2:00PM Water Cooler 7/31/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

#COVID19

At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. Back to our top five problem states: Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona, with New York for comparison:

Not quite ready to call that peak for the five problem states. Those curves are all starting to look like a plateau.

“Coronavirus hotspots ease, but officials warn normal is a long way off” [The Hill]. “In interviews with state health officials this week, most said they remain concerned that the drop in new cases may be a plateau at an unacceptably high level of transmission, rather than a sustained decline…. In many places, evidence suggests the most vulnerable populations — older people and those with underlying conditions — are doing a far better job protecting themselves than are younger, healthy people…. Many states have closed bars or limited alcohol service after dark to discourage social gatherings, after several bars and parties became epicenters of major clusters. The vast majority of transmission, however, is still happening in communities, and especially in households where one family member might get several others sick.”

This chart includes new cases and positivity. Positivity is concerning. In terms of undercounting as measured by positivity (higher is bad), the order from worst to best would be AZ, FL, GA, TX, CA, at 7.46%, is still too high by WHO standards (they want 5%). So all the states are making progress in testing, especially Arizona (20.2%) but all have a way to go.

LA: “LA Mayor Urges ‘Extreme Caution’ (Men Especially) To Fight COVID-19 Spread” [LAist (anon in so cal)]. “Garcetti said L.A. County’s transmission rate is down to 0.92, which is slightly less than last week when it was 0.94. “This represents that what you’re doing is having an impact,” he said. sHe did acknolwedge the highest death count since the start of the pandemic happened within the last 24 hours — 91 deaths in the county — but attributed that to a reporting backlog. Of those deaths, 30 were in the city of L.A. The mayor also pointed out an interesting data point — men in L.A. County are much more likely to test positive for COVID-19 (2/3 of confirmed cases are men and 1/3 are women).” • That last figure is odd.

Politics

“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. July 28: Still no changes.

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!

2020

Biden (D)(1): “Biden, Bernie forces clash during convention meeting: [Politico]. “A Democratic Party meeting that leaders hoped would project unity weeks ahead of the national convention instead broke out into a behind-the-scenes feud over corporate money in politics….. The spat began when Brent Welder, a Sanders appointee on the convention’s rules committee, proposed a resolution to change the party charter to refuse all corporate PAC dollars and limit corporate lobbyists from serving on the DNC for several years. A Biden appointee called for it to be tabled, which some Sanders appointees said caught them off guard. ‘Tabling until when?’ asked Welder. ‘Generally, until someone makes a successful motion to take it off the table,” replied former Rep. Barney Frank, the co-chair of the meeting. ‘After the committee expires, if no one has moved to take it off the table successfully, then it dies with the committee.’ ‘Wow, that doesn’t make any sense at all,’ said Welder. Jillian Johnson, a Sanders appointee on the committee, said other Sanders supporters urged that the proposal be brought to a vote in the closed-door breakout room by changing the background images on their screens to reflect their support. She said some Biden appointees chastised progressives over it. ‘You’re acting like children,’ someone said, and, ‘You were going to lose anyway, so get over it,” she said. ‘And then the host just closed the meeting so we couldn’t see each other anymore.’” • Frank is right on the procedure, and right on the merits, if you want Big Donors to run the Democrat Party (and eliminate self-dealing by DNC members who are also campaign strategists). But holy moley, Sanders people, buy a copy of Robert’s Rules!

Trump (R)(1): “Trump’s Unfitness For Office” [Rod Dreher, The American Conservative]. “Trump had a phenomenal opportunity, and though he certainly faced hostile and clever enemies (as all presidents do), he blew that opportunity by governing badly. If he were only a tiny bit of the hard man his enemies think he is, wokeness would not be saturating US Attorneys offices in the Department of Justice…. It’s so depressing. I have never been as concerned as I am now about Democratic Party rule, because they’ve never been so radical. But I also haven’t lost so much confidence in a Republican presidency since the end of the George W. Bush administration. Please spare me the shopworn ‘at least he fights’ excuse. If he fights, then he fights like a barroom drunk swinging wildly and ineffectively. As MBD points out, he hasn’t accomplished much. Trump performs the role of a fighting president. His presidency is like professional wrestling: it only looks like combat.” • Dreher certainly has an odd concept of “radical.” Worth a read for the bill of particulars.

