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What Happened Today: November 11, 2022
Anthrax in Ukraine; LAPD in bed with Scientology; Macron’s military might
The Big Story
Department of Defense documents published on Thursday appear to contradict long-standing claims from top U.S. officials that the federal government has not spent money on biological-weapon laboratories in Ukraine. “The United States funded anthrax laboratory activities in a Ukrainian biolab in 2018,” wrote Judicial Watch, citing 345 pages of heavily redacted records obtained in a public records request from the DoD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency. “The records [also] show over $11 million in funding for the Ukraine biolabs program in 2019,” though as recently as Nov. 2, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield testified before the U.N. Security Council, saying, “The United States does not have a biological-weapons program. There are no Ukrainian biological-weapons laboratories supported by the United States.”
Thomas-Greenfield’s dismissal of any U.S. involvement with Ukrainian bio-weapons labs had followed months of intense, largely partisan debate between the media and public officials who have made even asking questions about potential biological-weapon facilities in Ukraine a culture war issue. Predominantly left-leaning outlets and some prominent officials in the Democratic Party have been quick to label inquiries into the existence of potential labs as part of ongoing misinformation campaigns, both here and abroad. As NPR wrote in March, “The false biolab story spread quickly both in the U.S. and overseas, where Chinese state media joined in the effort to push the narrative.”
In June, the Pentagon issued a report about the government’s long-standing efforts to clean up former Soviet Union biolab facilities that remained in Eastern Europe, detailing U.S. efforts to “reduce legacy threats from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons left in the Soviet Union’s successor states, including Russia.” Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent flow of Western aid to Ukraine, additional funding to clean or harden facilities containing potential biological materials like anthrax would have been less of a controversial issue if not for lingering questions over whether the United States had funded gain-of-function research in a Chinese laboratory that might have leaked the novel coronavirus. In that same June report, the Pentagon said, “Ukraine has no nuclear, chemical, or biological-weapons programs.”
The key finding from the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show funding to a government contractor Black & Veatch, which appears to have been conducting biosafety work in Ukrainian laboratories. One report of a job summary for “Anthrax Laboratory activities” completed in December 2018 lists tasks completed by individuals whose names are redacted but whose titles are “Head of Anthrax Laboratory” and “Researcher Anthrax Laboratory.”
“This definitely merits congressional oversight, in my opinion,” Dr. Robert Malone, whose work in the 1980s set the stage for mRNA technology, and who has consulted on biodefense for the DoD, told The Scroll, adding, “We should be careful about speculative conclusions until some of these details are resolved.”
In the Back Pages: From Contract to Covenant
→ In an ongoing dispute over labor contracts dating back to 2020, several of the nation’s largest unions for railroad workers have signaled an intent to strike once again if their demands are not met by Dec. 9. This follows on the heels of a narrowly averted strike in September, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and several top members of President Biden’s administration hosting 11th-hour negotiations between the railroads and unions as the dispute over paid sick leave threatened to bring several industrial supply chains to a standstill. Union representatives say that adding the time off into the contracts will take only one penny of profit from every dollar the rail companies make, but several decades of prioritizing cost reductions might make that a penny too much for the operators. Meanwhile, in the tony world of publishing, about 250 employees of HarperCollins are in the streets picketing over a pay and benefit dispute stemming from contract negotiations that began in April. If these negotiations don’t get resolved promptly, we at The Scroll may not get our box sets of Bashevis Singer in time for Chanukah.
→ In May, Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt for the first time ever. Now financial analysts worry it might soon have a lot of company. Speaking at the Cop27 United Nations climate summit this week in Egypt, U.N. global development chief Achim Steiner speculated 54 low-income countries are at serious risk of default, “with all the social and economic and political implications this carries with it.” While Steiner was quick to place the impending crisis in the context of the climate change discussion of the day, the more immediate issue of widespread default will be catastrophic setbacks in the war on poverty. In October, the United Nations warned that rich nations needed to quickly engineer debt restructuring deals for Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, and the other at-risk nations. But rising interest rates might make debt impossible to service even for wealthy countries like the United States: At current rates, our national debt could soon cost $1.4 trillion a year in interest.
