July 26, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The latest gross domestic product data, which serves as a barometer for how the overall economy is faring, will be released on Thursday. Wall Street will be watching second-quarter earnings from key corporations all week.

If the GDP for the second quarter is lower, it would meet the historic definition of a recession, which is “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months.”

Generally, that means two successive quarters of negative GDP. But the Biden White House argues that our unusual economic situation — in which GDP is lowering but the economy continues to add jobs — cries for a new definition of a recession.

According to AAA, gasoline prices have dropped 55 cents a gallon in the last month, and that will not be reflected in the GDP figures.

Interest rates likely to rise again tomorrow

The Federal Reserve Bank is likely to announce another three-quarter of a percent rate hike tomorrow, which will once again drive up mortgage, credit card and other loan rates eventually.

(The Associated Press)

The Fed is trying to do the delicate dance needed to slow inflation while not inflecting a recession. Yahoo Finance says:

After raising rates in June by the most since 1994, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues are expected to approve another 75 basis-point hike this week and signal their intention to keep moving higher in the months ahead. Powell has said that failing to restore price stability would be a “bigger mistake” than pushing the US into a recession.

Fed officials though continue to maintain that they can avoid a recession and execute a soft landing of the economy. They argue that the economy has underlying strengths and have voiced hopes that inflation could ease as quickly as it escalated.

Corporations are snapping up single-family homes

Even as home mortgage applications dropped like a rock in the last month, corporations are investing in single-family homes. Axios Nashville explores what is happening around the country, where a fourth to a third of home sales were going to corporations and not individuals:

(Axios Nashville)

Axios says:

Corporations have been making lucrative cash offers for single-family homes and then converting them into rental properties.

The issue has caught the attention of Congress. In June, the House Financial Services Committee released a bombshell report based on surveys of the five leading single-family rental (SFR) companies.

“To meet investor’s return expectations, SFR home landlords often prioritize maximizing profits,” the congressional report concluded.

“As a result, evidence suggests that renters in institutionally-owned SFR homes often experience higher rent increases, inflated fees, and diminishing quality of housing over time.”

The five companies surveyed were Invitation Homes, American Homes 4 Rent, FirstKey Homes, Progress Residential and Amherst Residential.

Farmers fear a summer heat crisis for crops and livestock

Field Laborers work at a farm near Ernst Nursery and Farms, the location of a heat death during record-breaking temperatures on Thursday, July, 1, 2021 in St. Paul, Ore. (Nathan Howard/AP Photo)

Successful Farmer reports:

For the first time this summer, the U.S. Drought Monitor indicated moisture stress in each of the top 18 corn growing states. Colorful maps released Thursday, July 21 show expanding and intensifying drought conditions in many areas as a record-setting heat wave sweeps the country.

The Texas Tribune adds:

“We can’t outfox what Mother Nature sends us,” said Arthur, whose farm is about 30 miles outside of Lubbock. “2022 has been one for the record books. We’ve always compared years to 2011, as far as droughts and whatnot, but 2022 is worse. We don’t have any underground moisture.”

Newsweek reports:

At the same time that farmers are trying to keep their crops growing, they’re also struggling to get their cattle and sheep enough shade during the scorching conditions, which can cause even barns to becoming unbearably hot.

“The most important thing for the animals is if the temperature drops below 70 degrees at night, they have a chance to recover overnight a little bit, just like we do when we go home to the air conditioning,” Mary Margaret Smith, executive program director of Farm Units at the University of Connecticut, told WTIC.

One of the problems with heat, even if there is adequate rain, is that it kills pollen. PBS explained recently:

Even with adequate water, heat can damage pollen and prevent fertilization in canola and many other crops, including corn, peanuts, and rice.

For this reason, many growers aim for crops to bloom before the temperature rises. But as climate change increases the number of days over 90 degrees in regions across the globe, and multi-day stretches of extreme heat become more common, getting that timing right could become challenging, if not impossible.

Faced with a warmer future, researchers are searching for ways to help pollen beat the heat. They’re uncovering genes that could lead to more heat-tolerant varieties and breeding cultivars that can survive winter and flower before heat strikes. They’re probing pollen’s precise limits and even harvesting pollen at large scales to spray directly onto crops when weather improves.

At stake is much of our diet. Every seed, grain, and fruit that we eat is a direct product of pollination, explains biochemist Gloria Muday of North Carolina’s Wake Forest University. “The critical parameter is the maximum temperature during reproduction,” she says.

