2:00PM Water Cooler 12/14/2024 | naked capitalism

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Pacific Loon, Luther Marsh–Esker Island, Wellington, Ontario, Canada.

* * *

Politics

“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

Will Doctor Sigmund Freud please pick up the white courtesy phone?

[sniff!]

A lot going on in the NDAA, besides renewing warrantless surveillance:

“Congress wants to unleash federal spies at your hotel and coffee shop” [New York Post]. “The FISA [warrantless] surveillance-expansion provision is tucked into the 3,000+ page National Defense Authorization Act of 2024…. Former Justice Department lawyer Marc Zwillinger is one of a handful of FISA court amici allowed to comment on cases or policies in the secret court. He issued a public warning that the House Intelligence bill expands the definition of ‘electronic communication service providers’ covered by FISA compliance obligations to include ‘business landlords, shared workspaces, or even hotels where guests connect to the Internet.’ In other words, the FISA expansion could affect your next visit to Comfort Inn — and you thought WiFi service was already bad! Former Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Goitein warns, ‘Hotels, libraries, coffee shops, and other places that offer wifi to their customers could be forced to serve as surrogate spies. They could be required to configure their systems to ensure that they can provide the government access to entire streams of communications.’ The bill could also cover any repairman who works on such equipment.”

“Kamala Harris pushes White House to be more sympathetic toward Palestinians” [Politico]. • Harris is pivoting left! Who could possibly fall for this?

2024

Less than a year to go!

* * *

Hmm:

“Will Jill Biden save the Democrats?” [The Hill]. “As we accelerate toward election day 2024, it’s becoming clear that there is only one person in the country who might be able to dissuade President Biden from seeking a second term. That person being his wife, Jill Biden….. In terms of Machiavellian politics, Jill Biden is far removed from Hillary Clinton. While she for sure has her beliefs — and has freely expressed them — for many, on both sides of the political divide, she comes across as a dignified and classy first lady. And, more importantly, one who does seem to have her husband’s best interests at heart. This creates possibly the most important political question of the election: To protect her husband and the greater Biden name, will the first lady quietly but insistently intercede to convince President Biden that it is in his best interests — and that of their family — not to run for reelection? Literally every single Republican or conservative I know is hoping and praying that President Biden is the Democratic nominee in 2024. There’s a reason for that. Likewise, every single Democrat I know is hoping that Biden steps aside and gives his approval to the Democratic National Committee to open the process so Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and others can battle it out for the 2024 nomination. As of now, it appears that only one person in the country can make those Democratic hopes become a reality: first lady Jill Biden.” • And then there’s the question of who control’s Biden’s “juice.” The only answer I’ve ever been able to come up with is… Jill Biden (because who else would Biden trust?). So, another layer of volatility. Or stability, depending.

* * *

“The Most Powerful Anti-Trump Argument in the GOP Has Evaporated” [Rich Lowry, Politico]. “It may be that Trump, such is his hold on GOP voters, didn’t need any help establishing a dominant position in the fight for the Republican nomination, but two exogenous events have boosted him. First, the indictments from the Justice Department and Democratic prosecutors created a predictable rally-around-Trump effect that put him on a fundamentally higher trajectory in the race, and second, Biden’s execrable polling has completely eliminated any possibility of making an electability argument against Trump…. In 2016, Trump was often reduced to citing Drudge polls and other dubious sources to try to demonstrate what he’s always maintained is his overwhelming public support. This time around, he can cite the most reputable polls in the business. The Biden collapse is nearly comprehensive. He is losing in ballot tests to Trump, his approval rating is scraping bottom, he’s trailing on almost every top issue, and super-majorities think he’s too old to serve again. He is the weakest incumbent since Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush.”

* * *

“Judge pauses Trump election interference case in order that could delay March trial” [CNN]. “The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s 2020 election interference case has temporarily paused all procedural deadlines while appeals over a major issue play out – which could lead to his March 2024 trial date being pushed back. The order from Judge Tanya Chutkan acknowledged that she no longer has jurisdiction over aspects of the criminal case while the DC Circuit Court of Appeals considers whether Trump is immune and can be tried. In a bid to speed that appeals process, special counsel Jack Smith has asked the Supreme Court to step in. Chutkan said in her order that the trial date of March 4, 2024, could be affected, and that she would reconsider that date when the appeals process has concluded. Chutkan, however, said that the pause does not bar her from enforcing measures she has already imposed to ‘safeguard the integrity of these proceedings,’ including the limited gag order against Trump and his conditions of release.”

