2:00PM Water Cooler 5/19/2022 | naked capitalism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

This is Evening Grosbeak Week at Naked Capitalism. Apparently, there are four types of Evening Grosbreak; this type 4. Colorado, United States.

“A South Texan’s Wild, Life-affirming Quest to Break a National Birding Record” [Texas Monthly]. This article is well worth a read. I’m going to quote something about birds, as opposed to birdwatchers: “Most songbirds migrate at night. During the day, they bide their time in some thick clutch of brush or on the limb of a great oak tree, puff out their feathers, and chirp quietly against the wind. It’s only when the stars emerge that migratory birds set out, following a primordial imperative to trace sweeping arcs for thousands of miles, back and forth across and between continents.These birds do not make a permanent home. Researchers are still unraveling the mystery of how exactly birds navigate on their long-distance flyways, but they believe that the creatures follow the positions of the stars. Migratory birds also tap into the earth’s magnetic field to track their location and destination. Eventually, they return to where they started. In a calm spot at night, during Texas’s peak migration season of April and May, if you listen closely, you’ll hear songbirds far above you, singing in the darkness. Sadly, that sound has become harder to detect. Even as more and more Americans are taking up birdwatching, there are fewer and fewer birds. A 2016 census survey estimated that more than 45 million Americans take part in birdwatching. However, according to a 2019 study, North America has almost three billion fewer birds today than in 1970. The loss of habitat to urban sprawl and farming, along with increased use of pesticides and herbicides—which can kill or poison insects and plants that birds eat—has led to a 29 percent decline in North American bird populations over the past fifty years. Kenneth Rosenberg, a retired conservation scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a lead author of the 2019 study, says, ‘That’s a net result across all North American birds, which is pretty dire.’”

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Politics

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

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

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson

Biden Adminstration

No:

“US to fly in baby formula on military contracted planes” [Channel News Asia]. “The US government will fly in baby formula on commercial planes contracted by the military in an airlift aimed at easing the major shortage plaguing the country, the White House said on Wednesday (May 18). The lack of formula – the result of a perfect storm of supply chain issues and a massive recall – is leaving parents increasingly desperate, and has become a political headache for President Joe Biden as midterm elections loom.” • Commentary:

“Former L.A. public defender picked to lead federal Access to Justice office” [Los Angeles Times]. • “Access to Justice.” An Obama-era program, wouldn’t you know it.

2022

* * *

“Democratic Voters Deliver Stinging Rebuke to Party’s Manchin-Sinema Wing” [The Intercept]. “The stunning wins come as the party debates who is to blame for Biden’s sinking approval rating and increasingly dire forecasts of upcoming midterm losses. Party establishment figures have pointed the finger at the left for making unreasonable demands couched in slogans like ‘defund the police’ that turn off voters. The progressive wing has countered that Biden’s popularity has sunk as centrist Democrats have slowly murdered his agenda, while the left has fought to enact it. Tuesday’s results suggest that Democratic voters — at least those in Pennsylvania and Oregon — would prefer that Democrats do more rather than less, delivering a stinging rebuke to the Kyrsten Sinema-Manchin wing of the party. Next week, voters in Texas will cast ballots in a number of runoffs that pit progressives against super PAC-backed centrist Democrats.” • Commentary:

“If You Can’t Love Biden, He’ll Settle for You Hating Trump” [The New Republic]. “Trump controls the Republican congressional minority. The come-from-behind primary victories of J.D. Vance for Senate in Ohio and Alex Mooney for the House in West Virginia demonstrated the iron grip of Trump’s endorsements. Trump controls statehouse Republicans too. Trump-endorsed candidates for the Senate, House, and governor have won 39 out of 40 primaries, Nathaniel Rakich reported Wednesday in FiveThirtyEight…. For a former president to maintain this level of control over his party is unusual. For a former president voted out after one term, it’s extraordinary. For a former president who never broke 50 percent during his single term, it’s baffling….. [Nothing] has gotten the country to rate Biden the superior president he so obviously is. So now, in addition to citing all these accomplishments in his speeches, Biden’s taken to pointing out that the MAGA-captive GOP is dangerous and deranged. In effect, Biden’s saying: You don’t care about me? Fine. Start caring about those maniacs. It never was what Biden wanted to say. He entered office with a long career behind him of Senate dealmaking, speaking of “unity,” and hoping the country could move forward. But the Republicans’ infantile partisanship was too great.”

