2:00PM Water Cooler 1/10/2024 | naked capitalism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, this Water Cooler is a little bit light, but I am commanded elsewhere. –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

Peaceful Dove, Sturt National Park–Mount Wood Homestead and Campground, Northwestern NSW, New South Wales, Australia

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

The Constitutional Order

“Trump’s Legal Arguments Are Getting Increasingly Embarrassing” [Slate]. “On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump’s attorneys tried to convince a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that their client is entitled to ‘absolute immunity’ from criminal prosecution for the actions he took while in office related to Jan. 6 and his efforts to steal the 2020 election…. During Tuesday’s arguments, the D.C. Circuit panel consistently pointed to the horrific implications of Trump’s immunity argument. If Trump’s argument holds, that also means that a president could take bribes to issue pardons, sell military secrets to America’s enemies, or order a military assassination of a political rival and never face prosecution—just so long as he left office before being impeached and convicted. As Judge Karen L. Henderson, a Republican appointee who has sided with Trump allies in previous cases involving the former president, put it: ‘I think it’s paradoxical to say that [a president’s] constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate criminal laws.’ Principally at issue in the case is whether or not the president has absolute immunity from prosecution for allegedly criminal actions if he insists those actions were taken as part of his official duties. His team allows that under this wild interpretation of presidential immunity, the only opportunity for consequences is if the president is impeached and convicted for the conduct in question.” • Sounds horrible, or would if Bush hadn’t been granted retroactive immunity by Congress for his illegal program of warrantless surveillance. Or Obama, for al-Awlaki père et fils.

“Will the Supreme Court Keep Trump off the Ballot?” [Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal]. “No matter how the justices rule, millions of voters already have determined that the courts are playing an unwelcome role in the 2024 election. They believe that President Biden’s Justice Department has been loosed to go after his likely opponent in November. And they believe state efforts to keep Mr. Trump off the ballot are the backup plan. None of this is good for our democracy.”

Biden Administration

“Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s mysterious absence, explained” [Vox]. “The secretary was hospitalized and placed in intensive care on January 1, but the public wasn’t informed until three days later — and, even more surprisingly, neither was Austin’s ultimate boss, President Joe Biden….. The most straightforward explanation for what happened is simple confusion resulting from the fact that Austin’s chief of staff was ill and his deputy was on vacation at th]\e same time he was hospitalized.”

“Hospitalisation of US defence chief Lloyd Austin came after cancer surgery complications” [Financial Times]. “Austin had temporarily delegated some of his responsibilities to his deputy defence secretary Kathleen Hicks but resumed them on Friday from Walter Reed. Major General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, had blamed the communications breakdown in part on Austin’s chief of staff Kelly Magsamen, who was out for much of last week with the flu.” • “The flu,” eh?

“Lloyd Austin’s mistake should be career-ending” [The Spectator]. “The disappearance of defense secretary Lloyd Austin for a few days without notifying the White House, or even the second in command at the Pentagon, is more than a one- or two-day story…. Let’s start with the problem for the military. It is absolutely essential that the military have a clear chain of command that is clearly specified and operational at all times…. When the secretary of defense goes AWOL, that chain of command is severed. The severance appeared to be even more severe because the second in command to Secretary Austin was herself on vacation…. When the secretary of defense goes AWOL, that chain of command is severed. The severance appeared to be even more severe because the second in command to Secretary Austin was herself on vacation.”

“Calls for Defense Secretary Austin to Resign Are Attacks on Black Success” [Newsweek]. “Neither the White House, nor key Pentagon officials were informed of Austin’s hospitalization until three days after he checked in. Austin, a decorated military leader known for following orders as well as giving them, was faced with a life altering health scare and he sought and received treatment. That’s the story… For Austin’s part, he made sure that his second in command, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was informed, even if she was on vacation. This is much ado about nothing.”