“Why Jack Smith Is Taking Trump’s Immunity Claim Straight to the Supreme Court” [New York Times]. “[Prosecutor Smith] made two separate requests. First, he asked the justices to consider a legal issue they have never looked at before: whether the Constitution confers absolute immunity on a former president against a federal prosecution for crimes he committed while in office…. [Smith also] asked the justices not only to rule on the immunity issue before the lower appeals court did, but also to do so on an expedited basis…. A significant delay could push the trial into summer or fall — the heart of the 2024 campaign season. That could cause problems for Mr. Trump because he would be obliged to attend the trial in Washington every weekday for two or three months when he could be holding rallies or meeting voters. Mr. Trump would likely respond to such a situation by bringing his campaign to the steps of the federal courthouse. He would almost certainly hold daily news conferences in front of the television cameras that would await his exit from the courtroom and use them to deliver his political talking points and attack the legal proceeding. He has employed a similar strategy during the civil fraud trial in New York in which he is accused of inflating his company’s net worth. There could also be serious consequences, however, if the trial is pushed off until after the election. If that happens and Mr. Trump wins the race, he would suddenly have the power to order the charges to be dropped.”

“No more witnesses in Trump fraud trial, but verdict is at least a month away” [Politico]. “The $250 million civil trial in which Donald Trump is accused of extensive business fraud heard from its last witness Wednesday, but a verdict won’t come for at least another month…. The outcome of the nonjury trial is entirely up to Justice Arthur Engoron, who, in a pretrial ruling, found Trump liable for widespread fraud and revoked the licenses for some of his flagship properties, including Trump Tower and the Trump International Hotel…. After an appeals court reinstated the gag order late last month following a temporary suspension, Trump asked the court for permission to appeal the reinstatement to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. That request is pending.”

“Unconventional Trial Judge Could Remove Trump From His N.Y. Empire” [New York Times]. “Justice Engoron might have already erred when he issued that initial punishment of Mr. Trump, ordering that some of his New York companies be dissolved…. [I]nterviews with legal experts and a review of court rulings suggest that the judge may have lacked the authority to dissolve the companies…. Justice Engoron’s first punishment of Mr. Trump — dissolving some of his New York companies — is less likely to stick…. The order, which came shortly before the trial began, canceled a special type of business certificate that allows some of Mr. Trump’s New York companies to operate using certain names…. The next line of Justice Engoron’s order went further, referring to the ‘dissolution of the canceled LLCs,’ legalese for the limited liability corporations that control Mr. Trump’s properties. In other words, the judge seemed to be terminating not only the certificates, which can be replaced, but also the actual Trump companies that own or manage his golf resorts, hotel and other assets. For those companies, it appeared to be lights out…. ‘He’s going beyond what the statute seems to allow,’ said David W. Lowden, a lawyer who for decades specialized in commercial transactions and corporate law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan…. ‘He may have bought himself an appellate problem and fueled an otherwise dubious claim of bias,’ [Steven M. Cohen, a former top official in the attorney general’s office] said.” • But a claim of bias would undo the second punishment, for (putative) fraud. So we’ll see whether Engoron shot himself in the foot, or not.

“It’s a ‘silly notion’ that Trump’s Georgia case should pause for the election, Willis tells the AP” [Associated Press]. “The district attorney prosecuting Donald Trump over efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia says she has a duty to file charges against anyone who violates the law and that it’s a ‘silly notion’ that the former president’s case should be paused just because he is running for office. In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis declined to say whether she or her team has been in touch with U.S. Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, who has filed federal charges in an election interference case against Trump in Washington. She also raised the possibility that more of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the Georgia case could take plea deals, further paring down the number who could go on trial with him. Willis is seeking an August trial date for Trump and his co-defendants, a time frame that would put the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in court defending himself in the months, weeks and even days leading up to the November general election. Trump’s lawyer has said that if Trump is the nominee, that would be ‘the most effective election interference in the history of the United States.’ Willis brushed off that idea, pointing out that prosecutors all over the country are always investigating people for various crimes and that they do not stop doing so just because someone runs for office.”