“Primaries fuel questions about potency of Trump endorsements” [The Hill]. “While Trump’s favored Senate candidate in North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd (R), won his primary decisively, others who had received his endorsement, including Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and Idaho Lt. Gov Janice McGeachin, were defeated. Even more disappointing for Trump, his endorsed candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate primary, Mehmet Oz, remains locked in a tight battle with hedge fund manager Dave McCormick. While last night’s primaries are far from a defeat for the former president, they could stoke further questions about the extent to which he can clear primary fields and play kingmaker for the GOP. ‘It’s a good ticket, but it’s not a golden ticket,’ Republican strategist Doug Heye told The Hill of Trump’s endorsement. ‘As it would be a Barack Obama nomination or a George W. Bush endorsement in the past. It’s the same as that.’ ‘The party is more broadly turning Trumpier whether it’s with or without Trump,’ Heye said. ‘That to me is the broader and more important story moving forward.’”

“1 big thing: Ultra-MAGA scheming” [Axios]. “The rise of far-right Republican candidates has some Republicans considering voting Democratic this fall — and some Democrats trying to engineer the rise of ultra-MAGA candidates they feel will be easier to defeat in a general election, writes Axios’ Alexi McCammond…. Embracing unorthodox voting strategies illustrates the concern both parties have about ultra-conservative candidates competing in high-stakes campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.” • Hmm.

KY: “Rand Paul, Charles Booker will face off in Kentucky US Senate’s race” [USA Today]. “[Paul’s] campaign had raked in over $18 million as of April 27, with about $8.7 million left in cash on hand. Comparatively, Booker’s campaign had raised nearly $3.4 million overall as of April 27, with around $474,000 left in cash on hand….. Paul is running on a staunchly conservative platform and has a long history of talking about the need for America to protect personal liberties and to steer clear of socialism. (He literally wrote a book called “The Case Against Socialism.”) He also has been a steadfast skeptic of the need for and purported benefits of U.S. military intervention in foreign conflicts.” • I’d hate to see Booker go all in for warmongering….

KY: “It’s officially Charles Booker vs. Rand Paul in the fall for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat” [McClatchy DC]. “The 37-year-old former single-term state legislator from Louisville easily dispensed with a slate of marginal challengers after narrowly falling to Amy McGrath [lol] in the 2020 Senate primary…. Booker confronts a treacherous political environment and historic headwinds in his race against Paul, the libertarian Republican seeking a third term. Paul easily won his primary on Tuesday as well…. The only public poll of the race, taken in January by Mason-Dixon, found Paul ahead by 16%. And Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate contest in Kentucky in 30 years. But Booker’s nomination will be a test of a progressive proposition: That a more liberal candidate will fare better statewide than a cautious, centrist contender like McGrath or Jim Gray, the former Lexington mayor who fell to Paul by 15 points in 2016.” • I heard Booker on the Trillbillies, and found him quite personable.

NC: “Midterms 2022: Winners and Losers from Tuesday’s Primary Races” [Teen Vogue]. “[P]rogressives also saw hard losses in the state after both Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and former State Sen. Erica Smith lost their primaries. Allam lost to State Sen. Jackie Foushee, and Smith to Don Davis. Both were backed by groups including the Sunrise Movement.”

OR: “Kurt Schrader’s Future Hangs on 90,000 Clackamas County Ballots with Defective Bar Codes” [Willamette Week]. “Results from Oregon’s 5th Congressional District so far show McLeod-Skinner beating Schrader by 61% to 39% with about half the votes counted. Clackamas County offers a faint hope for Schrader. He leads there by 57% to 42%, but a comically low number of votes have been counted. Schrader has 744 to McLeod-Skinner’s 553…. County officials estimate there are at least 90,000 ballots that must be duplicated and then machine counted. At a press conference today, County Chair Tootie Smith said she was sending 200 employees to help with the count and that they would work in two shifts, starting tomorrow…. The county couldn’t say when the results would be known.”

TX: “Jayapal endorses Cisneros in Cuellar primary challenge” [The Hill]. “House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) endorsed progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros in her primary challenge against incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) on Thursday. Jayapal’s backing comes less than a week before the runoff between Cisneros and Cuellar in the state’s 28th Congressional District…. Jayapal previously endorsed Cisneros during her 2020 primary challenge against Cuellar but has avoided getting involved in the primary this year until Thursday. In March’s primary, Cuellar led Cisneros by less than 2 points, sending the race into a runoff.”

