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What Happened: December 9, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Giant Franco-Emirati military contract; Americans take to drink; Chilean front-runner’s father was a Nazi

The Scroll
December 09, 2021

The Big Story

The Austrian government announced additional details yesterday for its forthcoming compulsory vaccination program, which will subject anyone over the age of 14 who’s not vaccinated to fines of about $4,000. Those fines can be levied every three months for the next two years, starting in January, though for the 32% of the nation’s population that is not currently vaccinated, impunity may be granted to residents who are either pregnant or have a medical exemption. Austria is the first European nation to implement mandatory vaccinations, and its leaders have faced an intense backlash, with protests in many cities and as many as 40,000 gathered during a protest that was at times violent last week in Vienna. “We do not want to punish people who are not vaccinated,” Karoline Edtstadler, a cabinet minister, explained yesterday at the news conference announcing how noncompliant citizens will be punished. “We want to win them over and convince them to get vaccinated.”

Today’s Back Pages: Krasner’s Denial in Philadelphia

The Rest

→ The CEO of Pfizer said yesterday that those who’ve only received the two-dose vaccine series will need a third and perhaps a fourth shot within the next year to properly fight off the Omicron variant. “A third dose will give very good protection, I believe,” CEO Albert Bourla said in a CNBC interview, before adding that his pharmaceutical company might accelerate its previous recommendation of a fourth shot within 12 months of the third dose. “With Omicron, we need to wait and see because we have very little information. We may need it faster.”

→The bond between France and the United Arab Emirates just became a little more friendly as Emmanuel Macron sealed the deal this week on a $19 billion sale of 80 fighter jets and helicopters, the largest military contract in France’s history. French efforts to strengthen diplomatic relations with the Middle East comes as the United States struggles to implement its own definitive foreign policy agenda. “They undoubtedly [ask] themselves more questions about other historical partners,” Macron said at a news conference, a reference to how the United States has managed ties to the Middle East. “I think that this strengthens France’s position.”

→Severe drought and fire continue to plague the U.S. West, as California has now endured more than 30 straight weeks of abnormally dry conditions. The University of Nebraska reported this week that 94% of the land across 11 Western states are currently under drought conditions. The extreme weather has led to a spike in fires in places such as Montana, where the thermostat has climbed into the high 60s during what has historically been a month for snow and freezing temperatures.

→Major investors continue to pour into cryptocurrency just as legislators are beginning to get serious with the idea of regulating the industry. Yesterday, several crypto company leaders took questions at a congressional panel hosted by the House Financial Services Committee to explore how existing bank rules might apply to trading platforms and so-called stable coins, some of which are pegged to existing fiat currency. Meanwhile, Matt Zhang, a former Citigroup executive, announced the latest Wall Street crypto play with a new $1.5 billion venture fund. That comes on the heels of a $2.5 billion crypto fund set up last month by the venture capitalist shop Paradigm. 

→Compared to the three-year average for alcohol sales between 2017 and 2019, Americans spent 24% more in February this year on spirits. That surge in liquor sales is a slight increase on the January figures, which saw Americans buying 20% more spirits this year compared to the same three-year average.

→According to a recent Axios report, Airbnb currently lists at least a dozen home rentals on Chinese land owned by Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an organization currently under U.S. sanction “in connection with serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities” in the Xinjiang region. In the company’s interpretation of the U.S. Treasury rules, an Airbnb spokesperson said the sanctions only “require Airbnb to screen the parties we are transacting with, not the underlying landowners.” As one of the major sponsors of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, Airbnb must walk a delicate balance to maintain both its good relations with China and its major Western markets. This week, the United Kingdom joined the United States and Canada in their diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Olympic Games.

→The phone app Life360 has sold location data on children and their relatives to some dozen data brokerage houses, according to a new report by tech media site The Markup. Culled from the 33 million worldwide users of the free app, which bills itself as a “family safety platform” that allows parents to keep close tabs on the location of their children, the data set customers include Cuebiq, a data brokerage firm that helped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develop “real-time insights into mobility in the U.S.” during the pandemic.

