Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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2:00PM Water Cooler 9/21/2022

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Saxaul Sparrow, farmland around Ruoqiang Xingjiang, Xinjiang, China. Sounds like I’m hearing farm machinery in the background, too….

* * *

Politics

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

“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“You can’t really dust for vomit.” Nigel Tufnel, This is Spinal Tap

Biden Administration

It’s absurd to think Biden misspoke:

Hey, remember when the adults were going to be in charge, and one of them was Klain, touted as a pandemic expert because of his Ebola experience? Good times.

Like roaches scuttling into the light:

Kudos to “Typos of the New York Times.” Amazing what a good copy editor can do.

* * *

Good for Ossoff:

Seems like a thankless task. Do I have to change my mind about this guy?

2022

* * *

AZ: “Scoop: McConnell-aligned super PAC pulls out of Arizona” [Axios]. “The Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund is canceling $9.6 million in television ads for the Arizona Senate race, confident that other outside conservative groups will make up much of the difference for Republican nominee Blake Masters. The cancellations mean that the GOP’s leading super PAC won’t be spending any money in Arizona, one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country. Its allied nonprofit arm spent several millions in the state on issue ads over the summer. Other GOP-aligned super PACs, including one affiliated with the conservative Heritage Action for America super PAC, will be making up some of the difference.”

PA:

PA: “Dr. Oz Pushes Medicare Privatization For All” [Lever News]. From August, still germane: “[Oz bills his own health care plan] as ‘Medicare Advantage for All.’ Such a program could move seniors and most Americans into private insurance plans that have been raising premiums and denying roughly one in ten medical claims, according to a recent government report finding that the plans frequently refuse to cover services required by Medicare. To pay for his privatization plan, Oz has proposed a 20 percent payroll tax, which would ultimately transfer money from workers to the Republican Party’s private insurance donors that have been reporting record profits while jacking up premiums. In other words, Oz himself wants to increase taxes on lower- and middle-class Americans to fund his own version of a corporate-run, universal health care system — one that could come with high patient costs, continued barriers to care, and a windfall for the health insurance industry.”

2024

“Trump, company and family members sued by New York AG over alleged fraud scheme” [Politico]. “New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed suit against former President Donald Trump, three of his adult children and his business empire, accusing them of large-scale fraudulent financial practices and seeking to bar them from real estate transactions for the next five years. The attorney general’s civil suit alleges more than a decade of deception, including billions of dollars in falsified net worth, as part of an effort to minimize his companies’ tax bills while winning favorable terms from banks and insurance companies… James’ suit relies on a special statute for repeat instances of alleged violations of the law, stemming from real estate transactions. She is also filing a criminal referral to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and a separate tax fraud referral to the IRS for the same underlying allegations.” • But what is one lawsuit among so many?

“TRANSCRIPT OF CIVIL CAUSE FOR PREMOTION CONFERENCE BEFORE THE HONORABLE RAYMOND J. DEARIE SPECIAL MASTER” [Ronald Richards]. • From page 19:

I called out this page because a lot of Democrats are spiking the ball in the end zone over “have your cake and eat it.” But Trusty is a Trump lawyer, and Dearie seems to be in agreement with him. Frankly, I’m completely over my head on this, and perhaps one of the legal eagles in the commentariat can make sense of it.

As I said, always use a wide-angle lens:

I mean, if you’re a working reporter, and not some kinda artist.

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!). 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. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“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.

* * *

Join the club:

#COVID19

• They can’t help themselves:

