1. Post Truth
Something shifted last week.
For months the president's defenders have used various versions of the "it's not that bad" defense on COVID. You know what I'm talking about.
The dudes mocking "Corona bros" who were "exaggerating" the danger.
Rush Limbaugh insisting that it's nothing more than "the common cold."
Wearing masks is about "social control, not safety."
Fauci is an alarmist.
Coronavirus is just a "new hoax."
COVID is such a nothingburger; more people die in swimming pools.
Did I mention "slave masks"?
The alien DNA lady-doctor.
There were more of these. Over the last eight months, as Donald Trump diminished or dismissed the danger of COVID over and over (except for the handful of times he didn't—because remember, Trump is always on both sides of everything), the only available defense for his supporters was to insist that he was correct and that the threat from COVID was overblown.
This defense became less operable as the body count grew, but whatever. These sorts of people aren't deterred by dead Americans. There was only one thing that could trip them up, and that would be Trump pivoting to insist that, Actually, the COVID is really bad.
Which is what the Woodward tapes did last week.
Confronted with hard evidence of Trump literally saying that the coronavirus is much deadlier than the flu, Trump's defenders had two choices. They could either:
(1) Say that Trump had been lying to Woodward and that the virus still wasn't a big deal.
(2) Say that Trump had been telling Woodward the truth and the rest of his public proclamations were just a statesmanlike attempt to tamp down panic. Because the COVID was so awful that without presidential "downplaying" of the truth, we would have had human sacrifices, dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria.
And so all of the people who, prior to last week, were still insisting that the pandemic which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans was an overblown hoax requiring no real public health response and certainly not—God forbid—the wearing of masks . . .
Are today tugging at their chins and muttering about how grateful they are for Trump's strength in this firey crucible, because if he had told the country the terrible truth, it would have (somehow) been even worse.
Which is it?
That's a trick question, of course. Because the real answer is that this is what it looks like in a post-truth, authoritarian atmosphere.
"Reality" is only what the strongman says it is.
Greengrocers of the world, unite.
Microsoft is now out of the running for TikTok. That's bad.
Here are the basics of the state of play on a subject that is likely to have lasting ramifications in the coming Chinese Cold War:
Trump demanded that TikTok sell to a U.S. company. (This is good.)
Trump said he wanted "key money" from the sale. (This is bad.)
The Chinese government (which is the final decider on all things TikTok) demanded that the TikTok algorithm itself—the most valuable part of the company—could not be sold to a U.S. firm. (Think of TikTok as three different parts: The algo, the user base, and the data.)
Microsoft, which was mostly interested in the algo, withdraws from the bidding.
Oracle is the lone remaining buyer. But they seem inclined to only "purchase" the cloud-based data management part of TikTok, while merely "leasing" the algo from China.
Which would mean that China still had effective control of the algo, and therefore of what TikTok shows users.
That would be bad.
Allowing a sale to proceed along those lines would secure user data in the hands of a U.S. company, but wouldn't really do anything about the national security risks TikTok poses.
The Trump administration should hold a hard line here.
3. The Next Theranos
This deep dive on the EV company Nikola is amazing:
Today, we reveal why we believe Nikola is an intricate fraud built on dozens of lies over the course of its Founder and Executive Chairman Trevor Milton’s career.
We have gathered extensive evidence—including recorded phone calls, text messages, private emails and behind-the-scenes photographs—detailing dozens of false statements by Nikola Founder Trevor Milton. We have never seen this level of deception at a public company, especially of this size.
Trevor has managed to parlay these false statements made over the course of a decade into a ~$20 billion public company. He has inked partnerships with some of the top auto companies in the world, all desperate to catch up to Tesla and to harness the EV wave.
We examine how Nikola got its early start and show how Trevor misled partners into signing agreements by falsely claiming to have extensive proprietary technology.
We reveal how, in the face of growing skepticism over the functionality of its truck, Nikola staged a video called “Nikola One in Motion” which showed the semi-truck cruising on a road at a high rate of speed. Our investigation of the site and text messages from a former employee reveal that the video was an elaborate ruse—Nikola had the truck towed to the top of a hill on a remote stretch of road and simply filmed it rolling down the hill.
In October 2019, Nikola announced it would revolutionize the battery industry. This was to be done through a pending acquisition, but the deal fell through when Nikola realized (a) the technology was vaporware and (b) the President of the battery company had been indicted months earlier over allegations that he conned NASA by using his expense account to procure numerous prostitutes.
Nikola has never walked back claims relating to its battery technology. Instead, Trevor continued to publicly hype the technology even after becoming aware of the above issues. The revolutionary battery technology never existed – now, Nikola plans to use GM’s battery technology instead.
A spokesman for Volvo spin-off Powercell AB, a hydrogen fuel cell technology company that formerly partnered with Nikola, called Nikola’s battery and hydrogen fuel cell claims “hot air”.
In addition to now using GM’s battery technology, Nikola seeks to use the automaker’s production and fuel cell capabilities. Nikola seems to be bringing nothing to the partnership but concept designs, their brand name and up to $700 million they will be paying GM for costs related to production.
Inexpensive hydrogen is fundamental to the success of Nikola’s business model. Trevor has claimed in a presentation to hundreds of people and in multiple interviews to have succeeded at cutting the cost of hydrogen by ~81% compared to peers and to already be producing hydrogen. Nikola has not produced hydrogen at this price or at any price as he later admitted when pressed by media.
Trevor has appointed his brother, Travis, as “Director of Hydrogen Production/Infrastructure” to oversee this critical part of the business. Travis’s prior experience looks to have largely consisted of pouring concrete driveways and doing subcontractor work on home renovations in Hawaii.
Claims of owning energy producing assets is not new for Nikola. Trevor claimed that Nikola’s headquarters has 3.5 megawatts of solar panels on its roof producing energy. Aerial photos of the roof and later media reports show that the supposed panels don’t exist.
At one point Nikola claimed to own its own natural gas wells. There is no evidence in company filings to support this. The claims were eventually quietly removed from Nikola’s website.
Trevor claims Nikola designs all key components in house, but they appear to simply be buying or licensing them from third-parties. One example: we found that Nikola actually buys inverters from a company called Cascadia. In a video showing off its “in-house” inverters, Nikola concealed the Cascadia label with a piece of masking tape.
In a July 2020 podcast, Trevor said of Nikola’s “Tre” truck: “We have five of them coming off the assembly line right now in Ulm Germany.” A spokesperson for Bosch, the manufacturing partner building the trucks, confirmed this month that they haven’t made any trucks yet.
The company’s Nikola One “reveal” was a total farce. We corroborate Bloomberg’s earlier work debunking Trevor’s claims regarding its semi-truck that “this thing fully functions and works…this is a real truck” and provide new evidence.
We present behind-the-scenes photos showing that Nikola had an electricity cable snaked up from underneath the stage into the truck in order to falsely claim the Nikola One’s electrical systems fully functioned.
We learned through emails and interviews with former partners that Trevor had an artist stencil “H2” and “Zero Emission Hydrogen Electric” on the side of the Nikola One despite it having no hydrogen capabilities whatsoever; it was built with natural gas components.
We also present evidence that subsequent “reveals” were fictitious. In 2019, Nikola revealed a “next generation” version of its off-road vehicle. We learned that it was scrapped within weeks of the unveiling due to manufacturing challenges. The redesign work was then quietly outsourced.
Nikola’s much-touted multi-billion dollar order book is filled with fluff. U.S. Xpress reportedly accounts for a third of its reservations, representing ~$3.5 billion in orders. U.S. Xpress had only $1.3 million in cash on hand last quarter.