2:00PM Water Cooler 7/1/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. Our problem states, with New York for comparison:

TX: “COVID-19 messes with Texas: What went wrong, and what other states can learn as younger people get sick” [The Conversation]. “The July 4 holiday weekend usually means cookouts and big gatherings in Texas, but right now, the state is facing a public health catastrophe…. It did not begin like this. Texas had lower COVID-19 rates and case counts than many other large states through most of the spring. When the pandemic arrived in Texas in early March, state officials provided clear messages that the virus was a dangerous threat and that public health safety precautions would be necessary. They ordered travel restrictions between Texas and Louisiana, where New Orleans had an outbreak, and instituted a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for anyone from high-risk areas flying into the state. Local leaders issued stay-at-home orders, and the governor followed with a similar statewide order in April and closed nonessential businesses. As the shutdown continued, however, COVID-19 cases didn’t overwhelm the health care system as feared. The governor allowed the stay-at-home order to lapse on April 30 and began reopening the economy. The weekend the order ended, Texas’ beaches were crowded with people, many no longer worrying about social distancing or wearing masks. Restaurants and bars began reopening, bringing more people together. Now, the risk has shifted again, and in a very short time frame.” • “Re-opening” increasingly seems like the wrong word (though one understands that states and localities, not being currency issuers, must be in an increasingly desperate situation as economic life, and with it, tax revenue, withers.

TX: “Texas bar owner organizes ‘Bar Lives Matter’ concert in protest of governor’s orders” [The Hill]. “”You can’t tell me that my tiny little bar is the problem. He’s the problem,” [Tee Allen Parker, owner of The Machine Shed Bar & Grill in Kilgore, about two hours southeast of Dallas], who is one of multiple Texas bar owners who have banned the wearing of masks in their establishments, said of Abbott in an interview with The Washington Post. ‘He’s targeting us, and it’s discrimination.’ Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney representing Parker and 21 other plaintiffs, said Abbott’s order illegally bypasses the legislative process and unfairly singles out bars while allowing businesses like barber shops and hair salons to continue operating. ‘This one individual is picking and choosing winners and losers,’ Woodfill told the Post. ‘Gov. Abbott has chosen to sentence bar owners to bankruptcy.’”


“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 Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

The electoral map. As of June 30: Still no change. So, regardless of polling, the consensus (aggregating ten organizations) remains the same.

So, taking the consensus as a given, 270 (total) – 204 (Trump’s) = 66. Trump must win 66 from the states in play: AZ (11), FL (29), MI (16), NC (15), PA (20), and WI (10) plus 1 to win not tie = 102. 102 – 66 = 36. So if Trump wins FL, MI, NC, and PA (29 + 16 + 15 + 20 = 80), he wins. That’s a heavy lift. I think I’ve got the math right this time!


Biden (D)(1): “Ex-George W. Bush officials launch new group supporting Joe Biden” [CNN]. “‘A lot of us who worked in government, who have held positions of public integrity, we know what normal is,’ [Kristopher Purcell, who worked in the Office of Communications in the White House and in the State Department during the Bush administration] told CNN. ‘We’re seeing now what abnormal is and we’re seeing the damage it can do to the country. We’re seeing the way it can divide the country.’” • There are said to be 200 endorsers, but 43 Alumni for Biden does not list (yet) list them, so I haven’t had time to sort for the war criminals.

Biden (D)(2): Barbara Lee is a [x] black [x] woman. So why isn’t she in Biden’s Veepstakes? Maybe because she got it right on Iraq? Or:

Sanders (D)(1): Alert reader Sam comments:

Maybe an even bigger factor is the environment of media misinformation and narrative control that surrounds us every day. WMD in Iraq, Russiagate, now this Russian bounty story – it’s not at all surprising that people don’t know what to believe and therefore choose to be believe no one and nothing unless confirmed by their own experience. It’s not just COVID. I often ran into similar skepticism when canvassing for Sanders before the primary.

