2:00PM Water Cooler 7/10/2020

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 five problem states, with New York for comparison:

I’ll just keep doing this one until I see a peak followed by a decline. (Seems like the “first wave” is geographically and chronologically distributed. It will be interesting to see if and when New York starts going up again.)

CA: “UC Berkeley has 47 new COVID-19 cases in a week, mostly from frat parties” [Berkeleyside]. “‘The majority of these new cases stem from a series of recent parties connected to the CalGreek system, which included students both within the CalGreek community and others, and led to some secondary spread within households and within other smaller gatherings,’ according to the statement from UC Berkeley University Health Services Medical Director Anna Harte and Assistant Vice Chancellor Guy Nicolette. ‘Generally, these infections are directly related to social events where students have not followed basic safety measures such as physical distancing, wearing face coverings, limiting event size, and gathering outside.’”

TX: “Internal Messages Reveal Crisis at Houston Hospitals as Coronavirus Cases Surge” [ProPublica]. “What’s happening in Houston draws eerie parallels to New York City in late March, when every day brought steep increases in the number of patients seeking care at overburdened hospitals — though, so far, with far fewer deaths. But as coronavirus cases surge in Texas, state officials here have not reimplemented the same lockdown measures that experts say helped bring New York’s outbreak under control, raising concern among public health officials that Houston won’t be able to flatten the curve…. Even as new cases and hospitalizations soar, the number of daily deaths in Texas has remained relatively low. On Tuesday, the state reported nearly 7,000 new cases, a record, but only 21 new deaths. All told, New York state has reported nearly 25,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Texas has recorded fewer than 2,500, including 378 in Harris County, which includes Houston. But experts caution that rising hospitalizations today will likely result in a spike in deaths in the coming weeks, and those who require ICU care for COVID-19 but recover often leave the hospital with lasting health problems.” • It does make you wonder why the difference in death rate, immediate or not. I haven’t seen a study on this, or even a good theory. Readers?

TX: “Oil Refineries in Covid Hotspot of Texas Grapple With Outbreaks” [Bloomberg]. “The second-biggest U.S. refinery, Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Galveston Bay plant in Texas City, has well over 100 confirmed cases of the virus, people familiar with operations said. At least four other refineries also have workers who’ve tested positive….” • The story keeps saying “workers and contractors.” I wonder if the contractors move around a lot.


“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 July 8: Pennsylvania moves from Toss-up to Leans Democratic. Uh oh….

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): A fine metaphor for the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces Report:

Biden (D)(2): “Joe Biden Still Doesn’t Have a Plan to Stop Oil and Gas Production” [GIzmodo]. “The plan does include some language that could limit emissions from fossil fuel production, including repealing fossil fuel subsidies and reducing methane pollution. But it doesn’t say anything about ending new leases for oil and gas producers. And though fracking is a major source of methane emissions, it doesn’t include the pledge Biden made earlier in his campaign to end new fracking leases for public lands, let alone call to ban fracking outright… Instead, the proposal calls for the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to help curb greenhouse gas pollution.” • See NC here on one form of carbon capture. More: “There’s also no evidence that that technology actually works at scale. It’s at best an unproven strategy to curb greenhouse gases, and at worst a way to provide cover to corporations looking to make false commitments to reducing emissions without curbing oil and gas extraction.” • Oy.

Biden (D)(3): “Financial advisory firm tells clients Biden won’t be moving too far left if he becomes president” [CNBC]. “Financial advisory firm Signum Global Advisors told clients Thursday that it isn’t convinced Joe Biden is going to be as progressive as some may hope if he beats President Donald Trump in November. The firm told its corporate clients in a note that it believes the policy recommendations put together by task forces filled with allies of Biden’s and the more progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders show that the presumptive Democratic nominee doesn’t plan to side too often with those on the left side of the political spectrum if he becomes president. ‘The report is very aspirational; it pays lip service to some of the party’s more progressive ideas, though has few specifics about how ideas will be achieved, and generally repeats most of the moderate ideas from the Biden campaign’s website,’; the note said. • “Nothing fundamental will change.

