What Happened Today: September 28, 2022
Europe’s cold winter; 17 dead in Russian school shooting; State supreme court justices argue for checks and balances
The Big Story
A trio of leaks in the two Nord Stream pipelines that carry gas from Russia to Germany, which appears to have been caused by underwater explosions, is being called an act of deliberate sabotage by U.S. and European officials. Josep Fontelles, the top E.U. diplomat, said on Wednesday that the “incidents are not a coincidence,” though he stopped short of naming who was responsible for the damage to the pipelines. According to German publication Der Spiegel, the CIA had warned several European nations in June of a possible forthcoming attack on the pipelines, yet it too did not specify a culprit. While most speculation has focused on Russia attacking the gas lines, other theories have been floated as well. Former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, currently a member of the European Parliament, posted a cryptic—and perhaps sarcastic—message to Twitter on Wednesday, writing, “Thank you, USA,” above an image of the damaged pipeline.
While both pipelines contained gas, Russia essentially took Nord 1 offline over the summer in retaliation for Western sanctions, and Nord 2 has yet to begin distribution, so the leaks should not significantly undermine Europe’s energy supply. Yet the possible strike on critical energy infrastructure has rattled already jittery European leaders who are increasingly concerned that there will not be adequate alternative energy sources to heat the continent this winter.
Analysts have started offering specific energy austerity targets that Europe will need to hit to endure the winter months, with hedge fund manager Pierre Andurand telling Bloomberg’s podcast “Odd Lots” this week that Europeans will likely need to drop average temperatures in their homes from 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 66.2 degrees to throttle demand. The destabilized energy market has been a boon for Israel, where the recent discovery of another major gas reservoir this May has vaulted the Middle East nation into an unlikely role in the gas export business. Thanks in part to Europe’s energy struggle, Israeli gas production rose 22% in the first half of the year.
In the Back Pages: This is the Promised Land:
→ Number of the Day: $38 billion
The amount China has spent on sanctioned Iranian oil since the start of President Biden’s term, offering the Iranian regime a lifeline as the Biden administration seeks to secure a new Iran Nuclear Deal and ease up the unenforced sanctions currently in place. The $38 billion figure comes from United Against Nuclear Iran, a nonprofit tracking Iran’s illegal trade. China “has proven to be the savior of Tehran by continuing to import millions of barrels of oil every single day,” the organization said in its report, adding that “Chinese imports have likely even exceeded the purchases made when the trade was not subject to U.S. sanctions.” Iran is currently seeing its largest protests in more than a decade, following the death of a woman in police custody who was arrested for not wearing her hijab properly.
→ President Putin is preparing to announce the annexation of four Ukrainian territories—some 15% of the country—that the Russian army has seized since the start of the war, following a referendum vote in these occupied territories that has been dismissed as political theater, with armed soldiers arriving at people’s doors to distribute and collect ballots. “This farce in the occupied territories cannot even be called an imitation of a referendum,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The move comes amid rising tensions in the region, with Putin bringing up the possibility of using nuclear weapons the same week he launched a large and reportedly unpopular mobilization of more troops in his country.
→ It’s not often that the Conference of Chief Justices—a bipartisan group that represents the top justice of every state supreme court—weighs in collectively on a pending case before the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly a case as controversial as the upcoming election-law dispute Moore v. Harper. But in a new brief, the group says the Supreme Court should reject the legal theory that North Carolina lawmakers involved in that case are using to argue that they have ultimate authority over how to manage elections in their state. The incident at hand stems from the North Carolina supreme court rejecting newly drawn congressional maps as partisan gerrymandering; North Carolina’s GOP-led legislature says the maps are legal because it has autonomy from the state’s judges to oversee elections. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the North Carolina legislatures could have profound implications for the 2024 election, as lawmakers there and elsewhere could potentially override their state’s popular vote as they see fit.
→ While Europe worries about where its energy is coming from this winter, a vast supply of natural gas sits within the Netherlands’ Groningen field, but the Dutch government said this week that extraction would be reduced to its lowest possible output because of ongoing concerns that drilling has damaged buildings and likely amplified an unusually powerful earthquake in 2018. Dutch leaders say that despite pressure from foreign officials, they would only resume higher levels of production if their own residential home gas supplies had entirely run out. Several European nations, meanwhile, have chartered floating storage units to hold gas imports, though the issue remains finding the supply as demand increases worldwide amid disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine.
→ Passing campaign finance reform this term now seems unlikely, with the Senate deadlocking and failing to pass a bill that would require all dark-money organizations to disclose the details of donations more than $10,000. The Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act, or the DISCLOSE Act, would require nonprofits that contribute more than $10,000 to candidates’ campaigns or to PACs to disclose their donors—a move that Mitch McConnell described as “an insult to the First Amendment.” Since the Supreme Court ruled, in Citizens United vs. FEC, that organizations may contribute as much to political campaigns as they like, such undisclosed donations have surged from approximately $163 million in 2010 to more than $2 billion in 2020.
