What Happened Today: June 22, 2022
The “showbiz” gas tax holiday; 1,000 dead in Afghanistan earthquake; When Socialists Really Ran Brooklyn
The Big Story
President Biden called on Congress today to suspend the federal gas tax for three months, joining a growing list of governors and state lawmakers using tax holidays to ease the soaring cost of living for Americans. But it’s unlikely Biden will get the support he needs from even his own party—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already derided the White House proposal as “very showbiz,” underscoring the likelihood that the tax suspension could simply enrich oil companies with minimal relief for consumers. The suspension would temporarily lift a federal tax that funds part of the federal budget for infrastructure but would probably amount to only a few cents’ decrease per gallon at the pump, with more of the savings getting absorbed higher up the supply chain by industry operators.
After the White House initially spent months downplaying the severity of inflation, Biden has now made runaway prices his top economic concern. So far, however, the president’s strategies to reduce fuel prices have had little success and have failed to slow his falling approval ratings, which suggests his party is heading toward massive losses in November’s midterm elections. Governors and state legislators, meanwhile, are doing what they can to stay in the good graces of their constituents by tapping into their state coffers flush from federal pandemic relief money and tax revenue. Some 18 states already have utilized various forms of tax holidays that stretch over weeks or months. Connecticut went tax-free for clothes in April, Tennessee will lift taxes on grocery items in August, New Jersey announced a school supplies tax holiday this morning, and Florida has been on a tax holiday spree, with three holidays already this year and another six in the pipeline.
Much or all of the tax relief could simply be washed away, however, with the type of interest raise bumps called for by Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who has indicated that he wants to raise the Fed’s benchmark rate by 75 basis points, the largest increase since 1994. Such a dramatic rate hike could trigger a recession, which Powell admitted was “certainly a possibility” during remarks at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
Read more: https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/biden-will-ask-congress-wednesday-pause-gas-tax-amid-record-pump-prices-2022-06-22/
In the Back Pages: When Socialists Really Ran Brooklyn
→ The Food and Drug Administration will set a maximum on how much nicotine can be in cigarettes and e-cigarettes in an effort to “to reduce youth use, addiction, and death,” a policy based on FDA research that suggests lower nicotine levels in these products would help users to avoid addiction. This initiative—a central part of the Biden administration’s “cancer moonshot,” a stalled policy goal of cutting cancer deaths in the United States by 50% in the next 25 years that the administration relaunched this week—takes direct aim at tobacco companies, which are expected to lobby against the move. There is presently broad support for the policy, which the Obama and Trump administrations both supported.
→ A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck near a provincial mountain city in southeastern Afghanistan Wednesday, killing at least 1,000 people; it’s the deadliest earthquake in the region in at least two decades. The area’s hospitals were nearing capacity as medical workers tended to the victims. Several rescue efforts led by the nation’s ministry of defense were stalled because of turbulent weather in the area, which lacks reliable phone and internet service, making it difficult for emergency response teams to coordinate their efforts. With several thousand residents likely to be displaced by the disaster and at least 2,000 homes known to have been destroyed, the disaster complicates what has already been a series of difficulties for Afghans, who have suffered from severe food shortages since the country was taken over by the Taliban last year.
→ The aggressive rate hikes from the Fed are already having an impact in the labor market, with JP Morgan Chase announcing today that hundreds of its workers responsible for home loans will be laid off because of a rapid cooling of what had been a historically hot housing market. With 30-year mortgage rates already doubling the record low rates of January 2021, home sales fell for the fourth consecutive month in May, dropping to the lowest home-sale rate since 2020. JP Morgan joins Wells Fargo, who’s already made significant layoffs in its mortgage lending division, and the real estate firms Redfin and Compass, who announced recently that it would be laying off what will amount to 950 employees between the two companies. The loosening of the home market hasn’t yet hit rentals, however: Short supply of single-family homes has driven up rents for a record-breaking 13th consecutive month. Analysts anticipate that rents will continue to break records throughout the rest of the year.
→ Homicides and violent crimes are surging in major metropolitan areas across the United States, harbinging what might be one of the most violent summers in years. Milwaukee has recorded 96 homicides in 2022 so far, which marks a 25% increase compared to this time last year, while Baltimore’s already high homicide numbers have increased 8%, from 142 in 2021 to 153 in 2022. This past weekend also saw hundreds of non-fatal shootings nationwide—a now normal phenomenon in the United States, with Chicago alone reporting 48 shootings between Friday and Sunday.
→ NUMBER OF THE DAY: 81%
Marking an all time-low, 81% of Americans now say they believe in God and 17% say they do not, according to Gallup, which first questioned Americans about their religious beliefs in 1944, when 96% of Americans professed belief. That percentage of believers hovered in the mid-to-low 90s until 2013, when the number dropped from 92% to 87%. While every category, from Democrat to Republican, urban to rural, young to old, shows decreases in the recent poll, belief among young, liberal, and college-educated Americans dropped the most dramatically. Women had a 7% decrease since Gallup last polled people’s belief in 2017, compared to a 3% decrease among men.
