May 13, 2019

Did the biggest Game of Thrones related twist of the year just happen outside of the show itself?

It might have if a wild claim from one of the show's former stars is true. Actor Ian McElhinney, who played Barristan Selmy, claimed at a recent convention that author George R.R. Martin has actually completed the next two books in the series already.

"George has already written books 6 and 7, and as far as he’s concerned there only are seven books," McElhinney said, Collider reports. "But he struck an agreement with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the showrunners on the series, that he would not publish the final two books until the series has completed."

He goes on to insist that in "another month or two," we might get the final two books in the series.

This is a jaw-dropping statement for a number of reasons, the most obvious being the idea that Martin is finally done with the long-awaited The Winds of Winter, which book fans have been eagerly anticipating for almost eight years now. But while it's not hard to believe Martin could soon be finished with this sixth book, the idea that he's also fully done with the seventh book already is something few fans have thought possible.

There have also never been any reports of Martin agreeing to hold off on publishing his books until the series is over, a deal that sure doesn't sound like something he'd agree to. For that reason, it's definitely possible McElhinney has his facts wrong and that he just got book fans' hopes way up, preparing them for the kind of inevitable disappointment they have experienced on a consistent basis for nearly an entire decade.

Update: Martin has now shot down McElhinney's claim on his blog, saying the idea "makes not a whit of sense." Brendan Morrow

4:21 p.m.

As the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues, Paul Krugman says he's feeling "more positive than I expected to be" about the recovery.

The economist and New York Times writer spoke in an interview with Bloomberg about the state of the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, cautioning that the crisis should not be looked at as "a garden-variety recession" instead of a "shutdown enforced by social distancing."

Asked how long the economic fallout might last, Krugman explained that looking at past recessions, "until now we've had two kinds: 1979-82-type slumps basically caused by tight money and the 2007-09 type caused by private-sector overreach. The first kind was followed by V-shaped 'morning in America' recoveries; the second by sluggish recoveries that took a long time to restore full employment."

Krugman argues that the current crisis is "more like 1979-82 than 2007-09," not being caused "by imbalances that will take years to correct," which suggests a "fast recovery" once the coronavirus is contained. He offers a few caveats, though, nothing that it's unclear how long the pandemic will last and that states reopening too soon could "extend the period of economic weakness."

Almost 40 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and economists from Goldman Sachs in a report earlier this month forecasted that the unemployment rate will reach 25 percent with the pre-virus rate not returning for years. Krugman tells Bloomberg, though, that all in all, he doesn't "see the case for a multiyear depression."

This interview with Krugman comes after Jason Furman, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, predicted to Politico a "partial rebound" with "the best jobs and growth numbers ever" in the months before the November election. Read the full interview at Bloomberg. Brendan Morrow

4:13 p.m.

President Trump took to his favorite social media platform to attack social media platforms on Wednesday morning, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certainly didn't do anything to help his boss' case.

Shortly after Trump claimed on Twitter he would "strongly regulate" or "close down" social media platforms that are allegedly silencing "conservative voices," Pompeo sent out a tweet saying the U.S. "will not tolerate" government-imposed censorship or shutdowns.

Pompeo's tweet isn't in response to Trump, exactly — it references the Freedom Online Coalition, a partnership of 31 governments seeking to improve Internet freedom. The group has been vocal about combating any attempts to limit freedom of expression or increase Internet surveillance as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Trump's social media threats came after Twitter labeled two of his tweets as misleading on Tuesday, the first time that distinction was given to the president on the platform.

Seeing as Pompeo specifically boosted the FOC's statement and has been vocal about combating COVID-19 disinformation, it's unclear if his tweet was a targeted dig at Trump's situation or just a case of bad-timing.

After all, Trump isn't exactly known for being on the same page as his employees. Marianne Dodson

3:17 p.m.

Archaeologists have revisited an ancient Roman dig site that hasn't been touched in a century — and found something incredible underneath.

In a vineyard outside the Italian city of Verona, under several feet of vines and dirt, researchers have uncovered what appears to be a perfectly preserved mosaic floor and pieces of a villa foundation dating back to the third century A.D. Surveyors in the commune of Negrar di Valpolicella north of Verona shared images of the site, providing a glimpse at a discovery that's largely still hidden beneath the dirt, BBC reports.

Archaeologists first mapped out what appeared to be the remains of an ancient Roman villa outside Verona back in 1922 before the site was abandoned. The Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Verona decided to revisit the site last October and again in February, but their efforts to unearth the site were cut short when COVID-19 arrived in Italy, the Guardian reports. Excavation resumed last week and, by Monday, there was something incredible to show for their efforts.

