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The Scroll’s Year-End Review

What happened in 2022 that’ll shape the year to come

Tablet News Desk
December 20, 2022
Tablet Magazine; original images: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
Tablet Magazine; original images: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
Tablet Magazine; original images: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
Tablet Magazine; original images: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Every day, Tablet’s afternoon newsletter, The Scroll, delivers original analysis and insights on the most interesting and important news from the past day. As 2022 comes to an end, we’ve put together a curated, chronological list of stories running the gamut from government disinformation boards to corporations using social justice language to bust up unions, that we believe will shape the year to come.

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January 10, 2022

The story of Israel’s new port in Haifa, built by a Chinese company after no American companies bid for the contract, provides a window on the shifting alliances and great power conflicts of the 21st century. Israel’s trade relationship with China has grown from being worth roughly $1 billion in 2001 to some 10 times that today, with most of the value coming from Chinese exports to Israel. American officials voiced objections to the port deal, as Matti Friedman recounts in an article in today’s Tablet describing Israel’s growing ties to China. But the sentiment in Israel is less suspicious of China, which is seen not as a competitor but as a dominant global power and potential partner for Israel’s expanding economic and security interests. A 2019 Pew survey found that two-thirds of Israelis characterized their view of China as “favorable.” For U.S. respondents it was the reverse, with 60% saying they had an unfavorable opinion of China. In addition to building the new port in Haifa, China’s Shanghai International Port Group also holds a 25-year lease to operate it. On the ground, that means Israeli workers moving cargo using Chinese software supervised by Chinese executives in the managerial offices. “The new port has better tech, isn’t unionized, and pays its workers less. It plans to do the same work with a third of the staff,” Friedman writes. While Israelis handle the security at the port, there’s no doubt “the Chinese are in charge.” One early consequence of the Chinese taking charge in Israel is the suppression of criticism directed at China in university programs subsidized by the Chinese government, according to Friedman. But another is that Israel now has a powerful trading partner with close ties to Iran and an interest in maintaining peace in a region where it has just made a major commercial investment.

February 14, 2022

Super Bowl LVI, in which the LA Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback, will also be remembered for its halftime show, which was headlined by Dr. Dre (a son of Compton, a stone’s throw from where the game was played) and featured hip-hop legends 50 Cent, Mary J Blige, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar. The Super Bowl is America’s last shared festival, the game an arena of sanctioned combat. This year’s halftime show assembled a group of artists who have produced some of the most interesting and trenchant critiques of the war on drugs, police brutality, and urban poverty, inside a prettified LA strip mall to entertain the country and offer muted condemnations of state violence. Kendrick Lamar lopped off “popo” from a line in “Alright,” a song that served as an anthem for protesters opposing police brutality, before Eminem took a knee (apparently, with the NFL’s permission) in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. The show then went on.

March 23, 2022

The congressional leaders tasked with overseeing payday lending reform have received a payoff. According to data from OpenSecrets, the payday loan industry has given $3.4 million in campaign donations to 67 of the 78 senators and representatives who sit on the two committees that oversee the loan industry: the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the House Committee on Financial Services. Payday loans are short-term, high-interest loans that use the borrower’s future paycheck as collateral. The industry is rife with predatory lenders who capitalize on the paycheck-to-paycheck precarity of the working poor, often by charging interest rates as high as 600%, which can tick up even higher when borrowers struggle to pay back their debt. The payday industry has been making these campaign donations—and spent $4.2 million on lobbying efforts in 2021—as the committees consider legislation that would cap interest rates at 36%.

April 15, 2022

While peer nations have seen their life expectancy recover since the start of the pandemic, the United States life expectancy declined in 2021, largely because of an increase in deaths among white Americans, according to a new study awaiting a peer review. Before vaccinations were widely available in 2020, high-income nations like the United States suffered a significant drop in life expectancy because of the pandemic death toll. Then, as vaccinations rolled out in 2021, most nations saw their life expectancies recover—all except the United States. The already-existing gap between life expectancy in the United States and that of similar countries widened to more than five years, the researchers reported. The continual decline of U.S. life expectancy—which was 76.6 years in 2021, down from 78.86 two years prior—is attributed to several causes, including widespread obesity across the population, which increases life-threatening medical conditions, and a mismanaged response to the pandemic by local and federal actors.