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→ The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act goes into effect today, barring American companies from buying products made in the Xinjiang province of China, where a community of 12 million Uyghur Muslims suffers a range of human rights abuses, with more than 1 million Uyghurs detained without cause in “re-education” facilities likened to concentration camps. The law was passed in December with sweeping bipartisan support and requires companies to present “clear and convincing evidence” that a product purchased from China was not made using “forced labor.” Such a requirement—the first of its kind—can become a powerful tool in Washington’s arsenal for fighting the human rights abuses in foreign countries, though it is also a complicated requirement to execute, with companies now worrying over whether they are in compliance. “It’s reasonable to assume that any cotton garment coming out of China is going to have some element of something made in Xinjiang, whether simply the cotton or the textile thread or cloth,” said Nicole Morgret, a human rights analyst at C4ADS, a nonprofit research organization. Companies will thus be required to understand their supply chains in unprecedented detail. Meanwhile, unpurchased inventory is already beginning to pile up in Xinjiang’s warehouses.
→ Tweet of the Day: As this group of Orthodox Jews proves, you don’t need a basketball hoop to be a real baller:
→ Documenta, the most significant art festival in Germany, has become the site of acrimonious controversy after an antisemitic mural was first shown, then covered, and finally removed amid backlash from the Jewish community and German politicians. The art in question was a large mural by an Indonesian art collective that depicted an Orthodox Jew with earlocks, rabidly red eyes, fang-like teeth, a cigar, and a hat that says SS on it—which, come to think of it, really does seem somewhat negative in its implications about Jews. Elsewhere on the mural was a member of Mossad depicted as a pig. The festival, which is funded to the tune of some $20 million by the German government—a government that branded the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement antisemitic in 2019 and barred it from receiving federal dollars—was mired in controversy well before it featured these images because of its inclusion of The Question of Funding, a Palestinian arts collective that supports the BDS movement. Germany’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, has denounced the mural, stating that “[i]t must be cleared up how it was possible for this mural with antisemitic figurative elements to be installed there.” Others, however, know exactly how this was possible. As Matt Karnitschnig, Politico’s chief Europe correspondent noted on Twitter, “Roth, who is ultimately responsible for the state-funded extravaganza of contemporary art, ignored repeated warnings for months from the @welt newspaper, Jewish community leaders and others, that the Indonesian collective curating the festival had antisemitic leanings.”
→ MAP OF THE DAY: With much of the United States’ infrastructure in disrepair, this map, part of the U.S. National Bridge Inventory project created by Esri, a mapping technology company, can help guide you away from some of the most dangerous bridges in the country—a full 15% of which are in “poor condition,” according to the map’s makers. For those of you who live in New York City, meanwhile, Esri found that the Brooklyn Bridge, built in 1883 and accommodating 116,071 crossings daily, is “the most troubled” bridge in the country.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
In Out of the Fog, historical detective Brian Berger digs through newspaper columns, clippings, and other clues to bring readers the fascinating, scandalous, and forgotten tales of the past. In this installment … When Socialists Really Ran Brooklyn: Trotsky’s adventures in the Big Apple.
Today, it sounds like a gag waiting for a punch line: Leon Trotsky in Brooklyn? But yes—as the Great War was devouring Europe and gradually pulling the neutral United States into its death madness also—this really happened.
Recently expelled from France and then Spain, the Russian revolutionary arrived in New York aboard the steamship Montserrat on Sunday morning, Jan. 14, 1917. Though he was unknown to most Americans, Trotsky’s Socialist allies had arranged for reporters to speak with the 38-year-old after he and his family—including his wife, Natalia, and their two school-age sons, Sergei and Lev—disembarked at South Street in lower Manhattan.
For New York’s Socialist press, including publications in Russian, German, Yiddish, and the English-language New York Call, Trotksy’s arrival was a major event. But the attentions of the city’s regular daily papers would prove fleeting, although the Times and the Tribune did publish stories on Trotsky, the “pacifist” who’d been “expelled from four lands.” This is understandable. Trotsky—born Lev Davidovich Bronstein to a well-off, largely non-observant Jewish farming family in today’s Ukraine—spoke little English, and New York was already bursting with fractious Socialists.
With his family checked into the Hotel Astor in Times Square, Trotsky came to Brooklyn that very first night. The occasion was a meeting at the home of Ludwig Lore, 41-year-old German-born editor of the Socialist New Yorker Volkszeitung, and his wife, Lily, at 243 55th Street, a three-story townhouse between 3rd and 2nd Avenues in the South Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge.
Among those also present were fellow Russian exiles like 45-year-old Alexandra Kollontai, then living in New Jersey, and the famed Nikolai Bukharin, then 29 and soon to become a famous Bolshevik revolutionary, who had arrived in New York the previous October.
Perhaps the evening’s most significant discussion concerned the question of whether left-wing American Socialists, frustrated by more conservative, proceduralist leaders should secede and form their own party. Trotsky argued against this, asserting they should instead form a left-wing faction and publish a representative magazine titled Class Struggle. Its debut issue would appear that May.
In the meantime, Trotsky soon moved to the Bronx and joined Bukharin at Novy Mir, a Russian-language Socialist paper run out of an office in what is now known as Manhattan’s East Village but was then still a part of the sprawling immigrant Lower East Side. Energetic and assertive, Trotsky also wrote for the New Yorker Volkzeitung and, in Yiddish translation, for The Forward, and he became a featured speaker—in Russian or German—at many Socialist anti-war events.
Trotsky returned to Brooklyn on Jan. 24. The occasion was Russian Night, a highlight—including food, drink, music, and dancing—of a 15-day bazaar hosted by the Brownsville Labor Lyceum. Brownsville’s reputation as a radical hotbed was well earned, including the birth control clinic Margaret Sanger had opened the previous October, for which she would soon face trial on obscenity charges …