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What Happened: October 13, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Social Security goes up with inflation; The French Jewish Trump

The Scroll
October 13, 2021

The Big Story

The biggest increase to Social Security benefits in four decades is set to take effect next year, the Social Security Administration announced on Wednesday. The 5.9% cost of living adjustment rate increase was announced on the same day the Labor Department released a new Consumer Price Index showing that inflation for the third quarter of this year is up 5.4% from the same period last year. But the government’s estimate of inflation may be too low because it lags behind the current data on apartment rental prices: “Because leases take time to expire, the huge increases in rents reported by private surveys haven’t turned up in the government data yet,” David Goldman writes in Asia Times. The increase in payments to seniors and others receiving benefits is intended to offset rising prices. The Wall Street Journal explains, “Consumer prices have risen at the fastest rate in more than a decade this year because trillions of dollars in economic stimulus have supported consumer demand at a time when supplies for everything from toilet paper to new cars have been constrained because of pandemic disruptions.” But whether that approach works will depend on the level of inflation in 2022. For the average recipient of benefits, the increase will amount to an additional $92 per month. The changes will affect more than 70 million Americans.

Read it here:
Today’s Back Pages: The Rise of Eric Zemmour, France’s Algerian Jewish Donald Trump

The Rest

-The United States is warning Israel to stop accepting Chinese investments in the country’s infrastructure and technology sector. That was the word given to reporters by a senior official in the State Department about the agenda to be addressed in a meeting Wednesday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. The problem is that with China having taken over much of the world’s manufacturing output of high-tech goods, it’s not clear that any country, let alone one in Asia, can afford to alienate Beijing as a trading partner.

-In an effort to relieve severe backlogs in the supply chain, the Biden administration has gotten a number of major corporate chains, including Walmart, UPS, and FedEx, to agree to extend their working hours. The White House also negotiated with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach—which, unlike major ports in other countries, do not operate 24/7—to extend their hours of operation.

-Time to reconsider the long-standing medical advice that older people should take aspirin daily to help prevent heart attacks and strokes. An influential panel of doctors released new health guidelines Tuesday that say for people over the age of 60 with no prior heart conditions, the risks of serious bleeding caused by taking aspirin outweighs the potential benefits. Scientists acting with noble intentions, and the best available evidence changing their minds in dramatic fashion—seems like a good reason to be very cautious about declaring certain ideas outside the realm of debate.
Read it here:

-Some 1,400 factory workers at four manufacturing plants owned by Kellogg’s, the cereal company, are now in their second week of a strike that started when their contract expired on Oct. 5. They join “a wave of [Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union]-led strikes at food plants across the country by workers who say that changes implemented during the Covid crisis have made their jobs untenable. They are demanding improvements such as shorter working hours and an end to forced overtime,” reports the Financial Times. FT also notes that “nearly 60,000 workers on Hollywood production crews are on the verge of striking over gruelling hours and a lack of time off. Nurses are striking in Massachusetts and New York over low staffing levels that they say make it impossible to provide quality care to patients.”

-Cases of depression are up significantly around the world due to the pandemic, according to a new study in science journal The Lancet. The study found that countries with highest rates of infection and strictest lockdowns saw the biggest increases in mental health issues. Overall, there were 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorders last year and 76 million additional cases of anxiety, mostly affecting women and young people. That’s an increase of 28% and 26% respectively above the numbers that scientific models predict would have occurred without the pandemic.

-How is it, some readers have asked, that with so many antitrust bills currently being debated in Congress, I’m still doubtful that there will be any real reform of the tech industry. Here’s a big part of the answer: A new investigation by Politico found that “more than a dozen senior Democratic tech and telecom policy staffers [left] their posts this year … with many taking lobbying roles at powerhouses including Facebook, Verizon, Apple, Charter Communications, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the cloud company VMware.” Examples include the senior technology and telecom staffer for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who took a job at Apple hours after her former boss told Politico that tech companies have “literally hired so many people in this town.” (I define real reform as change that returns power to individual citizens, not legislation that simply shifts power from undemocratic corporations to unaccountable bureaucracies.)

-After a 19-month closure, the United States is reopening its border to nonessential visitors traveling between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico next month. Foreign nationals who have been fully vaccinated will be able to cross the border into the United States starting in November. Another recent announcement reopening the country to fully vaccinated visitors arriving by air will also take effect in November.

-Let it never be said that we do not celebrate the glorious achievements of modern medicine and technology here at The Scroll. This is simply amazing.

World’s 1st lung transplant delivered by an unmanned drone in Toronto, hospital network says

— CBC Toronto (@CBCToronto) October 12, 2021

-Catholics serving in the U.S. military are justified in refusing COVID-19 vaccine mandates on religious grounds, according to the Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services. “No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” Timothy P. Broglio said in a statement released Tuesday.

