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In 1919, the English economist John Maynard Keynes called inflation a means by which “governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” If allowed to run out of control, the falling value of currency turns “the process of wealth-getting…into a gamble and a lottery.”
His warning came four years before inflation reached ruinous levels in the Weimar Republic, upending millions of lives and reducing the value of German marks so much that it took more than 4 trillion to equal one American dollar.
In the century since, central banks have taken pains to keep inflation in check, and for decades they’ve largely succeeded. But the global economic disruption sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic may have awakened the inflation monster. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 6.2% increase in consumer prices over the past 12 months – the biggest jump in 31 years. Food prices are up 5%, used cars up 26% and the normally volatile price of gasoline is up nearly 50% over the past year.
Though no one is predicting Weimar-style hyperinflation, with many economists viewing it as a “transitory” bump, the political danger is clear. President Joe Biden called the inflation surge “worrisome,” as Julian Zelizer noted. “For all the attention that has been paid to education wars, the anti-vaccination movement or the fallout from Afghanistan, prices might turn out to be the biggest issue going into 2022.”
He pointed out that even when inflation has been moderate – under 3% – Republicans were able to use it to score midterm election gains against Democrats in 1966. “For the sake of Democrats,” Zelizer wrote, “the President will have to do more than say the situation is worrisome. He will need to forcefully address how he is dealing with these concerns and how his policies will help to alleviate, rather than aggravate, the underlying pressures causing Americans to pay more for their goods.”
Biden “has lost some of the connection he made with voters who embraced him as a centrist leader who would not only restore a sense of normalcy and decency to the country, but would improve the lives of middle-class Americans of all political persuasions, working with leaders of both parties,” wrote Frida Ghitis. The economy is in better shape than many Americans realize, Ghitis observed, pointing to falling unemployment and higher household bank balances, but Biden’s salesmanship has fallen short.
Why did inflation rear up? Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs ties it to the partial shutdown of the economy caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “With tens of millions of service-sector jobs quickly ended, the government resorted to a massive transfer of income – payments to households and businesses funded by deficits – especially to keep household disposable income from plummeting. Money sent by the government to most Americans prevented the disastrous loss of income of tens of millions of households, which could have led to a massive collapse of consumer spending.” As the pandemic eased, Americans had money to spend but the supply of things like new cars had been disrupted.
The short-term boost in inflation, Sachs argued, “should be controlled by ending stimulus spending, tightening monetary policy, slashing the budget deficit and increasing OPEC monthly oil production to counter the recent surge in global oil and gas prices.” But he urged Democrats to pass Biden’s “Build Back Better” social spending bill despite opposition from conservatives who say it will fuel inflation. “If BBB is paid for with taxes, then it won’t add to the public debt or create long-term inflationary pressures.”
Trump gets a delay
“Presidents are not kings,” wrote US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, “and Plaintiff is not President.” She ruled on Tuesday against former President Donald Trump, who was trying to stop the National Archives from turning over records to the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“Of course, she is right,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. “Our government is set up with three branches to allow for checks and balances, and to prevent an all-powerful authoritarian from taking control. This scheme was fashioned by those who abhorred monarchy and sought to build a resilient democracy. Trump was, it seems, the president least interested in democracy and most envious of the world’s dictators and strongmen, who are not burdened by oversight.”
On Thursday, a three-judge panel halted the planned turnover of records to give Trump’s lawyers time to present arguments for an appeal. That is routine, wrote Norman Eisen, Joanna Lydgate and E. Danya Perry, but the courts need to act fast. “This case must not take years to percolate through the appellate courts as prior House subpoena cases have done. The House Committee investigating January 6 is doing everything it can to gather information quickly, and the nation deserves timely answers.”
“Trump’s claims are nonsense. He is likely to try to play out the clock in the hopes the House changes hands in 14 months and the subpoena is withdrawn before appeals are concluded. The appellate court should do everything it can to decide Trump’s appeal quickly.”