My analysis of the pathways to misfortune for the Sanders campaign is still hung up, because there’s been no reporting involving actual voters on why the campaign’s theory of change misfired. Reading Sam’s comments, it occurred to me that canvassers might have a good sense of what the voters they contacted were thinking (supporters or no), as well as voters they did not contact, who they might have expected to. If I could interview, say, half a dozen canvassers, I might get some sense of what happened (and not what the media thinks happened). Anyone interested in helping me out can contact me using the address about the plant; please put “SANDERS” in the subject line. (I’m not interested in the failings of the Sanders campaign, but the mindset of voters.) Thank you!

Sanders (D)(2): C’mon, Bernie. Don’t negotiate with yourself. That’s for liberals:

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“How Jamaal Bowman Beat Rep. Eliot Engel In The Bronx” [HuffPo]. “Ahead of the 2020 election cycle, Justice Democrats collaborated with the polling firm and think tank Data for Progress to help craft a system for ranking Democratic House seats based on their ripeness for a primary challenge. Incumbent Democrats were given a numerical score reflecting the relative conservatism of their voting record and views, their seniority among House Democrats, their membership in centrist caucuses, the youthfulness and racial diversity of their district, the number of competitive elections they had survived and the typical turnout in their elections. For example, the two groups gave higher scores to white people representing majority-minority districts but also for seats with lower turnout, which tends to mean it would take less money to amass a winning number of votes….. a network of left-wing campaign vendors has cropped up to serve the nascent sector of progressive candidates. That boomlet ironically accelerated when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the House Democrats’ campaign arm, announced in March 2019 that it was blacklisting any consultants who worked for candidates challenging incumbent House Democrats. The move forced many already progressive consultancies to pick sides, prompting them to specialize in progressive campaigns. It was a new space with fewer of the old players and, for the firms willing to risk banishment from the establishment, more room to experiment. And progressive candidates looking for consultants willing to work for them needed only to look on DCCCBlacklist.com, a website Justice Democrats erected just for the purpose. ‘The DCCC inadvertently created an ecosystem that ended up fostering a lot of innovation,’ [Data for Progress’s Sean] McElwee said.” • The Bowman campaign is also said to have recreated “the Obama coalition.”

“A QAnon Supporter Just Beat A Republican Congressman in Colorado” [HuffPo]. • Maybe QANON and the RussiaGaters can exchange tips on yarn diagrams.


“Freedom Rider: Russia, Afghanistan, and the Big Lie” [Black Agenda Report]. “There is no end to the Russiagate fraud. All major charges have been disproved. No one was convicted of the dreaded “collusion” that was reported endlessly for the last four years. Damning information is now declassified and casts doubt on the veracity of the whole story. CrowdStrike, the Democratic National Committee cyber security firm, admitted under oath they had no proof of hacking by Russia or anyone else. Robert Mueller ended his two-year long, multi-million dollar investigation with nothing except convictions for process crimes. Why then did the New York Times print a story with an unnamed intelligence agency source claiming that the Russian government paid the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan? The charge is ludicrous on its face but the story is quite useful to people who want to hide their own criminality while simultaneously keeping Trump hamstrung in an election year…. It is also important to mention that the Trump administration has been in peace talks with the Taliban. A troop drawdown would certainly help his electoral prospects. All the more reason to generate confusion.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

“About Face” (comic) [Popula]. • Vehicular design, men’s clothing, the Death’s Head, and militarization.

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

Employment Situation: “June 2020 Job Cuts Over 1,200,000 – Highest On Record” [Econintersect]. “Job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers hit 1,238,364 in the second quarter, the highest quarterly total on record. June job cuts totaled 170,219, down 57% from May’s total of 397,016, and up 306% from the 41,977 cuts recorded in the same month last year. Prior to when cuts began to increase this year in March, it is the highest monthly total since February 2009, when 186,350 job cuts were announced.”

Employment Situation: “June 2020 ADP Employment Gains 2,369,000” [Econintersect]. “ADP reported non-farm private jobs growth at 2,369,000 which was below expectations. A quote from the ADP authors: “70 percent of the jobs added this month were in the leisure and hospitality, trade and construction industries.” Last month’s employment gain significantly revised upward. It will be interesting to see what the BLS says is the jobs growth. ADP employment has not been a good predictor of BLS non-farm private job growth.”

