic strategists think the current president can fundamentally change the trajectory of the campaign. Once voters start focusing on the general election and comparing Biden to Trump, they predict, the entire race will change. That’s possible, but it’s not self-evident how or why the current shape of the presidential contest would change. After all, both Trump and Biden have nearly universal name identification, and both have been in the public’s spotlight for weeks, months and years. We know about them because we have seen them day after day. It’s not as if the current president and the former commander in chief will say something to change our opinions of them. Americans know the two men very well, which is why they are so unhappy with the choice they have for 2024…. For the moment, if the election is either a referendum on Biden or a choice between the two nominees, Biden finds himself in deep trouble. He needs November to be about Trump — and specifically about Trump’s most outrageous comments and most dangerous beliefs. That may be the only way for Biden to change the trajectory of the race and turn out the Democratic demographic groups and swing voters he needs to win.”

Biden (D): “Biden’s Cold War Nostalgia Is Dooming His Presidency” [Jeet Heer, The Nation]. “The paradox of the Biden presidency is that he and his foreign policy team (notably Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and White House aide Brett McGurk) are the last Scoop Jackson Democrats, a crew of neoconservatives and liberal hawks who are pursuing a wildly anachronistic policy. This was evident long before October 7, when the Hamas massacre and Biden’s ensuing support for Israel’s devastation of Gaza brought the problem into stark relief. The killing fields of Gaza are only making visible the horrific and ongoing human costs of Biden’s long-standing commitment to an obsolete Cold War liberalism that is completely inadequate to the challenges of the 21st century. Like Scoop Jackson, Joe Biden is an over-eager and uncritical enthusiast for military Keynesianism—the use of arms spending to fuel economic growth. The ideal of Cold War liberalism was to fuse foreign and domestic policy, creating an integrated warfare/welfare state. Jackson, who became known as ‘the senator from Boeing’ for his ardent support for the airplane manufacturer—a major employer in Washington State—was the leading exponent of the idea that lavish government funding of armament production was the best path for creating a large unionized workforce force and a robust domestic manufacturing sector. The logic here is not so much ‘guns and butter’ but that if you manufacture enough guns, you will create enough high-paying jobs that will allow Americans to buy butter. Underlying this project is the brute political reality that it is easier to get bipartisan consensus and elite comity (which Biden, still a man of the Senate in his worldview, always seeks) if you push for defense spending rather than social spending. Further, it is much easier to get funding for social spending (as in the buildup of universities after the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957) if you can make the case that national security depends on it.” • One could, I suppose, view the American Recovery Act as a pivot from this, but it’s really more of a parallel project. And I don’t see Americans buying a lot of butter these days.

Biden (D): “Is Biden’s Gaza Policy Alienating Black Voters?” [Foreign Policy]. “In the beginning of January, in an attempt to boost political morale among his most loyal constituency, Biden made an appearance at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina… At this sacred site, it was fitting that Biden spoke about domestic issues such as racism and political violence. Unfortunately, Biden’s foreign-policy woes followed him to the pulpit, where he was interrupted by protesters demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. Churches like Mother Emanuel AME play a key role in shaping the voting decisions of the larger Black community. More and more members of the clergy are speaking out from the pulpit against Biden’s support for Israel. A recent New York Times article revealed that over the past several months more than 1,000 Black pastors—ranging from conservative Southern Baptist churches to progressive nondenominational congregations in the Midwest and Northeast—have called for an end to Israel’s offensive operations in Gaza as well as the release of all hostages held by Hamas. As in other parts of the American public, much of the momentum behind Black faith leaders’ calls for a cease-fire is coming from younger congregants.” • Hmm.

* * *

MI: “Four takeaways from the Michigan primary” [WaPo]. “Early Wednesday morning, with nearly all votes in, Biden was leading ‘uncommitted’ 81 percent to 13 percent, while Trump led former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley 68 percent to 26 percent.” 13% “uncommitted” is not a good number for the general at all. After a lot of foofra about previous “uncommitted” elections, this: “These uncommitted votes clearly signal something quite different — and potentially more troubling for the incumbent president — than those 2012 protest votes. The real question is whether support can be marshaled in other states and in other ways to make Biden truly feel as if he needs to change his ways and mind his left flank. The protest vote got a foothold after an initial false start in New Hampshire; now it’s about signaling that the movement has some staying power.” Oh, and: “[Dean] Phillips on Tuesday finished in fourth place (2.7 percent), behind Williamson (3 percent). Williamson suspended her campaign three weeks ago.” • Oh well.

MI: “Some very worrying signs for Joe Biden” [CNN]. “A depressed vote is not Biden’s only concern. So too are fears that former President Donald Trump’s improved poll numbers with Black and Latino voters might indicate the real potential for the GOP to cut into traditional Democrat constituencies. Tuesday night, the numbers from Michigan suggest that the problem is real. Biden is facing resistance in the Wolverine State from Arab-American Democrats who led the charge in pushing voters to vote ‘uncommitted’ to send a message to the Biden campaign. A significant number of people have sided with that campaign.” And the usual: “But is this fatal? No, it is not. There is considerable time between now and November. The situation in the Middle East is dynamic and it is possible the frustration and anger, which are very much in play today, won’t be as much a priority for voters come Election Day.” • I wouldn’t characterize opposing genocide as “frustration and anger.” And if genocide is your issue, then the choice is clear: Biden, clear-eyed, committed one (and committed the whole country to it, as well). Trump didn’t and hasn’t. It’s not hard! Note the vote in Dearborn:

MI: “‘Unprecedented’ Poll Numbers For Trump In Michigan Are Bad Sign For Biden” [Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics]. “Even as low as 2-3% [loss in support in the Democratic primary] is a problem for Biden because that can translate to like a percentage point off his margin in a general election. If a fraction of those voters don’t show up, he’s done… If there’s a pro-Palestinian candidate on the ballot, he’s going to have a really hard time winning that state. He doesn’t have a lot of margin for error there…. If he doesn’t win Michigan, it is pretty much over…. If he’s shedding Arab American voters because of his position on Israel, it will be very difficult for him to win the presidency without Michigan.”

