Good Morning. Here’s what you need to know to start the day, along with perspective from both sides for calmer coffee conversations with your family, friends, colleagues, and co-workers. Plus, a bit of good news: This bar is using individual bumper tables to enforce social distancing. Also: we’re off on Monday, we’ll see you back here Tuesday morning. Be safe, be happy, and be sure to remember those who fought, served, and sacrificed for our way of life.
📰 TOP STORY
Should the US take Tehran’s Tankers? As the United States prepares for what is hopefully a relaxing, reflective weekend dedicated to honoring our nation’s heroes, a subset of our current service members will be on high alert—ready to go at a moment’s notice. You see, currently there are tankers full of gasoline making their way across the Atlantic, highlighting an unlikely partnership between Iran and Venezuela that would only make sense in the already bizarre year of 2020. As a quick review, oil tankers left Iran’s Bandar Abbas port in March, bound for Venezuela. They made their way through the Suez Canal last week and could reach the Caribbean by the weekend. If completed, the transaction would violate U.S. sanctions levied against both nations. Should the Trump administration intercept the Iranian cargo ships on their way to South America? That’s a question being debated behind closed doors right now and something we’ll be watching over the weekend. Here are the arguments from both sides:
One one hand, some believe that taking direct action against Iran could spark a chain reaction of negative events. Iran’s Nour news agency has already threatened retaliatory action against the U.S. for any potential interventions, stating that, “if the United States, just like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk, and that will certainly not go without repercussion.” Echoing those comments, Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, has emphasized that these tankers are only providing humanitarian aid to the poverty-stricken people of his country. Moreover, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samuel Moncado, also warned that any actions taken to stop the tankers’ transit would be illegal. In a U.N. Security Council meeting, he explained, “Forbidding these boats from reaching their destination would thus constitute a crime against humanity.”
On the other hand, inaction could also prove to be disastrous. Maybe not in the short term, but at some point down the line. Here’s why: Venezuela has reportedly transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in gold to Tehran for the oil shipments. This fiscal infusion to the cash strapped state of Iran could help finance terrorism overseas and lead to greater instability for U.S. foreign relations in the Middle East. And since it’s Memorial Day, it’s crucial to factor in the safety of the 80,000 military personnel in the region as well. Iran has a well documented track-record of financing proxy armies to carry out attacks against the US in the Middle East. They can’t fund their operations if their black market oil transactions and tankers are stopped from reaching their final destination. Also, the Iranians say they’re transporting oil to Venezuela, but it’s hard to be sure that other items aren’t also included in the shipment.
Flag This: Currently, U.S. Navy vessels and other combat ships are patrolling the Caribbean. Iran appears to be gambling that Trump will not make any “risky” moves during an election year. That calculation was wrong on January 3, 2020, however, when the president authorized the strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, leader of the foreign wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Given that the Soleimani strike did occur, it’s tough to tell if Trump will make an additional move that could add additional fuel to the fire. Zooming out, what’s truly shocking is that Venezuela is importing oil. Venezuela has more proven reserves of oil than any other country in the world. Just stop and think about that. The South American country has nearly 20% of the world’s oil reserves, yet because of government mismanagement, Nicolas Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela, simply can’t pick and package the commodity. In fact, due to antiquated refineries and extraction tools, production has cratered and now they’re forced to import oil from a friendly foe. Regardless of what happens, we’ll be thinking of the service members who may be tasked to step into a sticky situation this weekend, along with those who came before them.
🦅 US NEWS
Divided by COVID-19
As America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic splits along partisan lines, a Reuters analysis may help explain why: Death rates in Democratic areas are triple those in Republican ones. By Wednesday, U.S. counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election reported 39 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 residents, according to an analysis of demographic and public health data. In counties that voted for Republican Donald Trump, 13 of every 100,000 people had died from the virus.
- Flag This: The contrast is especially sharp in Michigan where counties that backed Clinton in 2016 collectively have reported 79 deaths for every 100,000 people. Counties that backed Trump have reported 25 deaths per 100,000. In the state, Democrats are afraid they will catch the disease, while Republicans worry more about the economic damage from nationwide shutdowns that sent unemployment soaring. This has led to protests that have grabbed the nation’s attention.
