What Happened Today: September 20, 2022
Vaccine stocks tank following “end of pandemic” call by Biden; Russia backing “sham” annexations in four Ukraine regions; The New Right Takes on Big Tech
The Big Story
White House officials were caught off guard by President Biden’s declaration that the COVID-19 “pandemic is over.” In response to the statement made during a weekend interview on CBS, six unnamed officials told The Washington Post on Monday that the remarks will likely undermine the White House rollout of a new fall-season COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign as well as efforts to lobby Congress for $22 billion in pandemic response funding. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it ... but the pandemic is over,” Biden said. “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.” Despite the president’s declaration, his administration has yet to unwind a number of significant COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccination requirements for travelers entering the United States and all members of the military.
Investors reacted Monday to Biden’s assessment of the pandemic, with Moderna, Pfizer, and other vaccine makers losing a collective $10 billion in market value as the pharmaceutical stocks plunged amid a rapid sell-off. In New York, organizers at the 77th United Nations General Assembly struggled to enforce their own COVID-19 policies, with security trying to flag down maskless delegates en route to the assembly hall, where almost no one was wearing a face covering. The U.N. gathering is the first to meet fully in-person in two years and stands in stark contrast to the partially virtual U.N summit in 2021, when world leaders made vaccine equity and pandemic mitigation the top priority. This year, the pandemic is almost off the agenda entirely, with the Ukraine conflict, widespread food insecurity, and a looming global recession dominating the conversation.
In the Back Pages: The New Right Takes on Big Tech
→ Moscow officials said they would honor requests to hold votes for annexation in regions of Ukraine where the Russian military remains largely in control, but the referendums, set to begin later this week, have already been widely denounced as illegal by several nations. In New York for the U.N. General Assembly, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that it’s “very, very clear these sham referenda cannot be accepted, that they are not backed by international law.” With Ukrainian forces continuing to recover territory that they had initially lost to the Russian military, the move by Moscow to push for the referendums in four Ukrainian regions, including Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, could serve as the legal basis, however flimsy, for Russia to deploy nuclear weapons to fend off Ukrainian advances in what it will soon call its own territory.
→ Following a string of cyber attacks on Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Samsung, and other major tech companies, Uber said it was the latest victim to suffer a breach at the hands of Lapsus$, a hacker group that occasionally extorts money but more often than not seeks publicity and fame for successfully hacking into its target’s computer systems. Despite its international profile, the group is young, with some members only 16 years old.“They’re basically children who grew up in online communities that groom children to do cybercrime,” said Allison Nixon, a researcher at Unit 221b, a private cybersecurity agency. In a blog post on Monday, Uber said the hacker that broke into its internal communication platform and other sensitive cloud systems used a rudimentary text spoof, posing as someone from Uber’s IT department to obtain login credentials from an actual employee. It’s the first high-profile hit by the group since several teenage members were arrested by London police following attacks on T-Mobile and other international tech companies.
→ Number of the Day: $10 billion
New York City’s budget deficit, as the city struggles to recover from a pandemic that devastated not only the tourism and consumer services industries but also the personal finances of city residents, driving down personal income tax revenue by more than 7% in 2022—the largest decrease in more than a decade. Business tax revenue, meanwhile, is expected to drop for the first time in six years. Apart from the financial downturn, New York is seeing other signs of trouble: Office buildings still sit half-empty, subway ridership remains well below pre-pandemic levels, and employment lags behind national norms.
→ We can’t say we were surprised to learn that a top official at a leading environmentally friendly alternative meat company got caught recently indulging in a little cannibalism. Doug Ramsey, Beyond Meat’s COO, was arrested earlier this week after biting someone’s nose during an altercation following a college football game. As Ramsey drove his car out of a parking lot in Fayetteville, Arkansas, after a game between Arkansas and Missouri State, another car hit his tire, inspiring the COO of America’s favorite pea-protein patty to punch in the rear window of the other car and take a taste of the driver’s nose. Ramsey was arrested this week on charges of terroristic threatening and third-degree battery and will face trial in October.
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→ Chart of the Day:
Despite interest rates rising to their highest levels in more than a decade, housing prices in most metropolitan areas across the United States continue to climb; the high rates and tight market make things punishingly expensive for would-be home buyers. Looking at this data, Bloomberg’s chief economist for financial products has published 10 charts for 10 metro areas, from coast to coast and across the Sunbelt and Midwest. All of the charts, which depict the average mortgage payment homeowners in these markets are paying, resemble precipitous mountains that most Americans are unable to climb.