Peter Bergen: H.R. McMaster’s different take on Jan. 6
Rights can disappear in an instant
“Don’t it always seem to go,” Joni Mitchell sang, “That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” In her 1970 hit, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Mitchell was lamenting paradise being paved over and replaced with a parking lot, but the sentiment applies more broadly.
As Yaffa Fredrick wrote in CNN Opinion’s “Voices of Freedom” project, “Marina Nemat was only 13 years old when the freedom that she had taken for granted – singing in public, wearing a swimsuit at the beach and holding her boyfriend’s hand – was suddenly taken away.”
“But what shocked Nemat the most was the speed of her nation’s descent into a theocratic regime in 1979. Within a matter of months, she and her fellow Iranians lost the limited rights they had enjoyed under the country’s previous government, itself a repressive monarchy. When Nemat dared to protest against the new regime, she was arrested and sent to the notorious Evin prison, where she would spend the next two-plus years, released just shy of 19 – alive, but deeply broken.”
Nemat was one of 13 dissidents who are telling their stories of fighting for democracy in “Voices of Freedom,” curated by Fredrick and Laura Juncadella. (Read Nemat’s account of her life’s journey.)
Evan Mawarire, another dissident who contributed to the project, never tasted full freedom in his country, Zimbabwe, which suffered under the 37-year dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. “In 2016, Mawarire, now a pastor, concluded that the status quo in Zimbabwe could not stand,” Fredrick wrote. “Corruption was rampant, deflation had replaced hyperinflation, and free and fair elections were long gone.”
“His decision to post a video, in which he draped himself in the country’s flag while giving an impassioned lament for the current state of Zimbabwe, was a huge risk… he got to the point where he realized ‘no one else is going to fight for this country with as much passion and commitment as I am.’ He was later imprisoned for his political activism and…now lives in exile.”
Garry Kasparov became the world champion of chess at the age of 22 and has gone on to become an advocate for democracy worldwide. In August 2012, Kasparov recalled, he was “speaking to journalists outside the courthouse where three members of the punk collective Pussy Riot were being sentenced for criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin in a music video filmed in a church. Suddenly, I was grabbed by the police. Videos captured the moment they tossed me, legs in the air, into the back of a police van. When I opened the unlocked door to ask what I was being charged with, they responded with a flurry of fists.” Kasparov calls himself “lucky” compared to the journalists and fellow dissidents who have lost their lives in the fight.
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“Hailing from the Soviet Union, a repressive regime and precursor to Putin’s Russia, I have always understood that democracy is a privilege – one that must constantly be defended.” But with polls showing some Americans losing faith in democracy, Kasparov worries for the future. “The rights to vote and free speech are more vulnerable in my adopted home of America today than at any point in my life,” he observed. “There is nothing wrong with American democracy that cannot be fixed by American democracy…we can either be the generation that renews democracy, or loses it forever.”
Nathan Law: Democracy is not only Hong Kong’s fight
Leopoldo López: What I learned about freedom from inside a 2x2 Venezuelan prison cell
Fatou Jaw Manneh: Our deepest fear for America – and the world
Two trials, one in Wisconsin and one in Georgia, riveted the attention of Americans last week, and Peniel E. Joseph saw a through line between them.
“Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old on trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for shooting three people and killing two of them, represents the epitome of White privilege in America run amok,” Joseph said. “Rittenhouse, who has pleaded not guilty to six charges including reckless homicide, intentional homicide and attempted intentional homicide, cried during emotional testimony on Wednesday. Anyone watching the proceedings who was unfamiliar with the events that led to this trial would be forgiven for assuming that Rittenhouse was the victim of an unspeakable crime rather than being its accused perpetrator.”
