What Happened Today: June 20, 2022
Historic discord in French elections; WHO warming up to lab-leak theory; Lyft gives $25M to shareholders but not victims of sexual assult
The Big Story
History was made again in France this weekend when voters denied Emmanuel Macron an absolute majority in the Parliament’s National Assembly. It’s been nearly 20 years since France has given the presidency back to an incumbent and since voters have failed to give the president an outright majority. The vote was a stunning blow to the “great centrist hope” of Macron and his cabinet, though one could look to Macron’s aloof, lackadaisical campaign to rile voters and not be entirely surprised. In any event, newspapers warned that France was now “ungovernable,” as the splintered parliament has already promised to thwart Macron on nearly everything he promised voters during his campaign, including a streamlined national pension program and major economic and energy initiatives.
The election was significant—for France as well as the European Union—perhaps mostly because it marked the first time in France’s six decades as a modern republic that the parliament’s two biggest opposition coalitions are far-left and far-right populist parties.
Marine Le Pen’s rehabilitated far-right National Rally will now hold roughly 85 to 90 seats, a tenfold increase to its number of lawmakers from just five years ago, far outpacing the 50 seats projected by most pre-election polls. The National Rally’s aggressive hostility toward both big business and the European Union will significantly hinder Macron’s agenda, particularly as he seeks to revitalize the nation’s nuclear energy program, and complicate France’s decoupling from Russia’s energy supply. The far-left alliance was led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who declared a “total defeat” for Macron while promising to lead his coalition as part of a new French “upwelling of rebellion and revolution.” How much revolution either bloc can achieve against Macron’s centrist majority remains to be seen, but the strong endorsement for both hard-right and hard-left lawmakers reveals the intensity of the frustration across France toward Macron’s top-down governance, and the growth of political populism on both sides.“Nothing would be worse than adding French disorder to the world’s disorder,” Macron said before the election.
In the Back Pages: An Interview with a Former Slave
→ After Russia throttled back 40% of its primary gas exports to Germany, Berlin officials are set to use emergency legislation to reopen shuttered coal plants to make up the difference. Analysts expect that Italy will follow similar measures in the coming days after the country’s lack of Russian energy supplies pushes it to the brink of energy insolvency. For German leaders, the coal plants undermine the country’s renewable-focused climate policy, which promised to get Germany completely off coal by 2030. The move to turn on mothballed coal plants also raises questions about the German government’s pledge to permanently shutter its three remaining active nuclear plants, which are scheduled to be decommissioned over the next year. With the most recent reduction of supply from Russia, Europe’s gas prices have soared, breaking what had already been record-high levels as the cost-of-living crisis deepens across the continent.
→ The director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, privately told a senior European official that he believes the COVID-19 virus was accidentally released by the Wuhan virology laboratory in China, according to a report in the Daily Mail. Officially, the WHO has not endorsed the lab-leak theory and considers the origins of the pandemic to still be undetermined. What makes Dr. Tedros’s alleged confession all the more notable is that under Adhanom’s leadership, the WHO praised China’s COVID-19 response in the early days of the pandemic and declared in February of 2021 that it was “extremely unlikely” the virus leaked from a Chinese laboratory before later changing its tune. Of course, the WHO was far from alone in burnishing the Chinese government’s public relations efforts by dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis. “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research,” declared The Washington Post in a January 2020 article that set the tone for subsequent coverage. “Someday we will stop talking about the lab-leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots,” tweeted New York Times science writer Apoorva Mandavilli in the summer of 2021 before subsequently deleting the post. Now if only we can revisit all that crazy “disinformation” about a U.S. health agency under Anthony Fauci’s leadership funding gain-of-function research at the Wuhan laboratory where the leak is thought to have occurred …
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t know if Ron is running, and I don’t ask him,” former president Donald Trump said in a new interview discussing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ potential 2024 run for the White House. “It’s his prerogative. I think I would win.” Trump has yet to announce his candidacy, though is expected to make his decision soon.
→ The world governing body for competitive swimming voted over the weekend to limit women’s competitions to biological females and transgender athletes who began the transition before going through any part of male puberty. To qualify, a transgender athlete would need to have started a medical regimen to stop puberty by suppressed testosterone production before going through any phase of puberty, or by age 12, whichever came later. In practice, the new rule, which was passed with 71% of the vote from FINA’s members, would prevent Lia Thomas from competing at the Olympics. However, since the rule doesn’t apply to national federations or the U.S. college championships, it wouldn’t affect the NCAA title that Thomas won earlier this year. Thomas had ranked 554th in the country as a male competitor in the 200 freestyle race before winning the 500 freestyle this year in the women’s competition.
