What Happened Today: June 15, 2022
Biden’s bummer summer; Apple on a soccer kick; The Evil of Banality
The Big Story
It’s been a tough summer for President Biden, and it might only get worse as his party heads toward what many expect will be a full-scale routing at the November midterms. Today, Biden responded to criticism that he’s not doing enough to tame surging gas prices by putting the blame on oil companies for making too much money—while at the same time asking for their help to lower costs at the pump. In a letter sent to the top executives of the biggest U.S. oil conglomerates, Biden threatened to invoke emergency powers if refineries don’t increase their oil output. “I understand that many factors contributed to the business decisions to reduce refinery capacity, which occurred before I took office. But at a time of war, refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable,” writes Biden. Oil producers’ willingness to collaborate with the administration might depend on how quickly they can get over the scuttling of the Keystone pipeline or the lost leases to drill on public lands.
Meanwhile, the White House confirmed yesterday that the president is scheduled to meet with the Saudi crown prince on a trip to Riyadh in July. The summit could result in the Saudis finally releasing the oil the Biden administration has spent months asking for to reduce energy prices, but it will come at a steep political cost for Biden, who condemned the prince during his presidential campaign, promising to treat the kingdom as “the pariah that they are.” With both the oil companies and the Saudis, Biden now finds himself trying to extract concessions from groups he has previously villainized at a moment when the United States has lost some of its leverage.
Perhaps worst yet, it seems that the president’s marquee effort to lead the West in sanctions punishing Russia has pushed up the price of the oil. Though great for Russia, who’s seen historic profits selling energy exports to non-sanctioning nations, according to Bloomberg, members of Biden’s White House are “now privately expressing concern that rather than dissuading the Kremlin as intended, the penalties are instead exacerbating inflation, worsening food insecurity, and punishing ordinary Russians more than Putin or his allies.”
In the Back Pages: The Evil of Banality
→ The new Ben & Jerry’s flavor Just a Taste of Antisemitism didn’t go over so well with customers last year when the ice cream maker tried its hand at geopolitical activism with a BDS pledge. But the controversy seems to have only emboldened the ice cream executives, who are subjecting new employees at the company, which is owned by the multinational conglomerate Unilever—a true moral exemplar!—to mandatory video trainings from activists lecturing about the Israeli-Palestine conflict. New employees at the company now have to sit through videos about race and the Middle East, including a lecture from Omar Shakir, who serves as a director in the Middle East portfolio of Human Rights Watch and who was expelled from Israel in 2019. Shakir was reportedly an adviser to the B&J board when it halted sales in Palestine last year, a move that led to several states divesting from Unilever. Unilever’s tolerance for B&J’s political activism may be wearing thin: Nelson Peltz, an activist investor, secured a seat on Unilever’s board to drastically overhaul the company following disappointing returns that many company investors attribute to management’s obsession with social and environmental vanity campaigns at the cost of performance.
→ Officials in Philadelphia are running out of ideas on how to temper the city’s rampant shootings, which have affected 95 children among the 800 victims of non-fatal shootings in Philadelphia this year. To protect the kids, at least, Philadelphia is spending $1.8 million to expand its surveillance camera network, with 100 new cameras focused around school campuses in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Though evidence is mixed on how effectively cameras deter street crime, city council member Maria Quiñones-Sánchez believes it will nonetheless “create a culture of, if you’re going to do something, somebody might be watching you.” For the cameras to have their desired effect, city police will have to monitor the video feeds in real time from an office. Taking more police off the street comes amid a historic workforce shortage for Philadelphia law enforcement, with more than 900 vacancies. At Temple University, the police force is struggling with how to overcome a nearly 40% vacancy rate, which has led to what the Temple University police union describes as a public safety crisis on the north Philadelphia campus.
→ This year’s annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Church’s Executive Committee, a group of more than 8,500 church leaders that represent the second largest faith-group in the country, is “the most significant in a generation,” according to Christianity Today, as the executive committee decides what to do about the widespread sexual abuse problems that have plagued the church for decades. The extent of these abuses—and their cover-up by church officials—came to light in May, after an acrimonious internal debate within the church resulted in an investigation detailing hundreds of cases of abuse going back decades as well as the efforts of church leaders to quash those allegations and protect the church from lawsuits. At the start of their gathering on Tuesday, the executive committee elected Texas pastor Bart Barber to be its president. Barber has called for deeper investigations of the church’s abuse, and his election is a rebuke to the more hard-line factions in the Southern Baptist Church that have resisted addressing the abuse allegations. At a meeting on Tuesday morning, conservative members of the right flank of the church, known as the Conservative Baptist Network, argued that defeating Barber was “paramount to combating ‘critical race theory’ and other hot-button political issues” that pose “an existential threat to Christianity,” according to The Houston Chronicle.
→ Primary contests were held in several key states yesterday, giving voters a clearer sense of the circus that’s coming to town in November. Purple Nevada, which will feature some of the most competitive elections in the country, will see several races between weak incumbent Democrats and Republicans who have embraced Donald Trump’s unfounded claims about 2020 election fraud. The Nevada primaries also proved the power of Trump’s endorsement, which had come into question after his support of candidates in several key past primaries failed to bear fruit. Yesterday’s special election in Texas, meanwhile, which was held to fill a seat vacated by Rep. Filemon Vela (D), saw Texas elect its first female Latina Republican to Congress, Mayra Flores, in another sign that the GOP’s strategy of courting Hispanic voters might be paying off. “Mayra has sent a resounding message to the Democratic Party in South Texas and across America,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Democrats do not own the Hispanic vote.”