Employment Situation: “The BLS error that’s made unemployment look lower than it really is for 3 months straight” [Journalists Resource]. “On May 8, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. unemployment rate for April stood at 14.7%. On June 5, the BLS reported an unexpected improvement in the unemployment rate for May, to 13.3%. While unemployment remains historically high, some economists had predicted a spike to 20%. News outlets questioned how economists could have missed the mark so badly. Surely some prognostications were way off, but those widely reported official unemployment numbers didn’t reflect reality. Tucked away in the May jobs report: detail of a misclassification error making the official unemployment rate lower than it should have been. In the midst of an unprecedented economic shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, survey takers had misclassified some workers as “employed but absent from work,” rather than “unemployed on temporary layoff,” according to the BLS. The actual unemployment rate for April might have been north of 19% — up to 19.5%. The rate for May likely breached 16%. The misclassification happened during the March survey too. Unemployment that month was roughly 5.3%, not 4.4% as the BLS first reported. Those higher rates represent an “upper bound” — a worst-case scenario in which everyone misclassified really was on temporary layoff and unemployed — BLS Commissioner William Beach explains in a June 29 blog post. Last month, the BLS said that along with the Census Bureau they were ‘investigating why this misclassification error continues to occur and are making changes for the June collection.’”

Manufacturing: “June 2020 ISM and Markit Manufacturing Surveys Improve” [Econintersect]. “The ISM Manufacturing survey improved and now is in expansion. The Markit PMI manufacturing index also improved but remains slightly in contraction. Based on these surveys and the district Federal Reserve Surveys, one would expect the Fed’s Industrial Production index growth rate to be around the same as last month. Overall, surveys do not have a high correlation to the movement of industrial production (manufacturing) since the Great Recession. No question these surveys suggest the economy is no longer in recession.” • Not with what we’re seeing out of CA, AZ, TX, and FL.

Construction: “May 2020 Construction Spending Declined” [Econintersect]. “The headlines say construction spending declined month-over-month. Our analysis shows the rolling averages declined. Construction spending is trending downward but remarkedly strong considering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Private construction had been fueling construction growth – but currently, public construction is fueling the growth. Consider this a slightly worse report relative to last month even with the decline reported by Census. Construction employment has contracted significantly.”

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Finance: “Quarterly Hedge Fund Liquidations Rise to Highest Since 2015” [Bloomberg]. “About 304 funds shuttered in the first three months of the year, the most since the fourth quarter of 2015, according to a Hedge Fund Research Inc. report released Tuesday. That represents an increase of more than 50% from the 198 liquidations in the last quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, about 84 hedge funds opened in the three-month period, the lowest quarterly estimate since the financial crisis, when startups totaled 56 in the fourth quarter of 2008. Closures have exceeded launches for seven consecutive quarters, according to HFR…. Hedge funds have faced a tough money-raising environment for much of the last decade as investors revolted over high fees and lackluster returns. Now startups are dealing with the turmoil caused by lockdown restrictions and social distancing efforts designed to combat the Covid-19 crisis. But things may be turning around as institutional investors gear up for a return to choppy markets.”

Retail: “Packaged-food companies have seen unprecedented sales since the spring, when government officials closed restaurant dining rooms, and consumers cleaned out supermarkets as they stocked up on food and household products” [Wall Street Journal]. “For food companies, the crisis has created a chance to win back shoppers who had defected to niche, trendy brands in recent years. It has also highlighted the strength of their extensive supply chains as they have ramped up manufacturing and distribution to match the consumer surge.”

Retail: “Coming soon to a 3D printer near you: Plant-based steaks” [Reuters]. “Israeli start-up Redefine Meat plans to launch 3D printers to produce plant-based steaks mimicking real beef next year in a bid for a slice of the fast-growing alternative meat market…. ‘You need a 3D printer to mimic the structure of the muscle of the animal,’ CEO Eshchar Ben-Shitrit told Reuters. The machines to be launched next year will be able to print 20kg an hour and eventually hundreds, at a lower cost than real meat…. ‘The market is definitely waiting for a breakthrough in terms of improving the texture,’ said Stacy Pyett, who manages the Proteins for Life programme at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. She said 3D printing is one technology competing to improve alternative meat texture, but ‘having new technologies … doesn’t necessarily solve the flavour and taste problem.’” • Not to mention whatever the substrate is does to the digestive tract and the microbiota within. Remember Olestra?