Spook Country

“Tucker Carlson: U.S. Intel Agencies Spied On Me During Russia Trip, Leaked To Semafor That I Met Snowden” [RealClearPolitics]. “Tucker Carlson accused U.S. intelligence of hacking his communications and leaking to Semafor that he met with Edward Snowden while he was in Russia and said ‘one of the biggest law firms’ in the country warned him that the U.S. government would arrest him if he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘softball’ interview. ‘The lawyer said very specifically, depending on the questions you ask Putin, you know, you could be arrested or not,’ Tucker Carlson told the Lex Fridman podcast in an interview released Tuesday. ‘He said, ‘Look, a lot will depend on the questions that you ask Putin. If you’re seen as too nice to him, you could get arrested when you come back….'” • I’ve gotta say, liberal Democrats building a 21st Century Okhrana wasn’t on my bingo card, though I suppose after [genuflects] Brennan and Obama’s “disposition matrix” it should have been.

“Obama’s CIA Asked Foreign Intel Agencies To Spy on Trump Campaign” [RealClearPolitics]. RCP again, WTF. There is nothing new here, but it’s a good summary of the work that Taibbi, Shellenberger, et al. have done. “The revelation that the U.S. intelligence community, under the Obama administration, sought the assistance of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance to surveil Donald Trump’s associates before the 2016 election is a chilling reminder of the lengths to which the Deep State will go to protect its interests and challenge its adversaries…. This bombshell, reported by a team of independent journalists, exposes a dark chapter in American political history, where foreign intelligence services were reportedly mobilized against a presidential candidate. The alleged operation against Trump and his associates, which predates the official start of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, is a stark example of political weaponization of intelligence…. The narrative that has been pushed for years, that the investigation into Trump’s campaign began with an Australian tip about a boastful Trump aide, now appears to be a cover for a more extensive and coordinated effort to undermine Trump. If reports are accurate, British intelligence began targeting Trump on behalf of American intelligence agencies as early as 2015, long before the official narrative claims. The implications of this are profound. It suggests an unprecedented level of collusion between U.S. intelligence agencies and their foreign counterparts to influence the outcome of an American presidential election. The use of foreign intelligence to circumvent American laws and surveillance limitations represents a grave threat to our nation’s sovereignty and the principles of democracy.” • One can only wonder who the spooks started surveilling in 2018 and 2019.

Republican Funhouse

“Biden, Republican Johnson hold ‘intense’ Ukraine talks at White House” [Reuters]. “Speaking to reporters afterward, Schumer said it was one of the most intense meetings he has ever been a part of, as the Democrats sought to persuade Johnson to agree to funding Ukraine. ‘It’s in his hands,’ Schumer said of Johnson. ‘We told him how important it was. It was passionate.’ Johnson called the talks ‘frank and honest’ and said his primary concern is addressing migration along the U.S. southern border with Mexico, a subject he said he returned to repeatedly including in a one-on-one session with Biden. Biden said he believed a solution could be reached on funding the government by a Friday deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown, which he said would be damaging to the U.S. economy. Ukraine funding becomes more urgent every day, Biden said before the meeting.” I hate this recurrent story; it’s a “Perils of Pauline” thing, where the heroine — in this case, the Federal budget — always gets saved at the last moment. But maybe not this time? On the border, Trump has said he wants to run on it, so no deal. It’s not clear to me, however, whether Trump’s word is writ with the House leadership. On Ukraine, Ukraine has lost; the only question is who gets the blame. Since it’s a Democrat war through and through, Biden should, but the Democrat story will be that it’s the Republicans’ fault for denying them weapons; and given the media environment, that’s not a hard sell to make. If I were Johnson, I’d want to avoid that, no matter what his hardliners think. I keep trying to imagine what kind of poison pill Johnson could add to the bill to make it painful and difficult for Johnson to sign. Maybe try to impose a diplomatic track? (A hard sell on the right, I am sure). Not that a diplomatic track would have any reality, you understand. Or perhaps audits of weapons distribution? A hearing on the 2014 Maidan coup, now that the spooks have opened that can of worms? How about Vicky Nuland’s head on a platter?

