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What Happened: November 2, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: An steroid nearly skims the earth; Madison, Wisconsin’s DSA chapter vs Jamaal Bowman; Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah pressured to reject high court’s ruling

The Scroll
November 02, 2021


The Big Story

Shortly after Palestinian media reports Tuesday that seven Palestinian families facing possible eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah area of Jerusalem had accepted a compromise from Israel’s high court, the offer was rejected following an outcry and pressure from Palestinian political officials. The legal battle, stemming from a decades-old dispute over property rights in the East Jerusalem neighborhood, became a focal point of media narratives during the brief conflict in May between Israel and Hamas and sparked street battles between Jewish and Palestinian factions inside Israel. The terms of the deal proposed by Israel’s High Court of Justice would have temporarily upheld the property rights of the current owner, Jewish group Nahalat Shimon, while making the Palestinian families “protected tenants.” It would have prohibited evicting any of the families for 15 years while requiring them to pay a nominal rent pending a final judgement on the ownership status of the land from Israel’s high court. Now that the deal has been rejected, several of the Palestinian families face a renewed possibility of eviction. “We’re under huge pressure,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz quotes one of the Palestian residents saying. “We aren’t sleeping and don’t want to battle with everything around us. The talk is that if you’ve paid the settlers, then you are a traitor and that’s it. You’re finished. So in the end, we refused the offer.” A statement from the families who rejected the offer said the Israeli judiciary is “forcing us instead to choose between our own dispossession or submitting to an oppressive agreement.”

Read it here:
Today’s Back Pages: The Real American Elite

The Rest

-The Biden administration is expected to publish new rules this week requiring private sector employers to enforce COVID-19 mandates or make workers wear masks and get tested regularly. The new policy put forward by The Department of Labor will apply to companies with 100 or more employees and is expected to trigger a spate of similar mandates in the corporate world. Employees who refuse to comply should be given “counseling and education,” according to the guidance, and if employees still refuse after that, they would be subject to “additional disciplinary measures.”

-Mineappolis residents will vote on a ballot initiative Tuesday that proposes replacing the city’s police department with a Department of Public Safety. The initiative began last summer after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in the city, touching off national protests. The month after Floyd’s death, nine Minneapolis City Council members pledged to dismantle the police department, on the grounds that it could not be reformed. In the year since, violent crime has exploded in the city. A PBS Frontline investigation from September found that “​​after decades of declining violent crime, Minneapolis recorded 84 murders last year, up from about 48 in 2019, and a toll not seen since a dark chapter known as the ‘Murderapolis’ years. The 67 murders so far in 2021 are on pace to surpass that.”

-A whistleblower who worked on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials is alleging serious problems with the “data integrity and patient safety” as well as regulatory oversight of the process. The whistleblower Brook Jackson, a regional director for Ventavia, one of the research companies contracted by Pfzier to assist in its vaccine trials, repeatedly notified the company about the problems she observed, internal documents viewed by the peer-reviewed medical journal confirm. Eventually Jackson “emailed a complaint to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ventavia fired her later the same day,” The BMJ reports. Among the problems with the trial that Jackson identified in her letter to the FDA: “Participants placed in a hallway after injection and not being monitored by clinical staff … Lack of timely follow-up of patients who experienced adverse events” and “Vaccines not being stored at proper temperatures.”
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-Changes to the privacy policy on Apple’s iPhone have allegedly cost the tech industry nearly $10 billion in the second half of 2021. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all lost ad revenue after Apple implemented a new transparency policy in April, forcing apps to ask users’ permission before tracking their behavior to sell to advertisers. The fact that fairly routine privacy measures, merely requiring companies to ask consent before spying, lead immediately to billions in lost revenue underscores the point that the real product being sold in most digital transactions is the private data of users.

-A significant contributor to supply chain fragility in the United States, the shortage of truck drivers, is being exacerbated by safety policies that make marijuana use disqualifying even in states where it’s legal, according to the shipping industry trade journal FreightWaves. Of the over 91,000 truck drivers who have been taken off the road since January 2020 for either failing or refusing to take a drug and alcohol test, the vast majority (over 53,000) were grounded for marijuana use. In 2021, the industry will be short 80,000 drivers, based on what’s needed to handle freight demand, according to the American Trucking Associations.
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-Car break-ins are so out of hand in San Francisco, a local news station is reporting a “replacement glass shortage” in the city. “We have not seen a glass shortage like this,” the owner of an auto glass shop told the local CBS affiliate. “We’ve seen low supply, but not until the aspect where even when we order through the dealer they have no projected timeline, so we could be waiting weeks to months.”

-More than 5 million people worldwide have died from the novel coronavirus, according to data published Monday by Johns Hopkins University. Some 15% of the global death toll has been in the United States, where 746,000 have died from the disease.

-New data from NASA shows that an asteroid skimmed 3,000 kilometers over the earth last week without setting off any alarms. The two-meter space rock, named the 2021 UA1, was only noticed last Sunday when it passed above Antarctica. Astronomers estimate that this was the third-closest asteroid ever to pass by the earth without impacting.

