It's a 2020 wrap on The Fed, whistleblower Rick Bright and mixed martial arts : Planet Money We check in on The Fed, a vaccine scientist, and the mixed martial arts. Oh, and a bunch of escheaters. So long, 2020! | Support our show here.
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The Rest Of The Story, 2020

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The Rest Of The Story, 2020

The Rest Of The Story, 2020

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  • Transcript

JACOB GOLDSTEIN, HOST:

This is the moment where we're supposed to ask you to show your support for PLANET MONEY by making a donation. But that's not exactly fun. So we made this little promo instead.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Watch as the fledgling social media company begins the dance of the acquisition.

GOLDSTEIN: Next slide, please.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Displaying its financials in the hopes of attracting a merger.

GOLDSTEIN: Yo, can I get the next slide?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Watch as the eccentric CEO slinks back into obscurity...

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: No comment.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...After a failed initial public offering.

SMITH: We're going to have to do some restructuring.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Perhaps his chances will be better next year.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: For stories that explore the mysteries of the economic world, you rely on PLANET MONEY. So if you are able to support the show this holiday season, please go to donate.npr.org/planetmoney to donate to your local NPR station. That is donate.npr.org/planetmoney. The majesty, the mystery, the drama of life on PLANET MONEY.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is PLANET MONEY from NPR.

SMITH: Snow's on the ground here in Prospect Park. I'm on my skis. And here comes Jacob Goldstein on skis. Nice-looking skis there.

GOLDSTEIN: Great. The only question is, were there a few things that we talked about in the summer that we hadn't talked about in the spring?

SMITH: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

GOLDSTEIN: OK.

SMITH: Spring was just like...

GOLDSTEIN: Was that before...

SMITH: Spring was nothing. Spring was swap bonds and money markets and...

GOLDSTEIN: ...Stuff at the time of CARES. They were doing it on it. I don't remember what...

SMITH: No, that was pre-CARES.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS PENNY AND SKINNY WILLIAMS' "MAGIC MONEY MAKERS")

GOLDSTEIN: Robert Smith.

SMITH: Jacob Goldstein.

GOLDSTEIN: I did not expect the year-end Fed wrap-up to be so newsy. The Fed is in the middle of the news. I love it. Hello. Welcome to PLANET MONEY.

SMITH: I'm Robert Smith.

GOLDSTEIN: And I'm Jacob Goldstein.

SMITH: Today on the show, this is the season where PLANET MONEY looks back over all of the episodes we did during the year. And we follow up with the people that we talked to, the issues that we talked about. We call it The Rest Of The Story as an homage to my favorite old-timey radio guy - may he rest in peace - Paul Harvey.

GOLDSTEIN: Paul Harvey, good day.

SMITH: Good day.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. We're going to talk about what the Fed did and how it's playing out now.

SMITH: And we'll also talk about what happened to the nation's vaccine guru.

GOLDSTEIN: And one of our producers makes an incredible escape. He flees the virus. He goes to a place where nobody has COVID - true story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS PENNY AND SKINNY WILLIAMS' "MAGIC MONEY MAKERS")

GOLDSTEIN: Robert Smith, let's talk about the Fed.

SMITH: Let's do it. I mean, why not? We're on skis. We're in the park - screams central banking.

GOLDSTEIN: So you know, the Federal Reserve - in normal times, we think about the Federal Reserve setting interest rates. In emergencies, the Fed has this other really important job. We call it lender of last resort. Traditionally, they lend to banks and financial institutions when there's a panic, when nobody wants to lend to anybody and credit is collapsing. And they did that this spring when nobody wanted to lend to everybody and credit was collapsing, which is good, prevented a financial crisis. But they went even further. The really interesting novel stuff the Fed was doing was largely lending not just to financial institutions, but also to almost everybody else - to cities and states, to medium-sized businesses, to large businesses. This is stuff the Fed hadn't done since the Depression, hadn't done in almost 100 years.

SMITH: Yeah, this sort of insurance in case the economy would dip down again. And then, all of a sudden, just a few weeks ago, these obscure parts of the Federal Reserve become front page news.

