December 1, 2021

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The scary White House outbreak should make Trump think again about reopening

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SUMMARY: The scary White House outbreak should make us rethink reopening. Don’t blame lockdowns for the economic crisis. The SCOTUS argument over Trump’s tax records is critical to the future of the country. Musk threatens to leave California. The restaurant reopening manual. Eerie photos of strangers who look like twins. Will the pandemic reduce or increase demand for office space?

White House workers are terrified to go to work (with testing), but they still expect you to go (without testing)

CEA Chair Kevin Hassett
CEA Chair Kevin Hassett

Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Sunday, CBS News interviewed a struggling American about doing his job during the pandemic: “It’s scary to go to work,” he said. 

That struggling worker is Kevin Hassett, one of President Trump’s top economic advisers. And that workplace is the White House. 

A presidential valet has tested positive for COVID-19. So has the personal assistant to Ivanka Trump. So has Katie Miller, the press secretary to VP Mike Pence and wife of presidential advisor Stephen Miller. Three of the most important scientists coordinating the administration’s pandemic response — Anthony Fauci, CDC head Robert Redfield, and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn — all just started self-isolating because of contact with people who tested positive.

The White House outbreak demonstrates the muddle of the administration’s “Reopen, Reopen, Reopen” message. At every turn, President Trump and VP Pence exhort us to get back to work and shopping. The White House downplays the severity of the pandemic and fiddles with data to minimize death tolls. The president blithely says the disease will go away without a vaccine and orders meatpackers back to work even as the disease rages through their plants. 

But the dissonance between what the White House is telling the rest of us to do and what it’s doing for itself is shocking. The White House is urging us to get back to work, and not worry about the shortage of tests or the absence of a testing strategy. Meanwhile, Kevin Hassett is still scared even though the White House gets to test everyone who comes in, and test staff daily. 

Why does the president expect the rest of us to happily get back to work without tests, when the White House itself —one of the most tested and tracked place on the planet — is a COVID-19 hot spot filled with people who are scared to come to work? — DP

It’s not “government lockdowns” that are hurting our economy — it’s the coronavirus

One unfortunate consequence of our hyper-politicized environment is that it occasionally blinds us to the truth.

Republicans are howling that “government lockdowns” favored by Democrats are killing our economy.

Democrats, meanwhile, are screaming that the Republicans’ obsession with “reopening the economy” is going to get tens of thousands of Americans killed.

Both of these stories miss the point.

What’s hurting our economy is not government regulations. It’s the common-sense desire of many of us to reduce the risk that we will get or spread the coronavirus.

Responsible, informed Americans understand that it’s risky to gather in big groups indoors in places like offices, restaurants, churches, planes, and arenas. Responsible, informed Americans, therefore, are avoiding gathering in these places — and, where possible, avoiding asking their employees, congregants, and customers to gather in them. 

Responsible, informed Americans started doing this before the government asked or required them to.

And responsible, informed Americans will keep doing it after the government lifts restrictions, until they are persuaded that gathering indoors in groups is actually, once again, low risk.

Don’t believe it?

Let’s go to the charts.

The location-data company SafeGraph tracks and charts mobility data. SafeGraph’s data shows that most people stopped shopping, traveling, eating and drinking out, and attending sporting events weeks before the government required them to.

In and around Atlanta, for example, movement plunged around the middle of March. Georgia’s governor didn’t lock down the state until April 2.

Atlanta mobility data
Atlanta mobility data


Same story in Miami. Most people stopped going out around March 15. The state didn’t lock down until April 1.

Miami mobility
Miami mobility


In fact, the plunge in activity occurred around the same time for every major area that SafeGuard tracks, regardless of what the local government’s requirements were.

US mobility
US mobility


As the above chart also shows, in recent weeks, activity has been increasing again.

Here, too, however, it’s not government “reopenings” that are leading to more activity. It’s the confidence among citizens that it’s less risky to go out.

This is visible in a chart of the New York area. New York’s lockdown is still in place. And yet, as the infection and death counts drop, New Yorkers are slowly increasing their activity again.

New York mobility
New York mobility


The Georgia chart above shows a similar pattern. The state began reopening at the end of April. Activity is increasing — and increasing modestly faster than it is in New York — but it is nowhere close to normal. 

The message of these charts and other measures of regional activity and commerce is clear: Lockdowns are having a modest impact, but the main force that is depressing our economy is the desire of citizens and business owners not to catch or spread the coronavirus.

As one recent study put it: 

“…the labor market slowdown was due primarily to a nationwide response to evolving epidemiological conditions… individual state policies and own epidemiologic situations have had a comparatively modest effect.”

To fix our economy, therefore, we should ignore the divisive battle cries of our two political teams and focus on what is actually causing the problem: the coronavirus. — HB

Pay attention to tomorrow’s monumental Supreme Court case about Trump’s tax records. 