→ England’s plan to airlift asylum seekers to Rwanda was blocked in the 11th hour by the European Court of Human Rights. Announced in April, the improbable deal would allow England to send migrants—none of whom are Rwandan—to the African country; in exchange, the U.K. would give Rwanda 120 million pounds of development aid. Immediately decried as unethical and impractical by critics, Boris Johnson’s administration is accused of concocting the bizarre immigration policy as a PR stunt—though that hasn’t deterred British officials, who vowed today they’ll press on with additional flights for deported asylum seekers.
→ Long heralded as a thriving region for the U.S. middle class, the Sun Belt is rapidly becoming unaffordable, with home prices in cities from Florida to Arizona to Nevada up by more than 40% compared to last year. This is largely a result of the Sun Belt’s successes; over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work options and the need for more space drove many middle-class buyers to previously affordable and livable Sun Belt cities like Tampa, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. With many of these homebuyers abandoning the more expensive coastal markets like San Francisco or New York, it now remains to be seen what the American middle class will do once it is finally priced out of America altogether.
→ The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has adjusted its guidelines for children seeking gender-affirming care, lowering the suggested age minimum for taking puberty blockers or undergoing a transition surgery from 16 to 14. The WPATH believes this will allow teens struggling with gender dysphoria to change their gender before puberty and so join their peers for that process, according to Dr. Eli Coleman, chair of the group’s standards of care and director of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s human sexuality program. The new policy only deepens the debate, however, about whether teens should be making permanent and irrevocable changes to their body at all.
→ Apple’s tapping into its vast cash reserves on a $2.5 billion deal to bring Major League Soccer games to the Apple streaming platform, marking the biggest investment yet by Apple to bulk up its sports offering to streaming customers. The deal will see MLS broadcasting all of its games exclusively on a new Apple TV app, which will be the first time a national sports league will not show its games on traditional TV. Apple hopes the move will make it more competitive against rivals like Amazon Prime Video, who inked an agreement with the NFL to bring 15 football games a year, along with its Thursday Night Football offering, to the Prime platform. The sports catalogs could become key product lines for streamers trying to retain customers who come onto a platform for a particular movie or series before canceling their membership.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Artists are slaves. They’re stupid. They think they have their own agency, but they’re very naive. They’re perfect vectors for influencing people, and they’re very influenceable.” —Ariel Rosenberg, better known as the musician Ariel Pink. Armin Rosen has an in-depth profile in today’s Tablet of the prolific, frequently canceled, and always fascinating Pink, a former darling of the indie scene, whose appearances at pro-Trump rallies and on Tucker Carlson’s talk show have not won him many friends in the music world.
Correction: Yesterday, we incorrectly stated The Federal Reserve raised the mortgage rate rather than the benchmark rate.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
The Evil of Banality: Why do you care about thousands of children altering their gender?
By Jacob Siegel
An American who wants to understand how political change occurs in their country must study what I’ve come to think of as the “yawning” habit of sophisticated liberals.
The yawn is an avoidance tactic that feigns moral and intellectual superiority while exhibiting dullness and cowardice. It is deployed when some flagrantly abnormal thing is occurring, which the sophisticated liberal is too sophisticated to defend outright—since to do so would expose them to potential mockery and loss of status—but too cowardly to condemn, since that would risk placing them on the wrong side of Progress.
Here we can observe the liberal pundit Josh Marshall, yawning as loud as he can in response to questions about the precepts of gender ideology.
Marshall has not given much thought to why thousands of people, including adolescents, have suddenly decided to alter their bodies in irreversible ways. He’s not just incurious, he’s bragging about it. Only right-wing, extremist Putin lovers (of course, Marshall was a Russiagate conspiracist) would possibly care about an historically unprecedented, institutionally directed revolt against sexual dimorphism. A 2018 study by the British government found that the number of minors being referred for gender treatments, including hormone injections, increased by more than 4,000% in a single decade … How uninteresting. Yawn. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health just lowered the minimum age for children to receive puberty blockers or undergo transition surgery from 16 to 14. Double yawn.
“I’d like to know why you care,” the conservative pundit Matt Walsh is asked repeatedly in his new agitprop documentary What Is a Woman?. The academics and other gender experts whom Walsh interviews clearly view this as an effective response to his line of questioning. It tells you something about the moral and intellectual vitality of contemporary liberalism that they simply assume that the people whose opinions they care about would agree there’s something very suspicious and déclassé about insisting on a definition of woman.
When American campuses erupted over the past decade with the ideological manias of overindulged students and overemployed administrators carrying on show trials, demanding racially segregated dormitories, and dictating to professors what kind of material was acceptable for teaching, the liberal pundit borg responded by dismissively mocking the idea that anyone would care. Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias, assured his readers in 2018 that worry over the decline of free speech on college campuses was just right-wing fearmongering. In fact, Yglesias wrote, in a piece about how free speech was actually getting stronger on campuses, “People on the moderate left really have become less tolerant of racists while growing more tolerant of all other groups.” Isn’t this just what we’ve all observed: the flowering of tolerance in the United States.
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