Strange Case of Dr. Fauci (Jekyll) and Mr. Musk (Hyde)
May 12, 2020
Last week we asked Daily Pnut readers to share their favorite book of all time, the best book they’ve recently finished, and a book they’d recommend given our pandemic times. Here’s the list of books that Daily Pnut’s community of readers recommends.
We had close to two hundred people express interest in joining a Daily Pnut book club. If you’d like to join the club, then please sign up here. The logistics for the book club has yet to be worked out but the first two books we are starting with will be Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeil (a book that surprisingly is not as well known as we think it should be) and Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. We think both books will help provide historical context to shed light on our current condition.
“All I have learned, I learned from books.”
“My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
― Abraham Lincoln
Anthony Kwan via Getty Images
Radicalized By The Bell
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader, is under a lot of pressure. She has record low approval ratings as leader. At the same time, Beijing authorities are increasingly frustrated with her inability to rein in continuing pro-democracy protests, which began last June over proposed extradition legislation.
In recent weeks there have been extraordinary interventions by the mainland’s Communist government into Hong Kong affairs, and warnings that it will not “stand idly by” while the “political virus” of protesters continues. Lam’s green-lighting of police brutality and no-consequence rule breaches, including the targeting of journalists, has failed to quash the demonstrations that have besieged the city for almost a year.
On Friday afternoon a house committee meeting in Hong Kong’s legislative council turned violent. Flash mob demonstrations were called for the weekend, drawing groups mainly to shopping malls to chant slogans and sing. Scattered protests were met with ham-fisted responses from riot police who pepper-sprayed and searched journalists. Live streams showed police appearing to shoot pepper balls inside a mall where people were shopping and dining with families, pinning a child to the ground, and detaining two student journalists aged 12 and 16. At least 18 people were injured — including a legislator seen forcefully held on the ground by police. An estimated 200 people were arrested.
On Monday Lam stepped in, blaming Hong Kong’s education system with its “liberal studies curriculum” for fuelling last year’s violent pro-democracy protests. She described the current secondary school program as a “chicken coop without a roof,” and said her government would soon unveil its plans to overhaul the system. She reportedly said students needed protection from being “poisoned” and fed “false and biased information.”
A Kingdom Of Gas Is Running On Empty
- Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on global economies, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. The world’s top oil exporter is facing its worst financial predicament in decades. Crude prices crashed earlier this year when the kingdom launched a price war with Russia at the same time demand was being sapped by the pandemic.
- To boost the government’s dwindling coffers the oil rich nation is imposing austerity measures. Starting in July, the value-added tax rate on goods will triple, from 5 to 15 percent. The monthly cost-of-living payments for state employees, introduced when the tax was first applied in 2018, will be suspended. And deep cuts to government programs will be made, including to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 agenda aimed at reshaping the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy.
- The country’s finance minister said cuts to government programs alone should yield some $26.6 billion in savings. One London-based economist said the capital spending cuts could extend the crown prince’s economic targets.
- “It might end up becoming Vision 2035 or Vision 2040 at this point,” he said. Wage support for workers and loan postponements for companies will continue during the health crisis; as of Monday the kingdom had reported more than 41,000 cases of coronavirus and 255 deaths. (WSJ)
The Enemy Of My Old Enemy Is My Old Friend
- An Afghan general and retired police chief of Farah province in western Afghanistan, Abdul Jalil Bakhtawar, has switched sides and joined the Taliban. Pictures of Bakhtawar, a former longtime enemy of the Taliban, were shown on social media after insurgents said he had joined them on Sunday. The defection illustrates the Taliban’s propaganda push.
- The group has focused on chipping away at the legitimacy of the Afghan government after signing a deal with the US that started the withdrawal of American troops. This is one of the highest-profile cases of how the two-decade long war is splitting families, sometimes pitting fathers against sons. Bakhtawar’s son, Massoud, is Farah’s deputy governor. He’s tried to downplay the episode while distancing himself from his father’s actions. Massoud said his father had visited his home district of Balaboluk to make peace between two warring tribes, and some are “misrepresenting” his trip.
- Several officials in Farah described how the war has become deeply intertwined with local tribal rivalries, with each side drawing support and resources from the government or the Taliban to gain an upper hand. A possible reason for the defection was offered by a member of parliament, who said: “For years Commander Jalil fought for the government but the government never protected his family and his tribe. He was betrayed by the government many, many times.” (NYT)
- Fauci to warn Senate of ‘needless suffering and death’ (Seattle Times)
- Soaring drug prices could bar access to future coronavirus treatments (Guardian)
- If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet, New Study Says (Vanity Fair)
- U.S. Officials: Beware Of China And Others Trying To Steal COVID-19 Research (NPR)
- In Coronavirus War Of Words With The U.S., China Pulls No Punches (NPR)
- Mexican border town uses ‘sanitizing tunnels’ to disinfect US visitors from Covid-19 (Guardian)
- ‘Chaotic and crazy’: meat plants around the world struggle with virus outbreaks (Guardian)
Trump 2020: Judgment Day (Tax Day Is Delayed, But Perhaps His Day Of Reckoning Isn’t)
- On May 12 the US Supreme Court will finally hear arguments in the epic battle by congressional committees and New York prosecutors to pry loose eight years of President Trump’s tax returns. At issue is whether Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, must hand over his tax returns and other records to a House committee and the Manhattan district attorney, which have separately subpoenaed them.
