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2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Summary:
This is Naked Capitalism fundraising week. 1383 donors have already invested in our efforts to combat corruption and predatory conduct, particularly in the financial realm. Please join us and participate via our donation page, which shows how to give via check, credit card, debit card, or PayPal. Read about why we’re doing this fundraiser, what we’ve accomplished in the last year, and our current goal, more original reporting. By Lambert Strether of Corrente. Bird Song of the Day Sounds like a whole flock, but I believe this is one bird (with another piping in the background). “No Bird Wants to Live in a Murder Nest” [The Atlantic]. “Current tenants don’t have many options to waylay lurkers. Some of them can police their nest’s entrance hole, but prepping for parenthood is hungry work,

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Lambert Strether writes 2:00PM Water Cooler 11/24/2021

Yves Smith writes How the Pandemic Helped Spread Fentanyl Across the US and Drive Opioid Overdose Deaths to a Grim New High

This is Naked Capitalism fundraising week. 1383 donors have already invested in our efforts to combat corruption and predatory conduct, particularly in the financial realm. Please join us and participate via our donation page, which shows how to give via check, credit card, debit card, or PayPal. Read about why we’re doing this fundraiser, what we’ve accomplished in the last year, and our current goal, more original reporting.

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Sounds like a whole flock, but I believe this is one bird (with another piping in the background).

“No Bird Wants to Live in a Murder Nest” [The Atlantic]. “Current tenants don’t have many options to waylay lurkers. Some of them can police their nest’s entrance hole, but prepping for parenthood is hungry work, and eventually the birds have to take leave to forage for food. So Slagsvold and Wiebe started to poke around for alternative home-defense systems that the birds might be using for unattended nests…. The key turned out to be feathers, which have long been known to ornament many cavity-loving species’ nests…. Across continents, the birds were most eager to enter feather-free boxes, sometimes flitting inside just seconds after approaching them. But the would-be interlopers froze at the sight of white feathers, sometimes dillydallying outside the structures for an hour or more…. Such histrionics over a few feathers might seem a little extra, but it’s pretty in keeping with the high-stakes lifestyle that many birds lead, Mark Mainwaring, an ecologist and bird-nest expert at the University of Montana who wasn’t involved in the study, told me: “All these birds have to do is make one mistake, to go into a nest box with a predator, and they’re dead.” That’s a lot of incentive to avoid risk—and from birds’ perspective, even a soft, floofy hint that death looms in the dark is plenty of reason to seek their fortune elsewhere. Human squatters, too, would probably think twice before bedding down in an apartment with hair, teeth, and shreds of torn clothing strewn about. “It’s all part of the bluff,” Mainwaring said. Feathers might not even be the only death decoys that duplicitous birds toss around. Other researchers have documented tufted titmice—another species of cavity-nesters—filching fur from raccoons, dogs, and other mammals to line their nests. The stolen fuzz might end up pulling double duty: coziness and psychological warfare that keeps invaders out.” • We humans have got it easy!

* * *

#COVID19

Readers, I have returned this section to its usual format (with some boilerplate revision). –lambert

Vaccination by region:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Still chugging along. (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)

58.9% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, as of November 16. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above the Czech Republic in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). We are back to the stately 0.1% rise per day. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the virus…