Health Care

About that “empathy” thing:

Realignment and Legitimacy

“A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty” [Boston Globe]. “On the second Friday in June, a group of political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy. The group, which included Democrats and Republicans, gathered to game out possible results of the November election, grappling with questions that seem less far-fetched by the day: What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in? ‘All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organized the group known as the Transition Integrity Project. She described what they found in bleak terms: “The law is essentially … it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.’ … Using a role-playing game that is a fixture of military and national security planning, the group envisioned a dark 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, one in which Trump and his Republican allies used every apparatus of government — the Postal Service, state lawmakers, the Justice Department, federal agents, and the military — to hold onto power, and Democrats took to the courts and the streets to try to stop it.” • As if Democrats ever conceded their loss in 2016! (On Rosa Brooks: “[Rosa Brooks of New America and Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution, both.. rejected the very idea of ending America’s existing wars. They argued that the U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria are really ‘counter-terrorism operations’ rather than ‘wars.’ Brooks even uttered the word identifying her as a member of the national security elite in good standing by calling for a ‘robust’ policy.) The other way of reading this article, which doesn’t include quite so much good faith from the Rosa Brook’s of this world, is that the national security establishment will be heavily involved in picking 2016’s winner (unless there’s a landslide, of course). It has also occurred to me that the protests (as opposed to the riots) are a splendid training ground for Women’s March and Indivisible types to “take to the streets.” Rather like 2000’s bourgeois riot in 2000, but at scale.

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.

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Real Estate: “The looming peak season is prompting a rush on warehousing. Retailers are already moving to find more space for goods…. as they overhaul distribution networks before an expected crush of online orders this fall” [Wall Street Journal]. “On-demand warehousing provider Flexe Inc. says demand for temporary warehouse space ‘is way up’ heading into a holiday season that’s wrapped in uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many retailers are betting that the big e-commerce surge of under coronavirus lockdowns will continue, however, and are shifting inventory to set up speedier delivery of online purchases.” • I dunno. If people can’t gather round the Christmas tree, what happens to retail?

Shipping: “The new chief executive of United Parcel Service is being cautious on capacity while taking an aggressive stance on pricing. CEO Carol Tomé told an earnings conference call that the package giant has the capabilities in place to handle projected peak-season volumes… and even turned down an offer from Boeing for three 747 freighters” [Wall Street Journal]. “Ms. Tomé says UPS will focus instead on becoming ‘better, not bigger.’ That means focusing on improving margins in a tumultuous market that has seen huge volumes of packages flood its delivery network, significantly raising costs. Residential deliveries soared 65% last quarter but profit margins narrowed sharply, a sign of how UPS and its retail customers are still adjusting to the consumer pivot.” • Ouch, Boeing. And UPS is becoming “better not bigger” at the same time we’re crippling the Post Office? How does that work?

Tech: “Winning Irish Stock Lets You See Who Sleeps Through Your Call” [Bloomberg]. ” Rather than traveling to a single location or dialing into a call, participants strap on a headset or access an app to be virtually placed in the same room. VRE’s Engage platform allows non-verbal communications via its avatars, which mirror participants’ movements, from shaking hands to drawing on a white-board, and body language. It’s also trickier to simply tune out by switching off the camera during a video call. ‘There’s a reason why people go to classrooms, because you see who’s paying attention, you can really interact with people, you can get that eye-contact,’ Chief Executive Officer David Whelan said in an interview earlier this month. Using its technology, ‘if one of the students falls asleep, you’ll see their avatar will fall asleep, they’ll slouch over the desk.’” • Unless the avatars are hacked, of course. For which there would obviously be a market.

