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American exceptionalism on the virus, the Russian bounty on U.S. troops

Good morning. Mississippi is getting rid of its state flag. Big companies are boycotting Facebook. And the new virus outbreak in the U.S. is worse than in any other rich country.

American exceptionalism

Waiting at a coronavirus testing site in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Friday.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

It can sometimes seem as if the entire world is suffering from a new coronavirus outbreak. There have been cases at food markets in Beijing, nightclubs in South Korea, meatpacking plants in Britain and Germany, nail salons in Ontario, and restaurants, bars and churches across the southern and western United States.

But these outbreaks are not all the same. The ones in the U.S. are of a larger order of magnitude than those in any other affluent country.

Consider this chart, which shows the number of new cases per week, adjusted for population size:

Source: Johns Hopkins UniversityThe New York Times

(Lines for China and South Korea would look roughly similar to Japan’s.)

Most other high-income countries are dealing with modest numbers of new cases — often an inevitable consequence of reopening — and the countries are responding aggressively. Many are following the advice of public health experts, ordering social distancing, mask-wearing and partial lockdowns and doing their best to track people who came in contact with new patients.

The United States is not. President Trump and many governors continue to flout scientific advice and send mixed messages about the seriousness of the virus.

The federal government, as The Washington Post explained in a helpful reconstruction, has failed to offer “the kind of clear and consistent messaging experts say is necessary to mount a successful public health response.”

Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, put it this way: “From the very beginning, this outbreak has really been mismanaged in terms of what the government response should have been.” That quote appeared in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article headlined: “The lessons Canada can take from the U.S.’s mishandling of Covid-19.”

Another country that highlights the lessons is Britain. Its prime minister, Boris Johnson, has taken the virus less seriously than most other European leaders but more seriously than Trump. Sure enough, Britain is suffering an outbreak that’s worse than in most of Europe but not as bad as in the U.S.

A final point: Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have claimed that the rise in confirmed U.S. cases is largely the result of more tests. That’s not true, as The Times explains. The U.S., which once trailed Europe in per capita overall deaths, has now endured many more.

Source: Johns Hopkins UniversityThe New York Times

In other virus developments:

  • Worldwide deaths from the virus have exceeded 500,000 and confirmed cases have exceeded 10 million.
  • In Florida, the daily case count has increased fivefold in two weeks. “Much of Florida’s new surge in cases appears to follow from the reopening of beaches, bars, restaurants and other social activities,” Frances Robles writes from Miami.
  • Coronavirus patients in intensive care have experienced paranoid and often terrifying hallucinations that can slow recovery and increase the risk of depression.

FOUR MORE BIG STORIES

1. The last flag comes down

On Sunday, the Mississippi legislature passed a bill to abolish the state’s current flag, the last in the country to feature the Confederate battle emblem. The decision was partly economic: Business leaders in the state feared they could lose investments from outsiders, including the N.C.A.A.

A state commission will design a new flag, which the bill says must include the words “In God we trust.”

In other protest news:

2. Russian bounties on U.S. troops

American troops at Camp Shorabak in Helmand, Afghanistan, last year.Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Even after learning in March that the Russian military offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers, the Trump administration has continued to treat Russia favorably. Heather Cox Richardson, a historian at Boston College who writes an excellent newsletter, has cataloged that recent treatment, including:

  • A high-profile U.S. purchase of Russian medical supplies, which Vladimir Putin used to call for an end of sanctions on Russia.
  • A joint Putin-Trump statement in April about “trust” between the two countries.
  • A friendly phone call between the leaders.
  • Trump’s efforts to invite Russia to the next Group of 7 meeting.

Context: Michael Schwirtz, one of the Times reporters who broke the story about the bounties, tweeted: “Election meddling and the occasional poisoning are one thing. Paying the Taliban to kill American troops, that’s something entirely new.”

And the latest development: U.S. spies and commandos alerted their superiors about the bounties as early as January, after finding large amounts of cash at a Taliban outpost.

