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What Happened: October 22, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Inflation; Taiwan; War Against Technocratic Effacement

The Scroll
October 22, 2021


The Big Story

Months away from the holiday shopping season, prices are expected to continue rising amid ongoing shortages of key commodities and consumer goods. Inflation has been hovering around a rate of 5.4% for months in the United States, the fastest it’s grown since 2008, but executives at top companies are warning that it will likely get worse. The CEO of Unilever, a multinational corporation that sells hygiene and food products, told Bloomberg News that consumers should expect “at least another 12 months of inflationary pressures” and that the economy is in “a once-in-two-decades inflationary environment.” Rising energy costs are already being felt by many people at the gas pump and will become even more pronounced once winter heating bills start to arrive. But earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal noted that staple food costs are now approaching 5% increases—a rough cutoff point past which many consumers will change their purchasing habits. “Nestlé, Danone, and Procter & Gamble all said this week that consumers can expect higher bills at the grocery store,” the Journal reported. The forces driving prices up around the world include supply chain backlogs and labor shortages. There is no obvious relief for those problems on the near horizon. As of Thursday, a key inflation indicator known as the 10-year “break-even” rate hit 2.64%, the highest level since 2012—a sign that inflation may continue to rise for some time.

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Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

-At a CNN town hall Thursday night, President Joe Biden said the United States will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. Biden’s statement came in response to an audience member who asked, “China just tested a hypersonic missile. What will you do to keep up with them militarily, and can you vow to protect Taiwan?” But the White House later walked back the president’s assurances and reaffirmed the long-standing U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity,” in which the U.S. promises to aid Taiwan’s “self-defence” but avoids making any definite commitments to military action in the region.

-According to the freight industry journal American Shipper, “the port congestion crisis in Southern California is not getting any better.” Despite some efforts by the Biden administration to ease backlogs at the ports by negotiating longer operating hours, offshore wait times set a new record Thursday as 79 container ships plus six additional cargo vessels carrying an estimated ​​$26.2 billion worth of cargo were stuck waiting in the waters outside the port.
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-The standard premise in science fiction dystopias requires the arrogant people of the earth to seal their own fate through some act of mindless hubris like designing “good” sentient robots or using mind-reading “pre-cogs” to stop crimes before they happen. The new cryptocurrency Worldcoin has effectively dispensed with the first part and decided to just market the dystopian scenario directly. The company, which has already hit a $1 billion valuation, is trying to attract users for its cryptocurrency by offering a free payout of its own cryptocurrency to anyone who gets their eyeball scanned by a gray biometric orb device—called the orb—which converts the iris scan into a hash code that’s used to verify a person’s unique identity. As if millions of people would just hand over their biometric data! Who do they think they are? Apple?

-The State Department told congressional staffers Thursday that 176 Americans are still stuck in Afghanistan. The State Department has been in touch with a total of 363 U.S. citizens stuck in Afghanistan—those 176, plus a remainder of those who want to stay in the country, reports CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, who broke the story. The numbers are far higher than what was initially indicated by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In a statement at the end of August, the day before the United States officially ended its mission in Afghanistan, Blinken said there were “a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100,” still in the country who wanted to leave. Since then, the United States has flown more than 200 American citizens out of the country, suggesting the real number was at least double what was initially reported. 
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-Chinese property giant Evergrande avoided going into default by paying $84 million of the interest it owes on outstanding debt, nearly a month after the money was due, according to Chinese state media. The state-directed efforts to curb Evergrande’s debt spending suggest that China may be trying to move its economy away from its current heavy dependence on credit-backed property development.

-Following the resignations of two top officials amid allegations that they profited from trades related to Federal Reserve monetary policies, the Fed has imposed new regulations narrowing the kinds of investments that officials can own. The new rules announced Thursday require officials to sell any individual stocks or bonds they currently own and prohibit investing in them in the future. They also require officials to disclose any financial transactions within 30 days and any prospective trades to be announced 45 days in advance so they can be vetted by ethics officials. 

-How a lie gets publicly constructed and silently revised.

1/ This AP photo caption reads “Comedian and videographer Vito Gesualdi screams profanities as he engages with peaceful protesters begging him to leave.” A damaging claim about @VitoGesualdi, circulated globally.

