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2:00PM Water Cooler 6/2/2020


2:00PM Water Cooler 6/2/2020


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, more soon. Reality — today in the form of Biden’s speech — keeps getting in the way of my production cycle. –lambert


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart. The data is the John Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. Today I thought I would look at big states not in the Acela Corridor: California, Texas, Florida:

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This version puts the same three states in the context of the Top 25 COVID-19 states; the curves are still inception-based. The conclusion is the same: It’s clear that this country cannot be said to have the pandemic under control.


“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

Since we’re getting closer to the election, maybe it’s time to start looking at the electoral map:

So, taking the consensus as a given, 270 (total) – 204 (Trump’s) = 66. 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. Trump, then, can lose only 36 votes out of the states in play. He could lose, say, AZ (11) and PA (20), but would have to win FL, MI, NC, PA, and WI. That’s a heavy lift. Readers will naturally correct my math!

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Biden (D)(1): “Joe Biden Addresses the Nation On the Civil Unrest Facing Communities Across America” [YouTube]. Here is the video:

“Joe Biden Philadelphia Speech Transcript on Protests for George Floyd” [Rev] (if a popup appears, you can click through). Here is the concrete policy proposal part, starting at 10:07:

I call on the Congress to act this month on measures that will be the first step in this direction, starting with real police reform. Congressman Jeffries has a Bill to outlaw choke Kohl’s. Congress should put it on the president’s desk in the next few days. There are other measures, to stop transferring weapons of war to police forces, improve oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard, that also should be made law this month.

I am no expert in police reform policy, but here is a thread on that topic for comparison purposes:

What jumps out at me is that Biden — granted, he qualifies with “first step” — doesn’t mention the role that police union contracts can play in shielding police from accountability.

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Realignment and Legitimacy

“In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld gave a perfect explanation for why people riot” [Vox]. From 2015, still germane. “When Iraqis looted hospitals and businesses in Baghdad after the US invasion in 2003, the conservative secretary of defense at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, suggested that looting was a result of legitimate, pent-up anger…. Rumsfeld said, according to Pentagon correspondent Pamela Hess at UPI:

While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … [who wouldn’t] accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.

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“Americans losing faith in elections as Trump discredits voting systems” [Los Angeles Times]. “[A] group of academics, called Bright Line Watch, which since 2017 has surveyed Americans on how much confidence they have in the election system. The surveys show a steep drop during Trump’s presidency. When the project began, about 60% of those surveyed said they believed U.S. elections were free of fraud. Now only 45% say they believe that. A third of Trump supporters surveyed say they would not regard it as undemocratic for a president to attack the legitimacy of election results.” • That’s not good. On the other hand, sometimes one thinks Americans have the memories of goldfish. Does anyone remember election 2000 and Bush v. Gore? Or the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), crafted in response to the hanging chad debacle, that subsidized the introduction of hackable voting machines? Our voting systems have been, to say the least, rickety for some time. See Election Justice USA’s report on the 2016 election, for example.

“Philadelphia Sends Out ‘Voteswagon’ To Collect Mail-in Ballots” [CBS Philly]. “The committee of Seventy and the city commissioners office have joined forces in Philadelphia over to the next few days to make sure anyone with a mail-in vote can get it counted ahead of the Pennsylvania primary. …. The bus will make 10 stops throughout Philadelphia between Sunday and Monday evening- this Saturday mornings outpost was Boys Latin charter. ‘Frequently with the postal service people get their ballots closer to Election Day so we wanted to set up an option to submit their ballots in person,” [city commissioner Al Schmidt] said.’ And in turn, assurance their votes and voices are heard. Over 200,000 people applied to vote by mail for the first time in a Pennsylvania election, according to Schmidt.”

“Here’s what happens in Lancaster County, step-by-step, when your mail-in ballot leaves your mailbox” [Lancaster Online]. “Step 1: Ballots are received…. Step 2: Signatures on the back of the envelope are checked…. Step 3: Ballots remain in the elections office, unopened… Step 4: On Election Day, teams of two elections workers will begin taking the boxes of ballots [to] an envelope slicing machine opens the ballot return envelope…. Step 5: The sliced return envelope is then brought back to the elections office and it is opened, revealing the secrecy envelope inside which contains the actual ballot. The return envelope is retained for record keeping purposes and the secrecy envelopes are then shuffled together so that elections workers cannot associate the name on the return envelope with the actual ballot…. Step 6: The ballots inside the secrecy envelope will be taken to another room on the first floor of the county government building to be run through a ballot scanner…. Step 7: Scanned ballots are then secured so they cannot be rescanned.” • Interesting, but what about central tabulation?

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.

Coincident Indicators: “02 June 2020 New York Fed Weekly Economic Index (WEI): Index Declines and Remains At Recession Levels” [Econintersect]. “This data set should be considered a high-frequency coincident indicator on a par with the Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti Business Conditions Index produced by the Philly Fed – and both show conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic are already worse than the Great Recession. However, the Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti Business Conditions Index is improving whilst the WLI is still declining. Logic would say with the partial reopening of the economy – the Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti Business Conditions Index seems to be correct.”

