What Happened Today: July 01, 2022
Democrats try to ride wave of post-Roe angst into November; it’s raining anchovies in San Fran; crypto fire sales
The Big Story
Wrapping up a three-day NATO summit in Spain on Thursday, President Biden for the first time came out in support of suspending the filibuster that would more easily allow the Senate to legislate nationwide access to abortion. “The most important thing to be clear about is we have to codify Roe v. Wade into law, and the way to do that is to make sure Congress votes to do that,” the president said at a press conference, adding that “if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be provided an exception.” Though suspending the filibuster requires the simple majority vote that Democrats currently hold in the Senate, it’s unlikely the move would receive the necessary backing of moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, both of whom joined Republicans in opposition to the Democrats’ attempt to suspend the filibuster to pass voter-rights legislation earlier this year. Before the president’s remarks, Vice President Kamala Harris said this week that “votes don’t exist” to suspend the filibuster: “Why are we talking about hypotheticals?”
Muddled as the White House communications might be following last week’s landmark Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, rank-and-file Democrats in key midterm races have quickly embraced the divisive cultural issue—suggesting that at least some have learned the lesson from 2020, when a poor response to Republican attacks around Defund the Police winnowed the Democrats’ control of the house to a razor-thin majority. That edge now looks likely to disappear completely, as Republicans ride into November midterms on a wave of voter frustrations about inflation and record-high prices at gas pumps and grocery stores.
A new Marist poll found that 78% of Democrats are now motivated to vote in November by the Supreme Court decision, compared to 54% of Republicans who said the same. With four months to go until the election, Democrats in swing states like New Hampshire and Nevada have retooled their campaigns to leverage what they believe will be voter enthusiasm for abortion rights. Gambling that the social-wedge issue will compensate for a lack of persuasive solutions to concerns about inflation, Democrats are now counting on the steady barrage of media coverage of the women and healthcare providers navigating the Balkanized legal system across, and even within, states instituting new abortion laws.
In the Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads
→ The cryptocurrency lender BlockFi, which was valued at $4.8 billion a short time ago, will be purchased this week by the crypto exchange FTX in a fire sale for a paltry $25 million, a full 99% below BlockFi’s previous valuation. The recalibrated worth will leave the company’s investors “wiped out,” according to one source. This comes amid the all-out collapse of the crypto market, which has suffered through $2 trillion in losses in the past 10 months. Now companies like FTX, which is run by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, are dining out on desperate companies; indeed, a different company run by Bankman-Fried just offered Voyager, an almost bankrupt crypto exchange, a $500 million bailout loan. Bankman-Fried recently told Insider magazine that some exchanges are already “secretly insolvent” and “too far gone” for him to bother buying.
→ New figures from the United Nations show the number of Chinese nationals leaving the country to seek asylum elsewhere reached almost 120,000 last year, a tenfold increase over the 12,000 asylum seekers in 2012, when current leader Xi Jinping took control of the country. The surge in those seeking to make their home elsewhere coincides with Xi’s increasingly tight grip on Chinese society, not least of which includes the human rights violations perpetrated against at least 1 million ethnic minorities who’ve been detained in concentration camps throughout the Xinjiang region.
→ The Illinois Family Relief Plan will go into effect tomorrow, saving residents of the state some $1.8 billion on groceries, property taxes, school supplies, and gasoline fills. “We are sending $1.8 billion in tax relief to Illinois families,” said Gov. JB Pritzker about the effort to offset the burden of rising inflation. Such tax-relief initiatives have become increasingly popular for state officials, particularly those coming up for re-election this November, though the Illinois plan is one of the largest yet in the nation. That relief comes just as groceries, for instance, are 11.9% costlier than they were this time last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the largest 12-month increase since 1979.
→ In a series of meetings between 2011 and 2015, the Prince of Wales received some noteworthy gifts from Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim: three suitcases, each containing 1 million Euros, that were then deposited in the coffers of Prince Charles’ charity, the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund. “Charitable donations received from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim were passed immediately to one of the prince’s charities, who carried out the appropriate governance and have assured us that all the correct processes were followed,” the prince said in a statement. This news comes as Prince Charles’ charities are under investigation in the wake of revelations that the prince helped one Saudi donor receive U.K. citizenship and knighthood within the Order of the British Empire.