May 19, 2022

The Disinformation Governance Board, a Department of Homeland Security panel created to expand the government’s regulatory power over social media platforms and public speech, has been “paused” following weeks of mockery and criticism, and will now be subject to a 75-day review focused on ways to improve public sentiment about its mission. The board was to be led by the controversial disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz, who had earlier helped perpetuate the false claim that reporting based on Hunter Biden’s laptop was Russian disinformation and had dismissed claims of anti-conservative bias on digital platforms while insisting that “often it’s liberal voices that are being silenced, particularly minority voices.” Prior to the pause announced this week, Jankowicz and the board had faced harsh criticism from both conservatives and civil libertarian groups including the American Civil Liberties Union. Though it was nominally designed to continue DHS’s efforts to combat online misinformation that began before the Biden administration—particularly misinformation used by human smugglers to coerce migrants over the U.S. border—the board’s mandate expanded that effort into something much broader: to coordinate the sprawling agencies under the DHS banner, as well as the Biden administration, in an attempt to mediate the online distribution of information about issues as varied as vaccines, election fraud, and Russian, Chinese, and Iranian disinformation campaigns. The board’s public rollout was a public relations disaster, with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, in an appearance before legislators in early May, struggling to answer basic questions about its funding and intent and why the panel wasn’t disclosed to lawmakers before its public launch. Most of the criticism, however, was directed toward the board’s executive director, Jankowicz, whose own statements and appearances seemed to contradict DHS messaging about the extent to which the board sought to police public speech. In one video discussion this month, Jankowicz floated the idea of properly “verified” Twitter users being allowed to “edit” the comments of other users if they deemed their content misinformed. In comments to DHS Secretary Mayorkas, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said the board was a “terrible idea,” adding that it tells the world the United States will be “spreading propaganda in our country.” Along with the DHS announcement of the suspension of the panel, Jankowicz resigned from her post, saying in a statement that the criticism of the panel was a “distraction from the Department’s vital work, and indeed, along with recent events globally and nationally, embodies why it is necessary.”

June 9, 2022

Gone are the days when corporations would bust union drives with good old firings and intimidation. With unionization efforts surging at companies across the country, from coastal behemoths such as Amazon and Starbucks to small businesses operating deep in red states, management is changing its tactics and looking to take advantage of “social justice-driven” campaigns by “attempting to co-opt the language of social justice movements and embrace trends around self-growth and positive lifestyles to counter demands for unionization,” according to The Intercept. Such tactics were at the forefront of a conference this past April on “union avoidance,” where experts who were once branded as anti-union consultants have blossomed into “diversity executives” or developers of “belonging”; such figures now form part of a $340 million industry that advises companies on how to exploit the language of diversity so that management can walk the tightrope of appearing “inclusive” while destroying demands for greater pay and benefits.

July 27, 2022

Number of the Day: $420,000

The amount the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DNCC) has spent supporting a right-wing MAGA-aligned House Republican candidate over his more moderate, anti-Trump opponent in a key midterm race in Michigan. Although candidate John Gibbs is closely aligned with former President Trump and incumbent Peter Meijer previously joined 10 other Republicans in a vote to impeach Trump following the January 6 Capitol riot, the DNCC has backed Gibbs because it sees him as an easier opponent to defeat for Democrats in the general election. It’s one of several such high-stakes gambles the DNCC has made to engineer more favorable midterm races, pouring in millions of dollars to push a slate of far-right candidates in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and other battleground contests where Democrats believe they have an upper hand. The strategy hasn’t been foolproof, failing to secure the desired opponents in two California races. It also comes with significant risk. Hillary Clinton’s campaign made its own attempts to raise Donald Trump above other Republicans during the primary, on the assumption he’d be the weaker foe in the general election.

July 28, 2022

“It’s a humanitarian crisis,” Philadelphia’s councilman at large, Allan Domb, told me about the city’s Kensington neighborhood—now the largest open-air drug market in the United States. One evening last November, Domb rode with a city cop through the streets of Kensington and encountered what he described as a nightmare, stopping the cruiser over and over again because of the number of drug users that were so high they “were just laying down in the middle of the road.”

August 11, 2022

In July, the National Health Service (NHS), England’s public health care agency, closed London’s Tavistock gender clinic following a damning external review that raised multiple safety concerns about the treatment of its teenage patients. This week, a U.K. law firm announced a medical negligence lawsuit against the shuttered facility, which was home to Britain’s only Gender Identity Development Service and specialized in the use of hormone therapy puberty blockers to treat teenagers who presented with gender dysphoria. Representing more than 1,000 of Tavistock’s former patients, Tom Goodhead, an attorney at the law firm Pogust Goodhead, alleges that children and young adolescents treated at the clinic “were rushed into treatment without the appropriate therapy and involvement of the right clinicians, meaning that they were misdiagnosed and started on a treatment pathway that was not right for them.” According to Goodhead, “these children have suffered life-changing and, in some cases, irreversible effects of the treatment they received.”