Democrats en Déshabillé

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.

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“Is the Democratic Party Giving Up Already? Defeatism and passivity settle over Washington.” [Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine]. “Democrats still have some room to improve their situation. They retain their congressional majority until January, and Joe Manchin has expressed his willingness to negotiate a bill to raise taxes on the rich and fund at least some new programs, including support for green energy. And yet their main response to a looming political and policy catastrophe appears to be fatalistic acceptance. The Manchin situation is exceptionally strange. Manchin has outlined in public the contours of a deal he would accept, while privately conveying to fellow Democrats that he expects them to write a bill that meets his terms. This is an extremely counterproductive and maddening way to operate. At the same time, Democrats need to accept the world as it is and try to make the deal. Instead, they seem to be shrugging their shoulders. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to negotiate with Manchin, which is good, but everybody else seems indifferent or resigned to failure.”

“The Democrats Are Frozen With Fear of the Midterm Voter” [The New Republic]. “Early in the Biden administration, the party put down some clear markers: The daily nonsense of Trump’s tenure would recede into calm; there would be a strong focus on vaccine distribution and ‘reopening’ the country; a country reeling from Covid-19’s ravages would get economic support. Since the summer, however—and particularly after the disastrous, though ultimately justified, withdrawal from Afghanistan—Democrats have been stuck in a muddle. The Build Back Better Act, the cornerstone of the administration’s agenda, has been stymied by Manchin and Sinema. While it may technically remain alive, it has been stalled for six months and is not likely ever to become law. Voting rights have similarly been stalled. The right has succeeded, once again, in turning immigration into a campaign issue, but Democrats have struggled to articulate the extremism of the GOP’s position. What people remember about these failed initiatives is that they foundered amid Democratic infighting. Democrats sabotaged their own legislation either through internecine conflict or hapless negotiations; at times, the party’s support for the Senate filibuster sent the message that the measures trapped behind the arcane rule weren’t real priorities for the party. It’s hard to say what your values are if you’re not getting anything done—it’s especially hard when Democrats are more invested in kicking in the teeth of their own left flank than they are in taking the Republicans to task. Meanwhile, all of this internal dysfunction lets the GOP off the hook—that it opposes some popular ideas is a mere footnote in the larger ‘Dems in disarray’ discourse. Taken as a whole, the Democratic Party’s own vision for the country—what it would agree to do if given more power—is getting obfuscated, and voters are on the verge of rejecting it.” • “Getting obfuscated”?

“Fearing ‘Extinction-Level Event,’ N.Y. Democrats Turn Against Each Other” [New York Times]. “Two weeks ago, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney warned fellow Democrats in a private meeting that a ruling by New York’s highest court to invalidate a Democratic-leaning congressional map could prompt “an extinction-level event” for the party, according to people familiar with the remarks. Democratic incumbents, he feared, could either be shoehorned into more difficult districts or forced into primaries against one another. So on Monday, when the courts finally unveiled a proposed new slate of districts unwinding Democrats’ gerrymander, Mr. Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, knew precisely what to do. Just 25 minutes after the maps’ release, Mr. Maloney announced on Twitter that he would leave behind the bulk of his traditional Hudson Valley seat and run instead for a newly drawn 17th Congressional District rooted in Westchester County. Mr. Maloney lives within the new lines, which happen to offer a safer path for a Democrat than the district he currently represents.” • Big beautiful tent!

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Like, Share, Recruit: How a White-Supremacist Militia Uses Facebook to Radicalize and Train New Members” [Time]. “[T]he Azov movement [is a] Ukrainian militant group that has trained and inspired white supremacists from around the world…. Its fighters resemble the other para-military units—and there are dozens of them—that have helped defend Ukraine against the Russian military over the past six years. But Azov is much more than a militia. It has its own political party; two publishing houses; summer camps for children; and a vigilante force known as the National Militia, which patrols the streets of Ukrainian cities alongside the police. Unlike its ideological peers in the U.S. and Europe, it also has a military wing with at least two training bases and a vast arsenal of weapons, from drones and armored vehicles to artillery pieces. Outside Ukraine, Azov occupies a central role in a network of extremist groups stretching from California across Europe to New Zealand, according to law enforcement officials on three continents…. The main recruitment center for Azov, known as the Cossack House, stands in the center of Kyiv, a four-story brick building . In the courtyard is a cinema and a boxing club. The top floor hosts a lecture hall and a library, full of books by authors who supported German fascism, like Ezra Pound and Martin Heidegger, or whose works were co-opted by Nazi propaganda, like Friedrich Nietzsche and Ernst Jünger. On the ground floor is a shop called Militant Zone, which sells clothes and key chains with stylized swastikas and other neo-Nazi merchandise. ‘It could be described as a small state within a state,’ says Olena Semenyaka, the head of international outreach for the Azov movement. On a tour of the Cossack House in 2019, she told TIME that Azov’s mission was to form a coalition of far-right groups across the Western world, with the ultimate aim of taking power throughout Europe.” • So on the one hand, liberal Democrats are losing their minds about “replacement theory,” a white nationalist ideology said to be espoused by the Buffalo shooter. On the other, liberal Democrats are weeping and wringing their hands about the sad fates of the fascist organization spreading that same ideology over the world. The doublethink is extraordinary. It must take a lot of psychic energy.

