/2:00PM Water Cooler 2/24/2021

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/24/2021


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Texas Sandhill Crane. (Macaulay Library allows searches to be filtered on location, which is handy.)

#COVID19

At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching, because I don’t think the peak is coming in the next days, or even weeks. Is the virus gathering itself for another leap?

Vaccination by region:

Big drop in the South no doubt storm-related.

Here is vaccination in the South (as defined by the US Census):

Mostly Texas, so I say the drop in the South is weather-related, although there may be supply (supply chain, also weather; manufacturing) and demand (hesitancy) issues as well. The trackers (Bloomberg, WaPo) are unilluminating).

Case count by United States region:

A little uptick in the South.

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

Encouraging to see cases in Texas go up, in that at least we know there’s some testing being done.

Test positivity:

Regional averages approach 3%, which is what we want to see. (Alert reader TsWkr pointed out it’s time to update my test positivity comment, which I just did.)

Hospitalization:

Hospitalization is discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.

Case fatality rate (plus deaths):

An uptick in deaths. Still, that rising fatality rate in the West (red) is what worries me. Could that be due to variants?

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

Biden Administration

“Senate meetings on Tanden postponed, suggesting lack of support for Biden budget pick” [Reuters]. • That’s a damn shame. And whoops:

You’d think the Administration would give the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee a courtesy call.

“How the White House botched the Neera Tanden nomination” [Politico]. To be fair to Biden, his honeymoon has been remarkably short. ““Around here the opposition is always looking for the person that they can put a fight up about. And she would be the obvious one to cull from the herd,” said one Senate Democrat, referring to the wall of GOP opposition Tanden faced from the beginning. For a while, the White House felt Tanden would avoid her current fate. She atoned for her now infamous Twitter behavior and put forward her personal story of a hardscrabble life, living on food stamps and raised by a single mother. And allies like former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who consults frequently with the White House, predicted that both parties would get on board due to the historic nature of her nomination: Tanden would become the first South Asian woman to head up the agency.” • Harry Reid couldn’t even hold Nevada in 2020. Why does anyone still listen to him?

Biden walkback: “Biden Shelves Mass Mask Shipments In Favor of Targeted Push” [Bloomberg]. • Lol, the liberal Democrats means-tested masks. Can I wake up now, please?

Biden walkback: “Dems’ Gift To Health Insurance Predators” [Daily Poster]. “Instead of enacting a universal Medicare for All health care system that would save the United States and its citizens hundreds of billions of dollars annually, temporarily expanding Medicare or championing a promised “public option,”> Democrats are rallying behind a health care proposal that will funnel tens of billions of dollars to corporate health insurance companies even as they are already experiencing record profits and jacking up premiums, while continuing to deny claims. Democrats’ current plan will lower people’s premiums, but only on a temporary basis. It will also not stop insurers from passing on huge out-of-pocket costs to enrollees if they need medical care, nor does it improve the quality of people’s health insurance. Indeed, it will push people onto state exchanges where one in six in-network medical claims were denied in 2019. The proposal would be a boon for the health insurance industry, which has specifically lobbied for the new subsidies. Health insurers have already seen their profits skyrocket during the COVID-19 pandemic, since people have avoided going to the doctor, which means insurance companies are paying less to providers while collecting the same amount of premiums.” • Lol, Biden walked back the public option.

Obama Legacy

“Inside new podcast featuring Bruce Springsteen in conversation with Barack Obama” [ABC]. “In a video trailer for “Renegades: Born in the USA,” Obama explains, “In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys, looking for a way to connect our own individual searches for meaning, truth, then community with the larger story of America. And over the course of a few days, all just a few miles from where he grew up, we talked.” • You’re never going to get on the High Court, Larry:

Sample dialog:

TOGETHER: Privatize it!

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.

There are no official stats of interest today.