Supply Chain: “Pharmaceutical companies are already moving to build the supply chains that would be needed to rapidly get a coronavirus vaccine to billions of people around the world. The enormous behind-the-scenes effort includes lining up the raw materials, factory capacity and special handling equipment needed to make and ship vaccines… and it comes even as the potential drugs themselves remain under research and development” [Wall Street Journal]. “The magnitude and speed of the effort creates room for lapses that could cost invaluable doses of a product that the world hopes can push back a virus that has killed over 661,000, including more than 150,000 in the U.S. Pharmaceutical companies say the scale of the effort is unparalleled in recent memory, far surpassing the annual distribution of flu vaccines. Some operators raise questions over transport capacity, but companies and governments are trying to get the capabilities set up.”

Mr. Market: “Big Tech Earnings Surge During Pandemic While Economy Slumps” [Bloomberg]. “The largest U.S. technology companies are thriving in a pandemic that has increased dependence on their products and services, while hammering much of the rest of the economy. Quarterly results from Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc. on Thursday show the industry is capitalizing on the crisis as locked-down consumers use tech gadgets and the internet for entertainment, social connection, shopping, learning and work. Together, the four companies reported revenue of $206 billion and net income of $29 billion in the three months ending in late June. ‘Right now, it’s big tech’s world and everyone else is paying rent,’ said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives. ‘They are consumer staples now and this crisis has bought their growth forward by about two years.’”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 63 Greed (previous close: 62 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 63 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). L Last updated Jul 31 at 12:59pm. Solid greed. Starting to get dull.

The Biosphere

“Morning glories and mustard: U.S. investigates unsolicited seed mystery” [Reuters]. “The U.S. Agriculture Department has identified more than a dozen plant species ranging from morning glories to mustard in bags of unsolicited seeds arriving in the mailboxes of thousands of Americans, mostly postmarked from China…. The packages have also been reported in Canada, where Ontario’s Central Region Provincial Police posted a warning on Facebook Wednesday against ‘foreign seeds in the mail from China or Taiwan.’” • Have any NC readers gotten any of these seeds?

“Plant of the Month: Peony” [JSTOR]. “While today we think of peonies as beautiful ornamental flowers, for much of their history they were viewed as an important medicinal plant. Writings discovered in an imperial Han tomb confirm that peony root (called “danpi”) was used to treat blood stasis nearly 2,000 years ago in China. In traditional Chinese medicine, the common Chinese garden peony (Paeonia lactiflora) was used to treat high blood pressure, inflammation, and gynecological ailments, including hot flashes and irregular menstrual cycles. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, peony, often in combination with mistletoe, was prescribed not only to induce menstrual flow but also to treat seizures and epilepsy. The Roman physician Galen recommended peony root tied around the necks of children as an effective remedy for “the falling sickness,” a common premodern phrase for epilepsy. Throughout the Middle Ages, peony continued to be used for seizures and epilepsy, either worn around the neck as a talisman or prescribed by physicians. This prescription persisted into sixteenth-century Europe.”

“Why Are Plants Green? To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis” [Quanta]. “From large trees in the Amazon jungle to houseplants to seaweed in the ocean, green is the color that reigns over the plant kingdom. Why green, and not blue or magenta or gray? The simple answer is that although plants absorb almost all the photons in the red and blue regions of the light spectrum, they absorb only about 90% of the green photons. If they absorbed more, they would look black to our eyes. Plants are green because the small amount of light they reflect is that color. But that seems unsatisfyingly wasteful because most of the energy that the sun radiates is in the green part of the spectrum. When pressed to explain further, biologists have sometimes suggested that the green light might be too powerful for plants to use without harm, but the reason why hasn’t been clear. Even after decades of molecular research on the light-harvesting machinery in plants, scientists could not establish a detailed rationale for plants’ color. Recently, however, in the pages of Science, scientists finally provided a more complete answer. They built a model to explain why the photosynthetic machinery of plants wastes green light. What they did not expect was that their model would also explain the colors of other photosynthetic forms of life too. Their findings point to an evolutionary principle governing light-harvesting organisms that might apply throughout the universe. They also offer a lesson that — at least sometimes — evolution cares less about making biological systems efficient than about keeping them stable… It might be highly efficient to specialize in collecting just the peak energy in green light, but that would be detrimental for plants because, when the sunlight flickered, the noise from the input signal would fluctuate too wildly for the complex to regulate the energy flow.” • Plants are so smart. I don’t like flickering sunlight either.