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→ Seventeen people were killed and 24 wounded at a school in Izhevsk, Russia, on Monday, after a gunman opened fire; 11 children were counted among the dead. Identified by police as a 34-year-old graduate of that school, the gunman was reportedly wearing a T-shirt with Nazi symbols at the time of the shooting, and while authorities have not announced the gunman’s motive, they disclosed that he was a registered patient at a psychiatric hospital and that “checks are being made into his adherence to neo-fascist views and Nazi ideology.” The gunman killed himself at the school before police arrived.
→ The line between media outlets and activists of all stripes continues to blur, and authorities are taking notice. Of particular interest to federal regulators: shareholder activists who influence media coverage of publicly traded companies, where illegal opportunities for profitable short selling abound.
In 2018, a writer named Quinton Matthews published an article under a different name on popular investing website Seeking Alpha about a small-farm real estate company Farmland Partners that he claimed was on the brink of collapse.
The article tanked the company’s stock by almost 40% for months—even though many of its claims were false.
Before publication, Matthews bought short options on Farmland, as did Sabrepoint, a hedge fund cleared $2 million on Farmland transactions. Sabrepoint also had paid Matthews more than $100,000 for his consulting services.
In the settlement of the lawsuit Farmland brought against Matthews, the activist-author apologized that “many of the key statements in that article were incorrect” and returned profits he and family members made in Farmland deals.
Both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have taken up investigations into Sabrepoint’s involvement in the Farmland episode, as part of a widening inquiry into short sellers working with those in the media who can influence stock prices.
→ While Congress appears poised to punt on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, an anti-trust bill that bans Big Tech companies from preferencing their own products by featuring them over the products of competitors, there is some good news for those hoping the government might rein in Silicon Valley’s monopolistic practices. The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, a bill that will make it easier for state attorneys general to bring cases against large tech companies, might pass the house this week. As Matt Stoller wrote of the bill in his newsletter, attorneys general are currently hamstrung by rules that relocate their cases to courts in other parts of the country. This means that “dominant firms often get to move cases to a monopoly friendly court” far from where the cases were first filed. The new bill would break up corporations’ ability to deploy this tactic, empowering AGs to try their cases in their own state’s courts and putting enforcement in the hands of state officials, not federal officials.
→ Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has entered the office with a bang, as she unleashes huge tax cuts and costly spending programs all at once. After campaigning as a Thatcherite conservative promising to cut taxes and deregulate the economy, Truss launched her term by announcing a huge government intervention in the country’s soaring energy prices with proposed cost-capping measures that would require her government to borrow billions. She followed this announcement by abolishing the top tax rate of 45% on earners making more than 150,000 pounds per year—another move that raised fears about the country’s economic stability. Today, in an effort to prop up the country’s cratering bond market, the Bank of England announced it would be infusing the bond market with £5 billion per day in bond buys for 13 days, a move that “will be inflationary at a time of already high inflation,” as one banker noted.
→ Idea of the Day:
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
TODAY IN TABLET:
A Nazi Collaborator in the Family by Lisa Klug
With her groundbreaking documentary His Name Is My Name—showing on Instagram—Dutch filmmaker Eline Jongsma uncovers the crimes her great-grandfather perpetrated against Jews.
The Jews and the Pope by Fredric Brandfon and Roccardp Shemuel Di Segni
Looking at the ambiguous, still-evolving Jewish relationship with the Vatican.
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This is the Promised Land
In Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, the great playwright finally mourns his own lost Jewish past
By David Sugarman
In the twilight of the 19th century, in a large and well-appointed apartment in Vienna, two Jews argue across the room. Tossed between them is a copy of Der Judenstaat, Theodor Herzl’s 1896 pamphlet promising that Jews will one day “live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.” The book has enraged Hermann, who throws it down repeatedly, hoping someone will finally take notice. “Don’t fall for this Judenstaat idiocy,” he says to Ludwig, a junior faculty member of the mathematics department at the University of Vienna and his brother-in-law, who takes the bait. Hermann continues, “Do you want to do mathematics in the desert or in the city where Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven overlapped, and Brahms used to come to our house? We’re Austrians. Viennese. Doctors come from all over the world to study here. Philosophers. Architects. A city of art lovers and intellectuals like no other.” Hermann, an Austrian industrialist born Jewish but baptized as an adult, is approaching the inner sanctum of Viennese society and promises that Jews can be the “torchbearers of assimilation,” as they, in less than a century, have advanced from shtetls on the periphery of the Prussian empire into the beating heart of European modernity.
My grandfather wore a caftan, my father went to the opera in a top hat, and I have the singers to dinner—actors, writers, musicians. We buy the books, we look at the paintings, we go to the theatre, the restaurant, we employ music teachers for our children. A new writer, if he’s a great poet like Hofmannsthal, walks among us like a demigod. We literally worship culture. When we make money, that’s what the money is for, to put us at the beating heart of Viennese culture. This is the Promised Land …
Hermann’s interlocutor, however, is less sure. Ludwig notes the constancy and ubiquity of antisemitism, and the rising violence against Jews throughout Europe. “A Jew can be a great composer,” Ludwig concedes, “but he can’t not be a Jew. In the end, if it doesn’t catch up on him, it will catch up on his children. Ordinary Jews understand this.”