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“Democrats, it’s too soon to cheer Trump’s defeat” [CNN]. “Like a modern-day street magician, Trump keeps pulling out new tricks to stymie Democrats at the polls when they least expect it — as he did this past May when Republicans took back a Congressional seat in deep blue California, the first time the GOP had gained a seat in the state in 22 years. Let us be clear: We are political consultants who have spent the better part of the last 20 years working to get scores of Democrats elected across America. It gives us no great joy to think about Trump getting a second term, but here is some of what keeps us awake at night:” They give four reasons; this caught my eye:

Trump’s numbers are down by a lot less than one would expect given, well, everything. Let’s state the obvious: America has been turned upside down over the last few months. The country has been all but shut down during the Covid-19 outbreak, and ongoing efforts to combat racism are fundamentally changing America. Sure — Trump’s numbers have taken a hit — but the problem for Democrats is that they are not down as much as his abysmal performance deserves.

The latest Fox News poll shows Biden is leading Trump by 12 points, up from a lead of eight points back in May. Bottom line, the country is in tatters and Biden’s lead has grown by a paltry four points. No typo — Biden’s lead has increased by just four points as a surge of coronavirus is gripping large swaths of states that typically vote red.

How is Biden doing today among the White voters without a college degree in the swing states that Trump won in 2016? Biden’s support, according to The New York Times / Siena College Poll, has him rising by a single point with this group since October — that’s the extent of the momentum Biden has gotten by winning enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination in reaction to Trump’s poor performance over the last four months. A single point!

How about non-White voters — many of whom are taking to the streets and demanding justice and equality? Biden, according to the New York Times/ Siena College poll, has made virtually no gains whatsoever — up only two points among Black voters from 74% in October 2019 to 76% in the most recent poll and up just one point among Hispanics, from 35% in October 2019 to 36% today.

In fact, according to an early June NPR / PBS / Marist Poll, 3 in 10 non-White strongly approve or approve of the job Trump is doing as president — a number that has only declined by a single point since mid-March. And the poll finds that 9% of Black voters are supporting Trump today — essentially the same level of support The Donald enjoyed in 2016.


Realignment and Legitimacy

The Great Assimilation™:

“Ronald Reagan Wasn’t the Good Guy President Anti-Trump Republicans Want You to Believe In” [Teen Vogue]. Republicans and liberal Democrats! “It’s difficult to boil an entire administration’s worth of economic policy down to a few words, but for a working definition of Reaganomics, let’s look at a few key features of Reagan’s policies: cutting taxes (especially for the rich) for trickle-down economics, cutting social welfare spending, increasing military spending, and deregulating economic activity in the name of “free” markets. Reagan’s path to American greatness meant making rich people pay less in taxes, giving poor people less help, building the imperial forces he used in foreign policy, and making life easier for the capitalist class.” • Interesting that Teen Vogue puts economics first.

“Think Tank in the Tank” [Democracy Journal]. “At this point I became convinced there was editorial interference coming from the boardroom. Two suspects came to mind. The first was the Manhattan Institute’s chairman, Paul Singer. The hedge fund billionaire was the Board of Trustees’ biggest yearly donor ($525,000 in 2016) as well as one of the Republican Party’s most generous and influential funders…. Second, the number two donor among the trustees ($450,000) was Rebekah Mercer, daughter of another hedge-fund billionaire, Robert Mercer.” • The author seems naive in the extreme. It’s a big tank, and you ain’t in it. But meanwhile:


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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.

Leading Indicators: “03 July 2020 ECRI’s WLI Improvement Continues But Continues In Contraction” [Econintersect]. “ECRI’s WLI Growth Index which forecasts economic growth six months forward improved, remains in contraction, and remains at a level at the values seen during the Great Recession.”

Producer Prices: “June 2020 Producer Price Final Demand Year-over-Year Growth Remains In Contraction” [Econintersect]. “Year-over-year inflation pressures remain soft as this index remains in contraction. This may be the beginning of a deflationary cycle – we will know only in hindsight.”

Rail: “Rail Week Ending 04 June 2020 – Some Improvement” [Econintersect]. “Week 27 of 2020 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) contracted according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Total rail traffic has been mostly in contraction for over one year – and now is taking a hit from coronavirus…. The improvement this week is likely due to a holiday mismatch between years – we will know for sure next week. Intermodal and carloads are under Great Recession values. Container exports from China are now recovering, container exports from the U.S. declined and remains deep in contraction.”

