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"Make Me Smart” Newsletter

What’s a $1,000 fine to a billionaire?

Ellen Rolfes and Catherine Orihuela May 10, 2024
Victor J. Blue - Pool/Getty Images

The News Fix

Fines don’t deter Donald Trump. A New York judge held the former president in criminal contempt this week, levying another $1,000 fine for violating his gag order. This is the 10th time that Judge Juan Merchan has fined Trump during the “hush money” trial, in which Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in order “to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity from American voters before and after the 2016 election,” per Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The gag order — which Trump continues to defy — prohibits him from disparaging witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, court staff or the judge’s family. 

In every instance, the judge levied the largest fine he could — $1,000 — however, as he put it this week, “It is apparent that monetary fines have not and will not, suffice.” New York state law also allows the judge to jail Trump for up to 30 days for every violation, something Merchan has said he’s prepared to do if Trump doesn’t stop.

The U.S. doesn’t scale financial penalties for rich people. Courts can sometimes waive fees or fines for those who can’t afford to pay, but they don’t have similar powers to increase penalties for rich people. Some European and Latin American countries assess penalties based on the severity of the infraction and an individual’s daily disposable income. These “day fines” can be steep; a high-earning Finnish businessman got a €121,000 speeding ticket last year for driving 30kph over the speed limit.

But threats of jail time don’t faze Trump either. He told reporters this week that he’d be willing to go to jail for what he says is exercising his First Amendment right to defend himself from political attacks. Trump’s legal troubles have already been one of the most effective fundraising drivers for his reelection campaign. The former president has also used the gag order and the threat of jail time to solicit his base for more cash. On the first day of the hush money trial, Trump’s campaign received $1.6 million in small-dollar donations

While it’s legal to run for president behind bars, it wouldn’t be a good look. Many independents and some Republicans have told pollsters they wouldn’t vote for Trump if he were convicted of a felony. Political analysts told Reuters that Trump’s incarceration, even for a short time, could alienate undecided voters, especially if it prompted political violence similar to the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

Smart in a shot

A spacecraft attached to a rocket waits docked on earth before its scheduled launch.
The Starliner’s new launch date is May 17. (Getty Images)

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner was supposed to make its first crewed flight in space this week until a faulty valve delayed the launch. But what’s another week when you’re this far behind schedule?

The Starliner spacecraft has been in development for almost a decade. In 2014, NASA contracted both SpaceX and Boeing to create two different spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Handing over control of low-orbit Earth travel to private enterprise is part of the federal agency’s strategy to prioritize deep space exploration.

SpaceX received almost $2 billion less than Boeing, yet its Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully completed its first human mission in 2020.

How did Boeing fall behind in the private space race? For many of its prior NASA contracts, Boeing typically charged the agency for all its expenses, plus a fee. That wasn’t the case with the Starliner. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program contracts were “fixed-price,” meaning payments were tied to specific milestones.Former and current employees told Ars Technica that Boeing made decisions driven by unlocking these milestone payments, even when the underlying work wasn’t actually complete. Problems with the ship’s propulsion system, parachute design, faulty valves and other issues have cost Boeing over than $1.5 billion more than previously budgeted — a drop in the bucket when compared to the estimated $20 billion Boeing lost from two deadly 737 Max crashes and the grounding of another jet, the Max 8.

The Numbers

What would you spend on really good fresh fruit? Fresh Del Monte recently revealed the Rubyglow pineapple, available online and in select stores for $400. It’s the latest in “designer” fruit, which are genetically modified, often over a period of years, to enhance certain traits — and inflate the price. Let’s do the numbers.


That’s how many Rubyglows are available this year, and the company says there will be just 3,000 next year. Grown in Costa Rica, the Rubyglow is a hybrid of yellow pineapple and the reddish-purple Morada variety. It took 15 years to develop, which is typical for a new kind of fruit. 


Oregon-based Harry & David introduced Royal Riviera pears in 1934. They’re a variety of highly coveted Comice pear, native to the South of France. You can mail order a box of seven summertime Royal Verano pears, replete with gold foil wrapping, for $45


In Japan, the luxury fruit market is far larger and more deeply rooted in the culture, where gifting fruit is a centuries-old tradition. The country’s oldest luxury fruit store, Sembikiya, was established in 1834, toward the end of the Edo period.Producing fruit in Japan is a process that requires great care and much time, with farmers spending years perfecting their crop. These fruits often come in ornate packaging to match their price. Ruby Roman grapescube-shaped watermelons and white strawberriesmay be presented like jewelry, in decorated boxes with beautiful ribbons.


The price for six Oishii Omakase strawberries, which are more delicate and creamy than the average strawberry. Jumboz blueberries are another designer fruit, grown by Family Tree Farms in Reedley, California. They cost $7 for 10 ounces. 


The Yubari melon is one of the most expensive melons in Japan. Depending on the quality and sugar content, they can fetch up to $300 each. In 2019, a pair of Yubaris sold at auction for a record $45,000.

None of us is as smart as the rest of us

Tell us what’s making you smarter at smarter@marketplace.org. We’d love to include your recommendation in a future newsletter.

Shoddy (AI-written) reviews

Writer Ellen Rolfes recommends this Futurism investigation into AdVon, a company that struck deals to publish tens of thousands of low-quality product reviews in prominent publications. While the company denies using artificial intelligence, Futurism found significant evidence that makes that claim hard to believe. 

“Cocktails” for kids?

Editor Virginia K. Smith is reading a New York Times’ article about how more underage kids and young adults are ordering nonalcoholic beers, wines and fancy mocktails. Kids have ordered drinks like Shirley Temples for decades, so why does it feel so weird when a tween asks for an N/A lager?

Pushing buttons

Last month, Kai and Kimberly talked about the buzzy kid’s TV show “Bluey,” which is racking up huge streaming numbers. If you want to check it out — with or without your kids — we’ve got a few recommendations from “Make Me Smart” fans and staff on where to start: 

What’s on tap for “Economics on Tap”

Like cocktails but don’t think of yourself as a budding mixologist? This week’s drink recs are for you! Editor Tony Wagner loves to keep it simple when making cocktails at home — the Spaghett is made with just Miller High Life and Aperol.

Producer Courtney Bergsieker has been enjoying Lillet spritzes this spring, made with just the eponymous white wine aperitif, club soda and an orange (add a sprig of fresh basil or mint if you’re feeling fancy). Writer Ellen Rolfes (hi!) recommends getting creative with bitters — mixing a dash of cherry and cardamom bitters in soda water bears a striking resemblance to a cherry cola. 

Grab your own special bevvie and join us on the Marketplace YouTube channel at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, 6:30 p.m. Eastern today. 

The story is a version of the “Make Me Smart” newsletter, which is sent to subscribers on Friday mornings. Sign up for the newsletter at marketplace.org/smarter.

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