So begins Tom Stoppard’s latest masterpiece, Leopoldstadt, which originally premiered in London in 2020 and is now being performed at the Longacre Theatre in New York City through Jan. 29. The play chronicles the lives of one Jewish family of Vienna’s fin de siècle bourgeoisie. Spanning the first half of the 20th century, the play presents four generations of a largely assimilated clan as each navigates the tempest of Jewish life in Europe during this catastrophic period. What begins with an argument between two competing visions of the future—Herzl’s Der Judenstaat or the promised land of Austrian high culture—collapses into the urgencies of World War I, the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938, and the aftermath of the Shoah, ending with a eulogy.
The play thus moves from an argument about the possibilities of the Jewish future to an argument about Jews’ responsibilities to their past. Indeed, Stoppard frames the opening act by situating Hermann and Ludwig’s argument about the future just after a monologue from the family’s matriarch as she ruefully meditates upon history. Leafing through family photos, she talks about how she’s begun to forget the names of people in the album.
I’ve been writing in names that are missing, the ones I know, which is by no means all of them. That’s what happens, you see. First, there’s no need to write who they are, because everyone knows that’s Great-Aunt Sophia or Cousin Rudi, and then only some of us know, and already we’re asking, “Who’s that with Gertrude?” and “I don’t remember this man with the little dog,” and you don’t realize how fast they’re disappearing from being remembered … Here’s a couple waving goodbye from the train, but who are they? No idea! That’s why they’re waving goodbye. It’s like a second death, to lose your name in a family album.
Leopolstadt is Stoppard’s most sustained engagement with his own family’s history of upheaval and erasure at the hands of the Nazis, his effort to write in all the names and tell the story of his family and his people. Stoppard’s work to date has long been concerned with questions of politics and history, whether in The Coast of Utopia, a trilogy dramatizing 19th-century Russia and the period leading up to the emancipation of the country’s 23 million serfs, or in his numerous histories of anti-Soviet resistance during the Cold War, from Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth (1979) to Rock ’n’ Roll (2006).
Absent from his oeuvre, however, was any deep engagement with his own biography—especially with his Jewishness and his family’s demise in the Holocaust, which he only fully learned of in his fifties. Up until that time, his life had been one of enormous good fortune: Stoppard was born Tomáš Sträussler on July 3, 1937, in the Czechoslovakian city of Zlín. His father worked as a doctor for Bata, the shoe company. With the Nazis ascendant in Germany, Bata’s president transferred all of his Jewish employees to overseas factories, sending the Sträusslers to a facility in Singapore, then a British colony, just before the Anschluss. When the Japanese invaded and occupied Singapore, the Sträusslers were forced to flee once more, this time to India. The future playwright’s father, however, died in transit—an event that Tomáš was too young to remember.
In 1945 Tomáš’ mother married a British army major, Kenneth Stoppard. Tomáš would move to England the following year, now rechristened Tom Stoppard and happily British. He was also happily indifferent to his and his mother’s history. “I don’t recall ever consciously resisting finding out about myself,” he recently told Maureen Dowd. “It’s worse than that. I wasn’t actually interested. I was never curious enough. I just looked in one direction: forward.”
I was scooped up out of the world of the Nazis. I was scooped up out of the way of the Japanese, when women and children were put on boats as we were being bombed. I was just put down in India where there was no war. The war ended, my mother married a British army officer, and so instead of ending up back in Czechoslovakia in time for Communism—they took over in 1948 when I was 11—here I was, turned into a privileged boarding-school boy. I was just going on, saying, “Lucky me.”
Leopoldstadt is Stoppard turning back to consider his own good fortune and his family’s abysmal misfortune, between the future he stumbled into and the past he left behind. In the play, it is only after the war, in 1955, when Stoppard’s stand-in—né Leopold, but then anglicized to Leonard (much as Tomáš was anglicized to Tom)—ambles to center stage. We briefly met Leo as a child (when he was still Leopold) just after the Nazis invaded Austria. A Gestapo soldier barges into the once beautiful apartment where the play began—indeed, where the whole play takes place—and which is now in disarray, crowded with four generations of family. Leo is terrified, and he drops a cup in horror, cutting his hand. His great-uncle, a doctor, stitches it up, and the scene ends with the audience knowing that most of this cacophonous and loving family won’t make it to the other side of the war.
When the curtain lifts on 1955, we learn that all but three of the family members are dead. Leo, now “a boyish 24, a middle-class Englishman with a good haircut, comfortably dressed in jacket and flannels,” can’t remember a single detail of his life before England. He is entirely unburdened by the horrors of his history, while his two distant relatives, Nathan and Rosa, the only other survivors of the family, cannot forget a thing.
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