* * *

“Column: As measles spreads, ‘herd stupidity’ grips Florida’s government” [Michael Hiltzick, Los Angeles Times]. “Nine cases may not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to alarm epidemiologists. They point out that measles is among the most contagious viruses known to humankind, which means that the cases identified thus far are likely to be the tip of \the iceberg. Who’s unconcerned? The chief public health official of the state of Florida, that’s who. He’s Joseph Ladapo, whom I earlier identified as ‘the most dangerous quack in America.’… Ladapo has now cemented his position at the top of the list of public officials hazardous to your health. He did so with a letter issued Feb. 20 to parents with children at the elementary school suffering the outbreak. The letter noted that it is ‘normally recommended’ that children stay home until the end of the infectious period, which he pegged at March 7. But he added: ‘Due to the high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school,’ his agency would let parents or guardians make their own decisions about sending their kids to school. The letter was also notable for what it did not say. It did not recommend that parents of nonimmunized children get them vaccinated immediately.” And: “But as epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina observed on her blog, Your Local Epidemiologist, while the vaccination rate in Florida is just over 90%, that’s ‘not high enough — because measles is so contagious, the threshold for herd immunity against measles is 95%. This means there are pockets in the school, other schools, and a community that measles could burn through.’ Measles is already on the march in the U.S. in 2024… To put it another way, Ladapo’s appeal to the principle of ‘herd immunity’ is outweighed by the herd stupidity of the anti-vaccination movement that he is a part of.” • I assume the next claim will be that measles are “mild”:

I hate to file this in a partisan bucket, but Ladapo is an elected….

“10 measles cases reported in Florida as criticism rises over top health official’s response” [Orlando Sun-Sentinel]. “Meanwhile, all media questions about whether these cases are in the unvaccinated, whether the younger children with measles are siblings of infected at Manatee Bay and whether the newest case is in a college student have gone unanswered by Florida’s health officials. Similar to the early days of COVID, Florida health officials are not providing answers to questions the public wants to know: How did measles get to Florida, is it just the unvaccinated, how exactly is this once-eradicated disease spreading in South Florida? How many people in Broward County have been vaccinated at the recent events? Local health officials in Broward County and Polk County have redirected reporters inquiries to the Florida Department of Health’s main communications office in Tallahassee. That office has not respond to multiple inquires from the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel.” • Commentary:

Democrats en Déshabillé

The notion that Democrats need to “make a case” keeps cropping up. No. What the Democrats needed to have done was deliver:

So Kamala owes me a lot more than the six hundred bucks Biden owes (and that “two thousand” figure must have been workshopped). Cf Matt 7:16-20.

“How Panera Bread Ducked California’s New $20 Minimum Wage Law” [Bloomberg]. “Billionaire Greg Flynn, who made his fortune running one of the world’s largest restaurant franchise operations, is getting a new boost from sourdough loaves and brioche buns That’s because a California law that’s about to raise the state minimum wage at fast-food spots to $20 an hour from $16 offers an unusual exemption for chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item. Governor Gavin Newsom pushed for that break, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the main beneficiaries is Flynn, a longtime Newsom donor whose California holdings include two dozen Panera Bread locations.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

I think we should just assume that Google’s picked a side in the culture wars, and act accordingly:

Re-upping this from Links two days ago:

Commentary: “I’m done with @Google” Mario Juric. A long Tweet. Key paragraph:

I’ve been reading Google’s Gemini damage control posts. I think they’re simply not telling the truth. For one, their text-only product has the same (if not worse) issues. And second, if you know a bit about how these models are built, you know you don’t get these “incorrect” answers through one-off innocent mistakes. Gemini’s outputs reflect the many, many, FTE-years of labeling efforts, training, fine-tuning, prompt design, QA/verification — all iteratively guided by the team who built it. You can also be certain that before releasing it, many people have tried the product internally, that many demos were given to senior PMs and VPs, that they all thought it was fine, and that they all ultimately signed off on the release. With that prior, the balance of probabilities is strongly against the outputs being an innocent bug — as @googlepubpolicy is now trying to spin it: Gemini is a product that functions exactly as designed, and an accurate reflection of the values people who built it.

Those values appear to include a desire to reshape the world in a specific way that is so strong that it allowed the people involved to rationalize to themselves that it’s not just acceptable but desirable to train their AI to prioritize ideology ahead of giving user the facts.

Google’s entire management heirarchy signed off on Gemini. It’s doing what they want it to do (like, for example, MCAS). Not sure how this fits in with Doctorow’s enshittification thesis; this feels like a whole new thing, to me.


“I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.” –William Lloyd Garrison

Resources, United States (National): Transmission (CDC); Wastewater (CDC, Biobot; includes many counties; Wastewater Scan, includes drilldown by zip); Variants (CDC; Walgreens); “Iowa COVID-19 Tracker” (in IA, but national data). “Infection Control, Emergency Management, Safety, and General Thoughts” (especially on hospitalization by city).

Lambert here: Readers, thanks for the collective effort. To update any entry, do feel free to contact me at the address given with the plants. Please put “COVID” in the subject line. Thank you!

Resources, United States (Local): AK (dashboard); AL (dashboard); AR (dashboard); AZ (dashboard); CA (dashboard; Marin, dashboard; Stanford, wastewater; Oakland, wastewater); CO (dashboard; wastewater); CT (dashboard); DE (dashboard); FL (wastewater); GA (wastewater); HI (dashboard); IA (wastewater reports); ID (dashboard, Boise; dashboard, wastewater, Central Idaho; wastewater, Coeur d’Alene; dashboard, Spokane County); IL (wastewater); IN (dashboard); KS (dashboard; wastewater, Lawrence); KY (dashboard, Louisville); LA (dashboard); MA (wastewater); MD (dashboard); ME (dashboard); MI (wastewater; wastewater); MN (dashboard); MO (wastewater); MS (dashboard); MT (dashboard); NC (dashboard); ND (dashboard; wastewater); NE (dashboard); NH (wastewater); NJ (dashboard); NM (dashboard); NV (dashboard; wastewater, Southern NV); NY (dashboard); OH (dashboard); OK (dashboard); OR (dashboard); PA (dashboard); RI (dashboard); SC (dashboard); SD (dashboard); TN (dashboard); TX (dashboard); UT (wastewater); VA (dashboard); VT (dashboard); WA (dashboard; dashboard); WI (wastewater); WV (wastewater); WY (wastewater).