→ “We are depressed, anxious, tired, and distracted,” The New York Times concludes after reviewing the United States’ medical data since the start of the pandemic; more than a quarter of American adults are taking medications for one of these conditions. Prescriptions for antidepressant drugs have skyrocketed, especially for teenagers. Since 2017, there has been a 41% increase in antidepressant use among teenagers, leading the Times to inaugurate our “age of distraci-pression.” “The 1950s and ’60s were widely framed as the age of anxiety,” Anne Harrington, a historian of science at Harvard, told the Times. “And the ’80s and ’90s became the age of depression.” Now, the Times notes, with America’s youth using Adderall and Prozac, we’ve entered this new era of distracti-pression. Notably, the Times does not look into the sales data of these pharmaceuticals and spends little time considering the potentially problematic long-term effects of these drugs.
→ Texas spent $280,000 recruiting a handful of high school football players to the Longhorns, the state’s flagship football team, in a spending spree that lasted 48 hours and included personalized cakes, customized snack bars, and at least one ice sculpture. Upon arriving in Texas (with $21,000 spent on airfare and transportation), the high schoolers and their families were put up at the Four Seasons Austin, where the late Queen Elizabeth II stayed in 1991, and then treated to a weekend of fine dining and tours of the city’s best attractions. The charm offensive seemed to work, netting the school this year’s No. 1 and No. 2 prospects, and while such spending might be unsavory, it’s not unreasonable; Division I football teams like the UT Longhorns pull in more than $100 million in ticket and apparel sales, media deals, and licensing agreements.
→ Quote of the Day:
Some of us gon’ be hurting. And some of y’all gon’ be hurting. We ready to die for this. We tired of it. You better be ready to die for the blue. I’m ready to die for the black.
Brittany Martin, a protestor at a Black Lives Matter rally in South Carolina in 2020, shouted these words at a police officer—and then found herself arrested shortly after, charged with five counts of threatening the life of a public official and one count of instigating, aiding, or participating in a riot. The following month she was indicted for “breach of peace, high and aggravated” and sentenced to four years in prison for her fiery language during a political protest. “She’s in jail because she talked in America,” her lawyer said. “She’s a dark-skinned Black woman who is unapologetically Black and radical.” Martin remains in prison despite legal efforts to get her case reconsidered. Complicating matters further, she is seven months pregnant and has lost 12 pounds over the course of her incarceration, the pregnancy notwithstanding.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
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The New Right Takes on Big Tech
Everyone at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami could explain why the internet is damaging society—but do any of them have a plan for what comes next?
By Katherine Dee
Front and center at the third installment of the National Conservatism Conference held last week in Miami was the campaign of the “New Right” to fight against the power of Big Tech and social media. Where old-school Republicans might have championed big business, the more nationalist, populist, and traditionalist elements of the so-called New Right find the tech companies to be a direct threat. What they’re prepared to do about it remains to be seen.
A common concern is how digital media is eroding communities, which was a theme of cultural commentator Alex Kaschuta’s speech, “The Tragedy of Our Commons.” Others focused on the way social media sites that offer free entertainment and digital “connection” lure users into data-scraping surveillance traps. Some attendees argued that the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing company TikTok should be banned in the United States. Many are disturbed by the level of control that Big Tech exerts over the news flow, as was the case with the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story. Gov. Ron DeSantis told attendees that private citizens should be able to sue Big Tech for “political discrimination.”
Unlike Mitch McConnell and the older stalwarts of the Republican Party, the members of the New Right who gathered in Miami see tech as a direct threat to their values, socially, economically, politically, and metaphysically. Big Tech and, more generally, the internet aren’t a threat to conservative values only because of censorship or even the monopoly they have on the flow of information. The issue runs much deeper than that. Tech frames how we view the world (as digestible, tweet-able, or TikTok-friendly stories), our relationship to our own bodies (smartphones, their own type of prosthetic limbs) and, for some, even our internal monologues, variously narrated by a Spotify soundtrack or by the incessant voice telling us to check the feed. The internet separates us from our communities, the world around us, and our humanity by mediating our every interaction. Simply forcing the tech industry’s current information monopolies to rebrand or even significantly limiting their reach won’t necessarily change that.
Some people on the right recognize the complexity and severity of solving these problems. In the Claremont Institute’s The American Mind, for instance, Josh Hammer, a previous NatCon speaker, wrote last year, “Our digital problems run too deep, and are far too structural and culturally embedded, for there to be one convenient panacea.”
Yet, despite this, very few of the speakers in Miami reached beyond stock complaints about censorship or calls for breaking up Big Tech monopolies to outline a specific plan for how to shift the economy away from its reliance on digital products and rebalance political power in the United States. That’s if they offered policy suggestions at all. Will Chamberlain, the owner and editor in chief of the conservative publication Human Events, called for bringing “tech and social media space back to how it was in 2015, when Trump was able to use it to win.” The problem with that idea, of course, is that even if you could turn back the clock, 2015 is still going to lead to 2016 and beyond.
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