→ Lyft has finalized the details of a $25 million settlement over allegations from 14 women charging they were raped or molested by Lyft drivers, including one allegation claiming that a driver kidnapped her at gunpoint, drove her to a park, and gang-raped her with a group of other men. The $25 million settlement, however, is not between Lyft and the victims but between the ride-hailing company and its shareholders, who felt this was an “excellent” conclusion, according to their lawyers, to the whole sordid affair. Lyft had covered up the allegations of heinous crimes against drivers prior to the company going public in 2019, these shareholders allege, which posed a threat to their financial investments. Now $25 million richer, shareholders feel that justice has been served. Others, however, might feel differently. “Shareholders quite literally profited off of my kidnapping, off of my multiple rapes, off of the violent crime that was committed against me,” a victim said.
→ The British government has approved the extradition to the United States of Julian Assange, who has spent the past three years imprisoned in England after spending the previous seven living as a political refugee in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Charged under the Espionage Act for his role in publishing documents about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq that were leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, Assange now has 14 days to file an appeal. “We are going to fight this, we are going to use every appeal avenue,” his wife, Stella Morris, said at a press conference after the court announced its decision. “I am going to spend every waking hour fighting for Julian until he is free, until justice is served.” Assange was slated to be extradited earlier this year, but a British judge issued a ruling in January stating that Assange was a suicide risk if extradited—a ruling that this latest decision from England’s High Court reversed.
→ It’s been a busy few days in the world of sports: Stephen Curry solidified his legacy as a top-tier NBA all-timer after he led the Golden State Warriors to their fourth, and perhaps hardest-earned, NBA title in eight seasons, picking up the Finals MVP honor in the process. On the greens it was the upstarts lifting up trophies, with the U.S. Open golf championship going to the 27-year-old stat-obsessed Brit Matt Fitzpatrick, while back on Fitzpatrick’s home turf, the 26-year-old Italian Matteo Berrettini whacked his massive forehand and dropped an impressive array of volleys to capture his second straight victory on the grass courts of London’s Queen’s Club Championship. A razor-sharp Berrettini will be one of several younger players hoping to break through for their first major victory at Wimbledon, which starts this week.
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→ “Everything is seen in China,” according to a TikTok employee, who made the claim during a September 2021 company meeting, a recording of which has been acquired by BuzzFeed News. Executives at TikTok, a Chinese-owned social media app, have repeatedly claimed that the company stores all of the data about its U.S. customers in the United States—even saying so in sworn testimony to Congress in 2021—but a new report from BuzzFeed based on leaked audio from 80 meetings at ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, prove that, to the contrary, Chinese engineers have repeatedly accessed U.S. user data. One Beijing-based engineer, for instance, was called a “Master Admin” in one recording who “has access to everything.” Asked about these practices by BuzzFeed, and pressed to respond to the “exhaustive list of examples and questions about data access” that the publication produced, TikTok’s spokesperson countered that the company “hire[s] experts in their fields,” though didn’t bother specifying what country those experts come from.
→ BY THE NUMBERS: 19,000 flights were canceled or delayed since Thursday over the Juneteenth and Father’s Day holiday weekend, with pilot and staffing shortages and ongoing airline-industry disruptions driving flight volatility. Industry analysts anticipate that this summer will only get worse for travelers as more people head out for their first flights since the start of the pandemic and staffing enough pilots remains a problem without a quick fix.
→ A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that Americans are spending a decent amount of their Tweeting life talking politics. Based on a May 2021 survey of Twitter-using adults as well as an analysis of tweets from some of those surveyed, Pew found that “fully one-third (33%) of those tweets [were] political in nature,” and that “most notably, Americans ages 50 and older make up 24% of the U.S. adult Twitter population but produce nearly 80% of all political tweets.” The findings suggest that our countrymen often take to Twitter to talk politics but that nobody talks more politics than those who have crossed the half-century line, tweeting about politics 36% of the time compared to 18- to 49-year-olds, who do so 7% of the time. The study also found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to follow someone if they share their political views (40% of Dems compared to 20% of Republicans) and that a third of Democrats disagree with few or none of the tweets they read compared to 16% of Republicans.
→ A loyal Scroll subscriber alerted us to this appeal by the Ukrainian Jewish mathematician and Tablet reader Isaac Koyfman, who is raising money for the organization he founded to provide mental health support to victims of Russia’s war on Ukraine. You can find more info below.
For a great many, the war in Ukraine has been over 100 days of unrelenting hell. A group of like-minded “us” have found some relief in volunteering. So, we built Languages of Care. Our goal at LoC is to assist survivors, refugees, caregivers, educators, and clinicians, as well as members of the Ukrainian military and their family. Our website already has a hundred top-notch mental health support texts made available in four (and soon more) languages using a truly unique methodology to ensure top quality of nuanced “translation”—all told, it’s more than $85,000 worth of translation work, estimated conservatively. And all those resources are free to users, thanks to our amazing volunteer staff and translators, a team of almost 150!
Our goal now is to expand the reach of LoC to a global presence, ready to provide life-saving services wherever the need for mental health help is most urgent, in whatever language it may be needed.