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Travel: “Seasonal changes bring challenges for Colorado tourism amid pandemic” [CBS]. “In any season, Colorado offers some of the world’s best outdoor adventures for tourists — in 2018 travelers spent $22.3 billion in Colorado, an all-time spending record for the Centennial State…. Many of those jobs are impermanent, as seasonal workers support the state’s economy taking different jobs as the seasons change. Some who spend late spring and summer as climbing, fishing and rafting instructors pick up winter gigs as lift operators, ski instructors, and ski patrol. Seasonal work is a lifestyle and has its nomadic elements. Many live on campgrounds, communally through their employer, or in their vehicles to keep the cost of living low and their mobility high. But what happens when you add the limitations of COVID-19 to Colorado’s tourism industry?” • And what happens when the rich fly in?

The Bezzle: “Robinhood reportedly installed bulletproof glass after frustrated traders kept showing up at its office” [Business Insider]. “An explosion of stock-market volatility as the global economy grapples with a pandemic, coupled with record unemployment, has caused a surge in interest for the [Robinhood] app, which pioneered commission-free stock trading for a much younger audience than traditional brokerages. But as Robinhood grew, it added more complex products that are inherently risky. Those products, combined with Robinhood’s gamelike interface and relative lack of educational features that are prominent on older platforms, mean there’s real risk of massive losses for the platform’s traders, who are about 31 years old on average.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 58 Greed (previous close: 53 Neutral;) [CNN]. One week ago: 50 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jul 10 at 12:51pm. Finally we shift into Greed mode!

The Biosphere

“Artificial Lights Tell the Story of the Pandemic” [The Atlantic]. “From a satellite’s perspective, Earth at night, under cloudless conditions, is, in normal times, a navy-blue marble with a dusting of gold. The electric sparks of human activity shimmer in the darkness: a bustling downtown, a well-traveled highway, a fleet of container ships in open water. But when the coronavirus swept across the globe, the glow of civilization shifted from city centers to residential areas. Entire stretches of road, once shiny like strands of tinsel from car headlights, vanished from the nighttime map. As entire populations and industries curtailed their usual movements, pixels of light on satellite images rearranged themselves accordingly—a new bright cluster here, a fresh spot of darkness there…. Near Wuhan, the city where the virus first emerged, the data showed that residential areas brightened while commercial areas dimmed this spring… Christopher Elvidge, a researcher who specializes in nighttime observations of light sources at the Colorado School of Mines, found similar effects in the U.S. Analyzing data from the same satellite that Liu’s team used, Elvidge and his colleagues found that from February to March, artificial light dimmed in states such as New York and California, which were among the first to introduce widespread stay-at-home orders, but remained unchanged in states such as Florida and Arizona, which took a less stringent approach.”

Health Care

Coronavirus uses same strategy as HIV to dodge immune response, Chinese study finds” [South China Morning Post]. “Both viruses remove marker molecules on the surface of an infected cell that are used by the immune system to identify invaders, the researchers said in a non-peer reviewed paper posted on preprint website bioRxiv.org on Sunday. They warned that this commonality could mean Sars-CoV-2, the clinical name for the virus, could be around for some time, like HIV.

Virologist Zhang Hui and a team from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou also said their discovery added weight to clinical observations that the coronavirus was showing “some characteristics of viruses causing chronic infection.” n=5. Big if true, but there’s no link to the paper, and I wasn’t 100% sure that what I could find in bioRxiv.org was the paper referred to in the article. Interesting though!

“This Company Just Made N95 Masks Available to the Public, But at What Cost to Frontline Workers?” [Rolling Stone]. “Based out of New York, N95 Mask Co. says its Respokare NIOSH N95 Respirator Masks use “advanced antiviral technology” to block up to 95% of small particles (measured at .3 micron or less). What’s more, the company says the masks “inactivate up to 99.9% of particles within minutes,” neutralizing germs and viruses on the surface to prevent potentially harmful exposure into your airstream and lungs. By not only trapping viruses, but destroying them too, the company says these are some of the most effective protective masks you can buy online…. While the technicalities of supply chain management can be complicated, the short answer is that the more production a company can implement at its factories, the more prepared it will be once hospitals and other government institutions come calling. … The N95 Mask Co. face mask is NIOSH-certified, CDC-approved, and appears on the FDA list of approved manufacturers.” • For one-time use…


“These Two Last Suppers Are My Quarantine Obsession” [New York Magazine]. “Which is how I found myself, recently, looking closely at two versions of the Last Supper. Painted just 50 years apart, in almost the same place, more than 500 years ago, they allow me to glean how ideas and worldviews can shift almost overnight. The first is the second-most-famous painting in Western art history: Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, begun in Milan around 1495. The other is an almost unknown 1445–50 masterpiece by Andrea del Castagno in Florence, a painting Leonardo probably knew, studied, and tried to move beyond. Leonardo’s painting shattered older artistic forms and embedded new ideas in material; Castagno’s version, tremendous in its own right, can still surprise and imparts incredible spiritual power.” • The del Castagno preferred!