Housing: “April 2020 CoreLogic Home Prices: Home Prices Holding Steady Despite Coronavirus” [Econintersect]. “This is a rear view of home prices. Econintersect believes home prices will deteriorate as the year progresses as the knock-on effect of the coronavirus will grow. The worst-case will be a decline to Great Recession levels but the most likely scenario is a 10% decline roughly equal to the expected unemployment rate. Too much money is being removed from the economy due to the COVID restrictions and elevated unemployment.”

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Commodities: “A meat-supply crunch is beginning to ease but grocers and suppliers expect strains across U.S. food sectors to persist for several months. The U.S. food industry heads into the summer months with beef and pork production last week about 7% lower than the same time last year…. while items like rice, flour and pasta remain scarce following heavy consumer stockpiling” [Wall Street Journal]. “That panic-buying has tailed off but disconnects in supply chains are lingering as suppliers and distributors cope with rapid shifts in production and demand. Restaurants that had scaled down to pickup and delivery operations have resumed food purchasing as they begin to reopen, for instance, keeping supplies of meat products and other items tight. Meat processors have reopened plants but many sites are running well below their usual capacity, with some workers out sick and others adjusting to new safety rules.”

Retail: “Retailers reopening their doors as the U.S. eases coronavirus lockdowns face a new challenge coping with a glut of pent-up inventory. Merchants that have navigated the pandemic will be going head-to-head with bankrupt rivals anxious to liquidate stockpiles… potentially providing a bonanza for consumers and headaches for many store owners” [Wall Street Journal]. “Apparel and footwear companies are particularly exposed, with tens of billions of dollars of unsold merchandise in stores and warehouses. U.S. figures show the retail inventory to sales ratio, a measure of efficiency in supply chains, ballooned to 1.53 in March from 1.43 the month before, reaching the highest level since the financial crisis. Store owners are working with consumer demand still in question and with conventional forecasting tools challenged by the uncertainty. Selling inventory will also be harder and take longer because of staggered store openings and social-distancing restrictions, cutting into margins.”

Employment Situation: “An Unemployment Crisis after the Onset of COVID-19” [Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco]. “we assess possible paths for unemployment through 2021. Although the initial scale of the crisis is clear, substantial uncertainty surrounds the future path of unemployment. This uncertainty primarily revolves around the success of virus containment measures and how quickly economic activity can recover. Fundamental measurement challenges are also likely to affect the official unemployment rate: some laid-off workers cannot actively search for new jobs because of shelter-in-place restrictions and hence may be counted as out of the labor force, rather than unemployed…. Our analysis suggests that returning to pre-outbreak unemployment levels by sometime in 2021 would require a significantly more rapid pace of hiring than during any past economic recovery.” • I don’t believe the virus is contained; see the chart above. I’d love to be wrong!

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 58 Greed (previous close: 58 Greed;) [CNN]. One week ago: 50 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 29 at 1:18pm. Last updated Jun 2 at 12:59pm. So Mr. Market came back from the Nineteenth Hole on Sunday, and decided to get bullish? Note the flip to Greed (yesterday, I mistakenly only updated the number.

Health Care

“The Protests Will Spread the Coronavirus” [The Atlantic]. “The wave of mass protests across the United States will almost certainly set off new chains of infection for the novel coronavirus, experts say. The virus seems to spread the most when people yell (such as to chant a slogan), sneeze (to expel pepper spray), or cough (after inhaling tear gas). It is transmitted most efficiently in crowds and large gatherings, and research has found that just a few contagious people can infect hundreds of susceptible people around them. The virus can spread especially easily in small, cramped places, such as police vans and jails.” • Oy.

“‘Superspreaders’ Could Actually Make Covid-19 Easier to Control” [Bloomberg]. “The most important lessons to be derived here may spring from the fact that the variations in infectiousness are not entirely random. In the future, a team of eight mostly U.S.-based researchers speculated in yet another new paper on the phenomenon, it may be possible to identify those likeliest to be superspreaders by demographics, viral load or other physical characteristics. In the present, it’s already pretty easy to identify specific behaviors and locations that lend themselves to large-scale Covid-19 transmission, with singing, yelling, talking loudly or otherwise engaging in behaviors likely to spread the virus in the crowded indoor spaces implicated in most of the major superspreading events. The key role of such events may help explain why, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Elaine He demonstrated with a remarkable set of charts, the strictness of government lockdowns in different European countries did not seem to be correlated with success in slowing the spread of the disease, although their timing did. Once you’ve put a stop to large, indoor gatherings with lots of yelling or singing, there may be diminishing returns to other restrictions. This may also help explain why epidemic models that did not assume great variability in individual infectiousness so wildly overestimated how fast the disease would spread under relatively relaxed restrictions in Sweden. Another implication of Covid-19’s superspreader skew, according to several recent papers, is that even in the absence of widespread testing for the disease, low-tech efforts to isolate those with symptoms and track down their contacts can be quite effective in slowing its spread.” • See NC here. On the same topic–

