News Updates

Matt Taibbi: America This Week, August 28-September 3

Rising tensions in Taiwan, another inexcusable infrastructure catastrophe, a potentially paradigm-shifting regulatory suit, the Wall Street Journal’s curious missing colon, finance headlines and more

Clockwise from top left: Erdogan calls for a fair catch, the Jackson water crisis, Nancy Pelosi introduces matching mask-blouse combos to Taiwanese officials, Ursula von der Layen’s fury at not being recognized, Neel Kashkari guesses what color you’re imagining, Vince McMahon spots a wheelchair-bound meal.

 

Welcome back to America This Week, your weekly bias-free news digest, penned from the land of a thousand facelifts! We had another remarkable calendar of events in the past seven days, headlined by an escalating war of words between the Republican and Democratic Parties (tune in to the new “America This Week” podcast with Matt Taibbi and Walter Kirn for more on that). We also saw worsening economic news at home and abroad, and an energy crisis poised to further destabilize a global order already strained by one war, and threatened now with the possibility of a second.

More on that, plus recaps of other notable/ridiculous/terrifying American headlines, beginning with:

Military Tensions Between U.S. and China Escalate Asked in May if he would “get involved militarily” if Taiwan were threatened by China, President Joe Biden responded, “Yes, that’s the commitment we made,” echoing earlier comments he’d made at a CNN Town Hall. Biden departed from decades-old practice by American politicians, who long quietly endorsed the so-called “One China” policy recognizing Taiwan as part of China, without saying so out loud. Now, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and increased ties between China and Russia, the equation appears dramatically different, as underscored by this week’s news that Biden wants $1.1 billion in new military aid for Taiwan. This would include $650 million for surveillance radar, plus 100 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and 60 anti-ship Harpoon missiles. The new sales came in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent decision to become the first high-ranking American official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. China, which viewed that and subsequent trips by Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Marsha Blackburn as insufferable provocations, ordered large-scale military drills and missile tests in response. They’ve also sent warplanes across the US-established median line dividing the Taiwan Strait every day but one since Pelosi’s visit, a significant departure on their side — such flights were rare once. Military sales to Taiwan aren’t new, as Biden sent $2.4 billion in arms there early in his term, but there’s a clearly accelerating pattern of escalation on both sides now. This threatens to become an emergency-level news story commanding the world’s constant attention, given similarities to Ukraine and the deeply unpleasant but not completely unrealistic possibility that America may soon find itself in a de facto two-front proxy war.

Major Commercial Surveillance Suit Filed When British-born legal scholar Lina Khan was named to head the Federal Trade Commission in 2021, some activists believed it might herald a new era of more aggressive action against unfair corporate practices, especially in the tech world. Khan was famous for writing “The Amazon Antitrust Paradox,” arguing that existing antitrust law failed to recognize new problems with predatory pricing and “integration across business lines” in the Internet Age. This week, Khan took a big step toward a new enforcement paradigm when her FTC filed suit against Kochava Incorporated, a data-mining/marketing firm. It charged Kochava with selling the most intimate details of Internet users’ lives, including whether they visited “places that may be used to infer an LGBTQ+ identification, domestic abuse shelters, medical facilities, and welfare and homeless shelters,” leading potentially to “stigma, stalking, discrimination, job loss, and even physical violence.” The FTC’s press release seemed designed to reach people across the political spectrum, highlighting that Kochava’s data allowed customers to identify visits to both “Reproductive Health Clinics” and “Places of Worship.” While the FTC traditionally focused on economic efficiency when judging commercial practice, Khan — one of a small handful of Biden officials with some reputation for economic populism — is trying to widen the purview of laws like the FTC Act to include improper surveillance as an “unfair practice.” Americans have long dealt with the realities of corporate surveillance, subject as they are to FICA scores, credit reports, All-Payer Claims Databases, and other systems, but there have been few challenges to the surveillance commerce model that both raises dystopian fears about social credit scoring and drives profits at tech behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. As a result, suits like this — which superficially address that larger issue — bear watching.

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