Resources, Canada (National): Wastewater (Government of Canada).

Resources, Canada (Provincial): ON (wastewater); QC (les eaux usées); BC (wastewater); BC, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: Alexis, anon (2), Art_DogCT, B24S, CanCyn, ChiGal, Chuck L, Festoonic, FM, FreeMarketApologist (4), Gumbo, hop2it, JB, JEHR, JF, JL Joe, John, JM (10), JustAnotherVolunteer, JW, KatieBird, LL, Michael King, KF, LaRuse, mrsyk, MT, MT_Wild, otisyves, Petal (6), RK (2), RL, RM, Rod, square coats (11), tennesseewaltzer, Tom B., Utah, Bob White (3).

Stay safe out there!

* * *

Covid is Airborne

I love the idea that SARS-CoV-2 would evolve in a direction that prevented us from hearing coughs, transforming the symptomatic into the asymptomatic:

Do readers notice this? I see “everyone’s coughing” a lot on my feed, but the accounts I follow are pretty doomstruck (and also biased toward the UK, which I think is worse off.)

Morbidity and Mortality

“Mild!” “Just a cold!” “Immunity debt!”

All lies.

Elite Maleficence

* * *

TABLE 1: Daily Covid Charts

National[1] Biobot February 27: Regional[2] Biobot February 27:
Variants[3] CDC February 17 Emergency Room Visits[4] CDC February 24
New York[5] New York State, data February 27: National [6] CDC February 17:
National[7] Walgreens February 26: Ohio[8] Cleveland Clinic February 17:
Travelers Data
Positivity[9] CDC February 5: Variants[10] CDC February 5:
Weekly deaths New York Times February 17: Percent of deaths due to Covid-19 New York Times February 17:


1) for charts new today; all others are not updated.

2) For a full-size/full-resolution image, Command-click (MacOS) or right-click (Windows) on the chart thumbnail and “open image in new tab.”


[1] (Biobot) Biobot drops, conformant to Walgreen positivity data (if that is indeed not a data artifact).

[2] (Biobot) Regional separation re-emerges.

[3] (CDC Variants) “As of May 11, genomic surveillance data will be reported biweekly, based on the availability of positive test specimens.” “Biweeekly: 1. occurring every two weeks. 2. occurring twice a week; semiweekly.” Looks like CDC has chosen sense #1. In essence, they’re telling us variants are nothing to worry about. Time will tell.

[4] (ER) Does not support Biobot data. “Charts and data provided by CDC, updates Wednesday by 8am. For the past year, using a rolling 52-week period.”

[5] (Hospitalization: NY) Not flattening.

[6] (Hospitalization: CDC) Still down. “Maps, charts, and data provided by CDC, updates weekly for the previous MMWR week (Sunday-Saturday) on Thursdays (Deaths, Emergency Department Visits, Test Positivity) and weekly the following Mondays (Hospitalizations) by 8 pm ET†”.

[7] (Walgreens) That’s a big drop! It would be interesting to survey this population generally; these are people who, despite a tsunami of official propaganda and enormous peer pressure, went and got tested anyhow.

[8] (Cleveland) Flattening, consistent with Biobot data.

[9] (Travelers: Posivitity) Down, albeit in the rear view mirror.

[10] (Travelers: Variants) About time for something to challenge JN.1. But what’s “other”? Something to look forward to, I guess!

Stats Watch

GDP: “United States GDP Growth Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The US economy expanded an annualized 3.2% in Q4 2023, slightly below 3.3% in the advance estimate, following a 4.9% rate in Q3. The downward revision is due to private inventories which subtracted 0.27 pp from the growth, compared to an addition of 0.07 pp seen in the advance estimate. On the other hand, consumer spending was revised higher (3% vs 2.8% in the advance estimate), led by services (2.8% vs 2.4%) while goods rose less (3.2% vs 3.8%). Also, government spending rose way more (4.2% vs 3.3%)…..”

Retail: “United States Retail Inventories Ex Autos” [Trading Economics]. “Retail inventories excluding autos in the United States rose by 0.3% month-over-month in January 2024, following a 0.4% increase in the prior month. On a yearly basis, retail inventories excluding autos fell by 1.4% in January.”

* * *

The Bezzle: “Klarna says its AI assistant does the work of 700 people after it laid off 700 people” [Fast Company]. “One month after taking its OpenAI-powered virtual assistant global, the Swedish buy-now, pay-later company has released new data touting its ability to handle customer communications, make shoppers happier, and even drive better financial results.” • We can’t make a robot car, but we can automate a fintech call center.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 79 Extreme Greed (previous close: 77 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 75 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 28 at 12:55:14 PM ET.

Zeitgeist Watch

“Fit” for what?