“Will Kids Vaccines Get the Pandemic in Check?” [Slate]. “A Chinese study posted on a preprint server on Monday painstakingly traced how two young school-age kids seeded an outbreak involving at least 223 people. The virus was transmitted mostly through schools, factories, and households. Of the cases, 132 were fully vaccinated teens and adults (with the Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccine), and six of the cases ended up being severe or life-threatening. The authors concluded children were ‘critical hidden spreaders’ in this instance…. Contrary to what we thought at the pandemic’s onset in the U.S., it’s now looking like kids catch and transmit the coronavirus about as much as adults and adolescents… ‘I know that Dr. Fauci has said this [pediatric vaccine authorization] is a game changer,’ said Dr. William Raszka, director of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and a professor of pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine. ‘But I am not nearly as sanguine as most of my peers that immunizing children 5 to 11 is going to dramatically decrease the number of infections.’ The reason, he said, is that only 1 in 3 parents plan to vaccinate their children…. [But] people are resentful with many schools for mishandling the pandemic—the delayed reopenings and evidence-free policies have profoundly disrupted the lives of children and parents alike. In the Virginia governor race, Republicans found a receptive audience for anti-school messaging of all stripes. Mixing mandates and children is bound to be explosive.” • “[M]ishandling the pandemic” just casually thrown in there…

“Children and COVID: Youngest Vaccinees Off to a Slower Start” [MedScape]. “Just over 1.35 million children under age 12 years have received the COVID-19 vaccine since it was approved on Nov. 2, putting them behind the initial pace set by 12- to 15-year-olds in the spring, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Case count by United States regions:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Still, the actual jump (and I have drawn an anti-triumphalist black line, which perhaps I should dub a “Fauci Line,” in honor of the public health establishment figure). The cases are broadly distributed in the Midwest, and concentrated in New York and especially Pennsylvania in the Northeast (see yesterday’s Water Cooler for state data). Alert reader Cocoaman discovered that Pennsylvania was now counting reinfections as cases instead of ignoring them (which makes sense if you want to, oh, allocate health care resources). But even if you backed out those cases, which would bring Pennsylvania back into line with New York, the jump is still extremely concerning. And right before Thanksgiving, too.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). “Here is today’s version of the chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the case data discussed above. The last time CDC updated the data, oddly enough, is 11/6, i.e. before the jump in cases.

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

(Note that the highlighted case data is running behind the Johns Hopkins data presented first.) Now, it’s fair to say that the upward trend in case data (black dotted line) is still within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within the grey area (aggregated predictions) It’s also true that where we see an upward trend in the predicted case data (lower right quadrant) it’s much later than where we are now. It’s too early to say “Dammit, CDC, your models were broken”; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. But maybe we’ll get lucky, and the problem, if indeed it is a problem, will go away before Thanksgiving travel begins.

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Yikes. As I have been writing: “It would be really bad if the case count jumped just as the students headed home for Thanksgiving.”

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report November 12, 2021” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Minnesota improved. Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana really not. Pennsylvania is now normal (since the rise was a data artifact, and there was no further rise). California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico all improved. And there are lots of little red specks, Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

The previous release:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange.

Death rate (Our World in Data):

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Total: 786,268 784,779. Fiddling and diddling. But at this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid). Last updated 10/30. Looks like CDC isn’t updating this one either:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is the United States. Needless to see, this is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment’s duty to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital.)

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

Chile, Portugal, Peru, with Brazil slowing. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

* * *

Politics

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

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Mice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Biden Administration

“Poll: Voters’ doubts rising about Biden’s health, mental fitness” [Politico]. “Only 40 percent of voters surveyed agreed with the statement that Biden “is in good health,” while 50 percent disagreed. That 10-percentage-point gap — outside the poll’s margin of error — represents a massive 29-point shift since October 2020, when Morning Consult last surveyed the question and found voters believed Biden was in good health by a 19-point margin.” • I know what I saw in the primaries; they’ve clearly got Biden juiced up on something. That said… Is there an alternative?

Harris does have a lovely smile, doesn’t she? It would get me, if I didn’t know what she was.

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. (“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 that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

“Democrats Shouldn’t Panic. They Should Go Into Shock.” [Thomas Edsall, New York Times]. From the final paragraph: “And no one foreshadows the dangers ahead more succinctly than Larry Summers.” • You had me, till Larry Summers. Stoller comments:

Or, as I put matters above, perhaps more vividly: “The Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself.”