* * *

Retail: “The retail sector’s inventory restocking drive isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. Home Depot and Macy’s both are seeing pandemic-fueled shopping binge for home-improvement and furnishing goods continuing into 2021…. but executives at the chains say consumer spending could shift in the second half of the year depending on the course of the health crisis” [Wall Street Journal]. “Home Depot’s same-store sales rose 20% in the past quarter while sagging apparel demand sent Macy’s annual sales tumbling 30%. Home Depot’s online sales also soared 83%, highlighting a transformation in consumer spending that is still roiling supply chains. Home Depot’s inventories were up only 14.4% from a year ago, to $16.63 billion.”

Shipping: “January 2021 Trucking Improved” [Econintersect]. “Headline data for the CASS Freight Index show that truck volumes show volumes grew month-over-month – and the year-over-year growth advanced further in positive territory…. The CASS index is inclusive of rail, truck, and air shipments. The ATA truck index is inclusive of only trucking industry member movements (ATA’s tonnage data is dominated by contract freight). I put a heavier weight on the CASS index year-over-year which is more consistent with rail and ocean freight.”

Manufacturing: “FAA back under spotlight with latest Boeing incidents” [Agence France Presse]. “In the wake of a weekend scare on a Boeing 777 over engine failure, the Federal Aviation Administration moved immediately to suspend flights on planes with the same model. On Tuesday, the FAA disclosed that it had also been contemplating stricter rules on the same kind of planes even before the Denver flight, following a similar incident on Japanese Airlines in December when a Pratt & Whitney engine also failed. The statement comes as the US agency, once considered the gold standard of aviation safety, works to recover its standing in the wake of the previous Boeing 737 MAX disasters…. NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt said Monday that a root cause of the incident appeared to be metal fatigue, adding that the investigation was ongoing. The NTSB plans to look at the inspection record on the United plane to see ‘who knew what when, what could have been done and what should have been done,’ Sumwalt said.”

Manufacturing: “United Air’s Grounded 777s Had Troubled History in Debt Markets” [Bloomberg]. “Before coming under scrutiny because of a mid-air engine explosion, United Airlines Holdings Inc.’s aging fleet of Boeing Co. 777s had already garnered plenty of criticism in credit markets. The aircraft that showered debris over a Denver suburb this past weekend was among assets that investors had been reluctant to accept as collateral last year when the airline sought to borrow billions of dollars to ride out the pandemic, according to flight records and debt documents reviewed by Bloomberg. United’s first attempt to sell debt backed by some of its oldest planes — including the 26-year-old 777-200 with the engine mishap, and dozens more like it — collapsed in May after investors demanded interest as high as 11% to compensate for the risk.” • Hoo boy.

Manufacturing: “Apple Partner Foxconn to Form EV Partnership With Fisker” [Bloomberg]. “Foxconn Technology Group will develop an electric vehicle with Fisker Inc., part of the manufacturer’s efforts to boost its automotive capabilities at a time when technology companies including its main customer Apple Inc. are looking to expand in vehicles. The car will be built by Foxconn, targeted at multiple markets including North America, Europe, China and India, and sold under the Fisker brand, according to a joint statement from the companies Wednesday. Production is set to start in the fourth quarter of 2023.”

Supply Chain: “February Regional Business Surveys Find Widespread Supply Disruptions” [Liberty Street Economics]. “Business activity increased in the region’s manufacturing sector in recent weeks but continued to decline in the region’s service sector, continuing a divergent trend seen over the past several months, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s February regional business surveys. Looking ahead, however, businesses expressed widespread optimism about the near-term outlook, with service firms increasingly confident that the business climate will be better in six months. The surveys also found that supply disruptions were widespread, with manufacturing firms reporting longer delivery times and rising input costs, a likely consequence of such disruptions.”

Travel: “Air Travel Quarantines Are Getting Longer and Lonelier” [Bloomberg]. “in parts of the world that have been most successful in keeping out the virus, quarantine rules are being tightened and policy makers are striking a more cautious tone on when travel may start again. Authorities in Melbourne are sketching out plans for custom-built isolation facilities outside the city. Hong Kong has one of the most extreme policies: a soul-crushing 21-day hotel lockup awaits residents arriving from outside China. The different requirements are neutering a push by airlines for a standardized global response to get people flying again. The International Air Transport Association’s proposal for test or vaccine certificates to replace quarantines hasn’t gained traction with governments.” • It occurs to me that the arc of international air travel went from something glamorous and expensive, through the mass market, to almost impossible, all in the space of a single lifetime (mine). Would it really be so bad to take a ship to Europe again? (Perhaps not to Asia.)