- The fight has pushed Trump’s accounting firm into the limelight. Mazars has portrayed itself as an innocent bystander in the war between Trump and his pursuers, dragged into the conflict merely for possessing the trove of subpoenaed records. But Trump’s accountants have been crucial enablers in his remarkable rise and are far from bystanders in the matters under scrutiny. Over decades Trump’s accountants have helped him pay the smallest amount of taxes possible, while simultaneously helping him appear to the world as incredibly rich.
- Extraordinary steps were taken to safeguard the confidentiality of Trump’s returns, such secrecy imposed in part to hide the chasm between Trump’s public claims and reality. In various episodes over 30 years, Mazars partners, including the CEO, have run into trouble for fraud, misconduct or malpractice. Despite Trump’s campaign promises to release his tax returns, he has fought strenuously to resist their exposure.
- Bottom line: The ultimate, extraordinary question awaiting a decision by the nine justices is whether the president of the United States is immune from congressional, and even criminal, investigation? (ProPublica)
- Trump’s Tax Returns Put Supreme Court Back in Political Storm (Bloomberg, $)
- The Supreme Court Confronts Trump’s Challenge to the Separation of Powers (New Yorker)
- The Supreme Court weighs whether to make the Electoral College even less democratic (Vox)
- U.S. Supreme Court conservatives lean toward shielding religious schools from suits (Reuters)
Get Barr, Barr Away From Here
- Attorney General William Barr’s jaw-dropping decision to abandon the prosecution of admitted liar Michael Flynn has spurred nearly 2,000 former Justice Department and FBI officials to sign a strongly critical open letter calling on Barr to resign, and encouraging Congress to formally censure him over “his repeated assaults on the rule of law in doing the President’s personal bidding rather than acting in the public interest.”
- Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, twice admitted he had lied to the FBI about his conversations during the transition with Russia’s ambassador to the US. The letter said if anyone else who is not a friend of the president “were to lie to federal investigators in the course of a properly predicated counterintelligence investigation, and admit we did so under oath, we could be prosecuted.”
- It urges the judge in charge of the Flynn case to “take a long, hard look at the government’s explanation and the evidence.” Barr is using the Justice Department to further the president’s personal and political interests, the letter continues, and “has undermined any claim to the deference that courts usually apply to the department’s decisions about whether or not to prosecute a case.”
- Signers of the letter include former career lawyers from both Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as former political appointees. (NBC News)
Mr. Musk is Becoming Mr. Man Who Cannot Escape Headlines
- Gwyneth Paltrow, whose daughter is named Apple, said Elon Musk and Grimes’ baby name wins for ‘most controversial’ (Insider)
- Elon Musk says Tesla’s stock price is too high, and now it has fallen (The Verge)
- Elon Musk, Tech’s Cash-Poor Billionaire (WSJ, $)
- Elon Musk defies coronavirus order and asks to be arrested (The Verge)
- California Gov. Newsom says he didn’t know Tesla reopened its factory, defying coronavirus orders (CNBC)
Additional USA News
- ‘Don’t ask me. Ask China’: Trump clashes with reporters then abruptly leaves press briefing (Guardian)
- Why are Trump and Obama in a new spat over Flynn? (BBC)
- Trump and Republicans narrowly top Biden in April fundraising (Reuters)
- “Trump’s Feeling Is, ‘Why Are We Losing Everywhere?’”: With Advisers Feuding and Numbers Plummeting, Trump Eyes Campaign Shake-up (Vanity Fair)
- Republicans grow nervous about losing the Senate amid worries over Trump’s handling of the pandemic (WaPo, $)
- Tribal Nations Face Most Severe Crisis in Decades as the Coronavirus Closes Casinos (NYT)
- Trump dismantles environmental protections under cover of coronavirus (Guardian)
- In the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. government turned down an offer to manufacture millions of N95 masks in America (WaPo, $)
- Repeat After Me: The Markets Are Not the Economy (NYT, $)
- Let’s ditch the dangerous idea that life is a story: Some find it comforting to think of life as a story. Others find that absurd. So are you a Narrative or a non-Narrative? (Aeon) This is a very important read and we totally agree with this essay. People want clean stories but life is messy and our lives are complicated and can’t be neatly summarized.
- The only thing that doesn’t seem messy is how the Simpsons continue to predict the future: Another example of ‘The Simpsons’ predicting future (CNN) and 10 Times The Simpsons Predicted the Future (IGN)
- Additional good news: The Mandalorian’s second season won’t be delayed, says Disney CEO (The Verge), yes the first season was really good so we are hoping the second will be just as solid.
- A Daily Pnut happy ending: Foxy like Fauci. Dr. Fauci has been a heart thief for quite some time. He was cast as a romantic hero in a harlequin story dating back to a 1991 bestselling romance novel, “Happy Endings.” From the news article: “There’s a petition now for him to be named sexiest man alive. He’s become this great sex symbol, and it was kind of like who knew? I just wrote it the way I saw it, and suddenly here 30 years later, it’s all coming true, except that he’s not having an affair with the first lady.” We sincerely hope Fauci can collectively guide the USA and the world to a happy ending from all this mess! 😍😘😜
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