* * *

“‘I have made mistakes’: Defiant Hunter Biden lashes out at GOP and ignores subpoena” [USA Today]. “Hunter Biden defied a House subpoena Wednesday, using his congressionally mandated trip to Capitol Hill to lash out at Republicans in a rare and dramatic public statement about the toll the GOP-led effort has taken on him and his family. ‘It’s shameless,’ Hunter Biden said outside the Capitol building. ‘There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was [vague] because it did not happen.” And: “‘During my battle with addiction, my parents were there for me,’ he added. ‘They literally saved my life. They helped me in ways I will never be able to repay. In the depths of my addiction, I was extremely irresponsible with my finances. But, to suggest that is grounds for an impeachment inquiry is beyond the absurd, it is shameless.’” And: “Rep. James Comer, who issued the subpoena as head of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, said the panel has accumulated ‘mountains of evidence,’ including documents, bank statements, emails and texts.” • The bank records will say what they say, histrionics aside.

“Hunter Biden can duck the hot seat all he wants — but not the facts” [New York Post]. “‘There’s no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business,’ said Hunter. And: ‘My father was not financially involved in my business.’ Joe Biden was ‘not financially involved’ is a significant shifting of the goal posts. It is a carefully parsed, legalistic phrase, that looks as if it has been workshopped to death in a campaign war room before being dropped into Hunter’s soup of self-pity…. It bears no relation to all the president’s previous denials. Joe Biden has gone from years of saying: ‘I have never discussed with my son or my brother or anyone else anything having to do with their business, period’ to this summer’s line from the White House: ‘The president was never in business with his son’ — and now to this latest transmutation: Joe ‘was not financially involved in [Hunter’s] business.’ … [IRS Whistleblower] Shapley pointed to evidence that shows Joe attending meetings with Hunter’s business partners. ‘You have to understand that someone who is a vice president [and] a senator for years . . . their involvement in a business is not going to be coming up with mission statements and working on Excel spreadsheets. Him coming across to a lunch and having a glass of water would have shown his support for his son Hunter Biden.’” • Yep.

“The Republican leading the probe of Hunter Biden has his own shell company and complicated friends” [Associated Press]. “Rep. James Comer, a multimillionaire farmer, boasts of being one of the largest landholders near his rural Kentucky hometown, and he has meticulously documented nearly all of his landholdings on congressional financial disclosure documents – roughly 1,600 acres in all. But there are six acres that he bought in 2015 and co-owns with a longtime campaign contributor that he has treated differently, transferring his ownership to Farm Team Properties, a shell company he co-owns with his wife. Interviews and records reviewed by The Associated Press provide new insights into the financial deal, which risks undercutting the force of some of Comer’s central arguments in his impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden. For months, the chairman of the House Oversight committee and his Republican colleagues have been pounding Biden for how his relatives traded on their famous name to secure business deals. In particular, Comer has attacked some Biden family members, including the president’s son Hunter, over their use of ‘shell companies’ that appear designed to obscure millions of dollars in earnings they received from shadowy middlemen and foreign interests… But as Comer works to “deliver the transparency and accountability that the American people demand” through the GOP’s investigation, his own finances and relationships have begun to draw notice, too, including his ties to prominent local figures who have complicated pasts not all that dissimilar to some of those caught up in his Biden probe…. Comer created the company in 2017 to hold his stake in the six acres that he purchased two years earlier in a joint venture with Darren Cleary, a major campaign contributor and construction contractor from Monroe County, Kentucky, where the congressman was born and raised…. Cleary, his businesses and family have donated roughly $70,000 to Comer’s various campaigns, records show. He has also lauded Comer on social media for “For Fighting For Us Everyday” and has posted photos of the two on a golf course together.” • And various other entertaining doings in Monroe County, Kentucky! (I did search on “Comer Trillbillies” but sadly, no hits.

* * *

IA: “How Trump netted evangelical votes in Iowa — with help from a young Christian operative” [Reuters]. “Before Donald Trump stepped on stage for a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in early December, several leaders joined him in a prayer on behalf of a candidate whose latest presidential quest they see as a mission ordained by God. ‘The gates of hell will not prevail over him,’ Iowa state legislator and pastor Brad Sherman told the prayer circle. ‘There is a great victory coming for this nation and the world because of the calling you’ve placed on this man.’ That moment, captured in a video that went viral, was orchestrated by an aide just a few years out of college who has been locking in the crucial Iowa evangelical vote for Trump. Since joining the campaign in September as Iowa director of faith outreach, Jackson Lane, the 25-year-old son of prominent Christian activist David Lane, has rounded up key endorsements and shored up evangelical support, helping the Trump team blunt a push by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to win over conservative Christian voters with his hard-line stances on abortion and other issues. Evangelical voters make up more than half of the Republican electorate in Iowa, whose population is around 90% white and where the caucuses on Jan. 15 kick off voting in the Republican primary race.” •