“Election guru Rachel Bitecofer: Democrats face “10-alarm fire” after Virginia debacle” [Rachel Bitecofer, Salon]. “First, understand the following about the outcome in Virginia. A year before, basically on the night of the 2020 election, when it was clear that Joe Biden had won the presidency, the enthusiasm advantage for the Republicans was predictable. Republicans were going to be out of power, which meant they were going to get enthusiastic and engaged. Democrats were going to be in power, which meant that Democratic voters were going to tune out and participate less on the margins. Where that vote was going to disappear was always predictable. The Democratic coalition ebbs and flows in terms of turnout. Some of those voters are going to be Democrats and others are independents who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. There are certain demographics where this ends to happen in terms of turnout, such as with younger voters and minorities.” You had me, till this: “The only people who aren’t primarily self-interested are liberals.” Oh, puh-leeze!!!!!!

Republican Funhouse

“Wyoming GOP votes to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican” [The Hill]. • Dick Cheney must be rolling in his grave. Oh, wait….

RussiaGate

N-o-o-o-o-o:

Sorry to hear about Taibbi’s stroke. And such a young man. Kidding!

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Democratic Socialists Need to Take a Hard Look in the Mirror” [Fredrik deBoer, New York Times]. “The idea that most Americans quietly agree with our positions is dangerous, because it leads to the kind of complacency that has dogged Democrats since the “emerging Democratic majority” myth became mainstream. Socialists can take some heart in public polling that shows Americans warming to the abstract idea of socialism. But “socialism” is an abstraction that means little without a winning candidate. And too much of this energy seems to stem from the echo-chamber quality of social media, as young socialists look at the world through Twitter and TikTok and see only the smiling faces of their own beliefs reflected back at them. Socialist victory will require taking a long, hard road to spread our message, to convince a skeptical public that socialist policies and values are good for them and the country. Which is to say, it will take decades.” • Listening to Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast is extremely illuminating on operational capability. We’re doing the October Revolution now, and one of the nuggets Duncan tosses out is that the Bolsheviks organized the machine gun battalions of the Russian Army in Petrograd. Focused, or what? We are so far from anything like that. (I blame the NGO subnetwork of the Democrat Party.)

* * *

Stats Watch

Construction: “United States Housing Starts” [Trading Economics]. “Housing starts in the US unexpectedly fell 0.7% mom to an annualized rate of 1.52 million in October of 2021 from a downwardly revised 1.53 million in September and well below forecasts of 1.576 million. Starts fell for a second consecutive month to the lowest in 6 months, as high costs for building materials, specially lumber and copper, supply constraints and labor shortages continue to weigh on the market.” • Dr. Copper, is that you?

* * *

Banking: “Inflation accelerates adoption of cash-back card rewards’ [American Banker]. “Just as credit card issuers start to benefit from recovering loan growth and an uptick in travel spending, inflation is sparking increased competition in cash rewards. Cash-back rewards were already on the rise, but the trend is intensifying as Americans look for immediate ways to offset rising costs, instead of saving loyalty points for future indulgences, according to industry analysts. ‘During uncertain financial times, consumer behavior trends toward cash-back rewards, and the advantage is that when the cost of goods increases, so too do the cash-back rewards for every dollar spent,’ said Daniela Hawkins, managing principal at the financial services consulting firm Capco.”

Commodities: “How Much of the Worsening Energy Crisis is Due to Depletion?” [Richard Heinberg]. “But there’s another explanation for the high prices: depletion. I’m not suggesting we’re about to completely run out of coal, oil, or gas; there’s no immediate danger of that. However, the energy industry has historically targeted the highest-quality and easiest-accessed of these resources, which means that what’s left, in most cases, are fuels that will be costlier to extract and process—and also more polluting. The proximate causes of current price spikes may be transient market conditions (the see-sawing pandemic, Britain’s decision to leave the European Internal Energy Market, Russia’s reluctance to provide more gas to European buyers until a new pipeline is given final approval, and China’s choice to reduce coal imports from Australia). But behind the energy headlines is persistent, accelerating depletion.”

