Friday, March 20, 2020

Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler Accused of Coronavirus-Motivated Insider Trading

By Robby Soave - March 20, 2020 at 09:33AM

Plague trading? Privately, Sen. Richard Burr (R–N.C.) warned constituents weeks ago that coronavirus was "akin to the 1918 pandemic," NPR reports. Publicly, he towed President Donald Trump's line that the new disease would not be a big deal.

Worse still, ProPublica reports that Burr sold off between $600,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13, suggesting that he used his private knowledge about the coming economic impact of the pandemic to prevent personal financial losses. Burr chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a member of the Health Committee. At the time he sold the stocks—a significant proportion of his wealth—he was being briefed regularly on COVID-19.

It was the largest single-day stock trade for Burr in 14 months.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R–Georgia) also sold off hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks between January 24 and February 14. Loeffler has claimed that she was not made aware of these transactions until February 16, and that "investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband's knowledge or involvement."

Sens. Jim Inhofe (R–Iowa) and Diane Feinstein (D–Calif.) also sold stocks around the same time period. Feinstein asserted that her assets are in a blind trust and that she has no involvement with it.

Conservatives wasted little time in calling for Burr, at the very least, to resign from office if he can't explain his actions. Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that Burr appears to have "betrayed your country in a time of crisis."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) tweeted that she was with Carlson on this 100 percent. She ended her tweet with the "gasp" emoji.

Loeffler probably has a better defense than Burr. She's so wealthy—with a net worth of $500 million, she's the richest member of Congress—that the sum total of her recent trades would hardly matter to her.

In any case, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK) of 2012 bars members of Congress from using insider knowledge to turn a profit. In practice, it's probably not always possible to prevent lawmakers from being influenced by the sensitive information they learn. But the reason it's such a scandal in this case is that Burr and Loeffler appear to have been worried enough about the coronavirus to look out for their own finances but did almost nothing to alert the broader public. Outwardly, they perfectly embodied the administration's this-is-fine-dog approach to the coronavirus.

Given that people will almost assuredly die—perhaps by the hundreds or thousands—because government authorities did not take this pandemic seriously enough from the start, this alleged behavior is utterly despicable.


FREE MINDS

Need a brief break from coronavirus coverage? I participated in a debate about cancel culture for Paiaragraph:

Cancel culture is a tricky subject that suffers from a lack of clearly defined terms. Indeed, some people who have suffered a fate akin to "canceling" have merely been held, at long last, accountable for their actions (Harvey Weinstein is one such person). Those who are wary of cancel culture's excesses do not mean to suggest that it is always wrong, or even usually wrong, to call out bad behavior. It would be ludicrous to suggest that journalists, watchdog groups, and the public should refrain from criticizing powerful people.

But yes, cancel culture occasionally goes too far, causing some person or entity to suffer an unwarranted or overly punitive social sanction because of mob-like behavior on the part of critics. These occurrences tend to attract our attention when they involve people of public significance, like comedians and famous writers, who are often wealthy and well-suited to weathering the storm. This gives the false impression that being canceled is no big deal, or even a positive thing (Dave Chapelle's complaints about being canceled make for comedy gold). For the many, many people who find themselves suddenly dragged on social media over trivial slights—think of the young white woman who infamously posted a picture of her traditional Chinese prom dress, an alleged act of cultural appropriation—this is not the case. In fact, it's quite harrowing when thousand upon thousands of people accuse you, not simply of having done a bad thing, but of being a bad person (a racist, in the case of the prom dress girl). When I say that "cancel culture has gone too far," I don't just mean that it has ensnared too many people, but also that its enforcers tend to essentialize their criticisms—it becomes about a person's fundamental character, not their regrettable actions or words. This is hardly surprising, but social media mobs, it turns out, are not always judicious and fair-minded.

Read the full exchange—including the response from my debate partner, the socialist writer Aaron Freedman—here.


FREE MARKETS

Coronavirus layoffs are already overwhelming the unemployment system. BuzzFeed News reports:

The number of Americans filing for unemployment jumped by 70,000 last week, the highest level since September 2017, because of the increase in coronavirus-related layoffs, according to the Department of Labor.

Thousands of people who have been recently laid off, lost their jobs, or had their work hours reduced were then subjected to further frustration after several states websites' crashed because of high traffic. Many on social media were left confused and fearful over their eligibility for unemployment benefits, including those who were furloughed or on zero-hour contracts.


QUICK HITS

  • Netflix slows down streaming in Europe to prevent an overload.
  • The actor Daniel Dae Kim, who played Jin on Lost, has contracted COVID-19.
  • A new poll finds that 55 percent of Americans approve of Turmp's handling of the crisis.
  • Oh, also, this happened:


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