→ A federal judge ruled Thursday that President Joe Biden’s unilateral attempt to forgive student debt was unlawful. “Whether the program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this Court to determine,” U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote in his opinion. “Still, no one can plausibly deny that it is … one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.” Though the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit haven’t always considered government loan forgiveness to be unsavory. In April, one of the plaintiffs, Myra Brown, had all but $4 of her $48,000 PPP small business loan forgiven by the Small Business Administration. Not everyone sees the two federal programs the same way. “Congress passed PPP, making it a legal program; Biden bypassed Congress, making it illegal,” said Elaine Parker, the president of the Job Creators Network.
→ Thread of the Day:
It has been 15 years since anyone has seen Shelly Miscavige, wife of David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology. Scientology defector and apostate Leah Remini has struggled to find her, thanks in no small part to the LAPD, which, as she lays out in this Twitter thread, has stymied her attempts to find Shelly. Remini suggests some of that stonewalling might have to do with several conflicts of interest she’s found documented in emails between the LAPD and the Church of Scientology, including Cory Palka, the LAPD Hollywood captain who has been very cozy with the Church of Scientology while overseeing his department’s lackluster search effort. Palka is currently making headlines for tipping off his former employer, Les Moonves of CBS, on the sexual assault allegations that led to his downfall in 2017, though the rot doesn’t end there. LAPD Lieutenant André Dawson, who was first assigned to investigate Shelly’s disappearance, was invited to speak at a benefit in 2014 at the Church of Scientology … on the issue of human trafficking.
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→ Quote of the Day:
Governor Ron DeSanctimonious, an average REPUBLICAN governor with great Public Relations.
This from a screed published by former president Donald Trump on Thursday, excoriating DeSantis for his lack of loyalty as both men look poised for a run to become the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. After lambasting NewsCorp, owner of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post for their fawning coverage of DeSantis, Trump also noted that he personally “stopped his [DeSantis] election from being stolen” in 2018 and that no matter who comes after him, he will win.
→ French President Emmanuel Macron laid out his countries’ military priorities in a speech Wednesday while touring his navy’s military vessels. Macron emphasized that the European Union needed to pursue a more independent defense strategy anchored by a strong nuclear deterrent. “Our nuclear forces contribute through their own existence to the security of France and Europe,” said Macron, who also recently made clear that even a nuclear strike on Ukraine would not warrant a French response, given that it is not in his nation’s interest. In addition to underscoring the importance of maintaining a powerful fighting force with the capacity to act decisively overseas, Macron emphasized the French focus on combating “misinformation” spread by adversaries. Not unrelated: Russian ally Iran said on Thursday that it has now produced a hypersonic missile that can penetrate all conventional missile defenses.
→ Graph of the Day:
From a Nov. 2 New England Journal of Medicine study on vaccine efficacy in young people in Qatar, researchers found that for children, as for adults, the protection of the Pfizer mRNA shots against COVID-19 infection wanes fairly rapidly. In the boosted cohort aged 12 to 17 depicted above, the difference in protection against Omicron shrinks to almost zero at the six-month mark. Among the cohort aged 5 to 11, who received the primary series at a dose of 10 micrograms, protection against infection ranges from 35% to a negative 35% at the four-month mark, meaning this vaccinated cohort soon became more likely to contract COVID-19 than their unvaccinated peers. The researchers noted that while they sought out subjects who had not been documented to have had the disease, “some members of the cohorts may have had a previous infection that was never documented,” which could affect their results.
→ The European energy crunch is coming for science—or Switzerland specifically. The country is home to CERN, which houses the Large Hadron Collider, the particle accelerator that will now be shut down two weeks earlier than expected, along with a plan to cut CERN’s overall energy use by 20% in 2023. Even a small reduction could have a dramatic impact on energy supplies: Every year the accelerator uses 1.3 terawatt hours of electricity, the equivalent energy draw for 300,000 homes in the United Kingdom. Malika Meddahi, CERN’s deputy director for accelerators and technology, told Euronews that the facility is standing by to quickly shut the accelerator down completely should energy supplies become especially tight. Bad news, less research done; good news, less chance of CERN accidentally creating a black hole that swallows us all.