Shipping: “WTO Says Goods Trade Slowing Due to Supply Issues, Cooler Demand” [Marine Link]. “Global goods trade is slowing after a sharp rebound following the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic as production and supply disruptions and cooling demand for imports dampen growth, the World Trade Organization said on Monday. The WTO said its goods trade barometer dropped to 99.5 points, close to the baseline of 100, in November following a record reading of 110.4 in August. The Geneva-based trade body said supply shocks, including port gridlock arising from surging import demand in the first half of the year and disrupted production of goods such as automobiles and semiconductors, had contributed to the decline. Demand for traded goods was also easing, indicated by falling export orders.”

Inflation:

Inflation: “Inflation Is Not The Biggest Thing Happening In The Economy Right Now” [HuffPo]. ” inflation is actually just one of several big economic stories happening right now. There has also been a big reduction in child poverty ― and Congress could make it permanent. The same fiscal policies that are partly blamed for high inflation produced a 40% reduction in child poverty in July, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. The one-month decline was steeper than any year-to-year change in child poverty from 1967 until 2020, when Congress first sent out stimulus checks and boosted unemployment benefits in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Since July, the reduction in family poverty has been mostly sustained by monthly payments worth as much as $300 per child. The payments have lifted between 3 and 4 million children above the poverty line each month. ‘The sheer magnitude of just that number is not what we normally see on a regular basis, especially from a single policy,’ Megan Curran, director of policy at Columbia’s Center on Poverty, said in an interview. Democrats are planning to continue the payments through next year as part of the Build Back Better social spending bill that they hope to pass in the coming weeks. If Democrats succeed in entrenching the policy, it would represent a dramatic shift for the American welfare state in favor of families. One of Democrats’ biggest obstacles is inflation, with news that prices rose 6.2% since last October prompting fresh warnings from Republicans and even some Democrats that Build Back Better is a bad idea.” • Inflation is the biggest thing happening if you’re a creditor, and don’t particularly care for redistributing income to debtors. So who has more power in our political economy? Debtors, or creditors?

Inflation:

You can shrink a candy bar or a box of cereal and charge the same price for it. That’s harder to do with a gallon of gas.

The Bezzle: “Staples Center in Los Angeles to be renamed Crypto.com Arena” [Financial Times]. “The Staples Center in Los Angeles, one of the best-known sports and entertainment arenas in the US, is being rebranded as the Crypto.com Arena, the first such name change since the 20,000-seat venue opened its doors in 1999. The Singapore-based cryptocurrency platform has agreed to pay more than $700m for the naming rights to the downtown Los Angeles complex for the next 20 years, according to people familiar with the transaction. The rebranding will take effect on Christmas Day, with physical signage expected to change by June 2022. As well as securing a big windfall for AEG, the owner and operator of the arena, the deal marks one of the most eye-catching marketing ploys from a cryptocurrency company to date and comes as digital coins gain wider acceptance among retail investors.” • Reach me that Victory Gin,. wouldja?

The Bezzle: “Inside the cult of crypto” [FInancial Times]. From September, still highly germane: “‘If you look online at ‘what is bitcoin’, what you’ll see is a gigantic amount of literature and decontextualised media snippets that paint a beautiful picture of the imminent success and domination that is surely awaiting us,’ [former Bitcoin stan Chris DeRose] says. ‘However, if you look at bitcoin off the screen, what you’ll see is declining merchant uptake, zero evidence of blockchain deployment or efficiency, and mostly just a lot of promotional events offering cures to whatever ails you.’… For Jackson Palmer, one of the creators of dogecoin — the joke cryptocurrency that shot to prominence this year thanks to Musk — this has now morphed into something profoundly pernicious. “After years of studying it, I believe that cryptocurrency is an inherently rightwing, hyper-capitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoidance, diminished regulatory oversight and artificially enforced scarcity,” Palmer wrote on Twitter this summer, announcing his permanent withdrawal from the industry.”