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 61 Greed (previous close: 57 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 66 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 24 at 12:15pm.

The Biosphere

Nature’s loogie gun:

I’d really like to see mass-market loogie guns using Super Soaker technology at that price-point. I want one handy for the first time I encounter a Boston Dynamics “dog.” Or several, in case I encounter a pack.

Health Care

“FDA says single-dose shot from J&J prevents severe COVID” [Associated Press]. “Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to an analysis released Wednesday by U.S. regulators that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic. The long-anticipated shot could offer the nation a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two…. Across all countries, Wednesday’s analysis showed protection began to emerge about 14 days after vaccination. But by 28 days after vaccination, there were no hospitalizations or deaths in the vaccinated group compared with 16 hospitalizations and seven deaths in study recipients who received a dummy shot. The FDA said effectiveness and safety were consistent across racial groups, including Black and Latino participants. All of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines have been tested differently, making comparisons nearly impossible.”

“FDA scientists endorse J&J’s Covid vaccine, as new data shed light on efficacy” [STAT]. “Documents from the FDA scientists, as well as separate documents from Johnson & Johnson, were released ahead of a Friday meeting of an FDA advisory panel in which outside experts will discuss and then vote on the risks and benefits of the new vaccine. The panel, known as the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, makes recommendations to the FDA; the agency is not required to follow them, but it generally does… The J&J vaccine is the first vaccine to show efficacy given as a single dose. It also does not need to be kept frozen when being shipped, as the vaccines developed by Moderna and the team of Pfizer and BioNTech do. Both of those advantages could be profound when it comes to vaccinating as many people as possible, a key step in slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2.”

* * *

“Reanalysis of deep-sequencing data from Austria points towards a small SARS-COV-2 transmission bottleneck on the order of one to three virions” (preprint) [bioRxiv]. From the abstract: “An early analysis of SARS-CoV-2 deep-sequencing data that combined epidemiological and genetic data to characterize the transmission dynamics of the virus in and beyond Austria concluded that the size of the virus’s transmission bottleneck was large – on the order of 1000 virions. We performed new computational analyses using these deep-sequenced samples from Austria…. From these analyses, among others, we found that SARS-CoV-2 transmission bottlenecks are instead likely to be very tight, on the order of 1-3 virions.” • (Here is an article on the distinction between a virion and a virus. For our immediate purposes, it doesn’t seem that important, though it is important as an enormous paradigmatic issue, and we can use virus in the popular sense, as the particle that infects.) Speaking as a layperson: The authors draw the conclusion that people are unlikely to be infected by several variants at once, which would be more likely if the transmission bottleneck (minimum dose) were 1000 virions. I speculate in addition that this supports the aerosol theory of transmission: A tiny aerosol particle would be more likely to transport fewer virions rather than many (unlike a big hawked-up droplet). In addition, I find this strangely reassuring: If it only takes one virion to infect, then the entire world would already be sick if transmission were that easy; so the ancient protections of the body must be pretty good (and need an assist, essentially). Qualified commenters please weigh in!

“Overcoming the Market Dominance of Hospitals” [JAMA]. “Amidst remarkable uncertainty for its future, one of the most concerning and constant trends in US health care has been the increasing consolidation of health delivery organizations. In health care, 2 main forms of consolidation exist. Horizontal consolidation occurs when hospitals or physician groups merge together, enabling the combined entity to increase its market share…. Vertical consolidation occurs when a hospital increases its employed physicians by acquiring a physician practice… Hospital consolidation in the past decade has not improved quality. Among 246 acquired hospitals and 1986 control hospitals, being acquired was associated with a moderate decline in performance on an aggregate patient experience measure (from the 50th percentile to the 41st percentile) but no significant changes in 30-day readmissions or mortality rates. Due to a lack of competition, the prices for services provided by physician practices tend to increase after acquisition. Additionally, legal limitations have weakened the ability of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce antitrust rules on nonprofit hospitals, even though these hospitals are involved in the majority of hospital and health system mergers. Thus, consolidation and the creation of multistate hospital systems could continue to have potentially adverse consequences for patients.” • 