Serving roughly 19,000 children since it opened its doors in 1989, Tavistock saw demand for its services explode in recent years. While it treated just 97 children—half of whom were born male, the other half born female—in 2009, by 2021 it was managing annual referrals of 5,000 teenagers, with 2 out of every 3 born female. According to an independent review commissioned by the NHS earlier this year, which is still ongoing, the extensive waitlists amplified the “unsustainable pressure” mounting on the clinic, which had adopted “an unquestioning affirmative approach” to treating gender-dysphoric teenagers. The medically unsound approach was exacerbated by “the gaps in the evidence base regarding all aspects of gender care for children and young people,” with “the most significant knowledge gaps in relation to treatment with puberty blockers.”

The lawsuit and closure of the clinic come after London’s High Court ruled in 2021 that patients who were 16 years or younger were not old enough to provide the legal consent required to receive what the court described as the “experimental treatment” of puberty blockers at Tavistock. The high court judges said they “did not think [Tavistock’s] assumption was correct” that “if they give enough information and discuss it sufficiently often with the children, they will be able to” grant sufficient legal consent. That decision was overturned by an appeals court that found “it was for clinicians rather than the court to decide” about a child’s capacity to grant consent.

September 13, 2022

Over the past three years, at least 97 current members of Congress or their relatives have traded stocks and other financial securities within industries potentially affected by their work as elected officials. That’s according to a New York Times analysis released on Tuesday that tracked “more than 3,700 trades reported by lawmakers from both parties [that] posed potential conflicts between their public responsibilities and private finances.”

By way of classified briefings, relationships with powerful donors, and involvement with regulatory agencies, members of Congress have a unique vantage into forces that influence the value of stocks and financial instruments, often well before that information is made available to the public. The Times found, for example, that Ohio’s Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs made 16 transactions with potential conflicts of interest, including stock trades of Boeing and pharmaceutical company AbbVie, while both companies were actively being investigated by committees of which he was a member. Of the 138 trades made by West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Thomas Carper and his wife, 39 had potential conflicts of interest, including trades in several energy companies at the same time Sen. Carper sat on the Environment and Public Works Committee as the ranking member of his party.

Media coverage in recent years has revealed several instances of legislators engaged in trades tainted by flagrant conflicts of interest. In January, The Scroll covered an earlier report compiled by Unusual Whales, a website that tracks financial markets, that found “congressional trading activity increased by roughly five times in 2021 over the previous year, mostly clustered around tech, industrials, and energy—sectors directly impacted by the massive infrastructure spending bill passed this year.” The revelations have driven bipartisan calls for new rules that would either ban or severely restrict stock trading by lawmakers and their relatives. But Congress has failed to enact any of those measures, underscoring how cheap pledges for reform can be when they curtail the potential benefit of those making them.

October 21, 2022

The CDC announced on Thursday that its advisory committee on immunization practices voted unanimously to recommend COVID-19 mRNA vaccines for children aged 6 months or older beginning in 2023, a vote that the CDC is expected to endorse. Insurance companies are supposed to cover the cost of the vaccines following the CDC guidance, which is important since Pfizer has already said it will quadruple the price for its vaccine to at least $110 per dose following the end of the federal vaccine-purchasing program in 2023.

The CDC’s recommended immunization schedule is not a federal mandate, and while local and state municipalities generally adopt the CDC’s suggestions on vaccine requirements for their public school students, already the governors of Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Tennessee, and Oklahoma have vowed to not mandate the vaccine. But the CDC’s recommendation will ripple outside of schools as pediatricians generally consider the agency’s suggestion as the gold standard for their own patients. “The CDC made the right decision. Every year 3.5 to 4 million children are born in this country who are fully susceptible to COVID,” Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Scroll.

But it’s unclear how much the vaccines will reduce the number of childhood cases, as studies continue to show that vaccines fail to prevent infection. Earlier this month, the CDC said 86% of all children aged between 6 months and 17 years have already been infected at least once by the novel coronavirus. Given the widespread natural immunity among children and their low risk of serious illness from an infection generally, some critics of the CDC’s decision have pointed to other nations with significantly different public health recommendations.

In September, the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs announced it would no longer recommend vaccines for healthy children between the ages of 12 and 17, expanding earlier recommendations that children under 12 needn’t get the vaccine. “Few children and young people have become seriously ill from Covid-19 … and immunity in the group is very high,” the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said, echoing the guidance from British health officials last month when they lifted their vaccine recommendation for healthy children under the age of 11.

