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The Morning Dispatch: The Growing Crisis in Ethiopia
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The Morning Dispatch: The Growing Crisis in Ethiopia

Plus: The Federal Reserve scales back its asset purchase program.

Happy Friday! Papa John’s founder and former CEO John Schnatter said in a recent interview that he’s eaten 800 Papa John’s pizzas over the past year and a half, which by our calculations averages out to about 1.46 Papa John’s pizzas per day. 

That’s plainly a preposterous pile of Papa John’s pizzas, Papa John.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Occupational Health and Safety Administration on Thursday issued a slightly narrower version of the large-employer vaccine mandate President Joe Biden first outlined in September. The emergency temporary standard (ETS) will require companies with more than 100 employees implement vaccine or weekly testing mandates by January 4, 2022, but exempts employees who work from home or exclusively outdoors. Several Republican attorneys general and conservative advocacy groups filed lawsuits seeking to block the ETS from going into effect.

  • The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory earlier this week urging Americans not to travel to the country and U.S. citizens currently there to consider departing because of “armed conflict, civil unrest, communications disruptions, crime, and the potential for terrorism and kidnapping in border areas.” The Embassy is also allowing non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members to leave because of the conflict.

  • The United Kingdom became the first country to approve the use of Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral drug that has been found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death among infected individuals. The pill, known as molnupiravir, could be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year.

  • The number of daily new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has fallen 6 percent over the past two weeks while hospitalizations and deaths attributed to the virus are down 16 and 18 percent over the same timeframe, respectively.

  • The Justice Department announced Thursday it has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas over a recently enacted voting law, arguing that its provisions violate the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Texas Senate Bill 1’s restrictions on voter assistance at the polls and on which absentee ballots cast by eligible voters can be accepted by election officials are unlawful and indefensible,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended the law, noting it “restrict[s] illegal mail ballot voting” and actually increases voting hours.

  • Igor Danchenko—a U.S.-based Russian national whose research contributed to the Democratic-funded Steele dossier that insinuated former President Donald Trump conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign—was arrested Thursday and charged with lying to the FBI about his sources as part of Special Counsel John Durham’s probe investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.

  • The Senate confirmed former State Department official Thomas Nides to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel in a voice vote on Wednesday. 

  • Sudanese state TV reported Thursday that Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan ordered the release of four government ministers detained in last week’s coup, but a defense lawyer for the four officials says they have yet to be freed. Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has returned home but remains on house arrest.

  • Initial jobless claims decreased by 14,000 week-over-week to a pandemic-low 269,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

  • Politico reports that top Pennsylvania Republicans are seeking to recruit David McCormick—Army veteran, former Treasury Department official, and current CEO of Bridgewater Associates—to run for the retiring Pat Toomey’s U.S. Senate seat. 

Situation in Ethiopia Worsens

(Photograph by Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images)

On the one-year anniversary of the Ethiopian federal government’s military offensive into the northern region of Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is bracing himself for the possibility of fighting in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. “The obligation to die for Ethiopia belongs to all of us,” the prime minister—and one-time Nobel Peace Prize winner— wrote in a Facebook post that has since been removed by the site’s content moderators for inciting violence. Ethiopia will “bury” the government’s opponents “with our blood,” Abiy added.

The fighting, which since its eruption has developed into one of the world’s deadliest conflicts, began amid regional and political tensions in November 2020. But as we wrote to you at the time, Ethiopia’s current instability dates back decades.

In 1991, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) emerged victorious from the decades-long civil war in Ethiopia that eventually toppled the Communist Derg regime. The TPLF then led the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) governing coalition that ruled over Ethiopia from 1991 until 2018, when massive protests among the Oromo—the country’s largest ethnic group—ousted the EPRDF and brought current President Abiy Ahmed, an Oromo, to power. He would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for bringing the stalemated conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the TPLF’s rival, to a formal end. 

But the TPLF never fully accepted Ahmed’s rise to power and “the sense of having earned power [in 1991] is as important, if not more so,” than ethnic and regional conflicts between the Oromo and Tigrayan peoples, said the American Enterprise Institute’s Emily Estelle in an interview with The Dispatch.

A rebel group made up of Oromo fighters—the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA)—has since joined forces with the TPLF, presenting Abiy with a multifront conflict and posing an immediate threat to the capital city. The international community’s repeated calls for a ceasefire have gone unanswered for months as all combatant parties prolong hostilities and exacerbate an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis.

On Tuesday, Ethiopian Attorney General Gedion Timothewos declared a state of emergency to mobilize Addis Ababa’s residents to defend the city. Ethiopia’s House of Peoples Representatives, the lower chamber of the country’s parliamentary government, approved the provision on Thursday, permitting the government to conscript armed citizens and conduct unwarranted searches and arrests. The latter, even before the emergency declaration, has become increasingly common as security forces target ethnic Tigrayans in the capital city.  

