What Happened Today: November 18, 2022
Pelosi makes way for Jeffries; Next-gen vaccine passports; North Korea keeps shooting
The Big Story
The trio of octogenarians who’ve led the Democratic Party for the better part of two decades has relinquished the helm. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that she would give up her leadership role with the upcoming end of the congressional session. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House majority leader, and Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip said they, too, would step down from the leader ranks; though Clyburn, in a letter to the Democratic caucus, requested his fellow lawmakers support him in a role at “the leadership table as the Assistant Democratic Leader, to work alongside our new generation of Democratic leaders.” Together, the three top officials signaled the influence they still had over the party as they endorsed a new trio, successors decades younger but closely aligned with the party’s establishment positions: 52-year-old Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York for minority leader, 59-year-old Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.) for whip, and 43-year-old Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.) for caucus chair.
The first woman to serve as the House speaker, Pelosi will end her historic reign as one of the most powerful figures in Washington but remain in Congress, a visible reminder of the party that will likely change little with Rep. Jeffries in charge. First elected to Congress in 2012, the 52-year-old New York native has championed popular liberal causes like affordable housing and reducing racial profiling in the criminal justice system but has largely shied away from the polarizing reforms pushed forward by the progressive arm of the party. One opponent in a primary race early in Jeffries’ career described the congressman as a “go-along, get along politician” cozy with the Democratic establishment and corporate interests. His even-keeled reputation and key relationships across the aisle will ensure continuity for the Democrats as they seek to nurture that establishment brand of familiar politics, warts and all. It worked well for them during the midterms, as Democrats in both the House and Senate sought to portray themselves as the alternative to extreme Republican candidates.
To what extent maintaining the status quo will help or hurt the Democrats come 2024 remains an open question. The Biden administration is still plagued by a 42% approval rating with a recession or worse looming on the horizon. And House Republicans, fresh off securing their slim majority, have already promised a comprehensive investigation into the potential involvement of the president in his son’s overseas business deals.
In the Back Pages: After Intersectionalism
→ Codifying the de facto reality of the past two years, leaders at the G20 summit in Indonesia came together to put into writing a recommendation for the future use of digital vaccine verification for international travel. Building out “global digital health networks” that incorporate the “existing standards and digital COVID-19 certificates,” the international verification regime isn’t exactly new, carrying forward a framework set forth by the WHO in 2005 that called for an “international certificate of vaccination” as part of their International Health Regulations. Partnering up with German telecom company T-Systems to create a system for a new global verification passport system, the WHO is also scheduled to ratify an updated international treaty in 2024 that will allot them special powers during future epidemics or pandemics. Speaking at the G20, Indonesia’s Minister of Health Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the digital passport will obviate the need for total lockdowns. “For the next pandemic, instead of stopping the movement of the people 100 percent, which stopped the economy globally,” Sadikin said, “you can still provide some movement of the people.”
→ Sorry soccer fans, but Qatar is just no fun! On Friday, less than 48 hours before the kickoff to the first World Cup match, the Gulf nation rescinded its initial decision to allow Budweiser at the event. Originally, the strictly sober Muslim nation had made a provision for designated areas allowing beer outside the stadiums, but Qatari officials are putting a lid on the pints, saying stadium drinking would create an unfriendly atmosphere for nondrinkers. “Well, this is awkward …” Budweiser’s official account snarked upon hearing the news, in a since-deleted tweet. The Qatari hosts have had a strained run-up to the arrival of the world game, under intense fire for the inhumane treatment of the migrant workers who were hired, or coerced into forced labor, to build out the elaborate soccer facilities. A recent International Labour Organization report found that at least 50 foreign laborers died in 2021 alone.
→ John F. Kennedy would be proud. On Wednesday, after many delays and cost overruns, the majestic power of NASA was on display: The new Artemis rocket left Florida, for the moon. The unmanned mission is the first, long-awaited step in returning to the orb of the night, before future trips to Mars. If all goes according to plan, the vessel will spend a couple of weeks in a long orbit around the moon and then head back, plopping down somewhere off the coast of California on Dec. 11. The Artemis program was initially scheduled to launch in 2017, at a cost of $500 million per flight. But a NASA auditor revealed earlier this year that the cost per flight will be closer to $4.1 billion, on top of $93 billion already spent, and has some former NASA employees wondering if they wouldn’t be better off just giving the full mandate to Elon Musk and SpaceX, who are already building a lunar lander for a 2025 mission. Government leaders aren’t as convinced, if only because they wouldn’t get the credit for creating new jobs if they handed it over to a private company. “By aligning our space program with very famous, idiosyncratic individuals, that could potentially be the bigger political risk, to me,” said Casey Dreier, chief policy adviser for the Planetary Society.
