2:00PM Water Cooler 7/17/2020

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. Florida blows past New York. Interestingly, California and Texas diverge. We’ll see if that’s an artifact. (There are no notes either on this site, 91-DIVOC, or on the Johns Hopkins site, indicating that there has been any interruption of data. We’ll see on Monday.)


“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. July 17: Georgia, Ohio, ME-2 move from Leans Republican to Toss-up. Continued yikes. On July 7, the tossup were 86. Only July 17, they were 56. Now they are 91. This puts Biden at 278, i.e. over 270.

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!


Patient readers who were also Sanders canvassers, thank you for your responses. I am mulling them. I may end up doing a survey, hopefully not too onerous. –lambert

Biden (D)(1): “Joe Biden’s joint committees raise nearly $100 million in second quarter as big-money donors get off the sidelines” [CNBC]. “‘The big-money donors are capitalists. For a minute Bernie was close to locking it up, but then came South Carolina. They were petrified of Trump and horrified by Bernie. Now they actually have a choice, before they didn’t,’ Florida businessman and Biden bundler John Morgan told CNBC.” • The article has quite a list of Biden donors.

Biden (D)(2): “Joe Biden’s Shockingly Adequate Campaign” [Rich Lowry, National Review]. “The Biden campaign has been lucky most of all, but it’s also been smart, at least smart enough. To go, as Joe Biden did, from left for dead to sweeping to the nomination and quickly thereafter emerging as the favorite in November is a run of success that would be the envy of any national politician. It’s easy to consider this a mere accident given the weakness of Biden’s opponents, first a socialist in the Democratic primaries who had a ceiling on his support and now an incumbent president whose ratings have sagged. The Biden team certainly isn’t going to rewrite any campaign playbooks or dazzle anyone with its brilliance, but it has avoided serious mistakes and demonstrated an understanding of the basic political terrain and its candidate’s strengths. It hasn’t asked Biden to do anything out of his comfort zone or beyond his capabilities and has been content for President Donald Trump to dominate all the attention, so long as Trump is not advancing his cause, and often setting it back, with all the airtime and headlines.” • Yep.

Harris (D)(1): “KHive is trying to ruin my life, does Kamala Harris even care?” [Medium]. • Ugly and unsurprising details; the ringleader seems to have been banned by Twitter, and not for the first time.

Sanders (D)(1): “America’s cost effective Covid-19 solution? Masks for All” [Bernie Sanders and Andy Slavitt, CNN]. “[W]e are urgently calling for a simple, common-sense, practical and inexpensive way to protect Americans during the coronavirus pandemic: Masks for All. Our goal must be to make high-quality masks available on an equitable basis to every single person in this country at no cost. Next week, one of us will introduce legislation to do just that. The science is clear: Wearing a mask not only saves lives, but the widespread use of masks will get Americans back to work sooner and reunite families who have stayed apart. Hopefully, this legislation will even help counter some of the confusion and misinformation over mask-wearing.” •

Trump (R)(1): “Trump shakes up campaign leadership as he struggles in latest polls” [CNN]. “President Donald Trump shook up his campaign leadership on Wednesday, announcing he was promoting Bill Stepien to be his campaign manager and demoting Brad Parscale, who had been serving in that role… The future of Parscale, who had been lauded by the President and his allies as a digital guru who helped secure Trump’s first election effort and became his reelection campaign manager in early 2018, had been in serious doubt for weeks. In addition to the President’s lagging poll numbers, Trump was furious after a much-hyped return to the campaign trail fell flat at the end of June. A planned rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, fell well short of expectations after Parscale predicted massive crowds, not only inside the 19,000-seat arena but outside as well…. ‘It was only a matter of time’ before Parscale was moved out of his role as campaign manager, said a senior adviser to the campaign. ‘His inexperience hindered the campaign.’”

West (I)(1):

So, I’m picturing Kanye somehow getting one or two electoral votes, and then…

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Get Ready for the 2020 Election Recount” [The Bulwark]. “One of the more memorable aspects of the 2000 recount was the “Brooks Brothers riot” where the Bush campaign flew GOP staffers to protest the recount proceedings in Miami-Dade County, Florida. At issue was whether there would be a new standard for counting “undervotes,” and local officials sought to take discussions to an upper floor of the building, where the protesters would not be able to observe. At that point, the Republicans erupted and followed them up. Crammed into the smaller space, unable to see what was happening, they got angry. They yelled that Democrats were stealing the election. They banged doors. They roughed up a Democratic staffer in possession of a sample ballot. And it worked. Hours later, the officials surrendered.” • This omits a key factor: The press didn’t identify the “rioters” as Republican staffers at the time — even though they had to know who they were.