→ Mensch of the Day:
Adam Sandler, who made an Australian superfan’s dream come true at his October show in New York City. Keira Williams, 28, from a small town four hours outside of Sydney, Australia, has loved Sandler since she was a child, watching his films with her mother over and over again. When she saw he was going to be touring, she knew she had to get in the front row and try to meet him. Her “I traveled from Australia just to be here for the Sandman” shirt caught his eye, and he shouted her out during the show. Afterward, she waited by the stage door with another superfan and Sandler stopped his SUV, got out, and came over to chat and take a photo with them. “I don’t even think that if I have a firstborn that that will even top the day I met Adam Sandler,” Williams told NBC New York. “I just believe that day is going to be at the top of my list of the best days of my life forever, no matter what happens.” Maybe she’ll name her firstborn Sandman.
→ It’s curtains for wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried and his crypto goliath, FTX. FTX, Alameda Research, and approximately 130 related companies created by SBF filed for bankruptcy today after coming up short on $8.8 billion in liabilities that Bankman-Fried had covered up with what appears to be a lot of book cooking and not a lot of cash. Smaller crypto exchange BlockFi has halted its own client withdrawals, and industry insiders are now concerned that the contagion of a crypto apocalypse is spreading. FTX rival and possible saboteur Changpeng Zhao, chief of world’s largest crypto firm Binance, suggests the FTX collapse could trigger cascading effects similar to the 2008 global financial crisis that KO’d Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. “A few other projects are going to be in similar situations,” Zhao told attendees at a conference in Indonesia. “I think it will take a couple weeks for most of them to come out.”
→ Did you know that the organization Jewish War Veterans is the oldest veterans group in the United States, celebrating its 126th anniversary this year? The organization was created in 1896 to commemorate Jewish soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The Scroll wishes it and all veterans a meaningful Veterans Day.
TODAY IN TABLET:
This Is Not an Article About Jews in China by Harry Miller
The world is infinitely broader and more interesting when it isn’t viewed through the lens of one’s identity
Magic Man by Rokhl Kafrissen
Rokhl’s Golden City: Remembering mentalist Max Maven
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Maurice Glasman is a Labour life peer in the House of Lords and the founder of Britain’s Blue Labour party. His political vision, born out of the financial crash of 2008, brings together traditions of socialism, localism, and conservatism. The following excerpt is taken from his new book Blue Labour: The Politics of the Common Good, published by Polity Books.
From Contract to Covenant
A left-conservative vision for moving beyond globalized free markets to an economy rooted in the common good
By Maurice Glasman
The economy is the means by which society satisfies its needs and wants through combined effort. In complex societies, this always involves an intense combination of individual, state and societal engagement. The economy we inherit works in the interests of capital, of those who own or manage the inheritance of previous generations, understood as ownership of technology, property and money. This has intensified over the past forty years at the expense of labour.
Capital, in its essential form, is promiscuous. It seeks the highest possible rate of return at the fastest possible speed. Once the returns begin to slow, it seeks new partners that can deliver higher returns more quickly. When there are no constraints on the relationships it can initiate, and end, and when capital is the fundamental organizing principle of the economy, the consequence for society is ruinous.
For a century, the response of the left has been to advocate a role for the state as the exclusive principle of economic organization, and this has led in each case to the eventual surrender to the market. The weakness is that there is no price system that can communicate what people want and a centralized administrative system inhibits innovation. The Soviet Union disintegrated following a period of market reforms; China became the driver of globalization by creating the conditions for sustained production and the importation of capital as the central principle of production, with no recognition of the human status of labour. The first principle of New Labour was the acceptance of globalization and the diminishment of labour value and power. The task now is to conceive of a role for the state in preserving the human status of labour and the vulnerable status of nature through an institutional system that facilitates the renewal of society.
