What Happened Today: June 29, 2022
NATO flexes strength against Russia; China revises its COVID19 policies; the harm of the U.S. foster care system
The Big Story
In a show of collective force against the threat of Russia, NATO leaders meeting in Spain announced on Wednesday the biggest increase in the Western security alliance’s defenses in more than a decade. For the first time, the United States will establish a permanent military station on NATO’s eastern flank, with an Army garrison in Poland, and send 5,000 troops to Romania. Elsewhere, a pair of U.S. F-35 aircraft squadrons are headed to the United Kingdom, and both Italy and Germany will receive new U.S. air defense systems. Along Spanish waters, the U.S. naval destroyer presence will increase from four to six ships. President Biden said the “history making” summit comes at a moment when President Putin “has shattered peace in Europe and attacked the very tenets of the rule-based order.”
For decades, the United States has carried most of the military and financial burden of NATO, but member nations are now expected to increase their military commitments to the alliance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this morning that the total number of NATO “high readiness” forces will bump up from 40,000 to more than 300,000, with an expansion of the forces stationed along the eastern flank with Russia. That’s all part of NATO’s new mission statement, revised for the first time since former President Obama attempted to lead NATO’s “reset” with Russia as a “strategic partner.” Now NATO sees Russia as the “most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
President Putin has pointed to NATO’s growing presence on Russia’s borders as a primary motivation for his country’s invasion of Ukraine, a concern that will only grow after the announcement today, which included NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, expanding the bloc to 32 nations. Sweden and Finland were initially thwarted from joining the alliance because of a threat of a veto by Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, but his objection was dropped just as top U.S. officials gave their blessing for an arms sale to upgrade Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets. U.S. officials said the move had nothing to do with winning Turkey’s support for the newest member nations to join the alliance—but if it quacks like a duck, who are we to call it a pigeon.
In the Back Pages: The Harm of the U.S. Foster Care System
→ Russia bombed a crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine on Tuesday, killing 18 people. French President Emmanuel Macron quickly labeled the attack a “new war crime” and declared, “Russia cannot and should not win” the war. The air strike came as more than 1,000 shoppers had crowded into the mall in Kremenchuk amid heavy shelling that has blanketed Ukrainian cities in recent days, including in the capital, Kyiv. With rescue teams still searching through the rubble, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the U.N. Security Council remotely, calling Russia a terrorist state and imploring the United Nations to expel it from the organization. He then asked the gathering of diplomats to stand in silent tribute to the “tens of thousands” of Ukrainians killed in Russia’s war. All members of the security council rose, including Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky.
→ Softening the COVID-19 protocol that has isolated China from much of the world for the past two years and turned its largest cities into massive open-air prisons, President Xi Jinping announced revised quarantine guidelines and travel restrictions during a visit Tuesday to Wuhan, where the virus first appeared in 2019. Inside China, local travelers moving through cities with recent outbreaks will no longer be forced to quarantine in place, and for inbound visitors to China, the required quarantine has been reduced from three weeks to 10 days, though that still makes China one of the more difficult nations for travelers to enter. The revised protocol also codifies a testing and stringent lockdown system to be used nationwide for future outbreaks, alleviating the burden on authorities in small municipalities from amplifying the severity of their lockdowns to show Beijing their hearty embrace of its zero-COVID policy.
→ IDEA OF THE DAY: “In a liberal society, elite institutions incorporate critical points of view as a means of legitimation. Under the neoliberal order, the wealth of elite institutions grew so massive it pressured them to incorporate criticisms so totalizing they could be incoherent.”
—that comes from editor at Aeon Magazine Sam Haselby, who has pointed elsewhere to the “complex theories of permanent racism and permanent capitalism” that have calcified much of what passes today for “elite consensus.”