→ While Elton John may be on his farewell tour, there’s one rocket man who’s not going anywhere. Friday, for the eighth time this year, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile which landed in waters off the west coast of Japan. While meeting with leaders of Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in Thailand, U.S. Vice President Harris condemned the launch, which prompted a joint exercise between U.S. and South Korean fighter jets, simulating strikes on the North’s missile launchers. On Thursday North Korea’s Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui warned that U.S. military exercises in the area were a “gamble it will regret.” Next on the docket, a probable first nuclear test since 2017, which U.S. and South Korean officials believe will be conducted underground and will test a smaller “tactical” nuclear weapon.
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→ Sam Bankman-Fried is surely keeping a close eye on today’s sentencing of Elizabeth Holmes. The former Theranos CEO is set to receive her sentence for her part in defrauding investors out of $804 million after her blood-testing company was revealed to be not much more than a pile of false promises. The state has asked for a 15-year sentence, a three-year supervised release, and $800 million in compensatory damages; Holmes has asked for no more than 15 months, citing her status as a mother, as well as the fact that she went broke with the fall of her scheme, and that she may have more to offer the world of science. Both former CDC Director William Foege and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker have written letters in her favor, attempting to persuade the judge to administer a lenient justice. It doesn’t seem likely. According to an analysis by consultant Empirical Justice LLC the median term for similar defendants was 16 years. Holmes spent 10 years developing Theranos, two years raising its valuation to absurd levels, and three years being investigated before the company closed its doors in 2018.
→ Security guards at the facilities owned by Facebook parent Meta were allegedly abusing their access to the company’s internal system for restoring locked Facebook accounts, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal. More than two dozen employees and contractors have been disciplined by Meta after it was found that some were selling the access they had to others outside the company, including to hackers. Through the company’s Oops system, which was originally intended to help get family, friends, business partners, and prominent figures back into their accounts when locked out, one content creator influencer, Nick McCandless, charged clients $7,000 each to utilize his ability to get into the Facebook backend.
→ Drawing on their deep wellspring of experience intervening in foreign elections, the U.S. State Department is bringing that knowledge to the electronic realm to launch a new video game meant to counter “disinformation” on the global stage. The game, called Cat Park, puts players in the role of local conspiracy theorists, agitating against the creation of a cat park that symbolizes the desires of the “ultra-secret cat-worshiping” mayor. When it turns out that the campaign against the mayor is being funded by a billionaire with ulterior motives, the players are asked to use the same tools to fight against their own conspiracy. According to the Foundation for Freedom Online, which conducted an analysis of the game, “[t]his anti-populist, pro-establishmentarian theme of Cat Park permeates every scene in the game.” With language once only found in medical interventions, an October State Department memo suggests foreign embassies should promote the game in local schools as a “disinformation booster-shot” before upcoming elections.
→ Video of the Day:
→ Earlier this summer, as inflation in Great Britain rose to 13%, Amazon offered warehouse workers a 3% increase in wages. Displeased workers walked off the job and garnered support for a union drive with threats to strike across Amazon’s U.K. facilities. More than just poor wages, workers say the job levies a significant psychological tax. “If you’re caught sitting down, you get what’s called an ‘adapt,’ which is like a six-week warning. That sits on your record, and if you’re caught doing it again, you’re out the door. It just plays mind games with you,” a Coventry fulfillment center worker told The Guardian in October. Fearing that the U.K. Labour Party might intervene in Amazon’s mindgames, the company’s lobbyist, Brian Palmer, tried to deny that his company in fact used their technology to coerce their workers with draconian surveillance measures. But as seen in the video above, Labour MP Darren Jones was having none of it, finally forcing Jones to admit the company used “employee productivity” algorithms that could result in a worker being fired.
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As ideology takes a back seat to intergroup competition, the future of ethnic conflict in America is going to look more like the past
By Joel Kotkin
The divisive racial ideology that dominated American politics for the past decade is dying. Led by minority activists and white progressives, “woke” ideology promoted a Manichean struggle between a coalition of the BIPOC, an acronym for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color” (assumed to be natural allies) against what the BIPOC Project calls a hegemonic system of “white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism.” But this vision of Black and white racial conflict, while still influential in universities and elite institutions, keeps getting rejected by American voters—as happened in political referendums on issues like policing and immigration, and most recently in the triumph of “normies” and centrists in the midterm elections.
Does this mean that Americans should expect a new era of kumbaya racial harmony? Not likely. Rather, the future may look more like the past, as America reverts to an older style of ethnic politics in which ideology takes a back seat to practical concerns and different groups compete over resources like jobs and the spoils of government spending.