NH: “For N.H. voters — and Chris Sununu — Nikki Haley is the Trump alternative” [Boston Globe]. “New Hampshire loves Nikki Haley, that is — a message from her campaign merchandise that’s reflected in a cache of recent polls, dozens of interviews with voters here, and, on Tuesday, the most prized endorsement in New Hampshire politics. Buoyed by the support of popular Republican Governor Chris Sununu, Haley this week is doubling down on her efforts in the first-in-the-nation primary state, holding events in Manchester, Newport, Keene, and Atkinson as she makes the case that she is the GOP alternative to front-runner Donald Trump. It’s still far from clear that she or anyone else can overtake him. But if Haley has a path to the nomination, it runs directly through New Hampshire.”

NH: “Christie calls Sununu endorsement of Haley ‘disappointing’ but ‘doesn’t change my strategy’” [FOX]. “Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he’s ‘disappointed’ that he didn’t land the endorsement of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu in the Republican presidential nomination race. But Christie said that Sununu’s backing former ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP presidential nominating calendar “doesn’t change my strategy here one bit…. Christie, who’s repeating his strategy from his unsuccessful 2016 Republican presidential run of placing all his chips in New Hampshire, stands in third place in Granite State polls, a couple of points behind Haley…. Veteran Republican strategist Matthew Bartlett noted that ‘Christie is planting the flag in New Hampshire and to have the governor of the state, who clearly likes him and has an affinity for him, go with someone else and affirm that someone else has a much better pathway, if that’s your only state, it’s almost impossible, not just in New Hampshire but nationwide, to get the nomination.’ ‘He’s got to look in the mirror,’ Bartlett said of Christie.”

* * *

“The Trouble with Polling Third-Parties” [Washington Monthly]. “Accurate polling of third-party candidates “is a minefield,” says Joe Lenski, co-founder and executive vice president of Edison Research, which conducts the exit polling for media outlets like CNN and NBC. Lenski and several other polling experts I spoke with roundly dismissed horse-race polling some 11 months out, with or without third-party candidates. If polls this far from Election Day meant anything, we’d have had a 2008 Election Day major party presidential choice between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rudy Giuliani instead of Barrack Obama and John McCain. But multiply the inaccuracy of year-out polling with the mercurial draw of third-party candidates, said Lenski, and the picture gets even murkier. The biggest issue facing pollsters is that voters can be poor predictors of their behavior. Saying you’ll vote for a longshot candidate weeks or months before Election Day is much different than holding a ballot and voting for a candidate you know can’t win. That conundrum has only grown in the era of increasingly disliked major party candidates. Trump and Rodham Clinton hit record levels of unfavorability in 2016 election polling. The combined support of the two most prominent third-party candidates, Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson, often cleared 10 percent in mid-election year polling. In one July 2016 poll, just four months before the election, the two combined for 18 percent. But in the end, Johnson and other third-party candidates collectively came in under 6 percent of the popular vote, which is unsurprising. Third-party candidates routinely fade in the stretch.” • The Republicans of 1856, however, did not fade. Sadly, there’s no third party like that anywhere near the horizon.

Republican Funhouse

Not just Democrats:

“Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman says Giuliani sullied her name” [The Hill]. “Ruby Freeman once went by ‘Lady Ruby,’ a nickname she described as classy and unique. Her last name, she said, was a name that freed slaves chose instead of taking on a ‘slave master name.’ But after the 2020 election, longtime Trump ally Rudy Giuliani accused her and her daughter, Shaye Moss, of committing election fraud against then-President Trump, bringing an onslaught of violent and racist threats and forcing her into hiding. Freeman and Moss sued Giuliani two years ago on claims of ‘defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and punitive damage.’ Both former election workers, the mother and daughter are pursuing upward of $43.5 million in damages. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell already found the former New York City mayor civilly liable for his claims; the trial will determine how much money he owes Moss and Freeman as a result.” • Ugly.