If only there were a way to put shared air on a subscription basis. (Actually, that’s an interesting question, and probably some economist has written a paper on it: Why can some things be rented, and others not? Since we live in a rentier-driven, financialized society, that question would be of more than passing interest…).

“The Psychological Trick Scammers Rely on and How to Protect Yourself” [Time]. “There’s one simple and effective trick many scams rely on: emotional manipulation. ‘They use fear-based tactics to get us into our primitive brain, which is always on alert,’ says Alex Melkumian, founder of the Financial Psychology Center.” So in some sense, avoiding “living in fear” is a useful heuristic (and I wonder if scammers tend to present themselves as PMC). More: “If you find yourself in a situation that might be raising red flags, [Megan McCoy, assistant professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University] suggests reminding yourself to slow down. ‘I can think of very few cases in life where this bill cannot be paid in an hour or two hours later,’ she says. Ask for a number to call back, and take the time to do an internet search and consult those around you.'” • Do an internet search, at least until OpenAI infests everything with data from scammers, as SEO has already done with Google.

News of the Wired

I am not feeling wired today.

* * *

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, lichen, 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 lcm:

lcm write: “Last of the winterberries (Ilex verticillata).” A little small, but I like the touches of red against the wetland.

* * *

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About Lambert Strether

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


      1. Cassandra

        JAV, if I am not mistaken, Amfortas is several hundred miles from the fires in the above article. Texas is a very big state.

        Having said that, I saw that Abilene, TX (about halfway to the hill country) was 93F and windy a couple of days ago and it doesn’t take much of that for a horrific fire. As always, wishing good things for Amfortas.

        1. JustAnotherVolunteer

          Thanks for this, I’m tracking this with Watch Duty and there are a lot of small starts. As a NorthWester I’m always sensitive to how fast thing things move.

      2. Amfortas the Hippie

        aaww, shucks.
        yeah…amarillo, where pantex is, is about 5 hours to my north.
        texas is huge.
        my niece is at texas tech in lubbock, but it appears the fires were well north of there, too…up around canadian, tx and dalhart.
        so almost oklahoma.
        i only passed through that area once, 35 years ago…camped on the side of the road under the Caprock.
        north of there, it has a certain sere beauty…but that wore off pretty quick for me.
        the river bottoms are pretty…and they have trees,lol…i actually bathed in the canadian river, for which that town is named.
        dropped acid with prairie dogs and everything…we were on our way to Missouri(!?)

        where i’m at, after several days of 75+, the cold front that drove those fires came in this morning, and we’ve been at 45, wet and windy all day.

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          When we lived in Mora County, NM, we used to camp and fish (catfish) along the Canadian in New Mexico east of Las Vegas. There’s also a park around Lake Conchas, an impoundment of the Canadian. We once camped there while I attended a CLE event at the Conchas. I think I was the only attendee sleeping in a tent.

    1. Cassandra

      GF, you can also avoid panic while contemplating all of the refineries and chemical plants that line the Gulf Coast… under a few meters of seawater. I suggest that you know where your towel is at all times.

      1. The Rev Kev

        ‘I suggest that you know where your towel is at all times.’


        Shades of HGTTG.

  1. antidlc

    A new mom died after giving birth at a Boston hospital. Was corporate greed to blame?

    The bliss was short-lived. In the hours after delivery, Rashid experienced a cascade of complications at a hospital that was unexpectedly ill-prepared for her urgent need, and was transferred to another hospital, where she died. Her death has triggered a fresh wave of public scrutiny into the mounting patient risks and health care compromises that have surfaced under hospitals owned by private equity-backed companies.

    “They’ve taken money away from these hospitals that provide needed care and they’re using that money to line their own pockets.” Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey told CBS News. “I’m disgusted. It’s selfish. It’s greed.”

    The hospital where Rashid gave birth, St. Elizabeth’s, is one of dozens of hospitals across the U.S. acquired in the past 15 years by a company called Steward Health Care. With hundreds of millions of dollars in backing from private equity giant Cerberus, Steward started buying up Massachusetts hospitals in 2010 and now owns 33 hospitals across 8 states.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      I’m sure that the PEs have made the situation worse, but I have some personal experience from 50 years ago with St. Elizabeth’s. My spouse-to-be and I were living on the wrong side of Corey Hill in Brighton my senior year in college. A few weeks prior, she had gone blind in one eye, and ended up under treatment at Mass General for optic neuritis and possibly MS. The doctor there put her on a prescription for a massive dose of steroids in a Hail Mary to get the sight back.

      Soon after, she developed a terrible nose bleed. She was standing in the tub, losing what seemed to me to be copious amounts of blood. First, I called my freshman roommate’s father who lived and had his office on the right side (Brookline) of Corey Hill. He was of no help. So then I called a cab to take us to any emergency room. When the driver saw my then-girlfriend with a bloody towel trying to stem the flow, he toook us to the closest hospital: St. Elizabeth’s.

      We waited for several hours in the emergency room as she continued to bleed. A gunshot and a stabbing had priority (wrong side of Corey Hill). Finally, she passed a big clot and the bleeding lessened. When a doctor finally showed up, he was quite interested in her medical history with the neuritis, but he did nothing else. She was scheduled for a follow-up which we stupidly attended at which all they did was draw lots of blood for them to examine for their purposes.

      And for all this fine service, we got a hefty bill.