While we’re preoccupied by the pandemic, the Supreme Court is tackling monumental cases that could radically reshape American government and weaken the separation of powers.

Last week, SCOTUS threw out the Bridgegate convictions, freeing governors and the president to ruthlessly punish enemies. 

And on Tuesday the justices will hear arguments in a pair of cases that could effectively put the president above the law. The linked cases concern the records of Trump’s bankers and accountants, which have been subpoenaed by both Congress and a New York state prosecutor pursuing a criminal case. 

The president, who has never turned over his tax returns and has blocked every investigation of his convoluted finances, claims he doesn’t have to supply the records to Congress because they have no legitimate legislative reason to ask for them — even though historically courts have ruled that Congress, an equal branch of government, has vast, essentially untrammeled power to gather documents in the course of its work. 

The president also claims he doesn’t have to comply with the New York prosecutor because the president can’t even be investigated for a crime while in office. In a preliminary argument in this case, the president’s lawyer said Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not be investigated. 

I’ll bet you that this Supreme Court effectively rules in the president’s favor in both cases, most likely by giving him an indirect win that delays any handover of documents until after the election, when it won’t matter anyway. 

If the President succeeds again in blocking inquiries, he will have prevented the public from learning anything about his finances and the potential corruption in them. He has also blocked any testimony by White House officials before Congress on any subject he cares about, shielding the federal government from any oversight and investigation. 

And if Trump wins Tuesday, he may get the Supreme Court to validate a theory of power that makes the US President above criminal law, beyond investigation by Congress, and untouchable by the courts. 

That’s terrifying. — DP

Musk threatens to leave California because of its “fascist” coronavirus restrictions 

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk speaks at an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai
FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk speaks at an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai


Tesla founder Elon Musk has been vocal about his opposition to governmental coronavirus restrictions, and most of his ire has been directed at Tesla’s home state of California.

This weekend, as Insider’s Graham Rapier reports, Musk let fly again, vowing to sue the county of Alameda and “immediately leave” California because of its refusal to let Tesla reopen its Fremont car factory. Today, he followed through on the first part of the threat and filed the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, a California assemblywoman tweeted her view of Musk’s threat: “F*ck Elon Musk.” 

This fistfight reveals one of many structural weaknesses the US has in its fight against the coronavirus: Our federalist system allows states to compete to woo citizens and employers by offering different rules and tax incentives, but our open borders allow everyone to travel everywhere.

As Musk suggests, the restrictions in Nevada are far less onerous than those in California, so if Tesla’s Fremont factory were located there, it could already be up and running. 

Meanwhile, Californians who share the assemblywoman’s view can rightly point out that, if Nevada’s lax restrictions facilitate the spread of the coronavirus, freely traveling Nevadans might soon infect more cautious Californians again. — HB

Want to safely reopen your restaurant? Here’s a manual that can help.  

Georgia restaurant reopening coronavirus
Georgia restaurant reopening coronavirus

Jessica McGowan/Business Insider

A Hong Kong restaurant chain has written a manual for how to handle the pandemic, and it’s becoming a global playbook. Black Sheep’s cofounder talks to Insider’s Mary Hanbury about their policies and tips, which include temperature checks at the door, bags for masks, health forms, and clear signage. — DP

They look like identical twins. But they’re unrelated strangers.

The weirdest (and most delightful) thing you’ll see all week will be these photographs of people who look exactly alike, but are unrelated. Insider’s Sophie-Claire Hoeller talked to the photographer, and published some of his eeriest images. — DP

Will the pandemic lead to companies renting less office space… or more?

The prevailing wisdom is that the pandemic will lead to a permanent kneecapping of the commercial office real-estate business as companies realize that many employees can and will want to work from home and downsize their office space.

As Insider’s Charlie Wood reports, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt offers a different view. Schmidt predicts that the pandemic will lead companies to rent more office space as they retool their offices to support social distancing and, in so doing, lease more office space per person.

Which view do you think is right? Please reply to this email and let us know.

While you’re thinking, we’ll offer a third possibility: These two opposing forces will net out to have a minimal impact on the demand for office space. More employees will work at home, requiring less commercial office space, but employees who do work in the office will require more space per person. — HB

The Big 3*


Cabinet Alberto Pinto

Losing 50 pounds was the best decision I’ve ever made. That’s why the controversy over Adele’s weight loss is so hard to handle.

Insider’s Rachel E. Greenspan says the Internet should stop blasting the people who are praising Adele’s weight loss. 

No ice cream for you!

An ice cream shop in Massachusetts had to close one day after reopening because customers ignored social distancing requirements. Also, customers were really rude. 

This is what the inside of your private 747 business jet could look like

Boeing’s new 747-8i private jet is astonishingly large.

*The most popular stories on Insider this morning.

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