The Bezzle: “Crypto Is Cool. Now Get on the Yacht” [New York Times]. “On Monday, partyers packed into VR World in Midtown for a party DJed by an NFT collector named Seedphrase, who appeared on stage in a light-up CryptoPunk helmet. And on Tuesday, entrepreneurs rubbed elbows with drag queens at a downtown party hosted by Playboy to promote the magazine’s new ‘Rabbitars’ NFT collection. It was a more diverse group than one might think, due primarily to the presence of plenty of artists and musicians among the crypto die-hards, FOMO-stricken investors and corporate suits. Many NFT collectors know each other only from Twitter threads and Discord chats, and few use their real names or photos online, opting instead for pseudonyms and cartoon avatars. At first, they spent a lot of time figuring out who they might know as CoolCat43 or ApeChad690 and whether the guy who came dressed as CryptoPunk #3706 actually owned CryptoPunk #3706. (He did.) They also found that not all of the customs of the online NFT world translate well to meatspace. T-shirts emblazoned with rallying cries like “Wagmi” (we’re all gonna make it) drew some confused stares from passers-by.” • Narrator: “They didn’t all make it.”

Tech: “Twitter stops auto-refreshing timelines so tweets won’t disappear while you’re still reading them” [The Verge]. • I don’t know what’s come over Twitter. They actually did something users want.

Tech: “Israel’s Redefine Meat to serve 3D-printed, plant-based meat at eateries in Europe” [Times of Israel]. “Israeli startup Redefine Meat will begin offering 3D-printed plant-based ‘meat’ products at select high-end restaurants in Europe, the company announced on Tuesday, also unveiling what it called ‘the world’s first’ whole cuts that resemble lamb and beef cuts. In doing so, the company claimed to have ‘cracked the holy grail of the alternative meat industry,’ which is largely producing minced products that often lack the fibrous texture found in animal meat. Redefine Meat’s range of products, called New Meat, now includes the whole cuts, plus burgers, sausages, lamb kebabs, and ground beef as it hopes to become ‘the world’s largest meat company by offering every single cut that a cow does.'” • “Will that be New Meat Red™ or New Meat Yellow™?”

Corporations: “Dutch Divorce: How Shell Split With Netherlands After 114 Years” [Bloomberg]. Shell leaves the Netherlands for London. “‘Shell threatens to leave because they have to pay taxes on dividends,’ Jesse Klaver, the leader of GroenLinks, a left-wing political party, tweeted on Monday. ‘What does the cabinet do? Propose to scrap the entire tax. That is not the solution, that is blackmail. Who runs the Netherlands actually?’ The relationship between Shell and its home country had been under strain for some time. Hosting a company that pumps more than 3 million barrels equivalent of oil and gas each day is increasingly awkward for many in Dutch society, even though Van Beurden has committed the company to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Earlier this year, a judge ruled Shell’s transition to clean energy wasn’t happening quickly enough and ordered the company to slash greenhouse gases even faster out of respect for the human rights and opinions of Dutch citizens. Last month, the pension fund for government employees in the Netherlands decided in to dump all oil company shares, a decision that infuriated Shell’s management team.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 79 Extreme Greed (previous close: 82 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 82 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 17 at 1:52pm.

Health Care

“The Ebola Gamble” [The New Atlantis]. The deck: “How public health authorities put reassurance before protection.” Shorter: WHO and CDC has been broken with respect to aerosol transmission not only since the Ebola crisis (c. 2014) but since SARS (2002). Keep reading for the reveal:

Journalists and government investigators have uncovered a range of institutional problems at the CDC and the WHO since the Ebola outbreak began, and while an in-depth analysis is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth highlighting a few items.

