What Happened Today: September 13, 2022
Almost a fifth of all lawmakers engaged in stock trades with potential conflicts; Godard, godfather of French New Wave, has died; promising class of new cancer treatments
The Big Story
Over the past three years, at least 97 current members of Congress or their relatives have traded stocks and other financial securities within industries potentially affected by their work as elected officials. That’s according to a New York Times analysis released on Tuesday that tracked “more than 3,700 trades reported by lawmakers from both parties [that] posed potential conflicts between their public responsibilities and private finances.”
By way of classified briefings, relationships with powerful donors, and involvement with regulatory agencies, members of Congress have a unique vantage into forces that influence the value of stocks and financial instruments, often well before that information is made available to the public. The Times found, for example, that Ohio’s Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs made 16 transactions with potential conflicts of interest, including stock trades of Boeing and pharmaceutical company AbbVie, while both companies were actively being investigated by committees of which he was a member. Of the 138 trades made by West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Thomas Carper and his wife, 39 had potential conflicts of interest, including trades in several energy companies at the same time Sen. Carper sat on the Environment and Public Works Committee as the ranking member of his party.
Media coverage in recent years has revealed several instances of legislators engaged in trades tainted by flagrant conflicts of interest. In January, The Scroll covered an earlier report compiled by Unusual Whales, a website that tracks financial markets, that found “congressional trading activity increased by roughly five times in 2021 over the previous year, mostly clustered around tech, industrials, and energy—sectors directly impacted by the massive infrastructure spending bill passed this year.” The revelations have driven bipartisan calls for new rules that would either ban or severely restrict stock trading by lawmakers and their relatives. But Congress has failed to enact any of those measures, underscoring how cheap pledges for reform can be when they curtail the potential benefit of those making them.
In the Back Pages: The Birth of the Blood Libel
→ After Professor Jeffrey Lax, chair of the Business Department at Kingsborough College, repeatedly accused administrators at the City University of New York of not doing enough to combat antisemitism on CUNY campuses, the administration has finally responded. “I’ve been informed by CUNY that internal antizionism/antisemitism claims that I have filed will be investigated by the former director of Civil Rights for CAIR MN,” Lax wrote on Twitter. “An avowed antizionist group that supports BDS, SJP and defended antisemitic tropes by Ilhan Omar and Linda Sarsour.” CAIR, or the Council on Islamic American Relations, one of the leading Muslim civil rights organizations in the country, has a long history of antisemitic behavior. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “some of CAIR’s current leadership had early connections with organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas,” and “some of CAIR’s leadership have used inflammatory anti-Zionist rhetoric that on a number of occasions has veered into antisemitic tropes related to Jewish influence over the media or political affairs.”
→ Owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Robert Sarver, was hit with a $10 million fine and a one-year ban because of what the NBA described as “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies” that were initially reported last year by ESPN. In a statement, Sarver said he “disagree[d] with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report” but that he nonetheless takes “responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain … I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision.” The NBA said its report, which it has made public, followed interviews with at least 320 current and former employees who worked under Sarver, and a review of 80,000 documents, videos, and text messages. While Sarver’s misconduct was not “motivated by racial or gender-based animus,” the NBA said, it did note regular use of racial slurs, “many sex-related comments in the workplace,” and “inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women.” While suspended, Sarver will not be allowed to have any involvement with the operation of the two teams.
The first approved drug in a new class of cancer treatments has had promising results, outperforming chemotherapy in limiting the growth of tumors, and doing so with far fewer side effects. Lumakras, as the drug is called, opens a new front in the effort to fight cancer by focusing on and fighting a genetic mutation called KRAS, which is common in cancers and helps them grow. Scientists have sought a way of targeting this genetic mutation for so long that the gene came to be called “undruggable,” making the new drug’s success especially notable. Lumakras is manufactured by Amgen Inc. and is expected to see $1 billion in annual sales by 2024.
→ A slate of long-term office leases are set to expire over the next two years in San Francisco, and certain downtown neighborhoods could see vacancy rates as high as 43% to 53% by 2024, according to a new SF Standard analysis. “We’re way above anything that was happening in the Great Recession and dot-com era days,” Jay Shaffer, a real estate agency executive, told the SF Standard. With commercial property values estimated to drop by as much as 43% as many tech companies like Yelp and Airbnb go fully remote or pack up their offices entirely, some investors are placing short bets to try and cash in on the pending collapse of the SF office market. Dan McNamara made a small fortune shorting shopping malls that spiraled as Amazon took off, and he sees a similarly “unique opportunity to take advantage of the impending distress within [San Francisco’s] commercial real estate market.” The city’s residential market isn’t faring much better, with home prices dropping 7% in August compared to the year prior, the biggest single slide since 2012.