→Gabriel Boric, the leftist candidate in Chile’s presidential election, has cast the race as a fight between fascism and democracy. As an increasingly popular campaign tactic for national politicians of a liberal bent, in this instance it might be based in reality. The Guardian reports that the father of the front-runner José Antonio Kast was a card-carrying member of the Nazi party in wartime Germany. Yesterday, German archivists confirmed that a Michael Kast joined the Nazis in 1942. He emigrated to Chile around 1950, and the family subsequently established close ties to the Pinochet regime, which presided over Chile’s dirty war of the 1970s and ’80s. The younger Kast, an extreme right-wing populist, has always maintained that his father was not a Nazi but rather a reluctant Wehrmacht conscript.

The Back Pages

backpages Krasner’s Denial in Philadelphia

There’s nothing more patronizing than being told you’re wrong about what you know to be right, and Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia district attorney recently elected to his second term after a landslide victory last month, has been laying it on thick. As of this morning, the city has suffered 524 murders this year, the highest number of homicides since 1960. But at his weekly gun violence press conference on Monday, Krasner chafed at the idea that the city was suffering from a crime problem. “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence,” he said, adding that if you set aside the record-setting death toll, other crimes, such as robberies, assault, and rape, are slightly below last year’s numbers. The confusion in associating murder with different types of violent crime, he said, is a byproduct of fake news, a false narrative meant to provoke emotional outrage, pushed onto audiences by struggling newspapers and media outlets. “I understand that there is a long tradition in journalism of reporting around terrible crimes and, frankly, selling newspapers off of it—selling clicks, selling newspaper coverage,” Krasner said. “But we all have to resort to the truth. We all have to know what we’re talking about.”

The truth of the matter, however, is that it’s splitting hairs at best to use an inconsequential 7% dip in aggravated assault to downplay the massive surge in gun violence that’s driving Philadelphia’s homicide spike—and at worse a dereliction of duty to not square up to the reality of the city’s murder rate. And though in some parts of the city assaults committed without a gun are below the average in 2019, in almost half of the city’s police districts, assaults without guns are trending up. As to why homicides are so bad in the city, Krasner has pointed to school closures and community centers shut down during the pandemic that once throttled “young people from shooting young people,” he said. “When all that prevention was stripped away, we saw this terrible spike happening everywhere.” To what extent the lockdowns catalyzed gun shootings, no one can say for sure, though Krasner seems convinced.

Along with criticizing a lack of institutional support for young adults, Krasner has also been critical of the city’s police for not bringing him more gun-shooting cases to prosecute. Yet, during the first half of this year, Philadelphia police made on average twice as many arrests for gun possession compared to the year prior. Once in court, however, defendants facing off against Krasner’s prosecutors have seen their conviction rate for illegal gun possession fall from 63% to 49% over the past two years.

Krasner’s obfuscation of what’s happening in Philadelphia has sparked a fierce backlash across the city this week, with Michael Nutter, the former two-term Democratic mayor and ostensible political ally, pulling no punches.

“District Attorney Larry Krasner’s recent remarks about whether we are experiencing a crime crisis are some of the worst, most ignorant, and most insulting comments I have ever heard spoken by an elected official,” Nutter wrote Tuesday in an op-ed. “I have to wonder what kind of messed-up world of white wokeness Krasner is living in to have so little regard for human lives lost, many of them Black and brown, while he advances his own national profile as a progressive district attorney.”

Nutter’s comments are instructive insofar as they reflect a growing schism between progressive Democratic policy and reality and in turn a divide within the Democratic Party itself. It would be unfair and inaccurate to ascribe blame for the homicide crisis on Larry Krasner’s ambition to redesign the district attorney’s office into an institution that corrects the law enforcement injustices that have “systematically failed to meet the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable Americans,” as Krasner wrote in a follow-up to his disastrous press conference this week. But there is a vast spectrum of policies and rhetoric between the draconian mass incarceration of decades past and the idealistic law-and-order utopia that Krasner seems willing to pursue no matter how much that position might offend those who continue to suffer from ongoing violence.

“We have people getting robbed as they walk down the street. We have people getting shot. So, no, it’s not safe in our community right now,” said Darnetta Arce, the leader of a civic association in North Philadelphia. For many other than Krasner, it appears increasingly obvious that Philadelphia leaders must find some middle ground between a wholesale overhaul of urban police practices and keeping the streets safe for residents.

“As an older Black man from West Philly, I know that many Black people are not actually against the police. We’re just against the police who brutalize us,” former mayor Nutter wrote. “If Krasner does not have the fortitude or the guts to carry out those duties, he should resign and turn things over to someone who is not trying to sell Philadelphians on the false choice of having either public safety or police reform.”

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

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