Sheri Fink, in a report in the New York Times, described bureaucratic dysfunction that hampered the WHO’s early response to the Ebola crisis, including a “balkanized hierarchy” in which various offices “jockeyed for position.” Fink also remarked that “the whims of donor countries, foundations and individuals also greatly influenced the WHO’s agenda”; for example, as she noted in an NPR interview, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation now gives more money than any single country, “and they get to choose the priorities … as long as it fits within the WHO’s mandates.”

A similar, if much less pronounced, state of affairs may hold at the CDC. In a recent report in the British Medical Journal, Jeanne Lenzer revealed that the agency receives millions of dollars in funding from private individuals, philanthropic foundations, and corporations — including medical manufacturers. Although that money makes up a tiny portion of the overall CDC budget, Lenzer cites numerous instances in which the agency issued recommendations that seem to have directly benefited its corporate donors.

Meanwhile, investigations by the Washington Post and the New York Times have described bureaucratic friction between the CDC and the WHO. And a special panel convened to assess the WHO’s response to the outbreak has reported on several “organizational failings.” It found that the WHO “does not have an organizational culture that supports open and critical dialogue between senior leaders and staff or that permits risk-taking or critical approaches to decision-making,” and “does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response.”

For present purposes, however, what is most interesting is the tendency of both organizations to put optics — public perceptions and political correctness — ahead of wise policymaking.

Here is the reveal: This article was written in 2015. Nothing fundamental has changed from pre-Trump to post-Trump. The institutional dysfunction is, if anything, worse, if you go by consequences. The whole article is worth a read, even if I almost did lose a tooth from the grinding. Oh, and one of Ronald Klain’s qualifications for being Biden’s chief of staff was his role as Obama’s ebola czar. So he knows all about this. And here we are! (On optics: I have recommended this article several times; worth a read if you haven’t.)

“‘COVID positive from Vegas.’ Phish concerts leave a long trail of infections, fans say” [Boston Globe]. “Music fans from Massachusetts to California have been flooding social media with reports on a series of concerts they attended in Las Vegas over Halloween weekend. But instead of raving about the setlist and extended jams, many are posting COVID-19 test results and seat numbers in a mass effort at grass-roots contact tracing…. In interviews with the Globe, Phish fans described a crowded venue with poor ventilation and few people wearing masks, despite a Nevada law requiring their use in indoor public settings. MGM said it requires masks indoors, except when eating or drinking…. Because contact tracing is performed by local health departments, one community may not realize a case is linked to many others several states away…. Exactly how many Las Vegas-related cases there may be across the country is difficult to know, in part because some Phish fans posting on social media said they felt ill afterward but did not get tested. Others said they had taken rapid tests, which are often bought over the counter and whose positive results are typically not reported to local or state health departments. Fans also say they visited restaurants, casinos, and other attractions while in Las Vegas, complicating efforts to pinpoint where they might have been infected. The Southern Nevada Health District, which includes the Las Vegas area, said it has not identified any cases among its local residents with a ‘confirmed exposure’ linked to the concerts.” • It does make you wonder what it would be like to live in a country that had a functional public health system.

“With 128 Covid vaccines in clinical development, we don’t know if the approved/authorized ones are the best ones” [STAT]. “Of the 128 Covid vaccines currently being clinically tested (21 of which have been cleared for use in general populations), Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, and AstraZeneca manufacture just four, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data. Russia’s Sputnik V jab is being distributed in 39 countries with dozens of other markets potentially on the horizon; Sinovac and Sinopharm, both of China, have delivered nearly half of the world’s vaccine doses to date; Bharat Biotech in India won WHO emergency use approval for its Covid shot earlier this month. These are just a handful of the other companies with vaccines that are being given to people in many low- and middle-income countries. Another 194 candidates are in preclinical development in labs or being tested in animals. These companies and their products are largely unknown outside of the life sciences industry, some academic institutions, and government-backed public health centers. But just because massive, globally established pharmaceutical companies and universities have fueled the world’s vaccine supply to date doesn’t mean they have created the best ones. Other vaccines may prove to be more effective, or safer, or more appropriate for a certain coronavirus variant or among certain age groups in the coming years as the march of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is slowed and it becomes endemic…. By default, the current pandemic response has revealed a system where finance is a proxy for ‘best,’ as if it was a betting market, rather than letting science guide resource allocation.” • Only a loser would object to this…