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!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

* * *

“Nearly a million non-profit donors’ details left exposed in unsecured database” [The Register]. “Close to a million records containing personally identifiable information belonging to donors that sent money to non-profits were found exposed in an online database. The database is owned and operated by DonorView – provider of a cloud-based fundraising platform used by schools, charities, religious institutions, and other groups focused on charitable or philanthropic goals. Infosec researcher Jeremiah Fowler found 948,029 records exposed online including donor names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, payment methods, and more….. Neither Fowler nor The Register has received a response from the US-based service provider, though Fowler said it did secure the database within days of him filing a disclosure report.” • Many unhappy NGOs….

Our Famously Free Press

“Tireless Busybodies Again Target Substack” (unpaywalled) [Matt Taibbi, Racket News]. Taibbi does this sort of thing really well: “Substack is under attack again. The crusade is led by a site contributor, Jonathan Katz, whose style might be characterized as embittered-conventional, i.e. toting the same opinions as every mainstream editorialist, only angrier about it. There’s been more of this genre on offer here as staff positions for talking-point-spouters dry up in legacy shops, but hey, it’s a free country. If you want braying about fascism, Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk, the lab leak theory, and other #Resistance horrors you’d hear about if you just left MSNBC on in a corner — or feel deprived of headlines like “What Ron DeSantis and a Norwegian mass murderer have in common” — Substack’s got you covered. It’s not my idea of what alternative media’s for, but fortunately, nobody asked me. Why should I care what other people read?” Key point: “In an age when censorship and deamplification are big factors for journalists tempted to say something unpopular (Katz, destined to be eulogized as a parrot on the shoulder of Received Wisdom, will not be sympathetic), moving to a platform that’s proven it won’t buckle is crucial. People like Substack CEO Chris Best and co-founders Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi have proven they won’t let outside groups dictate to them about content. This is why contributors like me, who have a lot to worry about on this front, are loyal. It’s also why people seek out content here: they know they’re getting a far less filtered version of reality than they’re seeing on platforms like Facebook and YouTube, where deamplification, strikes, and outright removals have become routine.”

#COVID19

“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, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: 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, Utah, Bob White (3).

Stay safe out there!

* * *

Testing and Tracking

More on JN.1 and wastewater:

(Johnson discovered that amazing cryptic lineage being shed by an individual probably commuting from Columbus to Washington Courthouse, OH.) And:

As I keep saying, we used to be able to cross-check case data and wastewater data. Now we can’t, because the Biden Administration worked with the public health establishment to destroy case data collection.

“Something Awful”

Lambert here: I’m getting the feeling that the “Something Awful” might be a sawtooth pattern — variant after variant — that averages out to a permanently high plateau. Lots of exceptionally nasty sequelae, most likely deriving from immune dysregulation (says this layperson). To which we might add brain damage, including personality changes therefrom.

* * *

Policy

Covid is a pre-existing condition. US account quoting an Australian account:

Covid is asymptomatic. How could anybody possibly know whether they’ve been “exposed”?

And:

Elite Maleficence

Personal risk assessment as a paradigm:

* * *

Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data, December 11:

Lambert here: At last Biden’s beaten every one of Trump’s previous spikes, so a round of applause for The Big Guy. The slight plateauing in the national numbers doesn’t make sense to me because I can’t see an organic reason for it (unless the spread from Thanksgiving is somehow being damped out, which seems implausible). I’m guessing backward revision will make the plateau go away. Only 14 superspreading days until Christmas!

Regional data:

Hard to see why the regional split (and it sure would be nice to have more granular data). Weather forcing Northerners indoors? Seems facile. There’s snow in the Rockies (green color, West), for example.

Variants

NOT UPDATED From CDC, December 9:

Lambert here: JN.1, shown on the NowCast for the first time, coming up fast on the outside, while BA.2.86 fades.

From CDC, November25:

Lambert here: I sure hope the volunteers doing Pangolin, on which this chart depends, don’t all move on the green fields and pastures new (or have their access to facilities cut by administrators of ill intent).

CDC: “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.

Covid Emergency Room Visits

From CDC NCIRD Surveillance, December 9:

Lambert here: Here also we see something of a pause, like the wastewater. Only a week’s lag, so this may be our best current nationwide, current indicator.

NOTE “Charts and data provided by CDC, updates Wednesday by 8am. For the past year, using a rolling 52-week period.” So not the entire pandemic, FFS (the implicit message here being that Covid is “just like the flu,” which is why the seasonal “rolling 52-week period” is appropriate for bothMR SUBLIMINAL I hate these people so much. Notice also that this chart shows, at least for its time period, that Covid is not seasonal, even though CDC is trying to get us to believe that it is, presumably so they can piggyback on the existing institutional apparatus for injections. And of course, we’re not even getting into the quality of the wastewater sites that we have as a proxy for Covid infection overall.