“‘Reckless and irresponsible’: Pentagon officials reel from news Austin kept cancer diagnosis quiet” [Politico]. “Stunned Defense Department officials struggled on Tuesday to digest the news that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and kept it a secret for weeks…. POLITICO spoke to five officials in the Pentagon and administration, as well as two former officials, all of whom were granted anonymity to give candid reactions to the disclosures. They said they are sympathetic to Austin’s desire for privacy, but confused as to why he kept his diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization from his own staff and top Pentagon leaders. And some are incensed that Austin withheld his cancer diagnosis from President Joe Biden until Tuesday, weeks after Austin learned of his condition in an early December prostate screening.”


Less than a year to go!

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“Editorial: Better that voters reject Trumpism than judges do it for them. But Trump makes that case hard to argue” [Chicago Tribune]. “Unlike the previous two times Trump ran for the highest office in the land, he’s apparently refusing this time around to sign a customary pledge in Illinois to refrain from urging the overthrow of the government. The story, broken by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times, highlights a peculiar vestige of the McCarthy era. Illinois at that time began asking those running for office to sign this loyalty oath. The courts since have ruled the pledge an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, but the state has continued to ask candidates to sign it voluntarily. Other candidates, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have made that simple pledge. That Trump has done an about-face is cause for concern on how he will react if he wins the nomination but loses again in the general election.”

“Donald Trump didn’t sign Illinois loyalty oath that pledges he won’t advocate overthrow of government” [USA Today]. “‘Donald Trump can’t bring himself to sign a piece of paper saying he won’t attempt a coup to overthrow our government,’ said Michael Tyler, communications director for the Biden campaign, in a statement Saturday. ‘We know he’s deadly serious, because three years ago today he tried and failed to do exactly that.’… The Trump campaign did not explain why the candidate did not sign the oath, but instead issued a statement predicting the former president would defeat Biden at the polls.”

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“Hunter Biden unexpectedly shows up at his House contempt hearing” [Axios]. “Hunter Biden made a surprise appearance at a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday geared towards holding him in contempt of Congress…. The committee is trying to hold the president’s son in contempt for refusing to testify at a closed-door deposition last month as part of their impeachment proceedings against President Biden… Hunter Biden walked into the hearing room Wednesday with his attorneys, Abbe Lowell and Kevin Morris, shortly after Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) gave his opening statement…. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) pointedly asked [Chair James Comer (R-Ky.)] to recite committee rules around depositions, including that a stenographer must be present and that members be given three days’ notice. ‘So, just to clarify, we can’t have someone just walk in,’ Greene responded.” • A stunt.

“Hunter’s Art Dealer Contradicts White House Claims Over Art Sales” [Jonathan Turley]. “Likewise, [Georges Bergès, Hunter Biden’s art gallerist] admitted that most of the art was actually purchased by lawyer Kevin Morris, who has reportedly given Hunter millions to cover unpaid taxes and expenses. So, as media was reporting how Hunter’s art was being eagerly purchased by art lovers, it appears to have been an illusion. It was Morris, and he only paid Bergès’ 40% commission on the $875,000 purchases. Bergès admits that he has never seen a deal where the purchaser just paid his commission…. The art sales were portrayed as a way for Hunter to support himself in a new (and successful) emergence as an artist. The Independent gushed how buyers were ‘floored’ by Hunter’s talent and eagerly flocked to the shows. However, it was largely Morris according to Bergès. So Hunter sent the art to New York and the press played up his success as an artist. Morris then bought most of the art and just paid Bergès his fee. The public was then left with the impression that Hunter was not only a successful artist, but supporting himself. Bergès knew that. Morris knew that. And, more importantly, Hunter knew that.”