→ The Food and Drug Administration has asked vaccine manufacturers to tailor their new vaccines to the quickly spreading Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which now represent 52% of COVID-19 cases in the United States—and that they hurry to do so in time for the fall. “It is critical that we have safe and effective vaccine boosters that can provide protection against circulating and emerging variants to prevent the most severe consequences of COVID-19,” said Peter Marks, a director at the FDA. The original vaccines, which were designed to protect people from the first or “ancestral” version of COVID-19, have proven far less effective in fighting these new subvariants. The FDA and the CDC are hoping that these updated vaccines will be ready to serve as fall boosters to help provide people with strong immune defenses come the winter, which is typically the time of year that COVID-19 spreads most easily.
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→ Reverend Megan Rohrer, the first openly transgender pastor in the United States who was ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 2006, has resigned amid acrimonious accusations of racism. Rev. Rohrer was elected in May 2021 to serve a six-year term to oversee 200 congregations in Northern California and northern Nevada, and in that capacity was tasked with firing the pastor of Mision Latina Luterana, a predominantly Latino church in Stockton, California. Reverend Rohrer announced the firing to the congregation the day before an important holiday, the Feast of the Virgin Guadalupe, and did so wearing a bulletproof vest out of fear, Rev. Rohrer explained, that someone in the church might retaliate with a gun. Reverend Rohrer then called the police on a mother and child when they raised questions about their pastor’s firing. After an investigation, the ELCA requested Rohrer’s resignation. “There are issues of broken trust at all levels,” the church’s leadership explained, “from individual members and communities to the broader church, which will need work to repair.”
→ Number of the Day: 47
At least 47 NASA rockets have pockmarked the moon, according to data from Arizona State University—a number that rose by one this week when some photos taken by NASA’s lunar reconnaissance orbiter showed a “double crater” on the lunar surface caused by a rocket that hit the moon on March 4. This rocket was especially noteworthy as its origins remains unknown: The rocket was first spotted careening toward the moon last March, but NASA scientists were unable to identify its source—and remain unable to do so, as no country or organization, from this planet or another, has yet to claim this unidentified object.
→ Anchovies are raining down upon residents in San Francisco. One woman “almost got hit by a fish waiting for a bus,” SFGate reports, with other residents hearing “a massive splat” before realizing the sound was a handful of fish slamming into their driveway. The fish rain is a direct result of a normal ecological cycle taking place in the Bay Area, where nutritious water from the bottom of the ocean mixes with warmer water near the surface, providing anchovies a perfect habitat for swelling their ranks. That, in turn, has proven to be a boon for the local bird population, which can’t quite keep up with the volume of easy prey. “The water out there was just covered with thousands of birds, and the birds were just sitting on the water with anchovies in their mouths because they can’t eat anymore,” said Larry Collins, the head of a local fishing organization. With their bills overflowing with the fish they hunt but can’t quite eat, the pelicans and other seabirds head back inland with their to-go catches, many of which flop out and fall back to earth.
→ MAP OF THE DAY:
Courtesy of Visual Capitalist, today’s map details the migratory patterns of High-Net-Worth Individuals (HNWI), those who make a million dollars or more per year with a preference for upgrading their current digs for warmer, more prosperous climates. To wit, the United Arab Emirates will gain approximately 4,000 HNWIs this year, with Australia picking up a similar number. Russia and China, however, will lose about 15,000 HNWIs each.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
Your Weekend Reads
→ In Bentonville, Arkansas, Walmart founders the Walton family have remade the city and much of the greater metro area around it into a utopic company town. Though the town is home to the headquarters of one of the biggest corporations in the world, not everyone here works at Walmart, at least not directly. Building around the company’s ever-expanding footprint, second- and third-generation Waltons have radically altered the city and its local economy. They’ve spent more than a billion dollars on a critically acclaimed American art museum and invested tens of millions more into the bike trails, public spaces, outdoor recreational activities, and restaurant scene while developing a real estate market that lures a growing tech community to northwest Arkansas.
All of that investment, Olivia Paschal reports for Dwell, has amplified the same kind of housing problem that’s beset the rest of the nation over the past few years, and now there “aren’t enough houses and apartments being built to accommodate the expected population; the ones that are being built are for upper middle-class families—the kind that work at Walmart’s corporate headquarters and the vendors who have offices in the area.” Ahead of FORMAT, a South-by-Southwest-style music and arts festival in September that will charge $2,500 for premium tickets, with an expected 17,000 visitors in attendance, Paschal writes that the Walmart heirs are making a full-court push to lure a new wave of transplants, which isn’t sitting so well with those who already live there.