-The Madison Wisconsin chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America issued an open letter this week calling to expel New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman from the organization. Bowman is accused of anti-socialist activities, including voting for a defense appropriations bill that included funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and writing a tribute after the death of Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

-A new book by Sopranos cast members Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa—better known as Christopher Moltisanti and Bobby Baccalieri—provides “the definitive oral history” of the show that turned television into art. One big revelation: Jerry Stiller, Seinfeld’s dad on the popular sitcom, was originally supposed to play Jewish mob associate Hesh Rabkin, but backed out at the last minute to take a commercial job instead.

The Back Pages

The Real American Elite

Today’s Back Pages comes from the writer and cultural critic John Pistelli, author of four novels, whose work has been published in a variety of venues, from The Millions to The Spectator. He can be found at

Deciding who counts as an elite in America is a vital political question. It points toward where power is concentrated in the United States and indicates who might be responsible when public policies persist despite being unpopular and even harmful. Thus, we should take an interest in a recent debate over the nature of the elite between Progressive commentators pushing a definition of elite status measured solely by wealth, and populists who define a “culture of elitism” in America’s urban enclaves.

“The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist,” writes the historian Patrick Wyman in a recent essay, “but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group.” The real elite, Wyman argues, is “the American gentry,” a class of rural, exurban, and small-town business owners and asset holders who are, as much as the white working class, the base of the current Republican Party. The same group comes in for regular mockery on the popular socialist podcast Chapo Trap House, caricatured as Trump-supporting boat-dealership owners who eat at the Cheesecake Factory.

From a strictly material perspective, a boat dealership owner is an economic elite compared to a precarious adjunct professor teaching sociology in Manhattan or Madison, Wisconsin. Yet because the well-off boatman eats blithely at the Cheesecake Factory while the down-at-heel scholar can explain why the restaurant chain’s decor is harmfully Orientalist, the adjunct professor could be said to enjoy intellectually elite status over her gentry rival. That intellectual status confers more than just a sense of superiority. Michael Lind notes that membership in the American elite—he uses the term overclass—is determined more by educational attainment than income level. “Access to influential positions in powerful organizations depends chiefly on education credentials,” Lind cites as an essential thesis for understanding power relations in the United States. While “only a third of Americans have bachelor’s degrees,” Lind writes, “80 percent of those who received bachelor’s degrees in 2007-8 had parents who had attended college. College diplomas may be keys to opportunity, but in most cases they are also inherited titles of nobility.”

So the adjunct’s ability to perform a cultural coup by deconstructing the systemic oppression embedded in a chain restaurant, or just about any other cultural artifact, is not just an intellectual exercise but a sign of class membership. Mastery of current academic discourse is also mastery of the standards dominating the human resource and diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaus that oversee more and more of professional life in the United States, as well as of the cultural values of media and publishing and of the tech companies that now determine what speech is and is not permitted in the new public square their platforms monopolize. Whatever the gentry’s wealth,
the larger world of bureaucratic administration encompassing all local economies is governed by the class of educated experts, a social fact not disproved by an audit of any one individual’s bank account.

While the major political event of the past decade might seem to be the gentry’s populist revolt culminating in the Trump movement, the expert class has carried out its own insurrection within the institutions it controls or aspires to control, from academe to the Democratic Party. The policy priorities and the inflammatory rhetoric of today’s progressives reflect their implicit demand that they should enjoy wealth and status commensurate with their already indispensable expertise, often disguised as a claim to revolutionary status. For example, in a 2019 defense of the professional-managerial class against its critics on the materialist left, Gabriel Winant claims that the erosion of this class’s standing, exemplified by the casualization of academic employment, gives its members an impetus to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the working class against capital: “The downwardly mobile fragments of the PMC also have unmistakably provided the social basis for its most significant and energetic political challengers. Across these sectors, professional-class activists have found something in their own indignities on the job to connect them to the broader working class … ” 

Yet his examples of revolutionary class solidarity center on unionization drives, whose effect, for better and for worse, is to erode meritocracy and independence within the professions while stabilizing employment and pay. When academics and journalists use union drives to leverage better contracts from employers, they are negotiating membership in institutions that exercise regulatory control on a national level. A 28-year-old journalist can have a precarious position inside her own office, as Winant acknowledges, while at the same time directly influencing what kind of “hate speech” or “misinformation” gets censored by social media platforms, which he ignores.

A society administered by educated experts requires education to instruct the laity in the doctrines of the new expertise. Hence progressives’ regular demand for free, universal college, even though decoupling economic potential from educational attainment would be more egalitarian and beneficial to the majority of working class Americans who don’t have college degrees. In fact, the free-college campaign promise made by Bernie Sanders and others isn’t principally an effort to uplift the working class or extend economic opportunity. It’s a promise of state subsidy to Sanders’ downwardly mobile expert base, who can expect to see its own influence and employment opportunities increase as the expansion of colleges also swells their budgets and administrative staffs. Similarly, police abolitionists’ call to replace cops with social workers makes perfect sense despite being correlated with rising murder rates because it justifies expanding the power of the managerial class.

The expert class has amassed expansive new authority in the past two years, beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic and extending to claims that racism, climate change, and gun violence are comparable public health emergencies. Such crises require the intervention of educated managers, with measures that now include lockdowns and compulsory medical procedures, unprecedented intrusions into the daily lives of all citizens. Given such raw class power, how can the “American gentry,” no matter how wealthy or philistine, rival this educated elite at the pinnacle of American power?

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