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“Why Haley Won’t Break Through” [Politico]. “Nikki Haley’s Tuesday rally outside Des Moines was a fittingly pedestrian event in this desultory excuse of a presidential primary. Haley delivered a 15-minute stump speech with the precise same words and intonations of her every public appearance, took no questions from voters before posing for pictures with them and then conducted a Fox News interview beneath the overhang of an Irish pub while ignoring her travelling press corps, who stood without cover in the wind and snow. It was the cautious performance of a frontrunner, not that of a candidate lagging by double-digits with less than a week before the Iowa caucuses. Which is to say it was typical of her events and altogether reflective of an oddly bifurcated campaign in which Donald Trump is the dominant frontrunner but his two leading opponents are competing against one another as though they’re still in the before times… The most memorable feature of Haley’s otherwise forgettable gathering was not what she said but the nature of her audience — and how it explains why Trump is poised to win overwhelmingly in Iowa on Monday but will face the same general election challenges in 2024 he did in 2020. I struggled to find a single attendee in the suburban strip mall tavern who was not a college graduate. Similarly, the day before, I couldn’t find a Haley admirer who showed up to see her in Sioux City who was not also a college graduate.”

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NH: “Secretary of interior announces salt marsh preservation funds in New Hampshire visit” [WMUR]. “Recent and upcoming visits from White House officials: Dec. 8: Administrator of the Small Business Administration Isabel Guzman, Dec. 11: Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Dec. 18: U.S. Trade Rep Katherine Tai, Jan. 4: Arati Prabhakar, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Danielle Carnival, OSTP deputy director for health outcomes, Jan. 4: Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Tom Perez and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson, Jan. 8: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Jan. 8: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Jan. 9: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Jan. 10: Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Jan. 12: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.”

IA: “Opinion: Iowa may decide if there’s a GOP alternative to Trump” [David Axelrod, CNN]. “For DeSantis — once considered Trump’s most challenging opponent — Iowa has become a matter of political survival. He and his aligned super PACs have spent tens of millions on the air and the ground in Iowa, hoping to break through there. A third-place finish in Iowa would almost certainly mean a one-way ticket back to Tallahassee for the Florida governor. For Haley, who focused more of her time and resources on New Hampshire at the beginning of the race, Iowa has become an opportunity to build momentum. Second place there would likely further shrink the field and give her more octane leading into the January 23 primary in New Hampshire. A CNN poll released Monday shows her narrowing the gap with Trump in New Hampshire, trimming his lead to single digits.”


“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!

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Look for the Helpers

“How to Organise A Covid Safe event” [Lev Konstantinovskiy, Google Docs]. “It is ‘good cop’ activism. Instead of raising fear, just model correct use of the tools of protection. There is a need for the warnings of course – and there are good people doing that already. I want to show how easy and affordable it is to organise in-person fun events where no one gets covid. A shared covid safe public social space, where an immuno-compromised person can meet someone who lives with a non-masking teenage child. I would like to make a new poster of masked people having great fun together. ‘Having fun doesn’t kill people. Greed and indifference do.” • Looks really good and systematic.


Having conversation:


“Muscle abnormalities worsen after post-exertional malaise in long COVID” [Nature]. “In conclusion, this study reveals that local and systemic metabolic disturbances, severe exercise-induced myopathy, infiltration of amyloid-containing deposits, and immune cells in skeletal muscles of long COVID are key characteristics of post-exertional malaise. While these explain the symptomatology of post-exertional malaise in long COVID, the molecular pathways underlying these alterations in patients suffering from post-exertional malaise remain to be determined.”

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Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data, January 9:

Lambert here #1: Still going up. As a totally “gut feel” tapewatcher, I would expect this peak to meet or exceed the two previous Biden peaks; after all, we haven’t really begun the next bout of holiday travel, or the next rounds of superspreading events celebrations. Plus students haven’t come from from school, and then returned. So a higher peak seems pretty much “baked in.” And that’s before we get to new variants, like JN.1. The real thing to watch is the slope of the curve. If it starts to go vertical, and if it keeps on doing so, then hold onto your hats.

Lambert here #2: Called it. Impressively, the Biden administration has now blown through all previous records, with the single exception of the Omicron, the top of the leaderboard, a record also set by itself. Congratulations to the Biden team! I know a lot of people think the peak will come in the next two weeks or so; I’d like to hear at least some anecdotal evidence of that beyond the models (because recall JN.1, whose peak this is, is extremely infectious).