Health Care

“Scared That Covid-19 Immunity Won’t Last? Don’t Be” [New York Times]. “a finding that naturally occurring antibodies in some Covid-19 patients are fading doesn’t actually mean very much for the likely efficacy of vaccines under development. Science, in this case, can be more effective than nature. The human immune system has evolved to serve two functions: expediency and precision. Hence, we have two types of immunity: innate immunity, which jumps into action within hours, sometimes just minutes, of an infection; and adaptive immunity, which develops over days and weeks…. That antibodies decrease once an infection recedes isn’t a sign that they are failing: It’s a normal step in the usual course of an immune response. Nor does a waning antibody count mean waning immunity: The memory B cells that first produced those antibodies are still around, and standing ready to churn out new batches of antibodies on demand.” • So, even if the bloodstream isn’t full of antibodies, the body retains the recipes for them. That is extremely cool.

“Virus testing turnaround times reveal wide disparity” [Associated Press]. “As coronavirus cases surge in hard-hit Florida, so do the turnaround times for test results. The reasons are many: Often it has to do with lab staffing, backlog, or equipment shortages. Some tests are done in house, while others are sent to overloaded labs out of state. Health experts say test results that come back after two or three days are nearly worthless, because by then the window for tracing the person’s contacts to prevent additional infections has essentially closed. But there is one place in Central Florida where a group of people are being tested and getting results within a day: the NBA. Basketball players, team staff, news media and anyone else inside the “bubble” at the practice compound at Walt Disney World are tested daily — and get their results within 15-18 hours on average. This rankles some in Central Florida, who wonder why local, state and federal leaders can’t coordinate large-scale, organized testing, but the NBA can.” • ‘Tis a puzzlement!

“The Paradox of Medical Costs During the Pandemic” [EconoFact]. “As COVID-19 began to rapidly spread in the United States, many experts suggested that medical costs would rise substantially due to the pandemic. They projected high costs from long and expensive hospitalizations for those seriously affected by the virus, especially in hot-spots throughout the country. Paradoxically, however, medical costs seem to have gone down substantially — at least in the short term. This is because non-COVID expenditures have dropped sharply. Patients have not obtained non-emergency care, ranging from screening and immunization to chronic care visits and surgery. Some of this care will be delivered later, but some will never be made up. Even as communities decrease pandemic-related restrictions, patients may remain reluctant to obtain non-urgent medical care. Such a drop in medical expenditures is extremely rare: total U.S. health expenditures per capita have increased every year since at least 1970, including during the recession of 2008-9.” • So much for hospital capital expenditures.

“Child vaccinations plummet during COVID-19 pandemic, worrying Michigan health officials” [Free Press]. “Fewer Michigan children got vaccinations while the state was in throes of coronavirus-related shutdowns, leaving health officials worried about the spread of preventable diseases like measles, whooping cough and influenza. Vaccinations have increased since they took a precipitous drop this spring, but numbers are still down significantly compared to 2018 and 2019, according to the state health department. In June 2020, dosages of vaccines administered through federal or state funding dropped 10% compared to an average combining June 2018 and June 2019, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. That’s an improvement over May’s 44% decrease and April’s 64% decrease compared to the prior two years.” • Yikes.