→ The knights, squires, lords, and queen will now bargain collectively if the workers of the Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, successfully form a union at an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board in a few weeks. The possibility of a unionized staff of stable hands and chevaliers spooked Medieval Times’ parent company, who has deployed a union-deterring consultant with a $3,200 daily fee to try to discourage unionization in the New Jersey province. Riding a wave of high-profile union efforts at 158 Starbucks stores, an Amazon warehouse, and most recently an Apple store in Maryland, the Jersey union drive could possibly ignite solidarity at the 10 other castles that make up the Medieval Times kingdom, where workers say a volatile mix of children, heavily poured alcoholic drinks, and animals often puts workers’ safety at risk. “Our situation has become pretty dire at the castle,” one unnamed worker told a reporter this week. “Something has to be done.”
→ QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.”
Donald Trump on Jan. 6, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who testified before the Jan. 6 Committee on Tuesday. Cassidy, who was working in the Oval Office on Jan. 6, charted a path for prosecutors looking to prove that Trump knew the crowd was dangerous, knew they were rioting in the Capitol, and knew he was egging them on. After hearing reports that the rioters had breached the Capitol, were chanting “hang Mike Pence,” and had constructed a makeshift gallow for the vice president, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones they were asked previously to certify. USA demands the truth!” Following Hutchinson’s testimony, various aspects of which have been disputed by other former Trump officials, a spokesperson for the Secret Service told reporters that the Jan. 6 committee had not contacted the agency for 10 days prior to the explosive testimony and made no effort to seek clarification or follow-ups on anything related to Hutchinson’s claims.
→ In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this past Friday, Facebook decided to label Jane’s Revenge, an abortion-rights group that had vandalized and firebombed pregnancy centers across the United States, a terrorist organization. An internal Meta memo described Jane’s Revenge as “a far-left extremist group that has claimed responsibility on its website for an attack against an anti-abortion group’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, in May 2022. The group is responsible for multiple arson and vandalism attacks on pro-life institutions.” The organization will now see its speech heavily policed by the platform.
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→ NUMBER OF THE DAY: 89%
The number of Ukrainians who would find it “unacceptable” to swap land for peace with Russia, according to a new Wall Street Journal poll. Conducted in mid-June and based on conversations with 1,005 Ukrainian citizens, the survey found that 81% of Ukrainians even feel that territories already seized by Russia, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas region, which Russia has largely conquered in this war, should not be granted in any peace deal. Ukraine’s defiant attitude surely follows from the country’s optimistic view of how the war is going, with 66% of those surveyed saying that Ukraine would likely drive Russia out of the territories it has seized.
→ In the Grand Canyon, “[a]mid the smoothly carved buttes and intricately chiseled chasms serenely shaped over eons,” Beth Mole muses in Ars Technica, “park-goers are blowing chunks from both ends in hot seconds.” This because of a norovirus outbreak in the canyons that has afflicted more than 150 hikers and rafters in the past few months, leading the Grand Canyon National Park Service to caution campers to wash their hands well and avoid sharing food. Otherwise, visitors risk a ruined trip: “Instead of reaching both the North and South Rims during their visits, some [will be] forced to remain perched on the edge of a far smaller basin.”
→ Gun owners across California have been imperiled by a large leak of private data that disclosed the personal information of every individual with a concealed carry permit in the state. California’s Department of Justice had just posted its 2022 Firearms Dashboard Portal when it realized that this website had released the names, ages, and home addresses of all permit recipients—an “unacceptable” leak, according to the attorney general’s office, that is being interpreted as foul play by gun-rights activists. “Vindictive sore loser bureaucrats have endangered people’s lives and invited conflict by illegally releasing confidential private information,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association. “Litigation is likely.”
→ Wimbledon Watch: The greatest women’s player of her generation, Serena Williams, lost a three-hour three-set battle against her first-round opponent, Harmony Tan, who was not all that well known in her home country of France, until today. Fan favorite Emma Raducanu also saw her Wimbledon run stopped short by a Frenchwoman, Caroline Garcia, who rattled off 25 winners in a two-set victory. The draw on the men’s side has essentially been shredded, with both Félix Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurkacz, the sixth and seventh seeds respectively, upset in their first-round matches, and last year’s runner-up, the eighth seed Matteo Berrettini, withdrawing two hours before his match because he tested positive for COVID-19. His sudden exit comes just after Croatia’s Marin Cilic (seeded 14th) pulled out the day prior for his own positive test, which has prompted wild speculation among fans who note that Berrettini and Cilic have spent time in the men’s locker room and practiced in recent days with top seeds Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
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The Harm of the U.S. Foster Care System
The broken foster care system pushing Americans onto the streets
By Jacob Siegel
I’ve spoken with dozens of homeless people over the past four years, and most of them had two things in common: drug addiction and a childhood spent in the foster care system. These people were from a dozen different states and came from different social and ethnic backgrounds, but they had all started in the foster care system after their families couldn’t take care of them before finally winding up on the streets.