Shay Stewart Bouley does a close reading of BLM’s Form 990:

We had a short quote from Bouley yesterday, but that was just an hors d’oeuvre; this is the main. It’s a brutal takedown.

#COVID19

I’ve been treating the charts as topic areas and putting relevant snippets of content under them. But I’m afraid readers miss the snippets. So I decided to put bullets in front of the snippets in the #COVID19 section, as here:

• Maskstravaganza:

Anecdotal, but there are rather a lot of anecdotes.

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Lambert here: I am but a humble tape-watcher, but if some trusting, non-realist soul tells you that “Covid is over,” you can tell them that cases are up, transmission is up, test positivity is up, hospitalization is up, rapid riser counties are up, and wastewater is up, too. And this is all from data designed to support the narrative that “Covid is over,” and gamed within an inch of its life. So, if signals like that are flashing red, consider what the real signal must be like. (Note also this is all with BA.2 only, and with what the establishment considers an “immune wall” made from vaccination and prior infection. Since semper aliquid novi Africam adferre, and we’ve let ‘er rip at the airports…. Well, I just hope we get lucky with BA.4 and BA.5. “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.” –Otto von Bismarck.

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If you missed it, here’s a post on my queasiness with CDC numbers, especially case count, which I (still) consider most important, despite what Walensky’s psychos at CDC who invented “community levels” think. But these are the numbers we have.

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Case count by United States regions:

The train is really rolling, now. Biden has handily beaten Trump’s first two peaks, even accepting the data, which of course nobody does. I have helpfully projected with spurious precision when Biden will beat his own first peak: 46 days, or July 4 (and I swear I didn’t game that). Just in time for a national eruption of superspreader events! (Remember these data points are weekly averages, so daily fluctuations are smoothed out. Also remember, it’s 100% certain the cases numbers are significantly understated. They’ve always been gamed, but it’s worse than before. One source said they though cases might be undercounted by a factor of six. Gottlieb thinks we only pick up one in seven or eight. The black “Fauci Line” is a counter to triumphalism, since it compares current levels to past crises. The blue “Biden Line” shows what the case count would be if it were 101,000 * 6 = 606000, i.e. not gamed. Today is the first time Biden broke 600,000, good job.

Here are cases for the last four weeks:

Worth noting that cases have doubled tripled in four weeks.

• “An Invisible Wave (05/19/22)” (podcast) [Death Panel]. “We discuss the one thing everyone can seemingly agree on: the US is in a new wave, and no one knows quite how big it really is. Then we revisit the CDC’s “community level” metrics, and discuss new reports that the White House is preparing to have to ration vaccines.” • Excellent. Starts out with a discussion of the CDC’s bogus and evil “green map” (see the following NOTE).

NOTE I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. For these reasons, case counts — known to be underestimated, due to home test kits — deserve to stand alone as a number to be tracked, no matter how much the political operatives in CDC leadership would like to obfuscate it. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker:

I’m leaving the corporate logo on as a slap to the goons at CDC.

MWRA wastewater data:

Look vertical to me…..

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.

Cases lag wastewater data.

From Biobot Analytics:

What’s with the enormous upward revision for the Northeast? The other thing I’m not liking is that big time lag with the variants. April 27? I want to know about BA.4 and BA.5 (dubbed “variants of concern” by The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) last week, but not WHO).

From CDC Community Profile Reports (PDFs), “Rapid Riser” counties:

Status quo. Maybe data is coming in so slowly there are no updates, so CDC will have killed off another useful too.