“The baby-faced vigilante has become a hero to many among the far right-wing political establishment, who have hailed him as a paragon of virtue brave enough to stand up to the sinister forces of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
In Georgia, three men are on trial, charged with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was running in their neighborhood. “These three White men have pleaded not guilty (the defense contends Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense) and claim to have tried to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery as he was out jogging.”
“On Tuesday, a detective testified that Gregory McMichael told him he never saw Arbery commit a crime – even though a reasonable suspicion of one is a necessary component for a citizen’s arrest to be lawful.”
The bottom line? “We live in a society where a Black man can be allegedly killed for jogging in the ‘wrong’ part of Georgia and the White men charged in his murder face a nearly all-White jury, while a White teen armed for war can be hailed by many as a hero.”
The ‘filter bubble’ bill
As John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who is his party’s whip in the Senate, noted, “the algorithms that power social media and search engines shape what we see on these platforms.” Thune and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both houses of Congress have introduced legislation aimed at giving consumers more control over what Facebook and other platforms serve up.
“By showing similar content based on what a user has already liked, watched, searched for or reacted to, the filter bubble contributes to political polarization and social isolation,” Thune wrote. “Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that users don’t make a conscious decision to enter the filter bubble.”
The bill “would make large tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and others, notify users if the platform is using AI to prioritize content. If the user doesn’t want to have an opaque algorithm manipulate his or her online experience, he or she can easily opt out.”
For more on technology:
Jeff Yang: The future of digital art doesn’t have to be paved with troll memes and trash
Aaron Rodgers lashes out
Aaron Rodgers is a football superstar, as Dean Obeidallah wrote, but the Green Bay Packers quarterback is a disappointment in other ways.
“Rodgers has not only shown an amazing level of talent but also true leadership,” Obeidallah observed. “In jaw-dropping contrast, Rodgers’ response following the news last week that he was unvaccinated and contracted Covid-19 has been the opposite of a strong leader. While appearing on SiriusXM’s ‘The Pat McAfee Show’ on Friday, he lashed out at critics as a ‘woke mob,’ spewed medically unsound concerns on Covid-19 vaccines and failed to apologize for seemingly misleading people in August that he had been vaccinated.”
“Rodgers should apologize for his misleading comments suggesting he was vaccinated, and going forward should only share accurate information about Covid-19 and treatment based on science – not the suggestions of comedians. That’s what true leadership looks like.”
For more on Covid-19:
Syra Madad: How my kids feel about getting the Covid-19 vaccine
Kent Sepkowitz: Press pause on your international travel plans – for now
Vanessa Nakate: You can’t crop an entire continent out of the fight against climate crisis
Judy Gold: I still can’t stop watching Cecily Strong’s clown sketch
Holly Thomas: ‘Spencer’ lets Kristen Stewart show a horror film version of Princess Diana’s story
Jeremy Butler: What Veterans Day means to me and my family
Kara Alaimo: The unconscionable truth about celebrity kid paparazzi photos
David A. Andelman: Harris is a hit in Paris amid strained US-France relations
On the ‘troll farm’
Rep. Paul Gosar posted an anime video that was altered to appear as if he was killing a figure representing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.
CNN’s Don Lemon asked Gosar’s brother David why the Arizona congressman would do this. “It’s no mystery,” David Gosar said. “The Republican Party has become this enormous troll farm. And you know, at the top you have Trumpy troll and he occupies most of the bandwidth so if you’re going to get any attention and you want to raise funds you’ve got to do outrageous things…and eventually one grabs.”
Posting the video, Jill Filipovic wrote, was “wildly inappropriate. If just about any other person in the US tweeted out a bizarro fantasy cartoon of them attacking and killing a coworker, they would definitely have a big HR problem on their hands, likely face termination from their jobs and possibly be getting a visit from the cops.”
“The Republican Party has a serious problem with extremism. Instead of cleaning house, they’re doubling down in defense – finger-pointing at Democrats, refusing to take any responsibility for their actions, and frothing up the most dangerous fringes of their base.”