Shipping: “Three-quarters of European shipowners in a survey say they will either halt or reduce spending on cleaner ships…. a grim sign of how the global health crisis is hitting the sector’s long-term planning. Ocean carriers are being buffeted by the downturn in global downturn in trade volumes and tight liquidity as bankers hunker down in an uncertain environment” [Wall Street Journal]. “The European Community Shipowners’ Associations says with the exception of tankers, revenue for various shipping sectors has declined up to 60% since Covid-19 lockdowns began, and 52% of its members in the survey are considering not renewing fleets. That could set back industry efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2050 from 2008 levels. That will require an expensive effort to overhaul ships and how they get their power.”

Tech: “Did a Chinese Hack Kill Canada’s Greatest Tech Company?” [Bloomberg]. “Nortel’s giddy, gilded growth also made it a target. Starting in the late 1990s, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s version of the CIA, became aware of ‘unusual traffic,’ suggesting that hackers in China were stealing data and documents from Ottawa. ‘We went to Nortel in Ottawa, and we told the executives, ‘They’re sucking your intellectual property out,” says Michel Juneau-Katsuya, who headed the agency’s Asia-Pacific unit at the time. ‘They didn’t do anything.’” • Interesting story….

The Bezzle: “Wirecard Fallout: Millions Of Online Bank Accounts To Stay Frozen For Fifth Day” [Forbes]. “Millions of online bank and payment card holders are facing a fifth day without access to their funds after the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority refused to lift restrictions on a Wirecard subsidiary. On Friday, the FCA imposed a near immediate suspension on Wirecard Card Solutions (WCS) Limited, after its parent company entered insolvency after admitting to a massive financial fraud. That resulted in millions of banking apps and payment card accounts that were managed through WCS being suspended. At least a dozen different services have been affected, including Pockit, Anna Money and U Account… Many within the fintech industry are angry at the way in which the FCA imposed the suspension with only an hour’s notice, giving the banking services little or no chance to warn their customers.” • Or warn those Philippine casino operators to move the money out company account into the spouse’s. Kidding!!

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 48 Neutral (previous close: 47 Neutral;) [CNN]. One week ago: 48 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jul 1 at 12:38pm. This continued neutrality is starting to feel weird.

Health Care

“COVID-19, Gyms, and Oslo: The Power of Rarity” [Mike the Bad Biologist]. The New York Times cites a medRxiv study from Oslo: “It is apparently the first and only randomized trial to test whether people who work out at gyms with modest restrictions are at greater risk of infection from the coronavirus than those who do not. The tentative answer after two weeks: no.” But there’s an enormous caveat, which Mike explains as follows: “Suppose, when you go to the gym, you encounter twenty people. If the gym members are representative of the population as a whole (I’ll get to caveats later), then the odds that one or more fellow attendees have COVID-19 are 0.4% and 2.0% for Oslo and D.C. respectively per visit. Let’s say, over that two week period you hit the gym eight times, then the chance that you will have had one or more gym visits with one or more infected people is 3.1% and 14.8% for Oslo and D.C. respectively…. what these back of the envelope calculations do show is that crushing the curve makes it much less likely to be around someone who is infected with COVID-19. Relatively small differences matter, and, at the state level, the only U.S. state that has accomplished said crushing appears to be Hawaii. If people want things to ‘return to normal’, or some semblance of normal, then we need to dramatically lower the prevalence of infected people. When COVID-19 is very rare, one is far more likely to survive higher risk activities. That means masks and physical distancing for an extended period of time–the first, sort of shutdown didn’t cut it, and we left far too early.” • Mike the Mad Biologist is another old-school blogger, and I’m happy to link to him.

