2:00PM Water Cooler 5/7/2020
By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart:
The data is the John Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. I have changed to a logarithmic scale for US States and territories.
As you can see, “Default view is now new cases/day” which changes the graph, more optimistically, and perhaps more accurately. I can change this back to “Total Confirmed Cases” if readers prefer.
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See Vice, “How to Read the Coronavirus Graphs“:
Quantities that grow exponentially, when depicted on a linear scale, look like curves that bend sharply upward, with the curve getting constantly steeper. On a log scale, exponentially growing values can be depicted with straight diagonal lines.
That’s the beauty of plotting things on log scales. Plots are meant to make things easy to understand, and we humans are much more adept at understanding linear, straight-line behavior. Log plots enable us to grasp exponential behavior by transferring the complexity of constantly steepening curves into the simplicity of an exponentially increasing scale.
On a log scale, we want to constantly be making the line more and more horizontal. The general concept of “flattening” is still a good one, but it’s never going to curve down. And so what we should be looking, and hoping for is a trend toward horizontal.
“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
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Biden (D)(1): “A Fair Examination of the Allegations Against Joe Biden Can Strengthen the #MeToo Movement” [The New Yorker]. Takes awhile to arrive at the main point, which is: “What these open calculations reveal is that #MeToo can countenance the balancing of sexual misconduct against other evils, and the vindication of alleged victims against other goods…. And if #MeToo shows mercy to Biden the candidate when he most needs it, he incurs a great political debt that he can repay as President Biden. This practical reasoning is certainly a break from the idea that the only options are that an accused person is either innocent or banished.” • I believe that in the Catholic tradition, this would be called casuistry. And I never want to hear any criticism about evangelicals being hypocrites for supporting Trump ever again.
Biden (D)(1): “How ‘Never Trumpers’ Crashed The Democratic Party” [FiveThirtyEight]. “When Sanders did well in the early primaries and seemed like he could win the Democratic nomination, ‘Never Trump’ conservatives turned into a ‘Never Bernie’ coalition. The ‘Never Trumpers’ argument — that Sanders couldn’t win the general election, in part because anti-Trump Republicans (like themselves) wouldn’t vote for him– was compelling, particularly for a Democratic Party obsessed with beating Trump. And the “Never Trumpers” were already in the ideal positions to make these arguments and reach Democratic Party elites and primary voters — the web pages of The Atlantic, The New York Times and The Washington Post and on MSNBC. [Tim Miller, a prominent “Never Trump” activist who worked on Sen. John McCain and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaigns], in an anti-Trump publication called The Bulwark, described how he and other Republicans had failed to mobilize effectively against Trump in the 2016 GOP primary and laid out a step-by-step guide for how Democrats could avoid the same fate. (The piece was widely circulated on Twitter.)… Never Trump” conservatives were thrilled with Biden’s victories on Super Tuesday — and think they played a part in it. “One group that really mattered in the primaries were the high-information voters, the people who watch MSNBC, listen to ‘The Daily,’” said Miller, referring to a popular New York Times podcast. “A lot of these people went from Harris to Warren to Buttigieg and finally landed on Biden. For these voters, it was all an assessment of who could defeat Trump. For them, we [“Never Trumpers”] have a unique experience and insight.” • It’s amusing to think of MSNBC viewers as “high information,” but let that pass. What’s really remarkable is that the Never Trumpers “unique experience and insight” consists in losing. So naturally, the Democrat Establishment would elevate them.
For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc.
In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time. pic.twitter.com/aJgCNfx1m0
— Brad Parscale – Download our Trump 2020 App today! (@parscale) May 7, 2020
Well, the Biden campaign is full of plucky rebels, so no problemo.
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Realignment and Legitimacy
“Schumer, Pelosi set to unveil ‘Rooseveltian’ relief package” [The Hill]. Since there’s no mention of policy in the article, let me pull out the adjectives: “Big,” “bold,” “very strong,” “action here to help average folks,” and “Rooseveltian.” If only there had been somebody who had been advocating policies like that in the Democrat primary! And if only the Democrats had done this first, when they had some leverage, and nobody was muttering about “fiscal responsibility.” Anyhow, I hate to be too cynical, but liberal Democrats being who they are, I would bet that the bill will not be universal (“essential workers” enter by the front door, all others by the kitchen entrance), will include means testing, and be at least partially implemented through tax credits. It will also be complicated. The bill will certainly not resemble Tlaib’s proposal to give everyone relief through a card topped up on a monthly basis, and paid for by issuing The Coin. That would be Rooseveltian. From Firesign Theatre: “PORGY: Now, kids! Don’t get excited! VOICE FROM CROWD: Who’s excited?”