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: “10 July 2020 ECRI’s WLI Improvement Continues But Remains In Contraction” [Econintersect]. “ECRI’s WLI Growth Index which forecasts economic growth six months forward improved but remains in contraction.”

Consumer Sentiment: “Preliminary July 2020 Michigan Consumer Sentiment Declines” [Econintersect]. “Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments: ‘Consumer sentiment retreated in the first half of July due to the widespread resurgence of the coronavirus. The promising gain recorded in June was reversed, leaving the Sentiment Index in early July insignificantly above the April low (+1.4 points). Following the steepest two-month decline on record, it is not surprising that consumers need some time to reassess the likely economic impact from the coronavirus on their personal finances and on the overall economy. Unfortunately, declines are more likely in the months ahead as the coronavirus spreads and causes continued economic harm, social disruptions, and permanent scarring.’”

Consumer Sentiment: “Analysis: Contraction in Consumer Sentiment in July Signals a Rough Month for Businesses” [Morning Consult]. This chart:

Rail: “Rail Week Ending 11 June 2020 – Gradual Improvement But Still Deep In Contraction” [Econintersect]. “Total rail traffic has been mostly in contraction for over one year – and now is recovering from a coronavirus pandemic…. 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.”

Construction: “June 2020 Residential Building Growth Continues To Improve” [Econintersect]. “Headline residential building permits and construction completions improved – and the rolling averages showed a similar result…. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic is waning in the data…. [T]he rolling averages say this sector is slowing with construction completions are improving but are in contraction. We consider this report better than last month.”

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Employment SItuation: “Troubling streak for the labor market” [Politico]. “Jobless claims have come in higher than a million — and more than double the worst week of the Great Recession — for 17 straight weeks. Last week, initial claims totaled 2.4 million, including the self-employed and gig workers, just a couple of weeks away from the expiration of federal unemployment insurance that adds $600 a week on top of state benefits. Evercore ISI dug into the data and found that allowing the expiration to happen would lead to a 2 percent smaller GDP by the end of the year than if the benefit were fully extended.” In addition: “‘Workers receiving unemployment insurance have a large increase in consumption due to UI, spending almost 73 cents of every $1 received, showing that the federal benefit supplement is well-targeted,’ the [JPMorgan Chase Institute] said.”

Shipping: “North American freight business is coming back but distribution channels look very different than they did before the pandemic. A shakeout is resetting the direction of the U.S. trucking market, says C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. Chief Executive Bob Biesterfeld, and that is pushing some carriers out of businesses while driving others to adapt to upheaval in domestic supply chains. The head of North America’s largest freight brokerage [says] that the sudden changes as the pandemic hit triggered “huge supply chain dislocation from a trucking perspective” [Wall Street Journal].” With demand firmer now, spot-market pricing is rising and contract carriers are even turning down more freight than they were before the pandemic in search of stronger revenues.”

Shipping: “Pandemic-hit Arizona, Texas counties order coolers, refrigerated trucks for bodies” [Reuters]. “Arizona and Texas counties hit hard by COVID-19 are ordering coolers and refrigerated trailers to store bodies as their morgues fill up, authorities said on Thursday…. New York used dozens of refrigerated trailers in April as its daily COVID-19 deaths exceeded 700. The appearance of mobile morgues in Arizona and Texas reflects that the pandemic appears to now be spinning out of control in southern U.S. states.”

Apparel: “A cash squeeze is forming in apparel supply chains. Makers of clothing and accessories are getting pinched as the retailers they supply struggle to pay for goods…. Several companies including Nike Inc. and Columbia Sportswear Co. in recent weeks have disclosed millions of dollars in bad-debt charges in quarterly results” [Wall Street Journal]. “Some retailers have gotten extended payment terms to conserve cash, but the lineup of merchants filing for bankruptcy protection is growing. That has suppliers making tough judgment calls over which retailers may be facing only temporary hardships and which bills they may have to write off as lost causes.”

The Bezzle: “Germany’s long, lonely campaign: Battling Wirecard’s short sellers” [Reuters]. “German authorities pressed on for four years investigating investors who bet against Wirecard AG’s shares, even after a UK regulator concluded that their evidence against the short sellers was ‘not sufficient,’ according to documents and people familiar with the matter…. While it is known that German authorities investigated skeptical investors who raised questions about the company behind one of the biggest corporate frauds in German history, the documents provide new details about the speed and tenacity with which they pursued detractors and the extent of their faith in management.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 63 Greed (previous close: 62 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 59 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jul 17 at 12:14pm.