Military branches scramble for recruits — falling way short of goals

By the end of September, the U.S. Army says it will be 7,000 troops short of where it should be. The Army says it anticipates it may lose up to 28,000 troops by fiscal year 2023′s end. By the end of June, the Army stood at 40% of its recruiting goal of 55,400 new soldiers for fiscal year 2022.

The Army issued a five-page memo saying that the pandemic plays a part in the recruiting challenge. CNN reports:

“Pandemic-driven constraints like virtual learning have further limited access to the recruiting population in high schools and exacerbated a decline in academic and fitness levels,” Christine Wormuth, the civilian Secretary of the Army, and General James McConnville, the four star Chief of Staff, said in the memo. Preliminary data is suggesting remote schooling “may have lowered” scores on the armed services aptitude test by as much as 9%, according to the memo.

The Army has struggled to find enlistees who can meet medical and moral standards, in fact only one in four young Americans would qualify, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville who also told Congress recently that fewer young Americans are willing to serve. Almost a third of Americans of recruitment age are not COVID vaccinated, which is a requirement.

The Army says one of the biggest challenges to recruiting is that there are so many good-paying jobs open in the private sector that a military career is less attractive. And the Army has a more detailed way to discover the medical histories of recruits that they used to be able to end-run. Army Times explains that challenge:

In March, the DoD launched MHS Genesis, an electronic medical records system that can access applicants’ medical history from most U.S. civilian medical providers and the entire military medical system. A similar program, the Medical Review of Authoritative Data, launched in late 2021.

Before these new screenings, applicants were required to self-report their medical history and recruiters were expected to help gather records validating those histories. But recruiters had an informal practice of coaching recruits to selectively omit parts of their medical history.

The new screenings have eliminated that practice — so applicants have to tell the truth and be prepared to request medical waivers for anything that appears in their records, such as once-filled antidepressant prescriptions, never-used inhalers or other potentially-disqualifying conditions or medicines.

This year, facing the shortfall of recruits, the Army dropped its requirement that enlistees graduate high school or earn a GED. Then, only a week later, the Army dropped that waiver called the 111 Non-Grad (NA) enlistment program.

The encouraging news for the Army is that it has retained more troops than it projected. Army Times reports, “Retention numbers remain near record highs — more than 57,000 troops reenlisted as of July 7, against an annual goal of around 54,000.”

The Army is not alone in trying to land recruits. Stars and Stripes reports that the U.S. Air Force recently “expanded big bonus payments for recruits who enlist in certain high-priority specialties, offering more than $50,000 to some willing to ship quickly as the service fights through tough times attracting troops.”

Stars and Stripes also said:

Military officials from the Air Force — as well as the other service branches — have described fiscal 2022 as the toughest recruiting year in decades.

The Pentagon has said among the 31.8 million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States, only about 9.1 million meet the basic physical requirements to serve in the military and only about 4.4 million of those physically eligible meet minimal academic requirements to enlist.

Apple says you can ditch your phone case

The line-up of the Apple iPhone 13 is displayed on their first day of sale, in New York, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, iPhone 13 mini, foreground, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 ProMax, left to right, background. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Apple is running a new ad that says you can ditch your iPhone 13 phone case. Let’s keep in mind that Apple sells phones, so there could be some motivation for them to say this.

CNET argues the cases we all buy as soon as we buy a phone are unnecessary, unless we just want them for decoration. HowtoGeek gives us five reasons to lose both the iPhone and Android phone cases:

Smaller and Lighter: Without a case, your smartphone will be thinner and lighter, fitting more easily into a pocket or a purse. That also means rubber cases won’t get snagged on fabric or accumulate lint.

Better Looking: Many people buy beautiful smartphones then hide them in generic black cases. Without a case, you can show the world the color and beauty of your smartphone’s native design.

No Gesture Interference: Some smartphone cases interfere with gestures, especially those that involve swiping inward from the edge of the screen. Without a case, those gestures become far easier to perform.

Less Landfill Waste: Every year, manufacturers create millions of phone cases. Have you looked at the clearance rack of your local Target lately? It’s usually full of unsold device cases. If you don’t buy a case, that’s one less piece of waste to go in the landfill once your phone becomes obsolete. If enough people don’t buy cases (and phones become more easily repairable), the case market size will shrink and overall case waste will drop as well.

Less Wireless Charging Interference: Sure, there are plenty of cases that are compatible with wireless charging standards such as MagSafe and Qi, but some of them are more pricey than the alternatives. With no case, you can charge wirelessly with no issues whatsoever.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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