GOLDSTEIN: As, you know, everybody will recall, Congress was debating this big, like, $900 billion support package for the economy with expanded unemployment and checks and all these things. They're almost to an agreement. They got a bipartisan deal. And then, out of nowhere, this one Senator's like, wait, let's talk about those random Fed lending programs.

SMITH: This is not an exaggeration. Senator Pat Toomey - Republican, Pennsylvania - holds up the entire package for all of the United States of America because he's like, I want to talk. I want to talk about the powers of the Federal Reserve.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. And his argument is, you know, these were emergency programs. They're, like, way outside normal Fed behavior. The acute phase of the emergency is over. And, like, it's not the business of the Fed to just keep offering loans to cities and states and corporations. And I should say, by the way, the political subtext that people have talked about here is Pat Toomey is a Republican. Obviously, a Democrat is going to be the president. And so the subtext is, is he trying to take power away from the Fed because he doesn't trust the Democrats and, you know, Janet Yellen, who will be the Treasury secretary, who will be working with the Fed on emergency programs?

SMITH: I took a break from news. And I know that they resolved this issue. But how did they do it?

GOLDSTEIN: So the worry when Senator Toomey brought this up was that he was going to sort of permanently kneecap the Fed. The worry - his first thing was like, OK, the Fed has to stop doing these lending programs very soon. And people were basically OK with that. But then Toomey's next thing was like, and also, the Fed can't relaunch something similar to this without special approval from Congress. So the resolution was they gave Toomey the OK, yes, it's got to end now. But they narrowed the second part of it.

The way the second part worked out in the end was the law actually says the Fed can't recreate programs that are essentially the same as the ones they just shut down. They can't just turn them back on and be like, OK, we're doing it again. This is a new one. That's not OK. And really interestingly, the bill actually includes specific language to say we, Congress, are not taking away any emergency lending powers that the Fed had, you know, before this year. We're not trying to make the Fed weaker in the long run. We just don't want it to restart these exact programs.

SMITH: The Federal Reserve retains all of their sort of traditional powers that they've been granted. And all is well for now.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, well enough.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDSTEIN: I mean, I don't know if I'd say well. But the world is good enough.

SMITH: Come on, it's a holiday show.

GOLDSTEIN: It's not my fault how the world is.

SMITH: Jacob Goldstein, thank you so much.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. I'm happy to get out and do a little skiing.

SMITH: Let's ski a little bit. And then, of course, I'll go back to the studio, which is actually just my closet. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOW CRUNCHING)

SMITH: And now a bit of happy news for Rest Of The Story. We did an episode about this thing called escheat. It's when you forget money in an account somewhere and the state holds it for you in case you ask for it back. Well, over the year, we kept getting notes from listeners saying, hey, we looked on our state website and we got money. We'll be playing some of these messages throughout the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARON WRIGHT AND FLORIAN MOENKS' "SAY WE GO CIRCULAR")

APRIL: Hi, PLANET MONEY. I'm April (ph) from Maryland. After listening to your escheat show, I found a $17 paycheck I forgot to pick up. It was from my last waitressing job in college in 1997. I donated it and then some to NPR. Thanks for making economics fun.

SMITH: The very first episode we did on the pandemic was in early March. And this was before any cities in the United States shut down. And the title of that episode I love because it's the question we're still asking today, Where's The Vaccine? Sarah Gonzalez did the story. Hey, Sarah.

SARAH GONZALEZ, HOST:

Hey, Robert.

SMITH: This story was memorable because you talked about a secret stash of government chickens...

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) Yeah.

SMITH: ...Scattered around the country that are basically on standby waiting for the next flu pandemic because chicken eggs are used in the process of making flu vaccines.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. But the story was really, actually, about how the U.S. government intervenes in the emergency vaccine market, like how it makes these big commitments to pharmaceutical companies that they will be the market for emergency vaccines, meaning they will be the buyers.

SMITH: Which is why the U.S. government pays to have those millions of chickens lay eggs all year long, in case there's a pandemic.