It seems likely that some of the people I met are dead now, victims of the synthetic opioid fentanyl that drove overdoses to a record high in the United States last year, killing more people than cars and guns combined. In response, policymakers across the country are embracing a new framework known as harm reduction that aims to reverse the failures of the war on drugs by prioritizing the physical safety of addicts while abandoning efforts to police drugs out of existence.
Harm reduction is a vague and expansive phrase. It refers both to a set of common-sense practices and to a much larger ideological framework. On the narrow side of the ledger, there are initiatives to provide users with the drug naloxone, which can reverse overdoses, and clean needles to stop the spread of disease. Two recent developments in New York illustrated the more ambitious side of harm reduction. Last year, the city followed the lead of San Francisco and Portland, which have decriminalized hard drugs, by allowing the opening of two “safe injection sites” where addicts can use drugs under the supervision of staffers trained to intervene if they overdose. The danger in this approach, as I wrote recently, is that “success is measured not by freeing individuals from addiction so they can live full lives, but by the growth of the treatment bureaucracy.”
Just last month, the city’s health department paid for a “harm reduction” poster to run in the subway system that advised riders, “Don’t be ashamed you are using, be empowered that you are using safely.”
In its preachy, propagandistic language, the poster tries to convert “the bare physicality of ‘safety’ into the cheap currency of empowerment.”
The celebrations on the pro-life side in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade should keep in mind how little the bare physicality of safety for the unborn has to do with a true morality grounded in responsibilities to the living.
There are more than 400,000 children currently in the U.S. foster care system, and we are told that we should expect that number to grow. According to Naomi Schaefer Riley, who has been writing about the system for years:
The trauma that children in the foster-care system experience begins long before authorities remove them from their parents. Typically, before a removal, children experience months, if not years, of abuse or severe neglect at the hands of their biological parents or the adults to whom their biological parents expose them.
Some 33% of homeless youth spent time in the foster care system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Foster advocacy groups put the number even higher, estimating that 50% of people who are currently homeless in the United States spent time in the system as youths.
And yet the foster care system, while still likely the best place for children who have been abused or abandoned by their families, is severely underfunded and understaffed across the country.
Last year Washington state had to settle a lawsuit brought over its practice of having foster youths stay overnight in hotels and state offices instead of designated facilities. The settlement came after a local news channel’s investigation “found a years-long pattern of Washington children protection workers dangling basic necessities, like a safe, warm place to sleep as a way to get challenging foster youth to behave or follow orders.”
Texas is one of the states moving to ban abortions following the overturning of Roe. Earlier this month, a U.S. district judge announced plans to issue “substantial fines” against the state, which she had already sanctioned twice in the past three years, “for failing to comply with her orders to fix its troubled foster care system.” That judge focused on “the high rate of children who are sexually victimized or revictimized in foster care and the state’s failure in several areas, including its inability to properly punish or shut down unsafe child care placement facilities.”
On top of the problems in existing facilities, there has been a trend to defund group homes and other facilities for children in what’s known as “congregate care.” As Schaefer Riley noted in a recent article:
Between 2008 and 2018, there was a 37% reduction in the number of kids in congregate care settings. Many of these facilities were forced to shut down even before then, the result of high insurance costs, less money from state and federal governments and less private support (including from sponsoring churches).
“The degree of civilization in a society,” claimed Fyodor Dostoevsky, “can be judged by entering its prisons." He had a point, but in the United States, I’d wager that far more attention has been paid in recent years to conditions inside of prisons than to those in the foster care system.