“Visualizing the effectiveness of face masks in obstructing respiratory jets” (PDF) [Physics of Fluids]. “We use qualitative visualizations of emulated coughs and sneezes to examine how material- and design-choices impact the extent to which droplet-laden respiratory jets are blocked. Loosely folded face masks and bandana-style coverings provide minimal stopping-capability for the smallest aerosolized respiratory droplets. Well-fitted homemade masks with multiple layers of quilting fabric, and off-the-shelf cone style masks, proved to be the most effective in reducing droplet dispersal. These masks were able to curtail the speed and range of the respiratory jets significantly, albeit with some leakage through the mask material and from small gaps along the edges. Importantly, uncovered emulated coughs were able to travel notably farther than the currently recommended 6-ft distancing guideline. We outline the procedure for setting up simple visualization experiments using easily available materials, which may help healthcare professionals, medical researchers, and manufacturers in assessing the effectiveness of face masks and other personal protective equipment qualitatively.” •

“Experts Fear The Current Surge In US COVID-19 Cases Could Cause A Rise In Deaths” [Buzzfeed]. “So far, deaths have indeed declined even as cases have surged across the country, with many of the cases being diagnosed in people under the age of 40. But experts say it’s too early to say whether this trend will continue. There may be a lag of three to four weeks between any rise in confirmed cases and an increase in recorded deaths — due to the disease’s incubation period, the time between diagnosis and death for those who become fatally ill, and a delay before each death shows up in official counts. That means that any rise in deaths may not be seen until around the second week of July at the earliest. ‘We hope it doesn’t come, but it might,’ Kate Grabowski, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told BuzzFeed News. The fact that younger people are making up more of the new cases means it could take even longer to see an increase in deaths, since those who are now being infected may need to pass the virus onto more vulnerable older people before deaths start to rise. ‘That’s going to take multiple weeks longer,’ Grabowski said.” • The concept of “herd immunity” is everywhere I look. Nobody knows if COVID-19 supports herd immunity. The common cold doesn’t, which is why we call it “common.” The stupid — it b-u-u-u-r-r-r-r-n-n-n-n-n-s!

Screening Room

In honor of Divine:

Guillotine Watch

“DC Socialite Tested Positive for COVID-19 After Hosting Backyard Party” [Inside Hook]. “A Washington DC social star has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 after hosting a backyard soiree following the Washington Ballet’s online fundraiser last month… Ashley Taylor Bronczek, a co-chair of the fundraiser, celebrated the successful June 18 event by hosting a catered dinner for ‘a couple dozen friends’ outside her lavish home, according to the Post. While the private party, of which the Washington Ballet was aware but not affiliated, was in violation of DC’s Phase 1 guidelines restricting gatherings to groups of ten or fewer, it was described as ‘well-intentioned’ by photographer Tony Powell, who shot the party for Washington Life magazine….. Bronczek later tested positive for COVID-19 after reportedly beginning to show symptoms ‘within hours’ of the dinner, as did some of her guests, according to the Post. Moreover, in a move that seems to have only made matters worse, Bronczek apparently took her time disclosing her COVID-19 status to her guests, reportedly ‘fearful of the social fallout.’” • Only the staff and photograoher Powell — that is, the help — wore masks.

Class Warfare

“A Call for Radical Humanism: the Left Needs to Return to Class Analyses of Power” [Counterpunch]. “It has been troubling for me to witness how the liberal soft left has almost entirely capitulated to combating racism as a a moral problem in recent years. If George W. Bush’s war against “terrorism” hadn’t already taught those throughout the political spectrum that you can’t bomb a country into “peace”, certainly George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests ought to have taught us all that racism is not an evil that inhabits the souls of individuals or that can be disappeared through consciousness-raising sessions led by upper-class white folks. Certainly, there are those who are willing and able to lead the prayer group in this new plateau of wokery such as the recent call to repent by Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy. Where prayer sessions, kneeling and public calls for atonement become the go-to instead of political dialogue and action, the left is deeply in trouble.” • Interesting study here.

News of the Wired

An account I enjoy:

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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 (ES):

ES writes: “Attached for your review is a cactus in a Santa Fe back yard. I hope you enjoy it.”

Readers, I am finally running a bit short of photos of plants, so if you could shoot some my way, that would be great — gardening projects especially! Thank you!

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