* * *

• ”Nasal Vaccines May Not Be The Game Changer We Think They Are” [Forbes]. This, to me, is the key point. The data: “Both China and India have provided limited data from trials of their mucosal vaccines. Data from a phase II trial of CanSino’s inhaled vaccine found that when given as a booster, the vaccine raised blood-serum antibody levels significantly more than a CanSino intramuscular booster injection. Indian vaccine developer Bharat compared its intranasal vaccine to Covaxin, a Covid-19 intramuscular injection available in India, by measuring antibody levels in the blood, deeming it successful but did not publicly release the results of the trial. Neither has been compared to mRNA intramuscular injection, currently the gold standard for Covid-19 vaccines. Even less data is available on the efficacy of the other mucosal Covid-19 vaccines. Iran approved a Covid-19 vaccine administered as a nasal spray and made by Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute in Karaj in October 2021. More than 5,000 doses have been delivered to the public. Russia’s health ministry is reported to have approved an intranasal-spray version of Sputnik V, but neither country has published data on efficacy in humans. We can always hope for the best with the development of nasal vaccines, but we must also prepare alternatives.” • I do think this is a little bit naive, or indeed disingenuous, about the power structure in the industry. That so-called “gold standard” is deeply, deeply politicized by Big Pharma. Further, the “gold standard” takes no account of the requirements for cold chain delivery and needle injection. Those two requirements rule out billions of people.

* * *

• “Polio is the next front in the disinformation wars” [Politico]. “But unlike the 1950s and ‘60s, when the public largely embraced new vaccines as salvation from a disease that terrified communities and condemned paralyzed children to iron lungs, public health officials today have to deal with rising anti-vax misinformation and disinformation. So the last thing they need is a particularly inartful and confusing expression — “vaccine-derived polio” — to make their job even harder, several worried experts told Nightly.” And: “But people who get the oral version [as in the United States] do excrete minute traces of the virus, which can reach the water supply and sometimes mutate. Exposure to that mutated version is how people ‘derive’ polio. Those water-borne traces ‘don’t infect anyone when people are vaccinated,’ [Heidi Larson, a medical anthropologist who is one of the world’s leading experts on vaccine hesitancy] told Nightly. ‘Where it thrives … is where there’s low vaccination.’ During Covid, vaccination programs lagged across the world, for polio and other childhood diseases. The spread of anti-vax sentiments isn’t helping.”

* * *

• “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: The ‘End’ of the Pandemic and Long COVID” [Mike the Mad Biologist]. “Over the weekend, CBS 60 Minutes aired an interview with Biden, in which he proclaimed ‘the pandemic is over.’ Leaving aside all of the ways this is harmful, such as ‘why should I get a booster, especially if I had side effects, now that the pandemic is over?’, what I found frustrating was Scott Pelle’s inability to ask Biden about long COVID. In fairness, the entire political press corps along with celebrity journalists don’t ask about long COVID. But it’s getting really enraging. The point isn’t to ‘ding’ Biden (though if that motivates hacks to ask the question, I can work with that), but to get an answer about long COVID. I haven’t seen much polling on the issue, but my sense–not just my personal vibes–is that people who are still be conscientious about mask wearing are motivated in no small part by a desire to avoid long-term or permanent illness. Given the frequency of long COVID in vaccinated and boosted people–as best as I can tell, one percent is the rough lower bound (a paper I’ll discuss tomorrow suggests that could be higher)–you are not the weirdo if you’re trying to avoid getting (re-)infected. You’re not. America, in the Year 2022 of Our Gritty, is not a place you want to be disabled, even temporarily.” • Well, you are, but that’s a good place to be. See Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.

* * *

• Maskstravaganza: “The Mask-Optional DEI Initiative” [Bill of Health, Harvard University]. “I will be direct: schools that have officially departed from masking, including begrudgingly “allowing” people to still mask if they individually choose to do so, are stating an ongoing commitment to purposeful exclusion…. The rejection of masking during an ongoing pandemic by institutions of higher education and their leaders is clear evidence of how disabled people are regularly and purposefully excluded from full participation in colleges and universities. It follows, then, that necessary conversations about access — access in an ever-evolving sense, which anticipates and responds to the complex, changing, conflicting needs of disabled students, faculty, and staff — are not formally occurring and are unlikely to occur at these institutions.” • Sounds to me like the “necessary conversation” should take the form of a ginormous lawsuit, starting at Harvard.