“Just Stop the Superspreading” [New York Times]. “We recently published a preprint (a preliminary paper, still to be peer-reviewed) about 1,038 cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Hong Kong between Jan. 23 and April 28 that, using contact-tracing data, identified all local clusters of infection. We found that superspreading has overwhelmingly contributed to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the city overall. Of the 349 local cases we identified — the remaining 689 cases were imported from other territories — 196 were linked to just six superspreading events. One person alone appears to have infected 73 individuals after frequenting several bars in late March. Weddings, temples, hot-pot dinners, work parties and karaoke venues featured in the other clusters. In our study, just 20 percent of cases, all of them involving social gatherings, accounted for an astonishing 80 percent of transmissions.”

“27% unlikely to be vaccinated against the coronavirus; Republicans, conservatives especially: POLL” [ABC]. • Oof:

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“U.S. businesses are getting back to work with a set of new supply chains and they’re already facing concerns over distribution and pricing. Manufacturers are racing to crank out hand sanitizer, masks and clear plastic dividers… as the products emerge as integral elements for restarting the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic” [Wall Street Journal]. “That has sent prices for materials like the alcohol used in sanitizer soaring, and suppliers are measuring the wait times for plexiglass-style sheeting in months rather than weeks. The headaches are coming over products that until recently had only limited markets. Now demand for protective gear that was sold mostly to hospitals is coming from a range of sectors, straining producers. Lydall Inc. plans to double production of its filtering material for face masks, for instance, but for now some orders are going unfilled as demand far outweighs supply.”

Screening Room

Happy anniversary:

Class Warfare

“Riots Across America” [Seeking Alpha (Re Silc)]. “The death of George Floyd was both unjust and tragic. However, his death was the catalyst that lit a powder keg of dissension, which has simmered beneath the headlines for over a decade…. Look at the faces of those rioting. They are of every race, religion, and creed. What they all have in common is they are of the demographic most impacted by the current economic recession. Job losses, income destruction, financial pressures, and debt create tension in the system until it explodes…. The lack of economic improvement is clearly evident across all demographic classes. However, it has been the very policies of the Federal Reserve which created a wealth transfer mechanism from the poor to the rich. The ongoing interventions by the Federal Reserve propelled asset prices higher, but left the majority of American families behind…. If the Fed removes any monetary accommodation, the market declines. The Fed is forced to subsequently increase support for the financial markets, which exacerbates the wealth gap. It’s a virtual spiral from which the Fed can not extricate itself. It’s a great system if you are rich and have money invested. Not so much if you are any one else. As we are witnessing, the United States is not immune to social disruptions. The source of these problems is compounding due to the public’s failure to appreciate ‘why’ it is happening. Eventually, as has repeatedly occurred throughout history, the riots will turn their focus toward those in power.” • Worth reading also for information on savings (none) and retirement accounts (being tapped).

“Household income surged in April despite the collapsing labor market” [Matthew Yglesias, Vox]. “Personal income in the United States soared by 10.5 percent in April, according to new data released Friday morning by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, even as consumer spending fell by 13.6 percent. That adds up to a tremendous and unprecedented surge in the household savings rate as Americans, on average, had more cash on hand but fewer things they wanted to spend it on. All this played out against the backdrop of the most rapid set of job losses in American history, underscoring the critical role that the CARES Act has played in keeping people afloat.” • Then again–

“One-Third of America’s Record Unemployment Payout Hasn’t Arrived” [Bloomberg]. “Almost one-third of unemployment benefits estimated to be owed to the millions of Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus slump haven’t been paid yet, as flagship policies struggle to cope with the unprecedented wave of layoffs. The Treasury disbursed $146 billion in unemployment benefits in the three months through May, according to data published Monday — more than in the whole of 2009, when jobless rates peaked after the financial crisis. But even that historic figure falls short of a total bill that should have reached about $214 billion for the period, according to Bloomberg calculations based on weekly unemployment filings and the average size of those claims. The estimated gap of some $67 billion shows how emergency efforts to boost payments, and deliver them via creaking state-level systems, are lagging the needs of a jobs crisis that’s seen more than 40 million people file for unemployment as the economy shut down.” • So, from the perspective of any given individual, the delivery of relief is or wasrandom. Well done, all.

News of the Wired

R.I.P. Christo:

I saw “The Gates” in Central Park. I felt gates themselves, as pictured, were rather ugly, as was the reddish-orange fabric hanging from them. But then I realized that the fabric was catching tiny, invisible, almost impalpable breezes moving through the parth, and moving and rippling in response. Christo had somehow taught the city to blush.

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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 (DL):

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DL writes: “We had a great display of these in our yard last week. They bloom all summer but usually not all at once in our yard in Gainesville, FL.” (“More properly called the Dietes Iridioies or the Dietes Vegeta White, you may know it as the Cape Iris, Fortnight Lily or just plain Wild Iris.”) I keep saying “This flower is my favorite flower,” but iris is really my favorite flower.

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

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If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

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