3. Obama gets back into the fray

President Barack Obama wanted to keep a low political profile after he left office. In recent months, though, he has taken an increasingly active role. He speaks with Joe Biden frequently, offering suggestions on staffing and strategy.

People close to Obama told The Times that he has been wary of overshadowing Biden. But one Biden associate joked: “By all means, overshadow us.”

4. Big companies are boycotting Facebook

Coca-Cola, Starbucks and several other major companies have temporarily stopped advertising on Facebook. The boycott, spurred by civil rights organizations, is an effort to pressure the social media giant to crack down on hate speech and misinformation.

Here’s what else is happening

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IDEA OF THE DAY: THE N.B.A. AS ECONOMIC MODEL

Starting today, we’re often going to use this middle section to highlight fascinating ideas and arguments we’ve come across, in The Times and elsewhere.

Of all the major sports leagues, the National Basketball Association has the healthiest relationship with its players. It doesn’t suffer repeated labor conflicts, as baseball does. And it doesn’t subject its players to short, body-damaging careers, as pro football does. The relative peace between players and owners is one reason the N.B.A. has thrived in recent seasons.

What explains that peace?

The N.B.A. has figured out how to balance competitive capitalism with regulatory oversight. Or, as a short and charming new video from a Times Opinion team argues, the N.B.A. has injected just enough socialism.

Every few years, players and owners negotiate over what share of total revenue the players will receive. (It’s now 50 percent.) With that number set, the two sides then have the same incentive: maximize league revenue. In baseball, by contrast, players and owners are in a constant struggle over how much each side will get, as the messy negotiations about a virus-shortened season showed.

The N.B.A. also requires big-market teams to subsidize poorer teams and then sets both a salary floor and ceiling for each team. That ensures players get their share of money while also keeping the teams in Los Angeles and New York from dominating. Cleveland and San Antonio have won recent titles, and Milwaukee has the best record this season.

The N.B.A. isn’t perfect, as the video makes clear. But the league does seem to grasp a basic economic idea: Regulated capitalism, with careful attention to incentives, has a better track record than any other system.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT, TRIM

Make some pan-seared tofu

David Malosh for The New York Times

This one-pan recipe by Yewande Komolafe for crispy tofu with toasted cashews and snap peas comes together in just 30 minutes. You can also swap the tofu for another protein, like chicken thighs or pork shoulder. But the tofu is really the star here: It’s the perfect vehicle for the ginger and coconut milk-rich sauce. Asparagus, broccoli or pretty much anything fresh and green can replace the snap peas, too.

Jim Carrey, unmasked

The actor’s new book includes a protagonist named Jim Carrey who borrows many details from his career. But it’s a novel, not a memoir, written with Dana Vachon and called “Memoirs and Misinformation.” Bouncing between fact and fiction, it pokes fun at Hollywood’s narcissistic culture, with cameos from Nicolas Cage, Gwyneth Paltrow and a thinly veiled stand-in for Tom Cruise named “Laser Jack Lightning.”

“It’s the end of the world, and we have the perfect book for it,” Carrey told The Times. “Not the end of civilization,” he continued. “Just the end of a world, the selfish world.”

Return to the barbershop

The Standard Grooming Co. in Bushwick, Brooklyn.Laylah Amatullah Barrayn for The New York Times

“When people talk about the relationship between people of color and their barbers, they tend to forget that it’s not just that they raise your self-esteem and help you look good — they are people you can also share your life with, and who can share their life with you,” writes Claudio E. Cabrera, in a photo essay of barbershop before-and-afters.

“Your barber is your part-time therapist, and sometimes you are his,” he continued.

As salons and barbershops opened up in New York City last week, residents talked about getting their cut.

Diversions

Games

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Operating system with a penguin logo (five letters).

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, joined the Longform Podcast and spoke about the recent protests, the Tom Cotton Op-Ed and his own experiences as a black journalist.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” includes a police union official’s perspective on the push to overhaul policing in the U.S. On the latest Book Review podcast: A short guide to “The World,” with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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