The Few Who Knew In February
October 16, 2020
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“The most powerful form of lie is the omission” — George Orwell
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” ― Abraham Lincoln
The Few Who Knew In February
(Samuel Corum via Getty Images)
On February 24th, at the tail end of what Bob Woodward claims historians will one day view as “the lost month,” President Trump told the American people that COVID-19 was “very much under control.” Always one to prioritize the economy, he even gave a wink and a nod to investors: “Stock market starting to look very good to me!”
But that’s a far cry from what Trump’s own economic team told conservative thought leaders just hours before. In a private meeting with the Hoover Institution, senior economic adviser to the president Thomas J. Philipson told board members that the economic effects of the novel virus were very much unknown. For some in that room, Philipson’s lack of private confidence was concerning.
Those concerns were amplified in a meeting between board members and Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council. Again, just hours earlier Kudlow had appeared on CNBC to assure the American people that the nation was “pretty close to airtight,” a much more troubling message was privately conveyed to Republican elites. Kudlow told board members that the virus was “contained in the U.S., to date, but now we just don’t know,” according to a document obtained by The New York Times.
One hedge fund consultant in attendance noted this after his February visit to the Hoover Institute: “What struck me,” he wrote, was that officials continued to mention the virus “as a point of concern, totally unprovoked.” And just like any good piece of hot gossip, news that Trump’s advisers were secretly concerned about COVID-19 quickly spread throughout the investment world. The market was already faltering as health officials warned images in China could soon become reality in the US, but traders immediately recognized a shift in activity following these meetings amongst party elites. Now, eight months later, suspicion has crystalized into fact: the president’s aides gave wealthy GOP donors an early nudge that COVID-19 could pose major financial problems, prompting a massive sell-off as President Trump promised the rest of us that sunny days were ahead for the stock market.
The consultant’s memo — which included warnings such as “short everything” —circulated throughout prominent trading factions, and appears to have drastically affected trading decisions in the week following. By the late afternoon of February 26th, the Hoover briefings had bounced around at least four major US money-management firms — causing the stock market to fall 300 points from its high in the previous week.
This only reinforces what many have long speculated: that the White House and those close to the Trump administration were well aware of COVID-19 and it’s potentially devastating effects throughout the “lost month” of February. And while millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet in its wake, a select few investors who were friends with the right people at the right time were able to turn a profit on the tragedy.
Lunar Legislation Shoots For The Moon
- On Tuesday, the United States — along with seven other countries — signed onto the first international set of rules governing the moon. The agreement, dubbed the Artemis Accords, forms what NASA describes as “the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history.” Sounds great, but what does that really mean?
- In essence, the Artemis Accords outlines what conflict management would look like in a future where multiple nations inhabited the moon. It covers what would happen in the face of mining disputes and delineates “safety zones” where nations can work without foreign interference. In many respects, it seeks to treat the moon the same way we treat the ocean.
- “Article II of the Outer Space Treaty says that you cannot appropriate the Moon for national sovereignty,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We fully agree with that and embrace it. We also believe that, just like in the ocean, you can extract resources from the ocean. But that doesn’t mean you own the ocean. You should be able to extract resources from the Moon. Own the resources but not own the Moon.”
- Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates were the other states who signed on to this landmark agreement. Notable absences included Russia and China — both of whom boast highly sophisticated space programs with lunar ambitions. The head of Russia’s space program, Dmitry Rogozin, accused the Artemis Accords of being a lunar “invasion” that was “too US-centric.”
- China, on the other hand, was iced out of this collaborative effort due to a law enacted by Congress that prohibits NASA from directly engaging with China on space projects. However, Bridenstine hopes China will one day join the Artemis Accords. “If China’s behavior were to be modified in a way that Congress — Republicans and Democrats — come together and say, ‘Look, we want to engage China,’ NASA stands ready,” said Bridenstine. “But at this point, it’s just not in the cards and we at NASA will always follow the law.” (The Verge)
Additional World News
- Xi likes what he sees: China Thinks Trump Is Bad for America, and That’s Good for China (Foreign Policy)
- How Milk Tea Became an Anti-China Symbol (Atlantic, $)
- EU Sanctions Russian Officials Over Navalny Poisoning, Citing Chemical Weapons Use (NPR). Putin claims he followed the rules to a tea.
- Iceland Tourism Prepares for a Comeback (NYT, $)
- German ship completes historic Arctic expedition (BBC)
- Down goes Donald: Bussa Krishna Built a Trump Shrine in India. Then He Collapsed. (NYT, $)
- For Nagorno-Karabakh’s Dueling Sides, Living Together Is ‘Impossible’ (NYT, $)
- Today’s Terminator: ‘Machines set loose to slaughter’: the dangerous rise of military AI (Guardian)
- Why I Left America (Atlantic, $)
Home Of The Grave
- Forever a nation of exceptionalism, COVID-19 has forced the United States to reconcile with an unsettling truth: Americans are dying at a rate unparalleled anywhere else in the world. A new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, in the last five months, per capita deaths in the United States have surpassed the rates of any other high-income country.
