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What Happened: November 16, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Biden-Xi zoom talks; Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline; Pfizer’s Covid drug

The Scroll
November 16, 2021

The Big Story

The confusing element of the U.S.-China relationship is that the economies of the two superpower rivals are so closely connected that they often seem more like partners than competitors. For instance, Asia Times reports that as of October, the U.S. annual imports from China were valued at $600 billion, up 60% from the pre-pandemic rate in October 2018. Zoom talks Monday between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the first one-on-one meeting between the two leaders, reflected that complicated dynamic. Much of the more than three-hour talk dealt with the issue of Taiwan. Xi said that China remains committed to “peaceful reunification’” but warned that “Taiwanesese secessionists” and U.S. supporters of the island nation’s independence were “playing with fire.” Officially, the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognizes Beijing as the only legitimate Chinese government, but in practice the United States acts as the military guarantor of Taiwanese independence, and Biden Monday said that he “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Also discussed were U.S. tariffs on China, a relic of the Trump administration that raised the price of goods, contributing to inflation. Currently, some $370 billion worth of Chinese-made imported goods are subject to the tax. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who appeared alongside Biden during the talks, has expressed support for cutting the tariffs as a way to reduce inflation, but Biden balked at lifting them Monday, citing China’s failure to honor its part of a trade deal with the United States.

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Today’s Back Pages: The Rittenhouse Cover-Up Part II

The Rest

The headline of an article in The Intercept recapping the findings of a post-election focus group with women voters in Virginia kind of says it all: “It’s Not Just White People: Democrats Are Losing Normal Voters of All Races.” A Democratic consulting firm talked to 96 women in Virginia whose voting pattern in the past three elections was Democrat, Democrat, Republican. The results: “When asked which party had better policy proposals, the group members overwhelmingly said Democrats. But when asked which party had cultural values closer to theirs, they cited Republicans. The biggest disconnect came on education.” Both the headline-grabbing issue of critical race theory in school curricula and prolonged school closures turned voters away from the Democrats in Virginia. One Latina participant in the survey group suggested that the common thread connecting the two issues is parental choice, which was being trampled by politicians and school administrators.
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For the Democrats’ response, we turn now to a headline from Business Insider: “Democratic Strategists Plan to Get Aggressive on Critical Race Theory, Saying Republicans Are Putting ‘Politicians in Charge of the Classroom and White Supremacists in Charge of the Curriculum.’” In a strategy sure to win back disaffected voters, Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson told Insider, “It’s not just that Republicans want a bigger role for parents in education. It’s that Republicans are willing to let white supremacists write curricula.”

A new Pew survey shows that only 23% of adults in the United States use Twitter in the first place and that out of that group, 97% of all tweets come from the most active 25% of adults using the social media platform. In other words, a tool with outsize influence on the media and political discourse is dominated by a small group of people. But don’t take that as confirmation that the cliché about Twitter not being real life is true—that’s like saying that college professors “aren’t real life” because there aren’t many of them and their views tend to diverge sharply from the general public. It’s all real life, and political influence isn’t evenly distributed.

Florida officials began a weeklong special legislative session on Monday convened by Gov. Ron DeSantis for the purpose of devising strategies to thwart vaccine and mask mandates. An agenda put out by the governor’s office lists four bills under consideration that would level fines and other penalties on businesses and local governments in the states that impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates. “No cop, no firefighter, no nurse, nobody should be losing their job because of these jabs,” DeSantis said in a press release.

The decrease in the quality of internet search results observed here by Edward Snowden is something that I have noticed as well and seems to have gotten appreciably worse over the past year. I’m not absolutely sure what’s causing this, but it may be related to monopolies, such as Google, who no longer see the quality of their products as the key to their future. They do, after all, have a whole new set of clients now:

Drug giant Pfizer submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration Tuesday for emergency authorization of a COVID-19 pill called Paxlovid designed for treating high-risk patients at the first sign of infection. The pill is a compound of a common HIV drug called ritonavir with a new experimental medication. According to Pfizer, the combination cut the rate of hospitalization and death by 89% when taken within three days of symptoms. The clinical trial consisted of 18 people.