November 29, 2022

The Dutch government is moving forward with its plans to achieve a “net zero” climate agenda by putting thousands of farmers out of work—during a global food shortage, no less—in what amounts to a hostile takeover of the agriculture industry of the world’s second-largest food exporter, behind the United States. For years now, Dutch farmers have been protesting the rising costs of the government’s harsh environmental policies—for example, a 2019 ruling by the Dutch Council of State that requires every new activity that emits nitrogen to obtain a permit. But protests have increased over the past few months as farmers feel that their backs are against the wall. Now the ultimatum has arrived: The government announced plans to buy and close down 3,000 farms at a rumored 120% of market value. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has threatened to “force” the farmers to take the offer if they don’t accept it voluntarily. The Netherlands “nitrogen minister” MP Christianne van der Wal told Parliament last Friday, “There is no better offer coming.” The cabinet has set aside $25.1 billion to fund the transition.

The mandated court order to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia by 50% nationwide by 2030 comes at a curious time, as the war in Ukraine has already caused food shortages, and the United Nations estimates that 2.3 billion people across the world are currently “food insecure.” On Saturday, in a jaw-droppingly ironic video commemorating the Holodomor, Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians from 1932 to 1933, Prime Minister Rutte committed $4.1 million to the World Food Programme, saying that the Netherlands was glad to support not only countries in need of food, but also Ukrainian farmers.

It appears that the Netherlands is subsidizing beleaguered Ukrainian farmers while bribing their own to shut down forever. This may seem backward but perhaps makes sense in light of Rutte’s admiration for the ideas expressed by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab, a primary architect of the so-called “great reset” whose organization has promoted the idea that by 2030 most people will be happy to live in a state of peaceful serfdom, owning nothing but renting what they need, eating much less meat while consuming alternative insect proteins, and paying taxes as part of a global price on carbon emissions.

December 7, 2022

Some 3,000 police officers raided 130 properties across Germany, Italy, and Austria on Wednesday night to apprehend 22 suspects tied to a terrorist cell that authorities say had plans to overthrow the German government. “The suspects are united in a deep rejection of the Federal Republic of Germany, which has in the course of time developed in a decision to initiate a violent coup for which they had made specific preparations,” the German federal prosecutor said. “The members of the organization understood that their endeavor could only be realized by using military means and violence against representatives of the state. This includes committing murders.”

The suspects taken into custody were part of the leaderless Reichsbürger movement. The loosely aligned collective counts more than 20,000 supporters who have created their own schools and official papers as part of their effort to build an alliance that will overtake the postwar German government they view as illegitimate. Members of the group hold to a variety of beliefs, with some who adhere to Nazi ideas and others with ties to QAnon conspiracy theories, though most hold to the core tenet that Germany is currently ruled by a deep state under military occupation that must be overthrown. A former legislator and a sergeant within the KSK, Germany’s special military command, were apprehended along with several ranking former military personnel, some of whom were heavily armed with illegally acquired weapons.

In Frankfurt, police also arrested Prince Heinrich XIII, a minor noble descendant that the coup leaders had planned to install as the new head of the German state. A real estate developer and one of the few remaining descendants of the House of Reuss dynasty, the 71-year-old prince had long advocated for a return to a global order ruled by monarchs. “If things didn’t work well, you just went to the prince,” he said in a 2019 speech. “Who are you supposed to turn to today? Your parliamentarian, the local, federal, or EU level? Good luck!”’

December 8, 2022

That nagging suspicion that life just isn’t as fun anymore, and that post-Industrial Revolution Western culture reached its apex in the 1970s, is demonstrably proven by the music industry’s move toward health treatments. For all the damage it wrought, what made Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie great was their insatiable need to live on the edge. Now, “Grammy award-winning electronic dance trio” Rüfüs Du Sol, whoever that is, has hired a personal trainer to give the group ice baths, ginger shots, workouts, meals, and preshow breathwork routines. Lady Gaga and Harry Styles are apparently also into the icy inflammation-reducing dips. Other contemporary artists are turning to B12 injections and lymphatic massages—or, in the case of the Zac Brown Band, a mobile tractor-trailer gym with a sauna. Gone are the days of Ozzy Osbourne eating a live bird onstage. Well, maybe that’s for the best.

Correction: A kind reader reminded us that Ozzy ate the head off a bat. Not a bird. A bat.

The Tablet News Desk covers News, Israel & the Middle East, Science, and Sports. Pitches can be sent to news editor Jeremy Stern, [email protected].