- The study assessed nations with more than 5 million people and per capita GDP above $25,000 — surveying what doctors call “all cause” mortality rates, which includes all deaths rather than just those that can be definitively attributed to COVID-19. After adjusting for population size, overall deaths in the US are more than 85% higher than allies like Germany and Denmark. Even a nation like Sweden — who was criticized for doing virtually nothing to slow the spread — have experienced 29% less death during the pandemic.
- Researchers said that taking into account all deaths is a better measure of COVID-19’s true effect on a country, because some virus-related deaths are never confirmed because not all citizens seek medical attention. While all nations struggled in the early onset of the pandemic, scientists see the United States’ continued struggles as a mere lack of execution.
- “It’s not like Italy has some secret medicine that we don’t,” says the study’s author Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who is a professor of health policy and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “They’ve got the same public health measures we’ve got. They just implemented them effectively and we implemented them poorly.”
- To put things in a grim perspective: if the U.S. had kept its per capita death rate at Italy’s level, 79,120 fewer Americans would have died. “It’s shocking. It’s horrible,” Emmanuel said. “The United States really has done remarkably badly compared to other countries. I mean, remarkably badly.” (NPR)
- Coronavirus Reinfections Are Real but Very, Very Rare (NYT)
- How Teens Handled Quarantine (Atlantic)
- The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn’t Be A Model for the Rest of the World (Time)
- CDC optimistic coronavirus vaccines will be released by end of the year (CNN)
Additional USA News
- Macho man: Why Latinos and Hispanic Men Are a Part of Trump’s Base (NYT, $)
- Why Republicans keep saying “we’re a republic, not a democracy.” (Slate)
- North Carolina Voters Distrust Trump and Tillis, Poll Finds, Imperiling G.O.P. (NYT, $)
- Melania Trump is having a hard time distancing herself from the president (WaPo, $). Aren’t we all?
- Exclusive: Feds chased suspected foreign link to Trump’s 2016 campaign cash for three years (CNN)
- Videos show closed-door sessions of leading conservative activists: ‘Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor’ (WaPo, $)
- At the Daily Pnut we agree: What Would Trump’s Second Term Look Like? (Atlantic, $)
- Wisconsin rejects Foxconn’s subsidies after contract negotiations fail (The Verge)
- No telling from the hearing: The Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court Hearings Are an Enlightening Sham (New Yorker)
- A look at Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s notable opinions, votes (AP)
- I Called Everyone in Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book (Mother Jones)
Big Bs For BTS
(Steve Granitz via Getty Images)
- If you aren’t a teenage K-pop fan, then you likely aren’t aware of the cultural phenomenon that is BTS. The South Korean boy band — comprised of seven clean-faced crooners — churns out a brand of internationally friendly pop music that rivals the likes of Drake and Taylor Swift when it comes to their chart-topping chops. But this week the world got its first taste of just how ubiquitous BTS has become — when their management company Big Hit Entertainment announced it would be going public with a $4 billion market evaluation.
- On Thursday, Big Hit shares soared as much as 160%, pushing the agency’s market value to more than $8 billion. Yes, with billion with a “b.” Last year, BTS generated 97% of Big Hit’s sales — proving that investors expect this boy band to stay on top of the charts for years to come.
- So what separates BTS from the rest? Why are they racking in such lucrative figures, so much so that some estimate that they add more than $3.5 billion to South Korea’s annual economy? The answer does not lie in the musical act themselves, or even their management team. It lies in the devout mass of teenagers who follow BTS with religious fervor.
- BTS supporters — who refer to themselves as “the Army” — go above and beyond the traditional expectations of a music fan. Sure, they stream records and attend concerts; but they have also formed communities that do logistical work on behalf of the band. The Army serves as a sort of unpaid workforce: translating lyrics, running coordinated social media campaigns, and even paying for advertisements.
- Big Hit leverages this rabid fan base to the fullest extent. Biannual corporate meetings garner millions of views from fans who obsess over record sales and business strategy. The Army is known to set ambitious goals for streaming numbers and record sales, and meet them with ease. It’s this type of dedication to BTS’ success that has investors so intrigued.
- “We’re Army Incorporated,” Ashley Hackworth, 30, who teaches English in South Korea. She says the fan group has organized themselves as a corporation, although “no one is in charge of us, really, and we don’t have a C.E.O. unless you consider that BTS.” (NYT)
- Check this out before you decide on the rest of our weekend reads: Why Read? Advice From Harold Bloom (Farnam Street)
- “A Car Crash Between Nicholas Sparks and Mein Kampf”: In the Tangled World of Far-Right Chat Rooms, White Supremacists Are Getting Organized (Vanity Fair)
- An Undercover Trip Into the Rageful Worlds of Incels and White Supremacists (NYT, $)
- Do Everything Faster With These Keyboard Tricks (Wired). For type-A typers.
- Google Employees Are Free to Speak Up. Except on Antitrust. (NYT, $)
- 62 of the Best Documentaries of All Time (New Yorker)
- New Clues to Chemical Origins of Metabolism at Dawn of Life (Quantum)
- The RIP of the iceberg: America Has Lost Its Taste for Iceberg Lettuce (Bloomberg)
- Stevie Nicks on art, ageing and attraction: ‘Botox makes it look like you’re in a satanic cult!’ (Guardian). Players really do only love you when they’re playing.
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