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.
Productivity: “1Q2020 Preliminary Headline Productivity Hit By The Coronavirus” [Econintersect]. “A simple summary of the headlines for this release is that labor costs are growing significantly faster than productivity on a quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis – and the pandemic has caused productivity to crater…. [M]y productivity analysis… is at odds with the headline view. Doing a productivity analysis at the beginning of a major recession is a waste of time.”
Employment Situation: “02 May 2020 Initial Unemployment Claims 3,169,000 This Week” [Econintersect]. “The COVID-19 virus continues to impact the number of initial claims and its impact is also reflected in the increasing levels of insured unemployment. The pandemic has so far caused a 33,765,000 job loss…. (versus the 2235 % higher last week) – and is higher than any historical value for this data set.”
Employment Situation: “April 2020 Job Cuts Break Single Month Record” [Econintersect]. “Job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers spiked to 671,129, the highest single-month total on record. Challenger began tracking job cut announcements in January 1993. Last month’s total was primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was cited as the reason for 633,082 job cuts.”
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Real Estate: “COVID-19 Crisis Capitalism Comes to Real Estate” [Boston Review]. “By proptech we mean technical products and platforms that have facilitated the merging of the technology and real estate industries in novel ways…. The proptech industry ballooned following the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, when racist lending practices and government response dispossessed hundreds of thousands of mainly black and Latinx property owners. This era saw over 240,000 black residents lose their homes, erasing most of the gains made since the 1968 passing of the civil rights era Fair Housing Act. Wall Street investment firms such as Blackstone, Invitation Homes, Colony, Waypoint, and Starwood—which have all now consolidated into one mega-firm—swept in to purchase foreclosed homes at auction, ushering in the age of the corporate landlord. Today the conglomerate of Blackstone comprises the largest landowning firm globally and is the biggest landlord in the United States. Hundreds of large investment companies followed Blackstone’s lead, forming massive landlord monopolies in various cities and regions across the United States. These mega-landlords generally acquire new properties through limited partnership (LPs) and limited liability company (LLCs) shell companies, a practice that makes it difficult for tenants to know who their landlords really are, and thus serves to stymie tenant organizing and collective action.” • Ugly, ugly. I highlighted this passage because the mega-landlords tie up what I had always thought of as a loose end from the 2008 Crash, but the property tech stuff is just super-invasive and awful. Worth reading in full.
Retail: “Debt-burdened Neiman Marcus runs out of options, files to reorganize in bankruptcy” [Dallas Morning News]. “The new owners will be the lenders who are funding the bankruptcy and the funds to emerge…. In hindsight, the highly leveraged $6 billion buyout of Neiman Marcus by Ares Management LLC and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board foretold an eventual bankruptcy filing. … Without its interest expense, which totaled more than $300 million a year, Neiman Marcus was profitable.” • “Without the tapeworm, the human host would have been nourished.”
Shipping: “Inside the ‘mind-blowing,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘insane,’ ‘ridiculous’ tanker sell-off” [American Shipper]. “One of the undercurrents on recent quarterly tanker calls was that investors might not be getting the right numbers and may be interpreting reported rates incorrectly. When a spot ‘fixture’ deal is first reported, it is ‘on subjects,’ which means the charterer has a period of time to vet the ship before ‘lifting subjects’ and closing the deal, after which it is ‘fully fixed.’ Sometimes, particularly in frothy markets, the charterer does not lift subjects and the fixture fails. The real market rate is the level of fully fixed deals, but broker reports and indices cited in the press take into account the initially reported fixtures, even the ones that fail — which can inflate the numbers during a hot market. As Ardmore Tankers CEO Anthony Gurnee said during a conference call on Tuesday, ‘The indices people are quoting and the rates shipbrokers are throwing around tend to be somewhat detached from reality. As our chartering team likes to say, it’s basically fairy dust until you actually fix it.’”
The Bezzle: “Yelp is Screwing Over Restaurants By Quietly Replacing Their Phone Numbers” [Vice]. “Even though restaurants are capable of taking orders directly—after all, both numbers are routed to the same place—Yelp is pushing customers to Grubhub-owned phone numbers in order to facilitate what Grubhub calls a ‘referral fee’ of between 15 percent and 20 percent of the order total… Yelp has historically functioned like an enhanced Yellow Pages, listing direct phone numbers for restaurants along with photos, information about the space, menus, and user reviews. But Yelp began prompting customers to call Grubhub phone numbers in October 2018 after the two companies announced a “long-term partnership.’… The commissions charged for phone orders are also frequently inaccurate because unlike with online orders, Grubhub does not actually know how much a phone order costs. It calculates its marketing commission based on the average of the last six non-phone orders.” • Why does everything Silicon Valley turn out skeevy?