With Europe’s energy prices surging and Russia massing troops on its border, Germany suspended approval of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline Tuesday, which would bring gas from Russia into Germany, bypassing the current pipelines that run through Ukraine and Belarus. Technically, certification for the project depends on the Swiss-based consortium behind Nord Stream 2 forming a German subsidiary company as required by German law. But Germany may be reluctant to grant more leverage to Russia at a moment when the country is pressing its advantage in multiple conflicts in Eastern Europe. Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Germany that the country faced a choice between “mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines” and “sticking up for Ukraine.” 
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Police in New York are looking for a man who walked into the bagel store Bagels & Co. in Fresh Meadows, Queens, last Wednesday and took a video of himself threatening to burn down the building if the store didn’t remove Israeli flags that it had hung up.

With closing arguments finished, the seven jurors assigned to the Kyle Rittenhouse trial entered deliberations Tuesday. With a verdict in the case expected soon, protestors were gathered outside the courthouse where the 18-year-old faces five felony counts for shooting three people, killing two of them, at a protest last August in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers placed 500 members of the Wisconsin National Guard on standby in Kenosha in the event that the verdict leads to more violence and civil unrest.

The Back Pages

backpagesThe Rittenhouse Cover-Up Part II

The people who insist that Kyle Rittenhouse is a special kind of evil or a “domestic terrorist” are trying desperately to exceptionalize him. But the truth is that, aside from how things ended on that night last August, Rittenhouse was the norm during the season of riots.

Far from being the only armed person out in Kenosha on that night, Rittenhouse was one of many. Moments before he ever fired a shot, someone else who was standing near him fired into the air, their muzzle flash clearly visible on video. Gaige Grosskreutz, the Black Lives Matter protester who was at the protest as an ACLU legal observer, was also armed and pointing a handgun at Rittenhouse when he was shot by him. So there, just in the immediate circle of people around Rittenhouse in the moments preceding the shooting, were two other people carrying guns. Why?

Because that was the atmosphere last summer in Kenosha, a city that, like many others, tried to have it both ways—first pulling police back from keeping order and preventing riots, then complaining about the results when the lawlessness got out of hand.

“In America it’s hard these days. People are polarized,” Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger told the jury Monday as he delivered the prosecution’s closing arguments. Indeed, the case against Rittenhouse both reflects and has relied on a level of political polarization so extreme it resembles a cold civil war. The trial itself was brazenly political, which is to be expected when the defendant is someone who was accused of being a white supremacist by members of Congress and the president of the United States before ever entering the courtroom. 

Beyond that, the prosecution’s case implicitly reflected the premise that there are two categories of Americans: one entitled to riot, so long as they have the right motives and political allegiances, and another, the Rittenhouses and other alleged dangerous extremists, who don’t get the benefit of full due process or a presumption of innocence because their guilt transcends the mere letter of the law.

“I’d like you to consider, as you think about this case, what his true motivations were,” Binger prompted the jury. Rittenhouse can literally be seen on video offering medical aid to BLM marchers shortly before the shooting, but that evidence is not enough to establish that he is not a monster.

“Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key,” chair of the House Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries wrote on Twitter last week. Jeffries, as you may recall, tweeted last summer, “End. Mass. Incarceration. Defund the Prison Industrial Complex.” But all of that goes right out the window with Rittenhouse, because when you’re playing by civil war rules, the enemy is not to be considered a normal citizen who’s due the same protections as you or the other “good” people on your side.

Politics has now become a simulated civil war in which everything is an existential crisis—yet nothing essential changes. Ordinary Americans, mostly without ever taking up arms or turning violent, have been recruited into an existential conflict that distorts their sense of reality by prioritizing winners and losers over truth and common sense. It completely takes over people’s lives, inducing a kind of collective psychosis as if everyone took the same bad acid and is now chasing demons on the same hellish trip.

But sober up and it’s clear the Rittenhouse wasn’t some white nationalist with bloodlust. He was another kid with a gun on a street that was full of people with guns, acting out a scenario set in motion by people much more powerful—people who will never face trial, who will never be held accountable for the game they are making all of us play.

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