The previous release:

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

The Northeast remains stubbornly and solidly red. Now California is red as well. The Upper Midwest is moving that way, too.

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile). Here is yesterday’s map, for comparison:

Today, the table of contents for the CDC Community Profile still lists “Trends in hospital admissions per 100 beds during the last 8 weeks (state, regional, and national hospital admission curves)” on page 22, as has been true for months. Today, however, on the actual page 22, there is a different chart with a different title:

(“Trends in Hospital Inpatient Covid Utilization During the Last 8 Weeks” — the “per 100 beds” part has been removed.) What could account for the change? Green. The new map is green. And the only upward-pointing arrow is in the Virgin Islands. Hopefully, this is a mistake, and not a typical CDC example of sloppy copy-editing (the table of contents) combined with gaming the data.

A new way for hospitals to game the data:

IM Doc writes: “I would guess with Omicron about 60% of the patients were on Dexamethasone – so no – not an adequate proxy” for hospitalization.

Just a reminder:

As with everything else, because the United States is not a serious country, our hospitalization data is bad. Here the baseilne is off:

• ”What COVID Hospitalization Numbers Are Missing” [Ed Yong, The Atlantic]. “For weeks now, as COVID-19 cases have ticked upward in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, pundits and political leaders have offered a supposedly reassuring refrain: Cases might be climbing, but hospitalizations aren’t yet following suit.” And they were lying, as the hospitalization chart that CDC ran until today conclusively showed. More: “The Biden administration shares those hopes: Having apparently given up on curtailing the coronavirus, it is counting on vaccines and treatments decoupling infection from severe illness enough to prevent the health-care system from becoming inundated again…. Biden’s strategy overlooks a crucial truth: The health-care system is still in crisis mode. The ordeals of the past two years have tipped the system—and its people—into a chronic, cumulative state of overload that does not fully abate in the moments of respite between COVID waves…. America’s current pandemic strategy is predicated on the assumption that people can move on from COVID, trusting that the health-care system will be ready to hold the line. But that assumption is a fiction. Much of the system is still intolerably stressed, even in moments of apparent reprieve. And the CDC’s community guidelines are set such that by the time preventive actions are triggered, high levels of sickness and death will be locked in for the near future.” • Well worth a read.

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 1,028,014 1,027,285. Still down and way too high. I have added an anti-triumphalist Fauci Line.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

Broadly down, but what on earth just happened in the UIK? Data issues, hopefully? (Note the quality of these numbers varies wildly. For example, the UK is cutting back on testing data.

The excess deaths chart appears weekly, on Friday:

What kind of organization puts “in recent weeks” in an explanatory dropdown, and then obviously never comes back to check? Look at the qualifications in that drop-down. And the ginormous typo, helpfully highlighted, has been there for weeks. CDC, if you’re reading this, please send a signal by getting this fixed. And then throw some documents over the transom. In complete confidentiality! Obviously, nobody at CDC is checking the excess deaths chart, because otherwise the typo would be fixed. I certainly hope there are no “coding errors” in the algo.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased by 21 thousand to 218 thousand in the week ended May 14th, from a revised 197 thousand in the previous period and above the market estimate of 200 thousand. It is the highest reading since the week ended January 22nd.”

Manufacturing: “United States Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index in the US dropped sharply to 2.6 in May of 2022, the lowest in 2 years, and well below forecasts of 16. A slowdown was seen in inventories (3.2 vs 11.9), employment (25.5 vs 41.4) and the average workweek (16.1 vs 20.8) while new orders (22.1 vs 17.8) and shipments (35.3 vs 19.1) rose faster.”

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Shipping: “Container xChange survey: Peak season container shipping ‘chaos’ on the way” [Hellenic Shipping News]. “The latest Container xChange survey titled ‘xChange Industry Pulse Survey’ found that 51% of respondents expect the 2022 iteration of the peak season to be ‘worse’ than last year. 26% predicted this year’s peak season would be less chaotic than in 2021, while 22% expect the level of ‘chaos’ to be the same. The peak container shipping season traditionally occurs in the third quarter of each year as retailers build up inventories ahead of the fourth quarter holiday and shopping season. Last year, cargo surges resulted in record container shipping freight rates, delivery delays, port congestion, and reliability of container shipping services.”