To grow and ensure that our materials are always freely available for all who may need them, we seek to hire and support teams of local experts and translators, thereby increasing our ability to provide timely, accurate and culturally-appropriate translations. To achieve that, we need your help. Spread the word—great many out there should be able to use this resource for good. Come volunteer with us if you are able. And please consider supporting us financially; we know that everyone is stretched thin these days, but donations of any size are invaluable to keep our “library of care” running and developing. Donate to LoC here.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
Interview with a Former Slave
In honor of Juneteenth, we’re publishing this excerpt from an interview with former slave Felix Haywood, conducted in 1937, when he was 92, in San Antonio, Texas. The interview, now kept in the Library of Congress collection, was originally one of the more than 2,300 slave narratives recorded as part of the Federal Writers’ Project between 1936 and 1938. The portion of the interview included here concerns Haywood’s experiences during the Civil War.
It’s a funny thing how folks always want to know about the War. The war weren’t so great as folks suppose. Sometimes you didn’t knowed it was goin’ on. It was the endin’ of it that made the difference. That’s when we all wakes up that somethin’ bad happened. Oh, we knowed what was goin’ on in it all the time, ’cause old man Gudlow went to the post office every day and we knowed. We had papers in them days jus’ like now.
But the War didn’t change nothin’. We saw guns and we saw soldiers, and one member of master’s family, Colmin Gudlow, was gone fightin’—somewhere. But he didn’t get shot no place but one—that was in the big toe. Then there was neighbors went off to fight. Some of ’em didn’t want to go. They was took away (conscription). I’m thinin’ lots of ’em pretended to want to go as soon as they had to go.
The ranch went on jus’ like it always had before the war. Church went on. Old Mow Johnson, the preacher, seen to it church went on. The kids didn’t know War was happenin’. They played marbles, see-saw and rode. I had old Buster, a ox, and he took me about plenty good as a horse. Nothin was different. We get layed-into (whipped) time on time, but gen’rally life was good—just as good as a sweet potato. The only misery I had was when a black spider bit me on the ear. It swelled up my head and stuff came out. I was plenty sick and Dr. Brennen, he took good care of me. The whites always took good care of people when they was sick. Hospitals couldn’t do no better fer you today. … Yes, maybe it was a black widow spider, but we called it the ‘devil biter.’
Sometimes someone would come ’long and try to get us to run up North. All we had to do was to walk, but walk South, and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico you could be free. They didn’t care what color you was, black, white, yellow, or blue. Hundreds of slaves did go to Mexico and got on all right. We would hear about ’em and how they was goin’ to be Mexicans. They brought up their children to speak only Mexican.
Me and my father and five brothers and sisters weren’t goin’ to Mexico. I went there after the war for a while and then I looked ’round and decided to get back. So I come back to San Antonio and I got a job through Colonel Breckenridge with the waterworks. I was handling pipes. My foreman was Tom Flanigan—he must have been a full-blooded Frenchman! I tell my chillen we didn’t know no more about pants than a hawg knows about heaven; but I tells ’em that to make ’em laugh.
But what I want to say is, we didn’t have no idea of runnin’ and escapin’. We was happy. We get our lickings, but just the same we got our fill of biscuits every time the white folks had ’em. Nobody knew how it was to lack food. I tell my chillen we didn’t know no more about pants than a hawg knows about heaven; but I tells ’em that to make ’em laugh. We had all the clothes we wanted and if you wanted shoes bad enough you got ’em—shoes with a brass square toe. And shirts! Mister, them was shirts that was shirts! If someone gets caught by his shirt on a limb of a tree, he had to die there if he weren’t cut down. Them shirts wouldn’t rip no more’n buckskin.
The end of the war, it come jus’ like that—like you snap your fingers.
“How did you know the end of the war had come?” asked the interviewer.
How did we know it! Hallelujah broke out—
‘Abe Lincoln freed the nigger
With the gun and the trigger;
And I ain’t goin’ to get whipped any more.
I got my ticket,
Leavin’ the thicket,
And I’m a-headin’ for the Golden Shore!’
Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere—comin’ in bunches, crossin’ and walkin’ and ridin’. Every one was a-singn’. We was all walkin’ on golden clouds. Hallelujah!
Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Although I may be poor,
I’ll never be a slave—
Shoutin’ the battle cry of freedom.’
We all felt like heroes and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free.
Everybody went wild. We all felt like heroes and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free. Just like that, we was free. It didn’t seem to make the whites mad, either. They went right on giving us food just the same. Nobody took our homes away, but right off colored folks started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was—like it was a place or a city. Me and my father stuck, stuck close as a lean tick to a sick kitten. The Gudlows started us out on a ranch. My father, he’d round up cattle, unbranded cattle, for the whites. They was cattle that they belonged to, all right; they had gone to find water ’long the San Antonio River and the Guadalupe. Then the whites gave me and my father some cattle for our own. My father had his own brand, 7B, and we had a herd to start out with of seventy.
We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn’t know what was to come with it. We thought we was goin’ to get rich like the white folks, ’cause we was stronger and knowed how to work, and the whites didn’t and they didn’t have us to work for them anymore. But it didn’t turn out that way. We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud but it didn’t make ’em rich.