      I think St. Elizabeth’s was the model for “St. Elsewhere” even though it’s located in Brighton rather than the South End. It was no fine institution of healing long before the PEs arrived.

  2. doug

    ‘these numbers must be deeply, existentially disturbing’ . You sir are correct.
    I have such a neighbor. I can’t find the words to describe it better.

  3. Joe Malatesta

    • Arizona: Trump +6

    We and our neighbors have now gotten 3 handwritten postcards
    postmarked from California with the following message printed on them:
    Democrats Deliver! Be a Voter! Dignity, Safety, Respect for all!

    The rest clumsily handwritten with a few words missing:

    “Dear Joe, then they misspelled our last name,

    “Please regist to vote at a smeared QR code as a Democrat. Under President Biden we have record low unemployment and higher wages. Democrats fight for voting rights, health benefits, gun safety and reproductive freedom. Join the Fight!”

    Our family has record employment. Between the four of us, we have 7 jobs. Our food costs have nearly doubled and income is up 3%. Elections work fine here. We cannot afford health insurance. Our guns are safe and have driven away one set of burglars without a shot fired. Reproductive freedom? That’s still free as far as we know.

  4. lyman alpha blob

    And yet, even with Biden’s weak poll numbers, many Democratic strategists think the current president can fundamentally change the trajectory of the campaign.

    No doubt they are correct. Straight down at 9.8 m/s^2 is a trajectory after all. Look out below for GenocideJoe!

    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      The idea that all Biden needs to do is point out what a meanie Trump is, is a laughable idea. Is there anyone at this point in time who is willing to vote that hasn’t already made their mind up about Trump? You can’t avoid getting your daily dose of Trump outrage unless you completely disengage from the media. Besides, the Dems don’t have a good track record with an unpopular candidate vs Trump.

      And all Trump would need to do is ask “are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

      I’ve long since given up trying to predict presidential politics, but I don’t think making the election about Trump is going to be a winner this time around.

      1. Pat

        But what else do they have? I am serious. Trump and abortion are it.
        His record, despite the ludicrous cheerleading, is not going to do it. There is no one really running against him forcing campaign promises, even if swing voters were going to believe them. They have nothing.

        1. albrt

          And I don’t think abortion is going to work the same way going forward. In states like Ohio where there was a mismatch between the voter base and the Catholic Republican position, the voters took the matter into their own hands as a matter of state law after recognizing that the Democrats at the federal level were entirely untrustworthy.

          Arizona is probably doing the same this November. So there will be turnout driven by the abortion issue on both sides, but voting for Genocide Joe is clearly not the best option to protect reproductive rights.

  5. Vicky Cookies

    Thanks for the G&S! “When I Was A Lad” from Pinafore has been running through my mind whenever I see Tony Blinken’s face for the last year or so. Fits well with many politicos:

    “I grew so rich that I was sent/
    By a pocket borough into parliament/
    I always voted at my party’s call/
    I never thought of thinking for myself at all/
    I thought so little, they rewarded me/
    By making me the ruler of the Queen’s navy/”

    1. ashley

      oh thank god. i cant believe this ghoul is still alive. how do other countries take us seriously when we have walking cadavers running the show?

  6. antidlc

    Millions of Americans suffer from long COVID. Why do treatments remain out of reach?

    Federal estimates suggest at least 16 million Americans have long COVID and maybe 4 million of them, like Blatz, who contracted his only COVID infection in November 2022, are disabled by it.

    Along with other patient advocates and doctors, Blatz says the pace of government-funded research has been too slow and too small to address a problem of this magnitude. Many with long COVID have been left with debilitating conditions with no benefits yet seen from hundreds of millions of tax dollars poured into understanding and treating the chronic disease.

  7. Deschain

    re: Google/Doctorow – I think we’re arriving at the last stage of enshittification, where the user experience has been enshittified, and the business experience has been enshittified, and now they’re doing their level best to enshittify the whole world.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > now they’re doing their level best to enshittify the whole world.

      I think enshittifying search results with SEO (and censorship) differs in kind from answering questions from an explicitly partisan standpoint, and buildng that capacity into software you spent billions of dollars on. Presumably they think that’s a good business decision. I can only hope it isn’t (or try to help make it a bad one).

  8. Wukchumni

    If things really came a cropper with Joe as in (pantomimes splitting one’s throat) and it was too late to run somebody else, would

    Weekend At Biden’s… work?

    Good things: He’d be gaffe-proof, no more handlers walking back his utterances almost immediately after they escaped through his lips.

    Bad things: Eventually word will leak that Joe’s dead.

    1. Lefty Godot

      We really do need a Biden look-alike (but sane) to slip in and cover up for his disintegration. Like a more pessimistic version of The Prisoner of Zenda. (Or maybe Heinlein’s Double Star, which I may have mentioned here before.)

      The only possible reason I can think that the party hierarchs have not nudged Biden out of the race is that they’re counting on him to make sure Trump is not going to be on the final ballot in November. One way or another. Maybe based on how effective he was in making Nord Stream II go away. Then, if Trump is not the opponent, Biden can bow out by saying “democracy is safe now”, and whatever loathsome neolib/neocon Democrat replacement can slot in without primary voters ever having been given even the slightest bit of say.

      1. Screwball

        The only possible reason I can think that the party hierarchs have not nudged Biden out of the race is that they’re counting on him to make sure Trump is not going to be on the final ballot in November.