The promise of Labour, and of socialism more generally, was to domesticate the destructive power of capital, the commodification of human beings and nature. It did this by strengthening democracy as an alternative mode of power to that of capital, within a framework that upheld the fundamental liberties of religion, association, expression and conscience.
Labour reneged on that promise.
“Covenant requires that human beings and nature are not treated as commodities, and that there is an inter-generational commitment to the common good.”
What is required is a form of political economy that can domesticate the destructive tendencies of capitalism by moving from contract to covenant as the central principle of economic organization. This requires the return of state power and the engagement of different interests in the governance of the economy.
The idea of a covenant is important because it addresses the fundamental problems of the economy; the inequality generated by debt; and a system of debt forgiveness that strengthens mutual obligation. It includes nature as a partner and has a role for institutions in brokering a common good across time and space. It indicates a way that place, work, solidarity and nature can be bound into an economic system. In other words, it domesticates the demonic energy of capital by binding it into relationship with the very forces it seeks to commodify.
Contract, in contrast, is an isolated event, an exchange of equivalents between hands that by definition is indifferent to external consequences, long-term trends or context. A contract is a legal agreement between two parties which has led, over time, to the domination by the rich of the poor, the concentration of assets in fewer hands, the dehumanization of labour as a human factor, the exploitation of the environment and the neglect of relationships and place. The idea of covenant is sometimes treated as a biblical curiosity with no relevance, yet it is central to political authority, in that Parliament and common law are intergenerational forms of authority. In specifying limits to levels of debt, the inherent status of the human being as requiring work and shelter, a partnership with the land as a common good and the strengthening of community within the economy itself through the binding of estranged interests in a shared endeavour, it provides the institutional means of building a decentralized national economy.
In short, covenant requires that human beings and nature are not treated as commodities, and that there is an inter-generational commitment to the common good between classes and regions based on the renewal of place. This gives shape to the change of consensus that is required to remedy the defects of what went before. Neither the state nor the market is sufficient to generate a good society: it requires the renewal of society, and its representation within the economy in the form of vocational and locational institutions that negotiate a common good in changing circumstances, by upholding the status of labour, land and knowledge as part of a shared inheritance. Covenant is a means of turning domination into a conscious form of mutual dependence by constraining both the market and the state through the strengthening of society.
Changing the Consensus
Any political consensus defines what people can achieve through democratic cooperation and what has to be left to the coordination of the price system. Over the past forty years, redistribution, regulation, tax revenue and interest rates have been considered to be appropriate central state functions within the economy. A market system based on fluctuating prices, in parallel, has been considered the most efficient means of communicating what people want. Beginning with the dominance of the New Right in the 1980s, the state was not considered a rational agent within the economy and as a result its function became exclusively external and regulatory.
This missed two fundamental truths. The first is that the economy is an eternal form of all societies as the common activity through which the satisfaction of material needs and wants can be achieved by the transformation of nature into goods through the exertions of labour and the application of skill. It is a substantive need rather than a formal model.
Labour is a necessity in both of its meanings. It is the means through which society reproduces itself through biological and cultural reproduction. Each person is dependent upon a physical environment and other people for the satisfaction of needs. This in turn requires institutions that preserve and renew knowledge as a means of reproducing the necessities of life. This intensifies in a complex society. Work has a necessity and a history that is not grasped by understanding labour as an exclusively utility-maximizing activity carried out entirely by the individual agent. This is why human capital is a limited concept, in that it does not show adequate regard for the institutional inheritance that makes skilful labour possible. When it comes to labour, we all need an inheritance.
“The imperative within capitalism is to turn human beings and nature into commodities when they were not produced for sale in the market and are irreplaceable.”