• “I Was Fired for Asking Students to Wear Masks” [Texas Observer]. “[M]y career at Collin College came crashing down at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, when I recommended that my students wear masks to keep themselves and others safe from COVID-19. My administration often has not treated the pandemic with the seriousness warranted by the deadliest event ever to befall Americans (in terms of total fatalities, anyway). Like much of the country, Collin College shut down in the middle of the spring semester in 2020, with classes offered online. However, by that summer, the college president, Neil Matkin, made clear he intended to resume mostly in-person teaching by the fall, and he used language that faculty found unnerving. At one point, Matkin claimed that masks were only 10 percent effective in preventing COVID transmission. He said the reported deaths were “clearly inflated.” He insisted Texans faced more danger from car accidents. “The effects of this pandemic have been blown utterly out of proportion,” Matkin proclaimed in an August 15, 2020, email sent to all employees. (A quick Texas statistics check shows how wrong he was: County health authorities reported 31,315 deaths from COVID in 2020, far more than the 3,896 motor vehicle fatalities recorded that year.)” • I wish university administrations wouldn’t make sh*t up. It’s unseemly.

• Maskstravaganze: On Covid-detecting masks:

But if the mask alarm went off, at least I could leave the area, and at the least reduce my dose….

• Mastravaganza:

Stickers for school kids, naturally, although for parents and schools who have given up on protecting children I suppose that won’t matter.

* * *

Case Count

Case count for the United States:

Cases are undercounted, one source saying by a factor of six, Gottlieb thinking we only pick up one in seven or eight.) Hence, I take the nominal case count and multiply it by six to approximate the real level of cases, and draw the DNC-blue “Biden Line” at that point. The previous count was ~60,600. Today, it’s ~60,500 and 60,500 * 6 = a Biden line at 363,600. (Remember these data points are weekly averages, so daily fluctuations are smoothed out.) The black “Fauci Line” is a counter to triumphalism, since it compares current levels to past crises. If you look at the Fauci line, you will see that despite the bleating and yammering about Covid being “over,” we have only just recently reached the (nominal) case level of November 1, 2021, and we are very far from that of July 1, 2021. And the real level is much worse.

Lambert here: The fall in case count looks impressive enough. What the Fauci Line shows, however, is that we have at last achieved the level of the initial peak, when New York was storing the bodies in refrigerator trucks. So the endzone celebrations are, to my mind, premature. Not that anyone will throw a flag. Of course, the real story is in the charts for California and the South. See below.

• “NY schools no longer required to report COVID-19 cases; statewide data tracker shut down” [Gothamist]. “The COVID-19 Report Card, a long-running collection of public health data from schools across New York, has been taken offline. Concerned New York City parents noticed this week that the report card’s webpage — schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov — now redirects to the New York State Department of Health’s main page on its COVID-19 response. But the pivot was made over the summer, according to Cadence Acquaviva, a spokesperson for the state health department. The agency also wouldn’t rule out shuttering other COVID-19 trackers in the future.” And no mitigations either:

Regional case count for four weeks:

The South:

The South (minus Texas and Florida):

Encouraging.

The West:

California on a high plateau all of its own,

Wastewater

SITE DOWN* Wastewater data (CDC), September 13:

Lambert here: I added all the dots back in. The number of grey dots really concerns me. How can all the sites for international air travel center New York be grey (“no recent data”). And California’s pretty gappy, too.

For grins, September 11:

NOTE * If I can’t get the page to load in five tries, it’s down, dammit. As temporizer, here’s the latest MWRA data:

Nothing earth-shattering, but definitely up.

Positivity

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, September 10:

-4.0%. Good news!

Transmission

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. Use the community transmission immediately below.

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.)

Rapid Riser data, by county (CDC), September 20:

I suppose that if case counts are indeed level, it’s likely there would be few rapid risers.

Previous Rapid Riser data:

Hospitalization data, by state (CDC), September 20:

If I had been fooled by CDC’s “Community Levels” okey-dokey, I’d be pretty happy right now.

NOTE: Rapid Riser and Hospitalization data are updated Wednesdays and Fridays.

Variants

Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. I looked for more charts: California doesn’t to a BA.4/BA.5 breakdown. New York does but it, too, is on a molasses-like two-week cycle. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? Additional sources from readers welcome [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk].

Variant data, national (Walgreens), September 10:

Still no sign of BA.2.75 at Walgreens, despite its appearance in CDC data below.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), August 27 (Nowcast off):

Two highlights: BA.4.6 has assumed a slightly greater proportion (more in the NowCast model, which I refuse to use). Also, first appearance of BA.2.75. So where is it, you ask?