        Interesting, very interesting. Insert video of Arte Johnson.

        I haven’t thought of that angle. It makes sense if you are cynical enough to think they would insure that. But how? And they are running out of time.

        At this point nothing would surprise me. Nothing.

        At the same time, and I admit I’m from the camp that thinks some bad stuff is going to happen in the next few years. Why not make him the mark? Let him win, the shithouse goes kapooey and he can be blamed.

        1. Brian Beijer

          “Why not make him the mark? Let him win, the shithouse goes kapooey and he can be blamed.”

          I think I can answer this one. It’s because they’re not only evil; they’re petty. They learn nothing, and they forget nothing to paraphrase one of Lambert’s favorite quotes. It’s the same reason why they willingly killed 500,000 children with their sanctions against Iraq saying “It was worth it”. It’s the same reason why the US has sanctioned Cuba for the past 60 years. You can never overestimate the pettiness of these people.

    2. ChrisPacific

      I have imagined a scenario in which this happens to both Biden and Trump and they are replaced by AI powered deepfakes of themselves running campaigns entirely online, using ‘recorded’ messages.

      It would be more noticeable for Trump. Biden ran his campaign in 2020 almost that way already.

    1. Samuel Conner

      > ever been awarded the NC sociopath award?

      I haven’t noticed “Sociopath of the Day” recently.

      My hypothesis is that there are too many candidates who are highly qualified to receive the award, and the nomination and awards committees, being understaffed (perhaps due in part to Long COVID), are completely overwhelmed with the burden of the work load..

  9. Tom Stone

    The Biden administration HAS delivered.
    800,000 Covid deaths, war with a nuclear superpower, war with all of islam and MORE!
    And they aren’t done yet.

    1. Lena

      Cue Andrea True!

      Get the cameras rolling
      Get the action going…

      More, more, more
      How do you like it?
      How do you like it?
      More, more, more…

    2. Jason Boxman

      It’s been so long, it’s hard to even remember all the outrages. But as I recall, Biden stiffed America on $600 back before vaccines!! were even widely available, and parts of the country were still moderately restricted, with masking requirements in some places, and still consternation about people dying. It was Biden’s highest peak, in fact.

      Heck of a job, Biden! This is Bidenomics at work!

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Everyone was coughing in the waiting room while I waited a few hours to see a grim faced Nurse Practitioner who billed at doctor’s rates.

    2. The Rev Kev

      It was a good anecdote that. The fact that coughing is so common that we now tend to screen it out. I’ll have to check that the next time I am out. I suppose that people would not believe you about the amount of coughing but if you used your mobile to record ten minutes of sound in an office or classroom, you could play it back to them and counted by numbers the number of recorded coughs.

  10. Verifyfirst

    Re; Panera exemption in CA: “a California law that’s about to raise the state minimum wage at fast-food spots to $20 an hour from $16 offers an unusual exemption for chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item. Governor Gavin Newsom pushed for that break, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the main beneficiaries is Flynn, a longtime Newsom donor whose California holdings include two dozen Panera Bread locations.”

    Just your bog standard political corruption in plain sight…. If I were a franchisee for a chain that does not presently bake and sell loaves of bread, I think I’d buy a little MiracleBake oven and sell a few rolls everyday at the front counter…..

    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      I once went to a bar in some out of the way place and it n the menu, in addition to beer and other libations, there was a can of soup for $100. Of course I had to ask and was told local ordinances said they could only sell booze if they also sold food. So, they had a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle at the ready and on the specials board, which was apparently enough to satisfy the law. Never mind that they never sold any, nor intended to.

      1. albrt

        There is an old dive near where I live in Phoenix that used to keep a crock pot going for their regulars. They gave it away free, presumably because the regulars would die of malnutrition otherwise.

  11. The Rev Kev

    “Tucker Carlson: U.S. Intel Agencies Spied On Me During Russia Trip, Leaked To Semafor That I Met Snowden”

    So Tucker Carlson was being threatened with arrest back in the US if he went soft on Putin. So that explains that bizarre part of the interview where Carlson went hard on Putin to get that spook, errr, intrepid WSJ journalist freed to come home with him. That was Carlson’s get out of jail free card to placate those who would se him arrested. A question did occur to me. The US spooks were following him around Russia to see who he was talking to and interviewing and this is a manpower-heavy form of surveillance. So surrounding that US surveillance bubble, did the Russian spooks have their own surveillance bubble around that operation to ID the US spooks and their agents?

    1. Objective Ace

      The US spooks were following him around Russia to see who he was talking to and interviewing

      Were they? Assuming they have access to his phone isnt that enough? They can see where he goes, listen to everything through the microphone, etc.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Carlson would have to be smart enough to leave his mobile with another of his staff if he was going to do some sensitive interviews. He would know that mobiles rat you out constantly.

    2. Screwball

      Interesting question. Player A = the US. I think it would be proper to surveil him on this trip. I don’t know if that’s legal, but laws don’t matter anymore it seems. Player B = Russia. They know player A is surveilling TC so they are going to do the same to both. Everyone should expect that, it’s how it works.

      Player C = TC. As you said below, any electronic communication is toast. He knows that. If it were me, I would setup a supply chain of physical couriers to get information to the people needed to carry out my agenda while I’m there. It’s spy vs. spy. How do you stay a step ahead. Boots on the ground?