“Everybody Loves to Hate Modern Monetary Theory” [Bloomberg]. “Marxists, Austrians, and Keynesians agree on nothing … except that they don’t like MMT…. At the very least, The Deficit Myth and other arguments of MMTers are forcing economists of all stripes to go back to basics and rethink the assumptions that underlie their policy prescriptions. That’s a useful exercise.

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“How Black & Brown Workers Are Redefining Strikes in the Digital COVID Age” [Payday Report]. “This June, the U.S. saw more than 600 strikes or work stoppages by workers in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, bringing the total number of strikes or work stoppages since the outbreak of COVID in the U.S. to at least 900 since March 1. According to the latest analysis prepared by Payday Report and its Strike Wave Tracker, Payday estimates that the strike and work stoppages total is likely a severe underestimation as many non-union Black, and Brown workers are now calling out en masse to attend Black Lives Matter protests without it ever being reported in the press or on social media. On July 20, Black Lives Matters activists, in their largest strike action to date, intend to hold strikes and work stoppages in more than 25 cities as part of the “Strike for Black Lives.” The movement is the largest wave of strikes and work stoppages that the U.S. has seen in decades. ‘I am a product of the ’60s and ’70s on up, and I have never ever, ever seen a movement like this,’ said [Ken Riley, a Black dockworker and President of ILA Local 1422].” • Exactly the kind of solidary the political class does not want to see. We’ll see what the coverage is like on July 20. Mark your calendars.

“Honor William Cuffay: The Chartists’ Forgotten Black Leader” [Jacobin]. “Born in Chatham in 1788, Cuffay trained as a tailor and lived most of his life in Westminster. By the 1840s, he became the chief leader of the Chartists in London and nationally. He was black, the son of a freed slave from Saint Kitts, himself the son of a man kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery…. Cuffay’s early life encompassed a period of mass migration by black people into Britain, fueled chiefly by the recruitment or impressment of black men into the armed forces to feed Britain’s almost ceaseless global warfare between 1775 and 1815; Cuffay’s father, Chatham Cuffay, was a cook aboard a British warship. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the black British population ran into the tens of thousands, many of whom had, like Cuffay, been born in Britain. Marginalized by racism and poverty, opportunities for the black population were largely concentrated to sailing or domestic service. Owing to a shortened spine and legs at birth, Cuffay possessed even fewer options, but being apprenticed as a tailor provided him a degree of independence. By 1819, he had moved to London, settling in Westminster…. .In the following years, he was drawn, after some initial antipathy, into labor organization, as increasing competition and a large labor surplus led to low-paid and sweated conditions for tailors.”

“How America’s Founding Fathers Missed a Chance to Abolish Slavery” [Guardian]. “Only in recent years have scholars begun to acknowledge the extent to which the true abolitionist movement in America began not in the mid-19th century leading up to the Civil War, under such famed figures as William Lloyd Garrison, but in the very earliest years of the republic, at the hands of such anti-slavery Founding Fathers as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. It was shortly before the Revolution that the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was formed, with Franklin later elected its president. The New-York Manumission Society was created in 1785 by Jay, and joined by Hamilton, to promote the gradual abolition of slavery. Franklin, who was a sage, grandfatherly figure revered by the other founders as a font of wisdom and advice, actually made the abolition of slavery the last crusade of his life. Though as a young man Franklin had owned slaves himself and published advertisements for slave sales in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, toward the end of his life he became a passionate activist for emancipation. Franklin’s last public act before his death in 1790 was to send to the first Congress of the United States a petition asking it to ‘devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People’ and ‘promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race.’”