The Back Pages

The Rise of Eric Zemmour, France’s Algerian Jewish Donald Trump

Eric Zemmour isn’t even running for office yet, and he may already be the most popular candidate in France. Born to Jewish parents from Algeria, Zemmour is both a right-wing intellectual in the French nationalist tradition of Gaullism and a familiar kind of firebrand populist, focused on the danger of immigration, hostile to Islam, and very popular. Though he is not yet officially a candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election, Zemmour polled in second place last week. To understand his appeal, I spoke with Laure Mandeville, a senior reporter at France’s largest newspaper, Le Figaro, and author of a recent article titled “Éric Zemmour est-il un Trump à la française?”—Is Eric Zemmour a French Trump?

In your article at Le Figaro, you point out that Trump and Zemmour both drew much of their appeal by campaigning on the danger of unrestricted immigration. Trump treated immigration both as a culture war issue—foreigners diluting American culture, not assimilating, etc.—and an economic threat to the wages of American workers. How has Zemmour handled it?

It’s both, but clearly Zemmour was the one who pointed to the cultural danger of immigration from the Muslim side. In France, that was part of the equation, which is not the case in the U.S., where the migration is basically coming from the south and is mainly Catholic. Zemmour is raising the question of wages but also the question of préférence nationale. What they call “national preference,” which used to exist, was that you would give preference to French nationals, in terms of jobs, etc., and then it totally disappeared at the end of the end of the Cold War with the wide opening of the borders. He became famous in France for taking on not only that side but also the cultural side of the story and being very straightforward about the fact that there is a problem with Islam. In that sense, he was different from others because nobody would say there is a problem with Islam: People would only say there is a problem with Islamism, but Zemmour was willing to say there is a problem with Islam as the political legal system in France. So his view, as I say in my piece, is that it’s not about Muslims—they can live happily and practice their religion as long as they submit to France’s secular law and political organization.

Everything for the Muslims as individuals, nothing for the Muslims as a nation—that was the bargain that the French Revolution extended to France’s Jews, which did not always work out well for them. How are French Jews responding to Zemmour? It’s a topic that I haven’t yet sufficiently investigated, to tell you the truth, but I would say that he is automatically supported by parts of the Jews who are deeply worried by the rise of Islamist attacks.

Coming back to the Trump comparison, how important has the media been in boosting Zemmour’s stature?

It has played an important part here. Zemmour has been on the people’s minds for quite a long time because he was on different TV shows for years. But in the past he was more on shows as a contrarian. His popularity [came from being] the guy who would stand up and say what he had to say, even if the others on the show didn’t like him and it was contrary to the intellectual doxa. Even when there were other people on a show, he was always the one who had the last word.

He’s a very brilliant polemicist with deep historical knowledge. He would nearly rivet people to the TV screen by the strength of his word.

France’s current president, Emmanuel Macron, was widely presented as the great hope of Europe who was going to save liberalism from the clutches of populism. What happened?

There was this very naive approach throughout the West and across the Atlantic that Macron was the savior of the liberal order and the anti-Trump. But I think in a way, Macron sort of diverted a revolt that was not his. He appeared in this populist moment of Brexit, the return of nationalism, Trump, of course, and Boris Johnson in the U.K. And I think that he just diverted this revolt by presenting himself as an anti-party guy, but he was actually the wunderkind of the elite. He was in continuity with all of that, and the people realized it very quickly. Zemmour, at this moment, is just showing that Macron hasn’t changed the dynamic at all.

There was a recent investigation, a big polling inquiry, which was partly published by Le Monde, which showed strikingly that all the themes Zemmour has been talking about for years: the question of security, the question of do you recognize your country, Are you afraid of losing your culture? On all these issues a vast majority of French people are, I would say, not only on the right but quite nearly sharing Zemmour’s exact views.

The question is, will he manage to destroy the other candidates on the right and surge enough. Clearly, there is a big disarray in Les Républicains, the center-right party, which is very divided and has no leader emerging. Marine Le Pen [leader of National Rally, France’s nationalist populist party—ed.] has maybe reached a ceiling in her capacities, and Zemmour is smarter than she is, in some ways. His weakness is, of course, that he has no party organization, and for now he’s not even a candidate.

So, is he going to run?

You know, my totally personal feeling is that he’s going to run. I don’t see how he cannot run with all that is happening and the wind at his sails. But a lot of people from the intellectual circles in France continue to argue that he will not run.

That’s exactly what a lot of the smart and clever people in the United States said about Trump in 2015.

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