Lambert here #3: Slight decrease in slope, due to the Northeast and the West (unless it’s a data issue). Personally, I wouldn’t call a peak, based entirely on the anecdotes I’m scrolling through, which are not encouraging, particularly with regard to the schools. (To be fair, the MWRA chart shows a slight drop, too.) Very unscientific, I agree! Let’s wait and see. Note that I don’t accept the PMC “homework” model, whose most famous exponent is Sociopath of the Day Bob Wachter, where you adjust your behavior according to the (horrible, gappy, lagged) data about infection levels (ignoring “risk of ruin”). Just stick with your protocol day in and day out. K.I.S.S. However, tracking these trends, besides having intrinsic interest, is pragmatically useful for major decisions, like travel, cruises (surely not, readers), relocation, family events, communication with recalcitrant HCWs, etc.

Regional data:

Regional bifurcation continues. The slope of the curve in the Northeast got less steep, which is good news (although, as ever, Biobot data is subject to backward revision).


NOT UPDATED From CDC, January 6:

Lambert here: JN.1 now dominates. That was fast.

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, January 6:

Lambert: Down, but New Year’s reporting?

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.


Bellwether New York City, data as of January 10:

Lambert here: I like the slope of that curve even less, and we’re approaching previous peak levels (granted, not 2020 or 2022, but respectable).

NOT UPDATED Here’s a different CDC visualization on hospitalization, nationwide, not by state, but with a date, at least. December 30:

Moving ahead briskly!

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?


From Walgreens, January 8:

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.)

From Cleveland Clinic, January 6:

Lambert here: Percentage and absolute numbers down.

NOT UPDATED From CDC, traveler’s data, December 18:

Down, albeit in the rear view mirror. And here are the variants for travelers, December 18:

Note the chart has been revised to reflect that JN.1 is BA.2.86.1 (the numbers “roll over”).


NOT UPDATED Here is the New York Times, based on CDC data, December 30:

Stats Watch

There are no offical statistics of interest today.

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Manufacturing: “737 incidents prompt new scrutiny at Boeing” [Leeham News and Analysis]. “[W]e have the Jan. 5 incident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 in which an emergency exit plug door blew off the airplane at 16,500 ft. This may indicate another quality assurance failure at either Boeing or Spirit AeroSystems…. We don’t know if this is a Boeing problem, a Spirit problem, a bolt manufacturer problem, or an Alaska Airlines problem. It’s way too soon in the investigation to draw conclusions. Certainly, because it’s Boeing’s name on the airplane, and especially given the MAX history, people are jumping to the conclusion that Boeing screwed up again. While this may ultimately prove true, LNA is not at all prepared to conclude today that this is the case.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 75 Extreme Greed (previous close: 73 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 75 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 10 at 1:36:18 PM ET.

News of the Wired

“The Youth Mental Health Crisis is International, Unless You Rely on a Flawed International Dataset” [After Babel]. “A recent paper by Matti Vuorre and Andrew Przybylski garnered a fair amount of attention for its claim that, at a global level, they can’t find evidence linking an increase in youth mental illness to the arrival of the internet or mobile broadband adoption…. As we read the Vuorre paper, we noted that it relied heavily on a particular dataset for its measures of youth mental health – a dataset called the Global Burden of Disease study. Relying on that study, they report that there actually has not been much of an increase in youth mental illness in the past 15 years, but this also contradicts our findings. Again, what gives?

We decided to see for ourselves whether the GBD study is reliable. It is not, as Zach shows below. It fails to detect known rises in depression, self-harm, and suicide, in countries like the U.S. the UK, and Australia, where there is excellent data. Therefore the GBD cannot be used to evaluate whether the arrival of the internet had any effects on youth mental health.” And: “I will show that the GBD—in every case that I looked at—systematically and substantially underestimates official statistics, and fails to detect the large increases that happened in the 2010s. Therefore the GBD should not be used when trying to understand changes in youth mental health or the causes of those changes.” • Yikes!

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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: “The flowers look like daisies to me, but I’m not positive they are. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this particular version where the p[lant is a perfect ball of dense blooms. This is landscaping at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA.”

• Kind readers, I think I’m OK on plants for awhile, though it never hurts to have more!

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