Class Warfare

“NYC Rental Market Pushed to Breaking Point by Tenant Debts” [Bloomberg]. “Two-thirds of New Yorkers rent their homes, making it America’s biggest rental market, and it’s always had its own crazy kind of housing math. But with unemployment soaring and the typical rent about twice the national average, the numbers no longer add up. A quarter of the city’s apartment renters haven’t paid since March, according to the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a group that represents mostly landlords of rent-stabilized buildings.” • Hard to imagine what will happen if a quarter of the city’s tenant population is evicted.

“No One Should Be Surprised That America Abandoned the Elderly to Die” [New York Magazine]. “Though elderly Americans receive Social Security and Medicare benefits that lift millions above the federal poverty line, other, more precise measures of economic hardship suggest that senior insecurity is higher in the U.S. than in many other wealthy countries. Research informed by the Elder Index, which was developed by the University of Massachusetts Boston to track senior poverty, found that half of all seniors who live alone lacked the means to cover basic expenses; among two-senior households, nearly a quarter reported the same. Many of those low-income seniors continue to work, or enter poorly regulated care facilities that can pose unique dangers to their health…. As coronavirus carves through the elderly, it tells us something ugly about the high price of the American project. The prosperity it engenders is real but limited; it is exclusionary by design. Wealth flows upward, where it stays, and creates an inverted pyramid that bloats at the top then vanishes to a fine point at the bottom. Proper care for the elderly and for people with disabilities requires what some corporate executives might call a restructuring — an unpalatable task for those already at the top. Coronavirus lays the consequences bare. In the U.S. the elderly and the disabled aren’t quite unworthy of life, fit only for extermination. But they exist somewhere in the same hostile neighborhood. Life is expensive, which makes it a luxury. Whatever care we extend to the aged we consider a gift, or an act of charity, and not something we owe them because they exist.” • Rather disposes of the ugly “Boomer” myth…

“What In The Name Of The Lord Is Boasian Antiracism?” [Policy Tensor]. “Boasian antiracism is the hegemonic ideology of the elite. At first pass, it is an ideology of inclusion. It is something you get potty trained in at elite institutions. It extends well beyond race. For instance, the proliferation of acronyms like LGBTQI et cetera can be traced to its hegemony. It tells you what sort of things you can say in polite company. More importantly, it tells you what you can’t say. Put simply, if you want to appear civilized, you better learn the language of Boasian antiracism. The core idea of Boasian antiracism is the negation of the core idea of high racialism, the hegemonic ideology of the Western world, and beyond, from the turn of the century to the anti-systemic turn after 1968. In order to understand the contours of Boasian antiracism, we must therefore begin with high racialism. The core belief of high racialism was that the world was composed of discrete anthropological races that sat in a natural hierarchy of ability, and it was these biological differences between races that explained why some nations were rich and strong and others poor and weak….The central idea that anchored the whole intellectual movement was anti-reductionism. This was the direct implication of the emerging commitment to Boasian antiracism: Since biological reductionism led one down the path to racialism, and materialist reductionism left subjects at the mercy of larger structural forces, reductionism was to be abandoned wholesale. Everything was to be regarded as socially constructed….. [Boasian antiracism] became at the same time a virtue signaling or status signaling device. Some time in the late-1980s or early-1990s, America’s wannabe elites started competing with each other on who is more Boasian antiracist than the other.” • When Tankus categorized identity as a credential, that seems to be the way of thinking. This is a very interesting article, well worth reading in full. Academic wars have consequences!


News of the Wired

“The Bourne Collection: Online Search Is Older Than You Think!” [Computer History Museum]. “Full-text online search was prototyped in the early 1960s—partly through Charlie’s work – and commercialized by decade’s end. But pre-computer machine-aided search goes all the way back to punched card sorters. These were conceived in the 1830s and built in the 1890s, during a period of huge advances in card catalogs and other manual retrieval techniques. Real-time, interactive search was pioneered in the 1920s with Emmanuel Goldberg’s microfilm ‘search engine,’ built into a desk.”

Twitter users, pay attention:

Useful too if you’ve ever been dogpiled.

“Karen brings her own bell for when she needs her servers attention…” [Reddit]. • I’m restraining myself from filing this under guillotine watch:

Looks like brunch!

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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 (TH):

TH writes: “Individually, June’s dry golden foxtails, pale blue-green desert holly, and other desert flora are not always particularly breathtaking, but they’re certainly nice accessories just after sunrise to the Trona Pinnacles.”

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