The Biosphere

“Pa. poised to provide potentially $670 million in tax breaks to natural-gas manufacturers” [Pittsburgh City Paper]. “Yesterday, the Pennsylvania state Senate passed a bill that would potentially provide hundreds of millions in tax credits to petrochemical facilities and others that refine natural gas into products like plastic pellets or fertilizer. The bill, HB 732, passed the state Senate by a 40-9 vote. All Republicans supported the bill and even the majority of Senate Democrats backed the measure. The bill is likely a do-over of an earlier bill, HB 1100, which also was written to offer tax credits to petrochemical companies. HB 1100 passed through the legislature, but Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) vetoed that bill. However, Wolf is poised to sign HB 732.” It gets worse: “[T]he bill is a major victory for state Sen. John Yudichak (I-Luzerne), who wrote the bill…. More perplexing in all of this is that even though the majority of Senate Democrats backed the bill and Gov. Wolf still has veto power, the winners of this bill are the Republicans, especially Yudichak, and Democrats received little in return…. Furthermore, last year, Yudichak left the Democratic Party to become an independent who caucuses with Republicans. His departure from the Democratic caucus makes the Democrats’ chances of flipping the state Senate almost impossible.” • Has Tom Wolf taken a page from Cuomo’s playbook? Pennsylvanians please comment.

“New Data Shows an ‘Extraordinary’ Rise in U.S. Coastal Flooding” [New York Times]. “The increase in high-tide flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts since 2000 has been ‘extraordinary,’ the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported, with the frequency of flooding in some cities growing fivefold during that time. That shift is damaging homes, imperiling the safety of drinking water, inundating roads and otherwise hurting coastal communities, the agency said.”

Health Care

“The U.S. is coping with new medical shortages at a critical time. Several states are reporting shortages in coronavirus testing supplies and delays in processing results… just as a rash of outbreaks is hitting Florida, Nevada, Georgia, Texas and other states” [Wall Street Journal]. “The disconnect has resurrected one of the early problems that bogged down the country’s initial response to the pandemic in the spring: Many people in coronavirus hot spots are now waiting more than a week, and in some cases several weeks, for test results. The latest problems suggest that while early supply shortages were largely solved, deeper problems with manufacturing and distribution of critical equipment are lingering and could grow if the virus continues to spread. The new test shortages are prompting some officials to change how they prioritize now-scarce resources, which could impede virus mitigation efforts.”

“Data secrecy is crippling attempts to slow COVID-19’s spread in U.S., epidemiologists warn” [Science]. Interesting follow-up to this post yesterday. “Since April, epidemiologists from Stanford University and several University of California campuses have sought detailed COVID-19 case and contact-tracing data from state and county health authorities for research they hope will point to more effective approaches to slowing the pandemic. “It’s a basic mantra of epidemiology and public health: Follow the data” to learn where and how the disease spreads, says Rajiv Bhatia, a physician and epidemiologist who teaches at Stanford and is among those seeking the California data…. But the agencies have refused requests filed from April through late June, Science has learned. They cited multiple reasons including workload constraints and privacy concerns—even though records can be deidentified, and federal health privacy rules have been relaxed for research during the pandemic. As a result, Bhatia says, “In 4 months of the epidemic, collecting millions of records, no one in California or at the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has done the basic epidemiology.” Other states also fail to share highly specific information for their COVID-19 cases… Aggregated COVID-19 case and death data by county, and often by age and race, is publicly available in much of the country. But few locales link those cases and deaths to other information typically collected on the individuals, such as their ZIP codes, occupations, living conditions, and known contacts with others ill with COVID-19. And according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched by The Atlantic, no U.S. state or territory publicly provides a complete set of even such basic COVID-19 measures as total and pending tests; deaths and recovered patients; and current and cumulative hospitalizations, patients in intensive care units, and those using ventilators.” • Sigh. So all our data is at best patchy…