      I wonder how he got there, I didn’t follow it that close, but I did watch the Putin interview.

      1. The Rev Kev

        ‘I wonder how he got there’

        I heard that he took a plane from Turkiye to get to Moscow. The EU is a no-fly zone to Russia but not Turkiya as it is not in the EU,

  12. Acacia

    Apple Car post-mortem

    Apple Car History – Where Did Development Go Wrong?

    Apple executives were never quite convinced of the viability of an ‌Apple Car‌ because of the enormous cost and safety risk involved with autonomous driving capabilities, and there was no one at Apple that was able to bring it to fruition.

    It seems like the thinking has been that if these companies can just pour enough data into their self-driving app, if they can just hire enough ppl to drive around Silicon Valley in Lidar-equipped SUVs, gather enough data for “training” their app, that it will “learn” to do the job well, kinda like LLMs can “learn”, except that we are now seeing generative AI go pear-shaped in real time.

    What Apple’s decision suggests, then, is that after years of work this “AI-enabled self-driving” tech simply hasn’t panned out, and was likely beyond the limits of the tech from the get-go (a.k.a. “ten pounds of sh*t in a five-pound bag”). At least the Apple execs finally had the sense to cut their losses on this.

    1. Jason Boxman

      It is a fortuitous time for this, actually, with “AI” the latest grift, more money flowing in than the self-driving car fantasy ever got. Someday, we’ll have Bard from Google teaching American history. We won’t have any healthy teachers left, so LLMs can teach everyone! And kids won’t be functional enough to learn anyway, but what they do learn will be directed by “properly trained” LLMs that are sufficiently woke.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > Someday, we’ll have Bard from Google teaching American history

        Just feed it the 1619 project and we’re good. SEO-optimization is going to be nothing compared to AI-optimization.

  13. Lee

    “If only there were a way to put shared air on a subscription basis. (Actually, that’s an interesting question, and probably some economist has written a paper on it: Why can some things be rented, and others not? Since we live in a rentier-driven, financialized society, that question would be of more than passing interest…).’ Go for it, Dude.

    In the meantime, I’d really like to better understand the class conflict, if any, between Trump’s and the Democrat’s donor base.

  14. The Rev Kev

    Ruh, roh! Illinois has joined two other states’ efforts to prevent Trump from vying for the GOP nomination-

    ‘An Illinois judge has ruled that former President Donald Trump can not appear on the state’s Republican primary ballots, ordering local election officials to strike his name from the running. Trump’s legal team was given just two days to appeal.

    The order will take effect on March 1, allowing Trump’s legal team only a brief window to appeal the decision, according to the Hill. Illinois’ primary race kicks off on March 19.

    Cook County Judge Tracie Porter handed down the decision on Wednesday, claiming that Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol disqualified him from seeking reelection in Illinois. She cited the 14th Amendment’s Insurrection Clause, which bars former US officials from returning to military or civilian office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”’


  15. skippy

    For the bored …

    Ann Vandersteel

    Maricopa County Board of Supervisors just ran out of a public meeting when they were served the following:

    My name is Michelle Klann, and I’m here today to put you on public notice and to inform you that you are not our elected officials.

    None of you have never signed an oath to the Republic of Arizona.

    Instead, you have signed an oath of office to a foreign corporation which means this is an act insurrection.

    You do not have a proper bond carrying surety for your actions to we the people.

    Due to all the voter fraud, you have never been formally voted in.

    Acting as if you have any authority over the people is a direct act of treason. – snip


    Having grown up in AZ during the late 60’s and early 70’s all I can say is the flock that migrated from the mid west and east sure has some wacky skippy unit dynamics ….

    1. Brian Beijer

      “Instead, you have signed an oath of office to a foreign corporation”

      I may be a little dense, but I wish Michelle would have explained that a little more. Is the implication that the USG is itself a foreign corporation? Is she referring to agreements signed with Phizer and Moderna? Why would a county board sign an oath of office with anyone but with the county and state they reside in? I really don’t get what she’s talking about. Maybe I’m just over-thinking this…

      1. skippy

        Imagine a kaleidoscope of this happening in a nation – all at the same time – whilst it grapples with its collective identity.

        Decades of Military adventurism, increased economic inequality, Bernays sauce all gone bad, more demands on everyone not in the financial wealth set making packet off a casino that drives all other aspects noted above, bogeyman of Russian/China coming to steal your property wearing thin [steal 300B RF assets -chortle], and promises of Tech saving the day any moment now …. same Tech that created most of the dramas in the first place imo …

        So the link is just a slice of the whole pie … with the credibility of elections first and foremost in some peoples eyes … waves at Trump … creative destruction thingy …

  16. ashley

    I wouldn’t characterize opposing genocide as “frustration and anger.” And if genocide is your issue, then the choice is clear: Biden, clear-eyed, committed one (and committed the whole country to it, as well). Trump didn’t and hasn’t.

    make no mistake, the only reason trump hasnt committed a genocide is because the initial hamas attack didnt happen under his presidency. i think if he were president when 10/7 happened he would be even more ruthless than biden if thats even possible. conservatives have been foaming at the mouth for decades at the thought of turning the middle east to glass. the trump angle on israel right now is that biden isnt strong enough against hamas.

    both parties want the complete and total eradication of palestinians from palestine, a final solution if you will. theres nobody to vote for.

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