NOAA predicts Atlantic hurricane season will be unusually active
The WaPo’s Andrew Freedman reports that, “The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be unusually active, according to seasonal outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Why it matters: Any landfalling storms could create unprecedented challenges for government officials working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which scientists expect to continue, albeit possibly at a slower pace, throughout the summer.
- Flag This: “The NOAA outlook calls for a 60 percent likelihood of an above average season, with a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 named storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of those could become major hurricanes of Category 3 intensity or higher. The agency only shows a 10 percent chance of a below average Atlantic hurricane season. An average season produces 12 named storms and 6 hurricanes, 2 of which intensify into major hurricanes.”
🌎 WORLD NEWS
China’s ruling Communist Party signaled that it is moving swiftly to bring Hong Kong under its full control, with a top official saying Thursday that Beijing plans to alter the system that has allowed the territory to enjoy a level of autonomy for the past 23 years. What’s Happening: After steadily eroding Hong Kong’s political freedoms and independent legal system, the party appears to be preparing to change the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which sets out rights unavailable in mainland China, such as freedom of assembly and the press.
- Flag This: Beijing’s move reflects a growing frustration among China’s leadership with the long-running and at times violent unrest in Hong Kong. It also threatens to erode business confidence in the city, which has prospered as a global financial center and trading port largely because of its independent rule of law and Western style freedoms of speech and assembly. Lastly, the move risks exacerbating US-China tensions which have already been boiling as a result of the pandemic.
Trump Will Withdraw From ‘Open Skies’ Arms Control Treaty
The United States announced its intention on Thursday to withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty allowing unarmed surveillance flights over member countries. The administration said Russia has repeatedly violated the pact’s terms. Background: The Open Skies treaty, proposed by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, was signed in 1992 and took effect in 2002. The idea is to let member nations make surveillance flights over each other’s countries to build trust.
- Flag This: Some experts worry that a U.S. exit from the treaty, which will halt Russian overflights of the United States, could prompt Moscow’s withdrawal, which would end overflights of Russia by the remaining members, weakening European security at a time that Russian-backed separatists are holding parts of Ukraine and Georgia.
🗞️ BIZ, SPORTS, & TECH
UK Pharma Company Receives US Funding
AstraZeneca, a UK based-pharmaceutical company, is set to receive more than $1 billion from the U.S. Health Department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The funding will be used to develop a coronavirus vaccine from the University of Oxford. PS: Amazon is delaying its annual Prime Day until September. The two-day event that features a wide variety of discounted merchandise is normally held in July.
Dak and Brady
The Dallas Cowboys have offered Dak Prescott a five-year, $175M deal that would make him the highest-paid QB ever, per Chris Simms of NBC Sports. That’s $35M annually. Dak reportedly wants “north of $45M” in the last year. Also, it looks like Tom Brady is getting the “Last Dance” treatment with a nine-part ESPN doc that comes out next year. The series will take an in-depth look into Brady’s nine Super Bowl trips with the Patriots.
Nearly half of Twitter accounts pushing to reopen America may be bots
Bots may account for between 45 and 60% of Twitter accounts discussing Covid-19. Many of those newly-created accounts have been spreading misinformation, including false medical advice, conspiracy theories, and pushes to reopen America. Keep reading.
📢 PRESENTED BY VINCERO
🗳️ FLAG POLLS
Results From Last Week’s Flag Poll
If there is a “second wave” of coronavirus infections, do you think the United States should implement the same lock down measures? 33% said Yes, 67% said No. Full results and comments.
This Week’s Flag Poll
Should unauthorized immigrants receive coronavirus relief funding? Click here to vote. Click here to vote.
On this day in 1843, roughly one thousand pioneers head West as part of the Great Emigration. This history is actually amazing, take a read.
This foot pedal-operated elevator could be the future of the post-lockdown world (NowThis)
Is QAnon the newest American religion? (The Week)
Will pandemic push humans into a healthier relationship with nature? (Reuters)
Question: When did the United States first begin celebrating Memorial Day? Keep reading…