There's still a lot of careful work to be done before the whole floor and foundation can be revealed — along with some careful negotiation with the owners of the vineyard now growing on top of this ancient discovery. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:21 p.m.

The U.S. State Department has determined Hong Kong no longer holds autonomy under Chinese rule, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday.

"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," Pompeo said in a Wednesday statement. Pompeo informed Congress of the department's decision on Tuesday, and there's a strong chance the move will change Hong Kong's trade relationship with the U.S., CNBC reports.

"While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself," Pompeo said. America's economic and trade relationship with Hong Kong is separate of that with China, largely exempting Hong Kong from the tariff war between the two nations. But with the U.S. now considering Hong Kong to be more closely tied with the mainland, the region will now likely be subject to America's heavy trade restrictions.

The announcement comes just a day before Beijing is slated to pass a law that will let it curtail civil liberties in the administrative region — something Pompeo called a "death knell for Hong Kong," The New York Times reports. Hong Kong has long operated as an administrative region autonomous from mainland China, but Beijing has increasingly tightened its grasp on the area. Widespread protests by pro-democracy Hong Kong residents were a constant for months until COVID-19 spread throughout the country, and more demonstrations took place ahead of debate over the law at the city's legislature early Wednesday. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:33 p.m.

Larry Kramer, the AIDS activist and playwright known for The Normal Heart, has died at 84.

Kramer died Wednesday morning in Manhattan from pneumonia, his husband, David Webster, told The New York Times.

Kramer in 1981 co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis organization for HIV-positive people and was a founder of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) as well. He was, the Times writes, "among the first activists to foresee that what had at first caused alarm as a rare form of cancer among gay men would spread worldwide, like any other sexually transmitted disease, and kill millions of people without regard to sexual orientation," and he used "relentless, often antagonizing tactics to goad public officials, scientists and fellow gay rights proponents to stanch the AIDS epidemic," The Washington Post notes.

Kramer's autobiographical play The Normal Heart debuted in 1985, and his other notable work includes the play The Destiny of Me, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay for Women in Love.

Among those who have paid tribute to Kramer is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who the Times notes Kramer formed a "grudging friendship" with after Kramer in the 1980s called him an "incompetent idiot." The Times' obituary quotes Fauci as saying that "once you got past the rhetoric, you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold."

Fauci had previously said in a 2002 interview with The New Yorker, "In American medicine, there are two eras. Before Larry and after Larry. There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country. And he helped change it for the better." Brendan Morrow

1:30 p.m.

Do as I say, not as I have done for the last decade.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has voted by mail 11 times in the past 10 years, sending in a ballot for every Florida election she's participated in since 2010, The Tampa Bay Times reports. She reportedly last voted by mail in Florida's primary just two months ago, shortly before she told reporters there is supposed "bipartisan consensus on the fact that mass mail-in voting can lead to fraud."

McEnany's voting history is similar to that of her boss, President Trump, who has routinely voted by mail while making a stink over others who do the same.

"The president is, after all, the president, which means he's here in Washington. He's unable to cast his vote down in Florida, his state of residence," McEnany said last week about the president's voting decisions.

McEnany's defense of Trump came after he incorrectly asserted that Michigan illegally distributed millions of absentee ballot applications to its residents and threatened to withhold funding to the state, which had just suffered a severe dam break.

She told reporters at the time that Trump "supports mail-in voting for a reason, when you have a reason that you are unable to be present," although an ongoing pandemic didn't seem to pass the test.

This week, McEnany wrote a series of tweets blasting the "real concerns" with mail-in voting, which included bribery, lost ballots, and ballot harvesting. It is unclear whether McEnany knew about these concerns before she cast 11 mail-in ballots. Marianne Dodson

1:03 p.m.

Laura Ingraham is pushing some patently false claims about what America might look like under Democratic leadership.

On Tuesday night, the Fox News host welcomed lawyer and Republican operative Harmeet Dhillon to her show to condemn Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for ordering people to wear masks in public statewide. Dhillon falsely suggested "the masks don't work" or at least that no one can "prove they work," and then said that could provide a legal pathway to overriding Northam's order. Ingraham chimed in to claim if masks are "for safety," then "this is not a temporary thing," and then suggested if Democrats "get real power," they'll enact rules that mandate wearing masks in public "forever."

Ingraham's claim is clearly untrue, seeing as most U.S. localities, including many run by Democrats, haven't mandated people wear masks when in public. It's only the opinion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hundreds of health experts, and Ingraham's colleague Sean Hannity that they should do so. Kathryn Krawczyk

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