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What Happened: July 28, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: New White House vax mandate; Tech profits soar; China builds nuke sites

The Scroll
July 28, 2021

The Big Story

A wave of new government-mandated masking and vaccination policies suggests a coordinated effort among leading Democrats to reintroduce stricter COVID-19 policies as the new “Delta” variant of the novel coronavirus leads to a surge in cases, largely concentrated among the unvaccinated. In planned remarks Thursday, President Biden is expected to announce that all federal workers are required to have the vaccination or else will have to submit to regular testing and other restrictions. The new White House policy comes immediately after a series of similar announcements from state and federal authorities. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its previous guidelines and called for the resumption of indoor mask wearing, while New York’s Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a requirement for state employees to prove they have been vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. These in turn followed nearly identical policies announced Monday by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. On Wednesday, Newsom tweeted in response to the planned White House announcement, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” Yet more likely than the White House following California’s lead is that the sequence of announcements, with those from large blue states preceding that of the White House, reflects a coordinated approach to implementing the new measures. Former Michigan Rep. Justin Amash writes on Twitter, “The White House and CDC should be honest with us: What they really want is for unvaccinated people to mask up, but since they don’t trust them to act voluntarily, they’re demanding that everyone mask up so it’s easy to enforce. This approach is untenable.”

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Today’s Back Pages: The Secrecy State

The Rest

Iranian defector and Olympian judoka Saeid Mollaei, now competing for Mongolia, dedicated his silver medal to Israel on Tuesday. Mollaei defected from Iran in 2019 after his coaches ordered him to throw a match so he wouldn’t have to compete against an Israeli opponent. “I hope the Israelis are happy with this win,” he said Tuesday before thanking the country in Hebrew.

Still riding high on the coronavirus pandemic tech boom, Apple, Microsoft, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reported soaring profits in the past quarter, totaling more than a combined $56 billion. While they are supposed to be facing increased regulatory pressure and antitrust scrutiny, the tech giants have collectively more than doubled their market value, which is now on the order of $6.4 trillion, since the pandemic began. All three companies outperformed investor expectations by a considerable margin, with Apple’s growth driven by sales of the iPhone 12, Microsoft’s by its cloud computing business, and Google’s by rising advertising sales.

China appears to be building a network of missile silos for launching nuclear weapons in the country’s Xinjiang region, according to a report published Monday by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). Based on satellite imagery analysis of the alleged missile silo site in Northwest China, researchers from FAS identified 33 sites either under construction or prepared for building out of what they say could eventually be as many as 110. Only a few weeks ago, a separate group of researchers using similar methods at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, identified 119 potential nuclear launch sites in China’s Gansu province, also in the northwest.
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Former intelligence analyst Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison Tuesday for leaking details of the U.S. drone program to an unnamed reporter at The Intercept. Hale, 33, was initially arrested in May 2019 on charges of passing classified materials to a journalist while he was working as an intelligence contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Hale’s sentence is well under the maximum possible penalty of 50 years, but it’s severe considering how much routine leaking by government officials goes unpunished and the fact that it was done in the public interest.

In their second week, anti-government protests continued to spread throughout Iran Tuesday as anger over water shortages fed into deeper grievances toward the country’s theocratic government. Videos posted to social media show large crowds assembled in multiple areas, including the central city of Isfahan and the capital, Tehran, with some chanting “death to the dictator” and burning banners of Iran’s ​​Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iranian officials say five people have died so far in the protests, including one police officer, while Iranian activist groups say the real death toll is close to double that—a result of security forces opening fire on protestors.

Columbia sociologist Musa al-Gharbi analyzed 27 million articles across dozens of U.S. publications, and found a marked increase in media references to racial, gender, and sexual prejudice in the early 2010s. The discursive shift, which manifested in what is known as “The Great Awokening,” wasn’t preceded by any comparable increase in acts of prejudice in the real world.

Shifts in media discourse around prejudice & discrimination seem to be largely independent of (perhaps even in contradiction with) observed trends in prejudicial attitudes, hate crimes, actual discrimination, etc. ‘in the world’ over the period observed:

— Musa al-Gharbi (@Musa_alGharbi) July 27, 2021

The same subject was covered in an August 2020 Tablet article, “How the Media Led the Great Racial Awakening.”
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Roughly 50,000 illegal immigrants who were detained at the U.S. southern border have since been released into the United States without a court date after being given a list of Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices and told to report on their own to one of them. The honor system seems not to have been a success, as only 13% of people who were detained have reported as ordered. Axios calls it “unprecedented for agents to release migrants without an official notice to appear in court” and an indication of how overwhelmed U.S. border agents are by the surge of migrants attempting to enter the country illegally.
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The Israeli Defense Forces’ National Rescue Unit dispatched to assist rescue operations at the building collapse in Surfside was directly involved in recovering the remains of 81 of the 98 victims that were identified at the site. Using 3D computer modeling, the Israeli team developed “a series of digital images that showed precisely where each room was located both before and after the collapse,” generating a map of areas within the rubble where the Israeli searchers focused their search efforts.
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Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a Russian-brokered cease-fire plan Wednesday after revived border clashes resulted in three Armenian soldiers killed and two wounded, according to Armenian sources. Azerbaijan won a definitive victory over its neighbor after six weeks of heavy fighting last fall led to Azeri troops retaking control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Back Pages

The Secrecy State

Today I want to mention an important book that has fallen into unfortunate obscurity.

The book is called Secrecy: The American Experience, and it was written in 1999, two years before the start of the War on Terror, by the distinguished senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Over his long career, Moynihan developed a reputation as a genuine scholar and intellectual—a rare thing in the senate—and as a liberal Democrat who frequently broke with his own party and cavorted with the other side. 

If Secrecy was remembered at all today, it would not make Moynihan any friends among contemporary Democrats. Starting with the election of Donald Trump, the party has embraced a seemingly strange and contradictory identity in which it is normal to talk about the systemic racism of police and need for radical overhaul of law enforcement while simultaneously valorizing FBI agents and U.S. intelligence agencies as heroic defenders of democracy. But this new political persuasion is something Moynihan saw coming decades ago, and it results from a very simple formulation that he laid out in the first line of Secrecy’s opening chapter: “Secrecy is a form of regulation.”

“There are many such forms” of regulation, Moynihan goes on to say, “but a general division can be made between those dealing with domestic affairs and those dealing with foreign affairs. In the first category, it is generally the case that government prescribes what the citizen may do. In the second category, it is generally the case that government prescribes what the citizen may know.”

Though it may be hard to recognize at first as a description of the U.S. political system at present, which is after all shrouded in secrecy and so difficult to recognize by design, that passage describes it perfectly. The vast technological surveillance apparatus of the U.S. security state designed to prosecute wars and advance U.S. interests against foreign adversaries has been wheeled around like a giant gunship and pointed inward at American citizens. Moynihan does not object to the secrecy machine, per se—his problem is with seeing it applied in a democracy as an invisible layer of government regulation.

“In the United States,” Moynihan writes:

Secrecy is an institution of the administrative state that developed during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. It is distinctive primarily in that it is all but unexamined. There is a formidable literature on regulation of the public mode, virtually none on secrecy. Rather, there is a considerable literature, but it is mostly secret. Indeed, the modes of secrecy remain for the most part—well, secret.

More to follow in future installments …

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.