The above chart shows variants nationally. I have gone through the CDC regions and made a table. As you can see, BA.2.75 is prominent in Region 2 (New York and New Jersey), followed by Region 5 (Midwest), and Region 1 (Northeast). Hmm.

Table 1: CDC Regional BA.2.75 Data, Sorted by % Total

CDC Region % Total States in Region
Region 2: 0.8% New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands
Region 5: 0.7% Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin
Region 1: 0.7% Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
Region 3: 0.4% Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia
Region 4: 0.4% Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee
Region 7: 0.3% lowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska
Region 6: 0.0% Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas
Region 8: 0.0% Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming
Region 9: 0.0% Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands….
Region 10: 0.0% Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington

Let’s see if BA.2.75 starts doubling.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Lambert here: Not sure why World in Data changed the color to red.

Total: 1,079,206 – 1,078,938 = 268 (268 * 365 = 97,820, which is today’s LivingWith™* number (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, thought they can talk themselves into anything. Fluctuates quite a bit, but even the low numbers are bad). I have added an anti-triumphalist black Fauci Line.

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

• Handy chart:

• ”Who Is Still Dying From Covid? The CDC Can’t Answer That” [Bloomberg]. Of course not. Interesting last paragraph: “There’s another deceptive factor that can make it look like everyone is in pretty good shape, said Andrew Noymer, a demographer and associate professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine. The infection fatality rate, a number many were obsessed with finding early in the pandemic, is probably now close to that of flu. But the disease is killing a lot more people than flu because so many people are getting Covid. It’s common for people to get Covid several times a year, whereas people tend to get flu — at most — several times a decade.” • 

Stats Watch

* * *

Energy: Oregon, OH:

That’s the third refinery fire in my recent memory, at least. Odd.

Supply Chain: “Amazon Air Cargo Flights Grow at Slowest Pace Since Early Pandemic” [Bloomberg]. “Amazon.com Inc.’s cargo airline is growing at the slowest pace since the start of the pandemic, the latest sign that the e-commerce giant is adjusting to slackening demand…. The world’s largest online retailer entered this year with too many workers and facilities as consumers returned to normal shopping habits. Amazon has shuttered, delayed or abandoned plans for dozens of warehouses in the US and Europe, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. The company reduced its workforce — primarily through attrition, Amazon says — by almost 100,000 people between March and June, the biggest quarterly decline in its history. ”

Retail: “‘Line balk’ is one of the biggest obstacles facing popular chains like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A — here’s what it is and how they’re fighting it” [Insider]. “Drive-thrus are the source of massive sales at both chains. Starbucks says about 50% of sales currently come through drive-thrus. New locations will cater to customers’ desire for drive-thrus even better, the chain says, with 90% of new stores having drive-thru service, and building new formats including drive-thru only locations.” • ”Waiting in line” isn’t the same as a “drive-thru.” That said, I suppose not sharing air is a benefit, pollution aside.

The Bezzle:

“Revered” NFT “artsts”? Kidding, right?

Manufacturing: “China Meets With Boeing, Raising Hopes for 737 MAX Flight Resumption” [Wall Street Journal]. “The Civil Aviation Administration of China held an evaluation meeting last week with Boeing’s U.S. and China teams to review the training protocols for pilots, the CAAC News, a news outlet run by the regulator, said Tuesday. The regulator will release a revised report on the plane once questions raised at the meeting are resolved, the news outlet said, adding that it offered hope that the process to reintroduce the 737 MAX to China would be completed soon. The CAAC News didn’t provide a timeline. A spokesperson for Boeing said the company would continue to work with customers and global regulators, including the CAAC, to safely return the 737 MAX to service worldwide.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 39 Fear (previous close: 36 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 41 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Sep 21 at 12:45 PM EDT.