GONZALEZ: Right. And the guy we spoke to for this episode, Rick Bright, was very protective of these chickens.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RICK BRIGHT: They are hardworking, government chickens. But we have...

GONZALEZ: Where are they?

BRIGHT: A lot of farms that we have in undisclosed places. As you can imagine, it's our national security.

GONZALEZ: It's a secret where they are?

BRIGHT: It's a national security secret.

GONZALEZ: OK. So Rick Bright was, when we spoke to him, the head of this agency called BARDA, which is the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. This is the agency that is in charge of, like, responding to and preparing for biological threats specifically. So besides the U.S. government stockpiling chickens, Rick Bright basically told us that there are all these national stockpiles filled with the anthrax antidote, filled with face masks and ventilators. Like, he was the one that had the official government pandemic playbook, knew how many syringes there were in the country. He's one of the top vaccine scientists.

SMITH: What happened to him, Sarah?

GONZALEZ: So apparently, behind closed doors, Rick Bright had sort of been telling people, like, that national stockpile of face masks and ventilators, it is dangerously low. Like, we are going to be in this very bad situation. And Rick Bright says that he was met with indifference. Another thing he was doing behind closed doors was - do you remember the whole hydroxychloroquine thing, Robert?

SMITH: (Laughter) Yes. Yes, I do.

GONZALEZ: Feels so long ago, right?

SMITH: I listened to President Trump go on and on about it. Yes.

GONZALEZ: Well, Rick Bright was the guy at BARDA who was saying, like, no, no, no. We can't actually just tell people to take a malaria drug that we don't actually know works to treat COVID in any way. Like, we actually have to test it. And then, all of a sudden, in April, Rick Bright lost his job at BARDA. He was demoted from his position, reassigned to another job at the National Institutes of Health. He ended up filing a whistleblower complaint, basically told Congress that he was reassigned because the Trump administration wanted him to, like, bypass the normal vetting process for hydroxychloroquine and that he pushed back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIGHT: That, I believe, was the straw that broke the camel's back. And it escalated my removal.

SMITH: That's Rick Bright testifying before Congress. I'm not going to lie, Sarah, I get a little angry inside when I hear this. I get enraged, actually.

GONZALEZ: You want Rick Bright back?

SMITH: (Laughter) I want Rick Bright back.

GONZALEZ: Well, I have good news for you, Robert. President-elect Joe Biden announced that he is a part of Biden's official coronavirus advisory board. So we're getting Rick Bright back.

SMITH: Sounds great. Thanks, Sarah.

GONZALEZ: Thanks, Robert. But, Robert, before I let you go, I have to give you, like, this a really, really awesome, good news. We also did a story earlier this year about people in Oklahoma getting their prison sentences commuted.

SMITH: Yes, I remember.

GONZALEZ: There was a guy in the story, Reggie Nicholson. He was sentenced to 1,650 years plus life in prison. He was given the chance to go before a parole board. We didn't know what was going to happen. Well, he is officially out of prison.

SMITH: Bravo.

GONZALEZ: Pretty cool.

SMITH: Bravo. Thanks for the update, Sarah.

GONZALEZ: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHRIS: Hey, PLANET MONEY. This is Chris (ph) in Charlotte. I wanted to say thanks for the tip you guys gave back in February in your escheat episode. I went on a little lost money treasure hunt of my own, and I found 70 bucks worth of health insurance overpayments in a couple of different states. I also found money that belonged to my dad, but I couldn't convince him that the sites were real. Anyways, I always really enjoy the show. And finding free money was especially nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PATRICK JONES: Hi, PLANET MONEY. My name is Patrick Jones (ph). I live in Jakarta, Indonesia, but I'm originally from Seattle. And because of your escheat episode, I found out that before I moved, I left over $2,000 in an escrow account. So after going to the Washington state escheat website, I got all of that money back. And I did two things with it. First of all, I bought a share of Amazon stock because I thought that was kind of thematic. But then secondly, I went to npr.org/donations and donated the rest of my money to PLANET MONEY because I figured you guys need to be more full of escheat - ha ha. Thanks, guys.