Guillotine Watch

Not just imprison:

Class Warfare

“Building An Inclusive Post-Pandemic American Workforce” [The American Conservative]. “ll eyes are on the declining number of unemployed. The May and June jobs reports chronicle the reabsorption of 5.3 million who lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic. Twelve million jobs to go to reach pre-pandemic employment. Yet prior to the pandemic, there were 18 million Americans missing from the economy. These persons were neither employed nor seeking employment—nor retirees, students or in-home caregivers—and therefore were excluded from the Bureau of Labor Statistics count of the workforce. In order that America emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, a concerted initiative by federal and state governments to move them back into the economy—using existing resources—must begin now. These are people struggling with disabilities such as physical handicaps and mental illness; substance abuse disorders; health complaints; criminal histories; and vocational deficits. They are, however, human beings endowed with unique and significant potential; they deserve our attention for several reasons. Research on the social determinants of health finds that employment has a very strong correlation with positive health outcomes. To exist as a non-participant in the economy is thus an invitation to dire health outcomes including premature death.” • “Social determinants of health” in TAC. I think the world is coming to an end.

News of the Wired

“These 45 Netgear routers can be hacked and will never be fixed — what to do now” [Tom’s Guide]. “Forty-five different Netgear Wi-Fi routers and home gateways will never get security patches despite having serious security flaws that were disclosed in June, the company has now confirmed. If you own or use one of these routers, it’s best to just throw it out and get a new one. You could try installing open-source router firmware such as OpenWRT on the old model if you’re technologically inclined. These routers were among nearly 80 Netgear models prone to total takeover by hackers who could exploit flaws in their administrative interfaces. The Netgear router flaws were revealed in mid-June.” • The list is at the end of the article (with an explanation of how to determine what a Netgear model number actually is).

“Elton John, celebrating 30 years of sobriety, says if he had never asked for help, he’d be dead” [CNN]. Elton John:

Reflecting on the most magical day having celebrated my 30th Sobriety Birthday. So many lovely cards, flowers and chips from my sons, David, friends in the Program, staff at the office and in our homes. I’m truly a blessed man. If I hadn’t finally taken the big step of asking for help 30 years ago, I’d be dead. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who have inspired and supported me along the way.

I’m not an Elton John listener, but — PSA start — sobriety is a wonderful thing, so congratulations to him. Also, “Stress, isolation and free time: People are drinking more amid pandemic, study says” [The News & Observer], so now might be the time to take the First Step. PSA end.

“Mask Stickers in Team Colors” [Kickstarter]. Alert reader rattib writes:

I’m not sure if a kickstarter campaign qualifies as a legitimate link, but as a regular reader of the blog and (very!) rare commenter (as ‘rattib’), I’ve been really grateful for NC’s thorough inquiry into the technical aspects of Covid-19, especially around mask use. I’ve also been frustrated at how much individualism as a character trait in the US seems to have taken center stage with regard to masking, when there is tons of evidence that Americans are actually quite good at working together as a team and showing support for one another, for instance in the world of sports. Just one example: more than 700,000 people came out in the middle of winter to see the Seahawks Superbowl victory parade back in 2014; that year the city of Seattle clocked in with a population of 670,925. In any case, I started a kickstarter to raise funds for stickers in team colors that say “MY MASK PROTECTS YOU/ YOUR MASK PROTECTS ME” – the link is here, I’d be thrilled if you shared it.

I’ve been saying masks should be fashion items since I first posted on them. So even though I don’t have a team, this sounds like a very good idea!

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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 (periol):

periol writes: “Still barely getting settled, so I haven’t really had a chance to take photos of the plants in place before we moved in, but here is a photo of some baby grapes (not sure what variety) being fertilized by one of the many bees that lives on the property with us. The grape leaves are under attack from tiny insects, but there are nearly ripe bunches of fruit elsewhere on the vine.”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered.
To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

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