It never happened. Join me on some basic photo-trutherism.

— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) October 21, 2021

-CNN’s response to clear evidence that it misled viewers about the COVID-19 treatments taken by the podcaster Joe Rogan was to double down on the initial deceit, apparently as a way to appeal to viewers who dislike Rogan—factual reporting and medical science, be damned. The dispute began after Rogan announced that he was taking the antiparasitic drug ivermectin along with a number of other treatments prescribed by his doctor to treat COVID-19. CNN host Erin Burnett called it a “drug intended for livestock,” Anderson Cooper described it as “something more often used to deworm horses,” and Don Lemon said it’s “a drug meant for deworming livestock.” In fact, as The Scroll noted on Sept. 3, “more than 3 billion people across the world have taken ivermectin, which is prescribed to treat parasitic infections in both humans and animals and appears on the World Health Organization’s list of “‘essential medicines.’” But in a letter released Thursday addressing Rogan’s complaints about the network’s coverage, CNN claims, “The heart of this debate has been purposely confused and ultimately lost. It’s never been about livestock versus human dosage of ivermectin.” Covering the dustup, The Washington Post’s media critic Erik Wemple writes, “CNN’s statement sounds more like the work of an advocacy group than a journalism outfit … If we take Rogan’s prescription claim at face value—and CNN hasn’t challenged it—then the network’s coverage was slanted in some cases and straight-up incorrect in others.” In this instance, Wemple concludes, “you don’t have to endorse Rogan to abhor CNN’s coverage of this topic.”
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The Back Pages

Your Weekend Reads

—How is it that American corporations have accumulated unprecedented levels of wealth over the past two decades while the country produces fewer things than ever? How could a period of such explosive financial growth coincide with wage stagnation for average workers and a backslide in which Millennials are on track to be worse off than their parents? American Affairs editor Julius Krein provides an answer: “The separation of asset valuations from underlying economic performance is perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the U.S. economy in recent decades.” The essay has some economic jargon that may be unfamiliar to some readers, as it was to me, but the ideas are presented clearly. It offers a theory of comprehensive change with a rare degree of explanatory power that places the struggles of the American household within the same conceptual framework as the flows of international finance.

China manages its economy to optimize growth, while the United States manages its economy to maximize asset values and (private sector) returns on capital. China, therefore, has continued to maintain high investment, even with lower returns, to support rela­tively high growth. The United States, on the other hand, has been content to allow investment to decline and growth to stagnate, as long as asset values and shareholder returns remain acceptable.

But before you take that to mean that the United States and China are locked in a fierce competition …

With China now the largest economy in the world (by purchasing power parity), talk of a new cold war has intensified. But the analogy does not hold. When American CEOs describe their companies as brands “of China and for China,” there is no cold war. America’s entertainment industry is far more solicitous of Chinese public opinion than its own country’s. Nor is it possible to ignore the fact that American oligarchs like Elon Musk treat the U.S. government with visible disdain, but render Chinese authorities the utmost obei­sance. While the old script about human rights is still being recited, America’s presumed allies have made clear that the performance will not be allowed to interfere with their economic partnerships with China.

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—“Twenty years on, it is clear that the opponents of globalization were entirely correct, and the supporters were utterly wrong,” writes Aris Roussinos in UnHerd. What we’re witnessing in the current supply chain crisis, he contends, is “​​a worldwide slow-motion but accelerating collapse of globalization.”

Our hyperefficient globalized supply chain, once romanticized by men like Tom Friedman in The World Is Flat, is the problem. Like the financial system before the 2008 crash, this kind of economic order hides its fragility. It seems to work quite well, until it doesn’t. Now, we’re beginning to see what it looks like when it doesn’t.

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—In The American Mind, Mary Harrington calls for conservatives and feminists to “unite against technocratic effacement.”

Biolibertarianism demands we dismantle all received ideas concerning what humans are, in order that we may be maximally able to become. This all-out assault on our shared understanding of human nature is most tangible for women in the conflict between biorealist “woman” as embodied reality and biolibertarian “woman” as self-chosen identity. But the negative impacts reach far beyond those that are immediately visible. Faced with this challenge, a defence of women must draw on the older, biorealist tradition of thinking about women’s interests expressed in NOW’s [National Organization for Women] 1966 statement.

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Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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