The Bezzle: “Could Tether be the catalyst of a crypto apocalypse?” [PC Gamer]. “Tether has faced criticism due to its lack of transparency on exactly what it’s reserves are, and how much they’re actually worth. The recent Tether redemptions have served as something of a stress test. Despite some fluctuations during peak trading last week, the 1:1 dollar peg remains intact…. Despite Tether maintaining its value for now, questions about its level of transparency remain. Last year the company paid an $18.5 million fine to the New York attorney general’s office to settle a long running probe. NY attorney general Letitia James’ office at one time said ‘Bitfinex and Tether recklessly and unlawfully covered-up massive financial losses to keep their scheme going and protect their bottom lines,’ before adding ‘Tether’s claims that its virtual currency was fully backed by U.S. dollars at all times was a lie.’ That’s not the sort of thing you want to read if you’re trading with USDT. For now, Tether appears to be able to weather these fluctuations and maintain its $1 peg, but if Tether were to collapse, crypto would be facing an apocalypse the likes of which it has never seen. As always, trade carefully and be aware of the risks!”

The Bezzle: “There Are Just Three Explanations for Elon Musk’s Unhinged Behavior Right Now” [Slate]. “Theory 1: Musk Wants to Buy Twitter at a Lower Price…. Theory 2: Musk Is a Troll and He Is Mostly Trolling…. Theory 3: Musk Doesn’t Want the Deal at All and He’s Trying to Nuke It.” • Theory 4: Hubris and Drugs?

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 9 Extreme Fear (previous close: 9 Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 6 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 19 at 1:54 PM EDT. Mr. Bitcoin still sad?

The Gallery

Pooh and Piglet?

The 420

“Are ‘California sober’ nuptials the latest wedding trend?” [Los Angeles Times]. “Flitcraft, a video editor, and Gavin, an auto glass repairman — both of whom live in the Sonoma County community of Cotati — said they knew that cannabis would be a part of their wedding next spring in one form or another no matter what. They were considering edible party offerings and hiring a budtender too. That conviction — couples wanting cannabis at their weddings, even if their guests didn’t quite understand — resounded all throughout the expo room [of a waterfront wedding expo in Richmond], and appears to have grown stronger during the pandemic.” • Meanwhile, the practitioners who made the market are still rotting in jail….

Class Warfare

“Redefining the Working Class” [The Baffler]. “The United States, however, is much closer now than it was in the era of the Reagan Democrats to a transformation, a point at which the working class will no longer be predominantly white. According to Census Bureau projections, we are still about twenty years away from the tipping point when the population as a whole is more than 50 percent non-white. But we are about ten years away from the point where people of color will represent a majority of the working class, according to a 2016 report by Valerie Rawlston Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy. Defined in this context as workers with less than a bachelor’s degree, in 2013, about two-thirds of the entire workforce was “working class.” But the white share of that bloc is falling and is likely to dip below 50 percent by 2032.”

News of the Wired

“Can dogs be pets, N.Y. judge asks lawyer trying to free Happy the elephant” [Reuters]. “Would granting a female elephant some of the same rights as humans mean people could no longer keep dogs as pets? That was among the questions that judges on New York state’s top court during arguments in Albany on Wednesday asked a lawyer for an animal rights group that is pushing to free Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo…. New York’s habeas corpus law does not define “person,” and the group said Happy should be recognized as one….. [Some] judges appeared concerned that expanding certain legal rights to elephants could be a slippery slope. ‘Does that mean I couldn’t keep a dog?’ Associate Judge Jenny Rivera asked. Monica Miller, a lawyer for the group, replied that there is not as much evidence about dogs’ cognitive abilities as there is for elephants.” • I don’t know about “cognitive abilities,” here (even if I’m not a dog person). It seems like a fragile line to draw — like 15 weeks in Roe v. Wade.

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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 JU:

JU writes: “Some sort of mushroom in Sequoia NP. Never seen this one before!” Looks like an alien infestation….

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NOTE ON PAYPAL: As some readers may know, PayPal whacked Consortium News’s account, for no justification that I can see. It’s to be hoped that Consortium News has its account completely restored, and that NC doesn’t come under the same ban hammer. In the meantime, until I/we can come up with an alternative, I must continue to rely on PayPal (and rely I do). I will be cleaning out the account daily, and PayPal does give a heads-up, so your risk is minimal. Please carry on as before, or, if you feel you must, write me and I will send you directions for sending a check. Please put “PayPal” in the subject line. Thank you for your support! It is much appreciated, and helps me with responsibilities. –lambert

Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful 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:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated:

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

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