Hospitalization

Bellwether New York City, data as of December 14:

Steadily up. New York state as a whole looks more like a spike. (I hate this metric because the lag makes it deceptive, although the hospital-centric public health establishment loves it, hospitalization and deaths being the only metrics that matter [snort]).

NOT UPDATED Here’s a different CDC visualization on hospitalization, nationwide, not by state, but with a date, at least. December 2:

Up, up, up!

Lambert here: “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†”. So where the heck is the update, CDC?

Positivity

NOT UPDATED From Walgreens, December 11:

0.5%. Up. (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.)

NOT UPDATED From Cleveland Clinic, December 2:

Lambert here: Increase (with backward revision; guess they thought it was over). I know this is just Ohio, but the Cleveland Clinic is good*, and we’re starved for data, so…. NOTE * Even if hospital infection control is trying to kill patients by eliminating universal masking with N95s.

NOT UPDATED From CDC, traveler’s data, November 20:

Turning upward.

Down, albeit in the rear view mirror. And here are the variants for travelers, November 20:

BA.2.86 zipping right along. If this data were delivered in anything like a timely fashion, it would be a pretty good predictor.

Deaths

NOT UPDATED Here is the New York Times, based on CDC data, December 2:

That the absolute numbers of deaths are down, but the percentage of deaths is up, is interesting.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits slumped by 19,000 to 202,000 on the week ending December 9th, well below market expectations of 220,000, to mark the lowest level of new claims in two months. The result marked a reversal from higher readings in the two prior weeks, underscoring relative tightness in the US labor market and adding leeway for the Federal Reserve to hold its terminal rate for longer should inflation remain stubborn. ”

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Retail: “Giant food companies are quietly ruining your favorite snacks — and hoping you don’t notice” [Business Insider]. “[T]he Coke didn’t taste as good as it used to — and it left a weird aftertaste. I thought there might be something wrong with the can, or perhaps my rosy childhood memories clouded my judgment. But as I indulged my urge, I found the same thing. Even Coke-drinking friends I spoke to agreed: The taste had changed. It wasn’t just Coke; other foods from my childhood taste different now. The Dairy Milk chocolate bars I used to enjoy after school aren’t as creamy and taste too sweet. Lay’s potato chips don’t pack the same flavor punch they used to. A stroll through Reddit shows I’m not alone: Thousands of people have noticed the quality of their favorite snacks getting worse.” Perhaps some other factor is affecting taste? However, texture and mouth feel have degraded as well: “‘Ritz crackers. For some inexplicable reason, maybe around 5 years ago the crackers went from being nice and firm and dippable to nowadays easily crumbling to bits with even the lightest dip,’ one user complained a few years ago. ‘You could bite into a Twix and feel your teeth travel through a heavy layer of caramel,’ another Redditor lamented, adding, ‘Now they snap in half and taste like a sugar cookie with some chocolate on it.’” And: “People aren’t imagining these changes — manufacturers are quietly modifying their recipes to save money and maintain their profit margins. The phenomenon, which has been called ‘skimpflation’ and ‘flavorflation,’ is a way to hide the impact of inflation and avoid passing higher costs on to the consumer. But by replacing expensive ingredients with cheaper ones, companies are also making food less tasty, less healthy, and less satisfying.” • Or crapification.

Tech: “FCC votes to ban termination fees for cable and satellite services” [CNBC]. “The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday voted to pass a measure banning cable and satellite companies from charging early termination fees. ‘Consumers are tired of these junk fees,’ FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said before casting the deciding vote at an open commission meeting. ‘They now have more choices when it comes to video content but these friction-filled tactics to keep us subscribing to our current providers are aggravating and unfair,’ Rosenworcel added. ‘So, today we kick out a rulemaking to put an end to these practices.’”

Tech: “The AI trust crisis” [Simon Willison]. “It’s increasing clear to me like people simply don’t believe OpenAI when they’re told that data won’t be used for training. What’s really going on here is something deeper then: AI is facing a crisis of trust…. AI models are weird black boxes, built in secret and with no way of understanding what the training data was or how it influences the model. As with so much in AI, people are left with nothing more than ‘vibes’ to go on. And the vibes are bad…. The fundamental question here is about training data: what are OpenAI using to train their models? And the answer is: we have no idea! The entire process could not be more opaque. Given that, is it any wonder that when OpenAI say ‘we don’t train on data submitted via our API’ people have trouble believing them?” However: ‘One consistent theme I’ve seen in conversations about this issue is that people are much more comfortable trusting their data to local models that run on their own devices than models hosted in the cloud. The good news is that local models are consistently both increasing in quality and shrinking in size.” • But if the “local model” opens a backdoor to the home office?