SMITH: All right. Time now for sports. (Vocalizing). I've always wanted to do that.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Do you want me to stay in this interview or go outside for a long run, man? Because now I'm excited.

SMITH: I'm here with host of The Indicator Cardiff Garcia. And you may know Cardiff on the show as a fan of many things. Cardiff loves the predictive power of the yield curve.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

SMITH: He loves graphs of total factor productivity. You know you do.

GARCIA: I absolutely do. I like that I'm known as the resident niche lover of all these weird things.

SMITH: Including a certain sport.

GARCIA: Yes, mixed martial arts - absolutely. A misunderstood sport, I think, but also a sport where if you're a fan, you are conflicted for many reasons.

SMITH: Wait - misunderstood? Because the way I understood it was two people beat the crap out of each other.

GARCIA: That is definitely a misunderstanding of the sport. Very often, one person does beat the crap out of somebody else. But also, what I think people don't quite appreciate is that it is a very intellectual sport, actually, the strategic space in which these fighters compete is enormous precisely because it's mixed martial arts. It's all the different martial arts combined into one. So there's elements of boxing. There's elements of jiujitsu, of wrestling, of kickboxing.

SMITH: You forgot one. There is also elements of labor law.

GARCIA: (Laughter) Yes.

SMITH: And recently, you did a show about this big legal battle in the MMA world. And you started that show with an interview with one of the fighters. Maybe you can introduce us to him again.

GARCIA: Yeah, this is a former fighter named Kyle Kingsbury. And he's one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit against the UFC, which is the biggest promotional organization that runs mixed martial arts fights. And like a lot of other former fighters, Kyle's had an accumulation of injuries throughout his career.

KYLE KINGSBURY: I've had two orbital blowout fractures in my left eye. My nose has been broken. I've had a separated rib, you know, arthritis in my knees, hips, very limited ankle mobility on my right side.

SMITH: But we should say here, Cardiff, the legal battle is not about dangerous working conditions. That's just part of the game.

GARCIA: Correct. That's understood. That is accepted by the fighters. Sometimes, it's even a point of pride. The legal battle is actually about the financial conditions under which these fighters compete.

KINGSBURY: I had to have multiple jobs the entire time I fought as a professional athlete. For a large portion of my career, I lived in my mother's detached garage. And I worked as a bouncer and a bartender at a local bar. And I would stay up until 3:30 in the morning. And I'd come home, sleep for as long as I could and try to make it to morning practice on time and still get two training sessions in in a day and then head back to work.

SMITH: So, Cardiff, lay out for us who's suing whom, and what are they alleging?

GARCIA: Sure. So a small group of former fighters, including Kyle Kingsbury, is alleging that the UFC has broken antitrust laws, specifically that the UFC has made it harder for fighters to go fight for rival organizations and that the UFC does this in its contracts with the fighters, in the way it negotiates those contracts with the fighters. And then it gets away with this partly because it is by far the biggest, the most dominant organization that runs fights. And that's a position it enjoys in part because it bought out its main rivals a long time ago. And so consequently, what's happened is the fighters have essentially had to accept whatever pay and whatever conditions the UFC offers them and that the UFC has been able to underpay the fighters by a lot relative to what they would have gotten paid if the market for their fighting, for their services had been more competitive and more free.

SMITH: But don't we accept that in professional sports, there is never really a free market? I mean, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA - these are also places where there's no real competitor.

GARCIA: Yeah, that's a great point. So I'd say two things. One, in boxing, which is the most similar sport to MMA, there is more competition between promoters to sign the athletes. And boxers do get paid way more as a share of the money that gets made in the sport. And two, in the team sports that you mentioned, like basketball and football, there are powerful unions that bargain collectively on behalf of the athletes. But the UFC doesn't have anything like that. And it's partly because it's been logistically tricky for the fighters to get organized. And it's partly because the UFC has done what it can to prevent the fighters from getting organized in the first place.

SMITH: So since you did this story, what's changed in the world?