Supply Chain: “Mexico’s lockdown of a swath of industries has closed many suppliers to American factories… leaving companies including auto makers and appliance sellers without a reliable supply of parts” [Wall Street Journal]. “The problem is a result of the tightly woven supply chains operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, and it’s raising tensions in both countries. U.S. companies and some states are lobbying for Mexican plants to reopen, while Mexican authorities say border factories have contributed to higher infection rates in northern Mexico.”
Supply Chain: “Gilead Sciences is trying to establish what appears to be the first global pharmaceutical supply chain aimed directly at coronavirus treatment. The California-based company is joining with other drugmakers to manufacture and sell its Covid-19 treatment remdesivir outside the U.S… farming out production of the medicine to ensure supply meets global demand” [Wall Strreet Journal]. “The company already faces challenges in producing a drug that Gilead says is relatively complex to make. The raw ingredients are sourced from suppliers around the world and Gildead says global supply chain disruptions have already made some of those materials more scarce. Gilead is looking to ease the logistical challenges in making and distributing enough remdesivir to satisfy likely high global demand. If it succeeds, the company’s effort could provide a model for how drug manufacturers could build a supply chain for a vaccine if researchers eventually reach that goal.” • I know! Let’s build a massive global supply chain!
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 41 Fear (previous close: 41 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 47 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 7 at 12:41pm.
“How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease” [ProPublica]. “There are three ways climate influences emerging diseases. Roughly 60% of new pathogens come from animals — including those pressured by diversity loss — and roughly one-third of those can be directly attributed to changes in human land use, meaning deforestation, the introduction of farming, development or resource extraction in otherwise natural settings. Vector-borne diseases — those carried by insects like mosquitoes and ticks and transferred in the blood of infected people — are also on the rise as warming weather and erratic precipitation vastly expand the geographic regions vulnerable to contagion. Climate is even bringing old viruses back from the dead, thawing zombie contagions like the anthrax released from a frozen reindeer in 2016, which can come down from the arctic and haunt us from the past.”
“AP Exclusive: US shelves detailed guide to reopening country” [Associated Press]. “The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance “would never see the light of day,” according to a CDC official. The official was not authorized to talk to reporters and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity…. States that directly reach out to the CDC can tap guidance that’s been prepared but that the White House has not released.” • A copy of the report is at the link.
“Cold, Crowded, Deadly: How U.S. Meat Plants Became a Virus Breeding Ground” [Bloomberg]. “On March 25 one of [Rafael Benjamin’s] daughters gave him a face mask to wear at the plant, where he operated boxing and loading equipment near the entrance and was often the first person to greet arriving co-workers. “He was always so respectful,” a shiftmate says. Two days later, Benjamin told his kids a supervisor had ordered him to remove the mask because it was creating unnecessary fears among plant employees.” • Benjamin died, naturally. More: “The meat industry’s failure to protect its employees from the coronavirus has triggered the most serious threat to U.S. meat supplies since World War II. In recent weeks, 115 meat and poultry plants have reported Covid-19 infections in the U.S., and about 5,000 workers, 1% of the industry’s workforce, have been confirmed sick, with 20 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreaks were so severe that at least 18 plants shut down…. Now it’s up to the meatpacking companies, with even less accountability than before, to adapt to the coronavirus while sustaining production and worker health. ‘It remains to be seen how we’re going to manage that dynamic between the health and emotional safety, and physical safety, of the workers in the plants and the executive order,’ David MacLennan, Cargill’s chairman and chief executive officer, told Bloomberg TV on April 28…. Trust among meatpacking workers and their communities, never high, has been shattered.” • “Emotional safety.” Well worth a read. Joe Weisenthal comments: “These details are absolutely awful.”