Our Famously Free Press

Good call:

Gunz

“A Bristling Standoff Rattles Gun-Friendly Vermont” [New York Times]. “Daniel Banyai, a 47-year-old New Yorker…, attracted by Vermont’s relaxed gun laws, bought 30 acres in this rural town of around 1,400 and transformed it into his dream project, a training camp where visitors could practice shooting as if engaged in armed combat.” The neighbors aren’t happy. AR-15 barrages aside: “One reason they were irritated is because Vermont’s land use law, known as Act 250, is notoriously burdensome, requiring permits for anything built for a commercial purpose. ‘People do get bent out of shape when you are flouting the rules everyone else is following,’ said Merrill E. Bent, the town’s attorney since the summer of 2019. ‘They’re like, wait a minute, I had to get a permit for my chicken coop.’” • This is gun-friendly Vermont, one recalls. Local reporting from last year–

“Militia training site terrifies neighbors in West Pawlet” [VT Digger]. “The neighbors met with VTDigger near Briar Hill Road, which undulates beneath forests and through farm fields, lending a sense of isolation to the area. During the meeting, an unfamiliar truck sped into the backyard, several hundred yards from where the group had gathered. They didn’t recognize the vehicle, and their fear was palpable as the truck turned and peeled away. Some jumped to their feet, while others called out in alarm. ‘I have no idea who that is. Who the heck is that?’ One resident pulled out a phone to record, and another ran after the vehicle as it left the property. They worried the driver could be Banyai, or one of the men acting under his direction. In the past two weeks, men from Slate Ridge have surrounded individual neighbors in attempts to intimidate them. Banyai also threatened to kill bow hunters who had been near his property.” • And–

“Slate Ridge owner files as candidate for the Pawlet Selectboard” [VT Digger]. “PAWLET — Daniel Banyai, owner of the Slate Ridge firearms training facility, submitted paperwork yesterday to run for a seat on the town’s selectboard — a group he has clashed with for several years. If he were elected, Banyai would join a board that has hired an attorney and filed suit against him. The town has argued in court that Banyai’s operation is unpermitted, and therefore unlawful, in a residential area. Last week, as part of that case, an environmental court judge issued a preliminary injunction demanding that Banyai cease operations at Slate Ridge until the court issues a final ruling…. Typically, people running for office are required to collect voter signatures to qualify as candidates, but to prevent door-to-door signature collection during Covid-19, candidates only needed to fill out a consent form.” • Looks like “Town Meeting Voting Day” is March 2. Could be interesting.

Class Warfare

As Pandemic Profits Put Bezos on Track for Trillionaire Status, Tish James Asks: At What Cost? The Nation

“Britney Spears Was Never in Control” [The Cut]. “I have spoken with an affirming and disheartening number of people who described experiences of predators who, to borrow phrasing from my friend Suzy Exposito, ‘weaponized sex positivity.’”

I don’t know how to give an account of this:

News of the Wired

“Alamut, Bosch, Gaddis: Introduction to Epochal Art” [Covidian Aesthetics]. “[T]he @boschbot account on Twitter may be doing more to further our appreciation of Bosch’s Garden than most recent scholarship on it has, by exposing and exploiting its extraordinary detail through a telescopic lens, in an approach that allows the observer to engage the work on a precritical, almost prefrontal level, while opening up new and previously unseen dimensions of an artwork that had become a sort of floating signifier through memetic overexposure. As much as this enriches art by association, familiarity breeds indifference, the most unimaginative form of contempt. Counter to this level of assimilation, @boschbot plumbs the Garden’s enigmas and restores its mystery –that is to say, an element of its authority–in a feat of auratic restoration.” • For example:

“Lawrence Ferlinghetti” [Poetry Foundation]. “He died in early 2021, at the age of 101. He lived in San Francisco, where a street is named in his honor.”

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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 (ulfarthelunatic):

ulfarthelunatic writes: “I am a regular reader. Thanks for your great website. Claret Cup cactus, New Mexico, April 2019.”

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