GARCIA: Well, when we did the story, this was just a lawsuit that had been brought forward by a small group, about a handful of former fighters. And so what's happened, just actually within the last couple of weeks, actually, was that a judge certified that, yes, this lawsuit can move forward as a class-action lawsuit, which means that later, if the fighters win, the payout from the UFC would have to be much bigger. And also, it might mean that the UFC might have to change its practices going forward in terms of the provisions that it puts in place in these contracts that the fighters are complaining about.

SMITH: Thanks so much, Cardiff.

GARCIA: You got it, Robert.

SMITH: You should join us more often on the show. It's good to have you here.

GARCIA: (Laughter) A pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JANINE: Hi. I'm Janine (ph) from Glynn County, Ga. My son listened to the Escheat Cheat on PLANET MONEY and called me up and said my name is listed as somebody who had money in New York state. And so I followed up on it. And, oh, my gosh, I got $37,900, which 50 years ago was a $500 stock investment. So I immediately wrote a check to GPB and NPR. And who knows? Maybe I'll treat myself in the future. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: Our final rest of the story is an exciting one for the PLANET MONEY team because our beloved producer, Darian Woods, flew back to see his family in New Zealand. This was two weeks ago. Since then, he's been in a government-run quarantine center. It's like a hotel room, really, where you can't see anybody. And today, for the first time, he is going to leave that room and walk into a nation that has beaten COVID, where there is no pandemic, New Zealand.

Hey, Darian.

DARIAN WOODS, BYLINE: Robert Smith.

SMITH: So are you still wearing a mask?

WOODS: I'm wearing a mask, but as soon as I get past that gate, I'm going to take it off.

SMITH: Oh, this is a super exciting moment. I'm living vicariously through you.

WOODS: That's right. And I'm going to cross the precipice to a world where there is no COVID. So here we go. Walking through.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Thanks, guys.

WOODS: All right. I'm now out in the world. It's so weird.

SMITH: So take off the mask.

WOODS: Here we go. Here we go. Just putting my baggage down. And I'm hopefully a lot clearer on the phone now.

SMITH: Yes, you are.

WOODS: (Yelling) I'm free. I'm free.

SMITH: (Laughter). Are there any strangers around? Can you hug and kiss anyone you don't know?

WOODS: (Laughter). I could - there's a guy just waiting for his taxi. I could give him a handshake. Yeah, yeah. Hey. My name's Darian. I'm just recording a little piece for radio. What's your name?

DRAGOS CONRAD: Dragos (ph).

WOODS: What's that, sir?

CONRAD: Dragos Conrad (ph).

WOODS: Great to meet you.

CONRAD: Nice to meet you.

WOODS: Now, I just want to do something that's really simple. And you can - feel free to say no if you find the idea disgusting. But do you want to shake my hand?

CONRAD: Sure.

SMITH: He did it.

WOODS: That's the sound of a handshake. How does it feel?

CONRAD: It's pretty cool. Pretty interesting to do it again.

SMITH: (Laughter).

WOODS: Well, very good. Thanks so much. All right, my first handshake in nine months.

SMITH: Well, congratulations, Darian. I'm so happy for you.

WOODS: Yeah. And all the best for you and everyone else back in New York. Stay strong.

SMITH: And that is - that's truly the rest of your story. So - at least for now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: It's extremely cold. You know what would be nice to have for the holidays? PLANET MONEY T-shirt. They are still available at the NPR Shop. That's, like, I don't know - Google NPR Shop. I can't look it up. I'm skiing.

GOLDSTEIN: There's a PLANET MONEY section - shop.npr.org/planetmoney maybe.

SMITH: Sure. We love to hear from you.

GOLDSTEIN: You can email us at planetmoney@npr.org or on social media @planetmoney.

SMITH: Our show today was produced by James Sneed, who has to listen to hours of us skiing. Our senior producer is Alex Goldmark. Bryant Urstadt edits the show.

GOLDSTEIN: Watch that dirt patch. Walk around it. (Yelling) I ran out of batteries.

SMITH: I'm Robert Smith. Jacob Goldstein just ran out of batteries in the...

GOLDSTEIN: (Yelling) I'm Jacob Goldstein.

SMITH: He's skiing away. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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