A recent example: Last month, LA’s Latina City Council president, Nury Martinez, was caught on a leaked audio recording making racist comments about Black people, Jews, and Armenians. Martinez, who has since resigned, described a white council colleague’s adopted Black son as a “parece changuito” or “like a monkey.” The recording, which was anonymously leaked online shortly before an election, had captured a private conversation between Martinez and other powerful Latino Democrats in LA that took place in the headquarters of a powerful labor group, and centered on how to shore up their power.
In trying to fortify her own ethnic bloc, Martinez saw Black voters, as well as Armenians and Jews, as potential threats. She grouses about “judios” who “cut their deal with south LA”—the complaint being that L.A.’s Jewish officials have aligned themselves with Black politicians (an alliance that helped Tom Bradley become the city’s first Black mayor in the early 1970s) to the detriment of the Latino political bloc. Martinez had previously complained that her district, an area long populated by Jews but becoming increasingly Latino, was misrepresented by “the Katzes of the world, the Bermans of the world. I never saw them in the community or at the grocery store with us. I just saw them on TV.” Following the classic pattern of urban American ethnic political jostling, Martinez’s rant was largely about traditional issues of redistricting and the awarding of valuable money-generating assets to Latino, as opposed to African American or Anglo, districts.
This jostling reflects the shifting ethnic makeup of LA, where Latinos now constitute nearly half of the population while the share of Black Angelinos has dropped to less than 9%. That is part of a longer-term trend: “Between the 1980 and 1990 censuses,” notes a New York Times article from 1995, “the Black population of Los Angeles County dropped to 11% from 13% of the population, while the Hispanic and Asian populations swelled.” The article pointed to the South-Central area of LA as an exception that was still “predominantly Black,” but even that has changed. Eighty percent African American in 1970, South-Central LA is now two-thirds Latino. There are more taco stands than barbeque joints, the vibe more East LA than old South Central.
Rather than a united uprising of “people of color,” what happened in Los Angeles—and what will happen soon across the country—was a conflict caused by the complex and shifting landscape of ethnic politics in America.
Ethnic political conflict is nothing new in the United States. Coming from distinct backgrounds and enjoying different levels of success, ethnic groups have always competed for political influence. In the late 19th-century, Boston’s James Michael Curley waged a successful campaign that allowed the Irish to supplant the city’s Anglo elite. In New York City, William R. Grace became New York’s first Irish Catholic mayor in 1880, beating mainstream Protestants opposed to both his ethnicity and faith. In melting pot meccas like New York and Chicago, Jews, Italians, and other minorities struggled for dominance, either through Tammany Hall or the Daley machine, both long dominated by Irish political bosses. Describing the New York City of his upbringing, Gen. Colin Powell recalled that it was not sharply divided along Black and white Lines, but rather was “a mélange of numerous often competing” ethnic communities.
While some conservatives fret about the growth of nonwhite populations allegedly undermining the nation’s key institutions and giving Democrats a permanent majority, America’s history shows that ethnic politics are, if nothing else, mercurial. Populist conservatives, meanwhile, fervently hope minorities like Latinos and Asians will go wholesale to the right, as many white ethnics did, becoming Reagan Democrats or Trump supporters. This may be wishful thinking, but in 2020 Donald Trump—a man routinely labeled “racist,” along with his tens of millions of voters, by the mainstream media—gained a significantly larger share of the Latino vote than his predecessors, particularly in Florida and Texas, and picked up some support among African Americans as well. This pattern appears to have continued in the 2022 midterms, at least according to exit polls, with the GOP winning upwards of 40% of the Latino vote.
Equally intriguing has been the evolution of the Asian American community, with 27% of Asian Americans supporting Trump in 2016 and 31% in 2020. Some of this shift may be a reaction to the wave of violence inflicted upon Asians, often by African American assailants, whose actions, in the bizarre BIPOC formulation, are based not on interracial tensions but rather “white nationalism.” Many Asians also own small businesses vulnerable to the current crime wave, and San Francisco’s large Asian population played an outsize role in recalling the city’s prosecutor, Chesa Boudin, signaling their opposition to liberal policies like bail bond reform and softer sentences for criminals.
Indeed, Asian voters in California have shown their increasing—and increasingly independent—voting power in recent years. They were crucial in rejecting 2020’s affirmative action measure despite significant pressure from progressive activists. In heavily Asian Orange County, where Biden won comfortably, the affirmative action measure still lost 2 to 1, and two Korean American women scooped up Democratic congressional seats.