The third generation of Walton heirs appears eager to remake the region in the image of rapidly developing, rapidly gentrifying metros around the country, and what they’re going for seems to be some combination of Austin and Aspen—Nature! Affordability! Good weather! Tech scene! And as is the case for just about every story that goes this way, what they’ve built is something that could exist anywhere—but is not for everybody.
The most obvious clue that the FORMAT festival is not for people who already live in Northwest Arkansas is, ironically, the commitment the festival makes on its website. “To the community of Oz:” the dictum reads, “We hope that through our local artist competitions, artist workshops, open call performance participation, and general job opportunities, we will provide a platform for artistic and work development in the region.” In more than two decades as a northwest Arkansas resident and expat, I have never once heard anyone call the region Oz. The vibe is very much, as a friend who still lives and works there puts it, “My fellow members of the Oz Community: Munchkins, Flying Monkeys, the Tin Man.” Yet it is these living, breathing locals, the flying monkeys of Oz, who will almost certainly staff the “Bizarre Bazaar,” the disco barn, and “The Cube” that will provide three days of entertainment for festival-goers, who the Waltons told the Journal will be “up to 17,000 people in their 30s and 40s.”
→ Bentonville isn’t the only midsized region that’s been utterly transformed by one family’s wealth. As I wrote about a Tablet piece of mine from last year:
Before I took a reporting trip in May 2021 to Kingston, New York, I’d spoken by phone to numerous locals there who kept telling me about the strange thing that was happening to their city. In the span of a few years, they noticed, dozens of businesses, new offices, community campaigns, and development projects all were being sponsored or in some cases run and operated by just one company in town—the NoVo Foundation.
The NoVo Foundation is the brainchild of Warren Buffett’s youngest son, Peter, who serves as its CEO (he shares the title with Jennifer Buffett, his wife). Over the past 15 years, NoVo has received more than a billion dollars of Warren’s fortune to become one of America’s most influential philanthropies. Though initially preoccupied with causes all over the world, since 2015 the foundation has taken an intense, laser-like focus on Kingston. If NoVo maintains its current spending pace over the next ten years, a conservative estimate would put its investments in Kingston at over half a billion dollars.
But it wasn’t until I was in Kingston, meeting with the residents and seeing the scope of the NoVo Foundation’s investment up close, that I was able to grasp what people kept telling me was a particular sense of being overwhelmed—by the power and money of a single person to shape their city and their lives.
“I think of it as a tidal wave, the NoVo money just washes over everything here and nothing can withstand it,” one longtime NoVo collaborator and Kingston resident told me.
The tidal wave of NoVo money has had several effects on Kingston. Declared the nation’s second-most desirable location to live last year by The New York Times, Kingston, like Bentonville, has endured an intense housing crisis—which has only exacerbated a stark class stratification: Impoverished neighborhoods deal with violent crime and addiction, while the posh downtown corridor welcomes one new boutique and farm-to-table restaurant after another.
→ Rattling off the list of reasons why he believes Republicans need to retake the House this midterm election, and maybe the Senate as well, political commentator Mark Alastor has good reason to suspect “we’re almost guaranteed to see a red wave.” Coming from the left, Alastor has written previously that the alienation he’s felt because of the Democratic Party has moved him toward “accepting or even embracing the label of being conservative or center-right.” But the brand of idealism he’s observed on the right as of late, particularly from the fringier online corners nostalgic for a zealous nationalism “in accordance with God’s divine mandate,” brings to mind, for Alastor, a decade ago, when a fringe-online left championed “goofy stuff [that] no one actually takes that seriously.”
That much of what was dismissed as outlandish has since become standard left fare now has Alastor “starting to re-think the idea that those of us thrown off the train should embrace membership in ‘the other team.’”
Here’s a good warning signal to set in your mind. If something seems corny, cheesy and like an overdone schtick, look out. Any ideology or political project predicated on floating signifiers will attract crazy people like light to flies.
If people like us—who don’t fit in easily in any sort of club—decide to throw our lot in with the right to the point of swearing oaths and putting on the uniform, are we really acting as the superlative force that will calm the waters of American politics and culture?
Or are we just defanging ourselves? By accepting the conservative label and jumping into bed with evangelicals, “based” influencers, and all other sorts of characters, will we be able to wield them against America’s tormentors? Or will we just BE WIELDED ourselves by another set of them?
My initial thought was that we could dilute the right of its own crazies. But if we take our alliance beyond that of pure, ruthless political strategy, perhaps we ourselves will be diluted. The center can’t hold if it allows itself to evaporate.
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