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 71 Greed (previous close: 69 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 66 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 14 at 1:43:30 PM ET.

Zeitgeist Watch

“The ‘After School Satan Club’ Controversy at Memphis Elementary Schools, Explained” [The Messenger]. “The Satanic Temple announced in December that it plans to begin hosting club events in January at Chimneyrock Elementary School in Cordova, Tenn. Dubbed the ‘After School Satan Club,’ the group says it does not ‘attempt to convert children to any religious ideology,’ but rather supports children to “think for themselves.” Activities encourage students to use a ‘scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview.’… The Satanic Temple was founded in 2013 and launched after-school clubs shortly after.” • So far as I can tell, the Satanic Temple is funded with merch. I’m reminded of this wonderful post by The Onion, back in 2000

Our Famously Free Press

“News Publishers See Google’s AI Search Tool as a Traffic-Destroying Nightmare” [Wall Street Journal]. “Shortly after the launch of ChatGPT, the Atlantic drew up a list of the greatest threats to the 166-year-old publication from generative artificial intelligence. At the top: Google’s embrace of the technology. About 40% of the magazine’s web traffic comes from Google searches, which turn up links that users click on. A task force at the Atlantic modeled what could happen if Google integrated AI into search. It found that 75% of the time, and the Atlantic’s site would miss out on traffic it otherwise would have gotten.

What was once a hypothetical threat is now a very real one. Since May, Google has been testing an AI product dubbed ‘Search Generative Experience’ on a group of roughly 10 million users, and has been vocal about its intention to bring it into the heart of its core search engine. Google’s integration of AI is crystallizing for media outlets the perils of relying on big technology companies to get their content in front of readers and viewers. Already, publishers are reeling from a major decline in traffic sourced from social-media sites, as both Meta and X, the former Twitter, have pulled away from distributing news. As bad as the social-media downshift is, Google’s generative-AI-powered search is the true nightmare for publishers. Across the media world, Google generates nearly 40% of publishers’ traffic, accounting for the largest share of their ‘referrals,’ according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from measurement firm Similarweb. • “[T]he AI-powered search would likely provide a full answer to a user’s query” because Google stole the publisher’s data for its training sets. That’s the only reason it works. A classic case of “original accumulation,” as the Bearded One puts it.

Class Warfare

“Comment on Auten and Splinter (2023)” (PDF) [Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman]. “Auten and Splinter (2023), henceforth AS, provide esJmates of income inequality in the Unite States, starting with income observed in tax returns and making adjustments to account for unobserved income. They conclude that after their adjustments, the top 1% income share has not changed much since 1960…. In a nutshell: AS erroneously allocate a large and growing amount of untaxed business and capital income to the bottom of the distribution due to several clear and long-understood mistakes in their methodology.” • Hard to excerpt, but to this layperson, a brutal takedown. Piketty summarizes:

“The Theory of the Leisure Class” (podcast) [In Our Time, BBC]. “In item that becomes more desirable as it becomes more expensive is known as a Veblen good.” • Quite a memorial. And if you don’t listen to In Our Time, do consider it.

News of the Wired

“World’s first human brain-scale neuromorphic supercomputer is coming” [New Atlas], “Australian researchers are putting together a supercomputer designed to emulate the world’s most efficient learning machine – a neuromorphic monster capable of the same estimated 228 trillion synaptic operations per second that human brains handle….DeepSouth is expected to go online in April 2024. The research team expects it’ll be able to process massive amounts of data at high speed, while being much smaller than other supercomputers and consuming much less energy thanks to its spiking neural network approach. It’s modular and scalable, using commercially available hardware, so it may be expanded or contracted in the future to suit various tasks. The goal of the enterprise is to move AI processing a step closer to the way a human brain does things, as well as learning more about the brain and hopefully making advances that’ll be relevant in other fields.” • Oh, good.

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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 TH:

TH writes: “Knott’s Berry Farm has some nice landscaping. A little convention of . . . bromeliads?”

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

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