The affirmative action measure was also defeated in California’s heavily Latino interior counties, as Latinos have emerged as another ethnic group not neatly allied with the BIPOC order. While progressive activists have long decried the enforcement of immigration laws as oppressive and racist, most Latino voters do not share that view. With illegal crossings hitting record highs, mass undocumented immigration is decidedly unpopular among Latinos, especially those living near the border.
Even less popular among Latinos are progressive social orthodoxies—gender fluidity, new pronouns, sexual reassignment surgeries—which are not issues of concern for most minority working families. Latinos have certainly not taken to being called “Latinx,” with barely 4% of them embracing the term despite the academic-media duopoly’s best efforts to foist it upon “Latinx” people in the interest of gender politics.
The Democrats are now starting to take notice of Latinos’ growing support for Republican candidates and policies. Longtime Democratic analyst Ruy Teixiera recently argued that the party would do better addressing the everyday concerns of working-class Hispanics than litigating the legacy of January 6. Minorities make up over 40% of the U.S. working class and will constitute the majority by 2032. Such a shift in strategy would require a swing in Democratic messaging away from race, climate, and abortion to focus instead on issues like inflation, rising crime, poor schools, and the threats to stable working- and middle-class livelihoods posed by draconian green policies.
Evident in the changing politics of the Asian and Latino communities is the fact that America’s diversity is, well, diversifying. By 2050, according to Pew, Latinos will account for 29% of the American population, more than twice the Black share. Asians, meanwhile, will grow from a population of almost 12 million in 2000 to more than three times that number by midcentury. Taken together, Latinos and Asians will account for 40% of Americans and the vast majority of nonwhites, and while Black voters have been taken for granted as permanent Democrats by both parties, Latino and Asian votes are up for grabs. In places like Texas and Florida , where immigrants have higher rates of homeownership and business ownership, Latinos and Asians tend to split their votes more evenly between the parties.
On the ground level, meanwhile, immigrants are finding success in America—and this despite the fashion among racial activists to denounce things like hard work, punctuality, individualism, and the nuclear family as “white.” Contrary to the talking points issued in colleges and corporate diversity seminars, many minorities embrace the capitalist work ethic and “European” discipline with enthusiasm, as evidenced by their greater proclivity to start businesses than other Americans. In the United States, where roughly 14% of the population is foreign-born, immigrants represent 20.2% of the self-employed workforce and 25% of startup founders.
These minority entrepreneurs and those they employ are also unlikely to share the views espoused by progressive intellectuals that crime is an expression of injustice and that the looting that took place during the summer of 2020 should be excused or even celebrated. After all, many victims of the rioting and destruction were minority businesses. It is “communities of color” who face the greatest threat from renewed levels of violent crime in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
Poll after poll has shown that most Black voters and other minorities do not favor defunding the police, even as these policies are pushed in their name. Last year, New Yorkers, and New York's African American community in particular, voted in a former cop, Eric Adams, as mayor. Minority voters have also backed more conservative candidates in Buffalo and Seattle. Similar shifts have taken place in Virginia, which saw the election of a West Indian as lieutenant governor and a Cuban American as attorney general.
Advocates of the BIPOC racialist agenda may see themselves riding a wave of demographic change, but their notion that America is a hopelessly racist country is every day undermined by reality. Last year 840,000 green card holders became citizens, the most in a decade, with the 10 most highly represented countries being nonwhite ones. As of today, over 10% of the American electorate was born elsewhere, the highest share in a half century.
We are now, already in LA and soon in New York City, entering an era of relentless jostling between an ever-wider array of ethnic groups—Black, Asian, and most consequentially Latino. At the same time, the Jewish presence in America’s cities is shrinking. Even with the high birth rates of Orthodox Jews, New York City’s Jewish population is roughly 25% smaller than its midcentury high. In Los Angeles, the community’s size has not decreased but its political power has, as non-Jews have won electoral offices once held by Jewish community members in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. In the new arena of ethnic competition, Jews, like other diminishing white ethnic groups, will need to make alliances for pragmatic reasons that may vary from city to city.
Finding the best political course will be far more complex than in the heyday of postwar multicultural liberalism, when the alliance between Jews and African Americans seemed a clear-cut matter of moral and political sense. Without a larger framework like the one provided by the Civil Rights movement, competent Jewish leaders now need to forge ties with other ethnic communities that will depend on who is ascendant and willing to accept Jewish concerns.
The real question is not how to prevent ethnic groups from uniting into some potential revolutionary force aimed at overthrowing the “white” majority, but how to integrate them into the broader economy and society. Doing so will not mean the elimination of all ethnic conflict, which, at its most basic level, is a healthy expression of minority groups fighting for their voice in a democratic society. It should, however, reduce the scale and intensity of that conflict, as the different groups involved recognize that their fight for a larger piece of the pie is taking place within the common community of American life.