This is linked to a deeper fiction, propagated by economic theory and outlined in the previous chapter on Karl Polanyi, which is that human beings and nature are treated as commodities – defined as objects produced for sale on the open market – to be exploited efficiently by competitive markets in labour, land and food. This is because the imperative within capitalism is to turn human beings and nature into commodities when they were not produced for sale in the market and are irreplaceable. What economists call factor markets are just another description of the substance of society, human beings and nature, which is another term for creation itself.
The problem with the breakdown of political economy into a system of maximization of returns within the economy and then a redistributory and regulatory state as a means of mitigating the hazards and providing collective necessities in the form of money payments and administrative services is that it does not engage with the problem at source. It then enforces the fiction, thereby generating a more powerful need for a state to protect the basic conditions of life. The innovation in the recent cycle is that the banks and corporations receive state protection. What Andrew Haldane defines as the ‘doom loop’ – the nationalization of risk and the privatization of gain – is unsustainable as a principle of economic governance.
Virtue, Craft and Reciprocity: Blue Labour Economics
Blue Labour economics assumes that there is a distinction between real and fictitious commodities, and relates this to the role of the price system in allocating resources. The roots of this are to be found in the socialist calculation debate in the 1920s in Vienna. On one side, there was a group of socialist thinkers who thought it was possible to calculate future needs and demands without the duplication of unnecessary competition and waste. The idea was that you could build a big enough computer, input all the relevant data and plan rationally for future needs and wants. This was the basis of a planned socialist economic system. On the other side was a group of economists around Ludwig von Mises, including Friedrich Hayek, who argued such a thing was impossible. This was because the decentralized process of the price system relied on a huge amount of information that was not calculable. Price setting was a subjective process that gave a signal about what people wanted and this was essentially unpredictable and unknowable, except insofar as it revealed itself through the fluctuations of the price system. This critique of state planning, of socialist calculation, set the terms of debate for the next 100 years.
It is important to grasp the ways in which Hayek was right to appreciate the extent to which he was wrong. What is at stake is best understood through an analys is of the difference between his economic and social theory. In his social theory, he proposes three concepts that characterize the emergence of the open society, or what he calls a catalaxy. These are reason, instinct and tradition. A catalaxy, or extended economic system, is grounded in certain traditions that preserve ethics, honesty, law-abidingness, trust, skill and honesty and are irreducible to either instinct or reason. Hayek considers instinct alone a terrible threat as it is essentially communitarian and atavistic. He considers rationality alone equally threatening as it is instrumentalizing and self-defeating. Tradition is the idea he develops to mediate between and temper these two extremes of a self-defeating rationality that would lead to the ‘war of all against all’ and an instinct that generates a closed community.
In Hayek’s economic theory, however, there is no mediating principle between the state and the market and there is no account of the institutions that uphold traditions of virtue and of trust and sustain a sense of mutual obligation. There is, therefore, no attention paid to the role they play in shaping and forming the factor market of labour and those decentralized intermediate institutions that uphold skills and translate information into knowledge. These enable people to understand and adapt to change not exclusively as an external force but also as something they can understand and shape. The body politic thus plays a vital role in organizing the economy.
This is the importance of Polanyi, who rejected both statist and market orders and tried to conceptualize the decentralized institutions that could resist commodification while preserving a price system in real commodities. His argument was that the economy requires social institutions that disseminate skills, distribute knowledge and preserve the status of the person as something other than a commodity. Societal institutions, of a non-pecuniary form, renew the cultural resources, or constituents, of society, saving them from depletion and exhaustion by defying the logic of commodification and sustain the institutions which educate the person towards a notion of internal goods as well as external value. Internal goods are the skills necessary for the fulfilment of a specific task; external goods are the money and recognition you receive for them. Specific skills are not fungible or transferrable, but require apprenticeship and time, education and practice. There is a connection between the ethical character of the person and the incentive structures within which they work. Virtue is vital for a functioning economy. Under the rule of the state or the market, the only relevant goods are money and power and the internal goods, or virtues, are undermined and neglected.
Excerpted from Blue Labour: The Politics of the Common Good by Maurice Glasman. Copyright © 2022 by Maurice Glasman. Excerpted by permission of Polity Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.