“Jill Biden: What to do if you want to protect your kids” [CNN]. “Parents, we do absolutely everything to protect our kids, and in this pandemic, you did. You figured out how to support their virtual learning while working your job. Some of you even left your job to help your kids. You found ways to create online playdates and birthday parties. You chose to get yourself vaccinated.” Lol, remember when “essential workers” were important? They could not work from home, unlike those who have “email jobs,” and so naturally Dr. Biden erases them. More: “From the day you held your sweet, fragile, little baby for the first time, you have made the choice, again and again, to keep your child safe. Getting your kids the Covid-19 vaccine is your choice, too. Make the decision to protect your children with the same vaccine that has already saved millions of lives.” • It’s appalling. Dr. Biden recommends only vax. Dr. Biden does not discuss ventilation, or (for some ages) masking, or the nasal and oral prophylatics (e.g., Povidone) we have often discussed here. She does not use her national forum to discuss the “Swiss cheese,” layered strategy at all. Dr. Biden emits soothing pablum. Soothing lethal pablum. One might almost think that the Bidens, as a couple, oppose aerosol transmission entirely (q.v. President Biden’s visit to an apparently windowless schoolroom using plexiglass barriers. Shocking and appalling.

Zeitgeist Watch

“At the End of the World, It’s Hyperobjects All the Way Down” [Wired]. “Examples of hyperobjects include: black holes, oil spills, all plastic ever manufactured, capitalism, tectonic plates, and the solar system. Hyperobjects are often ancient or destined to be, like the sum total of Styrofoam and plutonium we have littered across the Earth over the past century, which will remain for millennia. A human being may see evidence of hyperobjects—pollution here, a hurricane there—but try gazing off into the distance to see the totality of them, or to the very end of them, and they disappear into a vanishing point.” • Call me an oldthinker, but I’d expect there to be a definition of “hyperobject” in there somewhere. Or as Wodehouse wrote: “What I had heard was, of course, of a nature to excite pity and terror, not to mention alarm and despondency, and it would be paltering with the truth to say that I was pleased about it. On the other hand, it was all over now, and it seemed to me that the thing to do was not to mourn over the past but to fix the mind on the bright future” (Right Ho, Jeeves).

Class Warfare

“Strike Canceled Across All UC Campuses After Non-Tenured Faculty Members Reach Deal” [NBC San Diego].

A tentative agreement was reached between the University of California and a union representing non-tenured professors, lecturers and some other faculty members on Wednesday, canceling a walkout that was planned over a dispute about several labor issues.

The University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) announced just before 5 a.m. that its planned strike had been called off after reaching a tentative agreement with the university system. The union said it “won transformative and groundbreaking improvements in crucial areas, including job stability, workload, and compensation.”

Part of the tentative deal includes:

  • Job security protections that offer opportunities for professional advancement
  • Raised salary floor and improved compensation, including annual cost-of-living adjustments for each year of the contract
  • More transparency, consistency and enforceability of workload issues
    Four weeks of fully paid leave to bond with a new child or care for ailing family members

News of the Wired

“What is Word of the Year 2021 according to Cambridge Dictionary? (clue: it’s not ‘pandemic’)” [Sky News]. “The word of the year for 2021 – according to the Cambridge Dictionary – is “perseverance”, with editors crediting global interest in NASA’s mission to Mars.” • Good!

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) 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. Today’s plant (WB):

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/17/2021

WB writes: “The the driveway Sumac is ablaze this year.”

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