→ Quote of the Day:
The initiative seeks to encourage City service among junior attorneys at private law firms and to alleviate the City’s current attorney hiring challenges. It proposes to accomplish this goal by enhancing pro bono engagements to expose junior attorneys to the full range of the City’s legal work.
Facing an enormous staffing shortage, with thousands of vacancies sitting unfilled, the City of New York is now looking to hire pro bono lawyers to do “the full range of the City’s legal work,” from police misconduct cases to foster care cases—a bold strategy premised on getting lawyers to do work for free. The City’s publicly employed lawyers left in droves during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely stemming from low pay and requirements that they work in-person, not remotely. “I have to say that, although we’ve endured tough times before, we have never suffered the mass exodus that we are currently experiencing,” one official testified to New York’s City Council. The low pay, meanwhile, is not likely to increase anytime soon: According to Politico, the mayor’s office has asked all departments to cut their budgets by 3% to 4.75% for each of the next four years.
→ Jean-Luc Godard, one of the godfather’s of the French New Wave and a singular figure in the history of film, has died. He was 91. Born in Paris in 1930, Godard first emerged as a trenchant critic of France’s and the United States’ film establishments, writing in film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma about the tired tradition of classic Hollywood and French film and agitating for a formally inventive and politically engaged style of filmmaking—a style he would achieve in his own first feature film, his 1960 masterpiece, Breathless. Over the course of the 1960s, in films ranging from My Life to Live (1962) to Weekend (1967), Godard emerged as a foundational figure for the French Nouvelle Vague, or New Wave, which was defined by formal innovation, philosophical curiosity, and a commitment to Marxist politics married, in Godard’s case, to an aesthetic appreciation for American film noir. The combination produced one of the most audacious and provocative periods in cinematic history. Later “new waves” crashed across the film industries of countries from Italy to Japan, but perhaps nowhere more so than in America, where Godard’s work would be a crucial touchstone for a generation of New Hollywood filmmakers, including Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese. In recent years, Godard has been suffering from various illnesses. He chose to die by medically assisted suicide at his home in Switzerland.
→ Graph of the Day:
A new analysis published in The Review of Economic Studies finds that “being hit by a vehicle that is 1,000 pounds heavier [than a Toyota Corolla] generates a 40%-50% increase in fatality risk,” suggesting that the mortal cost of our increasingly large cars is 28,000 more traffic deaths per year. The study’s authors argue that the fatalities caused by these larger cars come with a financial cost that “is equivalent to a gas tax of $0.97 per gallon ($136 billion annually),” leading them to call for such a gas-tax policy. They also recommend a “weight-varying mileage tax” that would increase the cost of larger cars.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
TODAY IN TABLET:
Gatecrashers: Tablet Studios launched the first two episodes of its newest podcast, “Gatecrashers,” which explores the hidden history of Jews and the Ivy League, with “Unorthodox” co-host Mark Oppenheimer.
The first episode, Columbia and Its Forgotten Jewish Campus, takes a look at the history of Seth Low Junior College and why the brilliant Jewish writer Isaac Asimov was sent there.
The second episode, Princeton and the Dirty Bicker of 1958, gets into the dirty bicker from students who were there and shares what it tells us about class, acceptance, and belonging, with a little help from guests: best-selling author Michael Lewis, Steven C. Rockefeller, and novelist Geoffrey Wolff.
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The Birth of the Blood Libel
A new genetics paper unlocks the history of European Jewry
On the eve of Easter in 1144, less than a century after Jews first migrated to the growing east England town of Norwich, population 10,000 and fast becoming a center of European trade, the body of a young boy was discovered in some nearby woods. Rumors quickly spread that the boy, whose name was William, had been tortured; that the local Jews had done it; that miracles now surrounded his body—bright lights, strange emanations, healings.
In 1150, these rumors were canonized as sacred history by a Benedictine monk, Thomas of Monmouth, in The Life and Passion of St. William of Norwich, a hagiography that helped secure William’s status as a martyr.
Now in that year in which we know that William, God’s glorious martyr, was slain, it happened that the lot fell upon the Norwich Jews, and all the synagogues in England signified, by letter or by message, their consent that the wickedness should be carried out at Norwich.
Here is the origin of the anti-Jewish blood libel, inaugurating the long and horrific history of Jews being accused of ritualistically murdering the children of their neighbors.
Only 40 years after Thomas’ version of the libel appeared in print, pogroms across England targeted the country’s Jews. Now new genetics research analyzing remains found in Norwich presents comprehensive evidence that English Jews were the victims of deadly pogroms in the late 12th century and offers new insights into the history of European Jewry.