Class Warfare

“Brick and mortar, crumbling: The COVID pandemic has cemented Amazon’s dominant position. What now?” [Richard Wolff, New York Daily News]. “During the last few months, huge numbers of smaller stores have closed. Walmarts and Targets have been open and online shopping has become even more widespread, accelerating an Amazonification of America that had already been well underway. What we do about this will largely determine whether we still have functioning public commercial spaces in this country — or whether we fold up our tent and accept that relatively efficient and inexpensive delivery of goods straight to the home will dominate our retail economy for generations to come. The answer matters mightily. Many have forgotten this, but markets are not just places where we go to get goods. They are a defining characteristic of civilization as we know it. Trips to markets became passages into community. Leaving isolation, at least temporarily, people in markets enjoyed interpersonal contacts and socialized activities. They found friends, lovers and partners, and came to discuss and act together to solve shared problems. Their influence went far beyond this function. Villages, towns and cities grew up around markets. People overcame isolation not only by buying from one another. They also brought their workplaces and schools, as well as their homes, nearer to markets both to work and shop more easily and for all the social connections and interactions markets fostered. Modern society has been shaped indispensably by markets and their evolution. It will be deeply affected if real markets mostly vanish, replaced by merely electronic, virtual forms.” • Sort of amazing to see Wolff in the New York Daily News.

“More Lyft Drivers Installing Partitions To Protect Against Covid-19 Spread” [Forbes]. “Lyft said in a release that drivers can purchase the partitions through the Lyft Store, but the company said it will not make a profit on the partitions, disinfectants or other sanitizing materials it makes available to drivers.” • Of course, of course.

“Troy Harlow has always made sure to pay his mortgage on time. Wells Fargo had other plans for him.” [NBC]. “Troy Harlow has always made sure to pay his monthly mortgage bill on time, even after he filed for personal bankruptcy protection in late 2017 following a kidney transplant that put him on permanent disability. ‘I needed to have a place to live,’ Harlow said in an interview. ‘I keep everything paid because I know it has to be paid.’ But Wells Fargo, the bank that handles Harlow’s mortgage, had other ideas for him. On April 29, without Harlow’s knowledge or permission, Wells Fargo told the bankruptcy court overseeing his payment plan that he had asked the bank to pause his mortgage payments because he had been hurt by COVID-19. Harlow, 48, of Buchanan, Virginia, made no such request and had continued to forward the full amount owed on his mortgage to Wells Fargo, court documents show.” • Wells Fargo is incorrigible.

News of the Wired

“Woman who refused to wear a mask in Starbucks now wants half of $100,000 donated to barista” [CBS] • This is America, man.

“Reddit Is A Window Into The American Nightmare” [The American Conservative]. “Yet we increasingly understand that many people are latently ill—latent alcoholics, anorexics, hoarders, compulsive gamblers. A society that goes out of its way to trigger these tendencies is not kind or just. A society that pretends they are merely bad choices, and that whatever follows from them is deserved, is positively cruel. A sole focus on personal responsibility demands herculean effort against long odds, and is indeed a kind of complacent bravado. Any of us might bear the seeds of an illness waiting to be triggered or inflamed; any of us have the capacity to do evil. In Christian terms, we pray that we do not undergo the test. In policy terms, we do not run the test. Yet contemporary American culture is a great big testing ground, testing the bounds of greed and willpower and the ability of individuals and families not to crack under soul-crushing stress and deleterious incentives, many of which we euphemize as ‘economic growth.’” • From TAC (?!?).

“‘Invasion’ of ancient Egypt may have actually been immigrant uprising” [Science]. “Ancient Egypt’s first ‘foreign’ takeover may actually have been an inside job. About 3600 years ago, the pharaohs briefly lost control of northern Egypt to the Hyksos, rulers who looked and behaved like people from an area stretching from present-day Syria in the north to Israel in the south. The traditional explanation is that the Hyksos were an invading force. But a fresh analysis of skeletons from the ancient Hyksos capital suggests an alternative: The Hyksos were Egyptian-born members of an immigrant community that rose up and grabbed power. The pharaohs ruled Egypt from about 3100 B.C.E. to 30 B.C.E., but they weren’t always in complete command of their territory. One period of vulnerability began around 1800 B.C.E., with a succession of ineffectual pharaohs who struggled to maintain order. The Hyksos took advantage of the power vacuum by seizing control of northern Egypt, according to ancient texts, leaving the pharaohs in charge of only a tiny strip of land to the south. Archaeologists know the Hyksos were unlike typical Egyptians: They had names like those of people from the neighboring region of southwest Asia. Ancient artwork depicts them wearing long, multicolored clothes, unlike normal Egyptian white attire. But exactly who they were has been unclear. The pharaohs later claimed the Hyksos were foreign invaders who took northern Egypt by force and brought disorder and chaos. But some historians say this was simply ancient Egyptian propaganda.” • The Hyksos were outside agitators!

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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 (MontanaMaven):

MontanaMaven writes: “Wild prairie roses near the Crazy Mountains in Montana.” Normally, I wouldn’t run this — 600px is the minimum width at NC — but look at those mountains in the background…

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