Groves of Academe
“Not Persuasion, But Power: Against ‘Making the Case’” [Boston Review].”For a generation or more, institutions of higher education have been actively dismantled—in many ways, transformed beyond recognition—by powerful constituencies who are actively hostile to academic values. These constituencies include conservative politicians who view widespread access to liberal arts education as a recipe for social upheaval, and business leaders who want to shunt the expense of training workers for highly technical jobs onto the university system (and ultimately the students themselves). They do not need to be told of the benefits of a liberal arts education. They have often benefited from such an education themselves and are happy to provide it for their own children—including at elite Ivy League schools that do not even have the kind of vocational programs that they recommend so fervently for everyone else. They are well aware of the potential of liberal arts degrees to produce engaged and informed citizens who can navigate an ever-changing job market with confidence and creativity. That is precisely why they want to keep a true liberal arts education as a preserve of the elite, consigning everyone else to narrowly vocational paths that teach them how best to serve those above them in the social hierarchy. The problem is not persuasion, but power—and propaganda.”
“Pandemic Therapy for the 1 Percent: More Money, Different Problems” [Bloomberg]. “For those with several homes, many have adopted the solution of rotating among their houses by private jet…. ‘They will wait while the staff comes in to clean, get groceries, do all the housekeeping’ at one location, [therapist Ginger] Poag says. ‘They’ll wait a certain amount of time, maybe three days, with no one entering the house, then they’ll move there.’ Once bored with those surroundings, they’ll charge staff to tee up another location—the Palm Beach, Fla., house, perhaps—and repeat the process…. Sanam Hafeez’s clients are also worried about houses—although in her case, the Manhattan-based therapist is hearing more about vacation rentals. ‘One patient is neurotic that she won’t find a ‘great’ Hamptons rental, because all the prices will be sky-high because people in New York City have already decamped to the Hamptons. She is worried that the house she and her husband will be able to afford will be too modest to show her friends,” Hafeez says.” • I wonder how many freezers she wants to buy.
“Labor wins big on COVID workers’ comp” [CalMatters]. “In a big win for labor unions, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that presumes California’s essential workers who contract COVID-19 did so on the job. The order makes it easier for employees to access workers’ compensation benefits by shifting the burden of proof to employers, who will have to prove employees did not contract COVID-19 at work in order to avoid a claim, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. Such an expansion has been estimated to cost the state workers’ compensation system billions a year. The order applies to all essential workers, not just health care workers and first responders. It lasts for two months and retroactively covers those who tested positive for coronavirus within 14 days of working after Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order.”=
“Independent Musician’s Union Sends Letter to Congress Demanding Aid Signed by Downtown Boys, DIIV, Speedy Ortiz, Lee Ranaldo, Thursday, Zola Jesus, Guy Picciotto & More” [mxdwn.com]. “A plethora of musicians including Downtown Boys, DIIV, Speedy Ortiz, Lee Ranaldo, Thursday, Zola Jesus and Guy Picciotto have sent a letter to congress demanding aid as an independent musicians union. Called The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW), the letter comes in six parts, calling for an expansion of government benefits, and emergency funding for programs in need.”
“On “strasserism” and the decay of the left.” [tinkzorg]. “I write this because there are still people out there who don’t yet know that they can pick a side, who think that constantly losing and being seen as cruel jokes or craven enemies by the very people they purport to “serve” is the only alternative on offer. It’s not. You can become a chud, a strasserite, a racist, a redbrown, a nazi just like us: in short, you can simply opt to leave the professionals and managers behind, and let them fight their hopeless battle against historical obsolescence.” • Relevant, I think, to the aftermath of the Sanders campaign. A fun polemic.
“Anarchist Direct Actions: A Challenge for Law Enforcement” [Studies in Conflict & Terrorism]. From 2006, still germane. Some amusing passages on this thread:
A discussion of infiltration’s challenges pic.twitter.com/NgHtti5Ax9
— Ella Fassler (@EllaFassler) May 5, 2020
News of the Wired
“How ‘Karen’ Became a Coronavirus Villain” [The Atlantic]. “André Brock, an associate professor at Georgia Tech who has studied Black Twitter, says Karen memes are freshly resonant now because they allow people of color the chance to indulge in dark comedy about the way the pandemic is disproportionately affecting them. In reference to another varietal of Karen, the type of suburban liberal who uses the Nextdoor app and a Ring security camera to surveil her neighbors and monitor their behavior, he called it “deeply ironic” that white women isolating in single-family homes—whose lifestyle puts them at low risk of exposure to the virus—have been getting militant about teenagers wearing face masks or judgmental about city dwellers’ inability to execute perfect social distancing.” • I believe that “Karen” was originally “Becky” on Black Twitter, and was then appropriated, as is the way. Somebody should call the manager about that.
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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 (astor8e):
astor8e writes: “Nice fungi in Napa, CA with a large California live oak in the background…” And a very nice sky!
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