The Gallery

Ceci est un signe (MG):

Zeitgeist Watch

“The Dark Side of Frictionless Technology” [The Atlantic]. “I’m quite drawn to this idea of creativity through submission. It perfectly describes my experience learning and struggling with improvisation on the guitar. To speak fluently through a guitar, you have to submit to the rote practice of training your fingers to find each note of a given scale and its various positions, which is its own separate challenge and set of rigid rules. But even after you’ve locked in the muscle memorization, you must contend with the realities of a song and its chord progression. To make the instrument sing, you have to work within its constraints. Real, genuine musical expression is possible only when you’re innately familiar with the math and geometry of the instrument, and use its rules as a road map to get to where you want to go. Crawford goes even further, arguing: ‘The example of the musician sheds light on the basic character of human agency, namely, that it arises only within concrete limits that are not of our making.’ His claim is part of a bigger argument about most technology, which (writing from 2009) he laments has become aggressively convenient.” And: “Crawford’s maxim [is] that ‘things need fixing and tending no less than creating.’”

“‘Left to hold my grief alone.’ Grieving platonic love in a culture of romantic domination” [Scalawag]. “Romantic love is not a fixture in my life. Platonic love and community will always be my most significant and most cherished non-familial intimate connections in this world. Living in a culture dominated by romance, this makes me an oddity. For people like me—whether we are seen as oddities, non-conformists, relational misfits, freaks of nature, inhumans, undesirables, or just romantic failures—our focus on platonic love and community leaves us too often grieving lost friendships and unrealized intimacies when romance ultimately, inevitably wins out. In a society that privileges romantic partnership, all other connections will inevitably be treated as lesser, and those who are not romantically partnered are seen as less worthy of care—both intentionally and inadvertently. This is true at the personal level, and even on an institutional level: Single people, those not romantically attached, experience documented prejudice and discrimination in our romance-centric society. Stereotyped as being less functional and less productive members of society, unpartnered people—especially if we are also childfree—are often asked to put ourselves in more danger than our coupled counterparts, expected to work longer hours and accept more undesirable assignments than our romantically-partnered coworkers. Policies like paid leave and medicaid expansion are biased against unpartnered people. It’s even harder to gain access to life-saving organ transplants without being romantically attached to someone.”

Groves of Academe

“The case for lotteries as a tiebreaker of quality in research funding” [Nature]. “Earlier this month, the British Academy, the United Kingdom’s national academy for humanities and social sciences, introduced an innovative process for awarding small research grants. The academy will use the equivalent of a lottery to decide between funding applications that its grant-review panels consider to be equal on other criteria, such as the quality of research methodology and study design…. Other funders should consider whether they should now follow in these footsteps. That’s because it is becoming clear that randomization is a fairer way to allocate grants when applications are too close to call, as a study from the Research on Research Institute in London shows (see go.nature.com/3s54tgw). Doing so would go some way to assuage concerns, especially in early-career researchers and those from historically marginalized communities, about the lack of fairness when grants are allocated using peer review.” • Now let’s do the same for college admissions.

Class Warfare

“Amazon Promotes Ex-Private Prison Exec to Run Warehouse Training” [Matt Stoller, BIG]. “It’s always fun to keep an eye on Amazon’s internal personnel moves, because they speak to the general culture of the pacesetting firm in American retail and commerce. And something telling happened recently. A contact pointed out to me that last week Amazon shuffled its management teams across its warehouse divisions, revealing that it had promoted the company’s head of loss prevention in the Americas and a former analyst at a private prison company – Dayna Howard- to the head of training for warehouse workers. Following Howard’s path is interesting for what it says about Amazon. She started her career at the private prison giant known as Corrections Corporation of America, which has since been renamed CoreCivic because it had such a toxic brand. (Some fun controversies involved letting private gangs run an Indiana prison to save costs, and stock manipulation.) At CCA, according to her LinkedIn page, Howard “re-vamped inmate admission process and revised all processing documentation. Resulted in a 20% reduction in inmate processing time and a reduced error rate.” Howard was apparently good at designing systems to herd prisoners. So naturally, she went to Amazon.” • Jeff, come on. It’s not funny anymore.

* * *

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: “Las Vegas does a pretty good job at making artful displays of palm trees. This is at the entrance of the Red Rock Resort.” Palm trees rattle at night. A very odd sound!

* * *

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