“That’s one of the reasons that the temperature of this conflict has turned up so high—the targeting of civilians based on ethnicity on the part of the Ethiopian government. The flip side of that is Tigrayan forces now coming through Amhara areas,” Estelle said, referring to the TPLF’s advances through its neighbor state to the south, which has been the government’s primary military ally. “There’s basically equal opportunity for abuse on all sides.”

Although the U.S.’s diplomatic interventions haven’t had much success in mitigating the conflict over the past year, the State Department this week deployed the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, to advocate for an immediate ceasefire. 

“We’re calling on all parties to this conflict to find ways to de-escalate the situation, allow the humanitarian access to flow to those in need, be they in Amhara state, be they in Tigray, be they in Afar state, and move toward a negotiated ceasefire,” Feltman said ahead of his trip on Tuesday. “The situation is dire, and as I said, it is getting worse.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price addressed the situation in a briefing on Thursday. “[Feltman] is there to do what we have set out to do for some time now, and that is to find an acceptable path to resolving the expanding conflict in Ethiopia,” he said, urging all private American citizens in Addis Ababa to leave the country via commercial flight. “We have reiterated our calls for all parties to end hostilities immediately. That includes the TPLF. That includes the Ethiopian Government.”

African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, who met with Feltman, on Wednesday demanded the “immediate cessation of hostilities, the full respect for the life and property of civilians, as well as state infrastructure,” and told the leadership of both sides of the conflict to “urge their supporters against acts of reprisal against any community, and refrain from hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness.”

But according to Estelle, diplomatic efforts are likely to come up short in the face of literal civil war. “This is an existential fight for the leaders involved in it. There’s not going to be an incentive strong enough, right now, to change their minds,” she told The Dispatch. “I hope that the diplomatic overtures work, but given that this is a life or death situation, I’m not optimistic about those measures.”

The conflict in Ethiopia has been one marked by ethnically motivated killings, sexual violence on a massive scale, looting, and mass displacement to unequipped neighbor states and countries. Tigrayan leaders have accused the federal government—through both extrajudicial massacres and a blockade of Tigray that drained the region of its vital resources—of attempting to perpetrate genocide, while the government has claimed the TPLF is itself guilty of “horrendous crimes.” United Nations human rights investigators published a report on Wednesday which found all sides of the conflict have perpetrated “abuses of international human rights law” and “serious violations of international humanitarian law.” 

“There’s not a clear good guy, bad guy dynamic at this point,” Estelle concluded. “[But] the Nobel committee may want to reevaluate their previous awards.”

The Taper Is Here

Pandemic-weary Americans have for months been desperate for signs that  COVID-19 is coming to an end, and on Wednesday, they got one: The Federal Reserve is finally going to begin scaling back its monthly purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

The program—also known as quantitative easing (QE)—was one feature of a suite of policy tools announced in March 2020 aimed at staving off an even worse recession than the one that ensued. In purchasing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of bonds and securities, the Fed injected liquidity into the economy, which in turn lowered long-term interest rates and spurred demand. After a year and a half of $120 billion in monthly purchases, the central bank’s balance sheet has essentially doubled, from $4.2 trillion before the pandemic to $8.6 trillion now.

That number will continue to rise, but at a slower pace, as the Fed announced it will reduce the size of its purchases by $15 billion each month from now on. While maintaining that it is prepared to adjust the pace as economic conditions require, the central bank projected it will add $105 billion to its holdings in November, $90 billion in December, and so on, until QE phases out entirely in June.

Fed leaders had telegraphed for months that this was coming, and accordingly, bond yields didn’t move much upon the announcement. What did come as a surprise to some investors, however, was Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s public delinking of the QE decision and any adjustment to the federal funds interest rate, which the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) opted on Wednesday to leave near zero. “Our decision today to begin tapering our asset purchases does not imply any direct signal regarding our interest rate policy,” Powell said in a press conference following the announcement. “We continue to articulate a different and more stringent test for the economic conditions that would need to be met before raising the federal funds rate.”

Economists and policymakers have been sparring for months over the state of the United States’ economic recovery from the pandemic, and whether the inflation we’re all experiencing is a transitory response to temporarily disjointed supply chains or a longer-term concern. Powell has planted himself firmly in the former camp, and he remained there in his opening remarks this week.

“We understand the difficulties that high inflation poses for individuals and families, particularly those with limited means to absorb higher prices for essentials such as food and transportation,” he said. “Our tools cannot ease supply constraints. Like most forecasters, we continue to believe that our dynamic economy will adjust to the supply and demand imbalances, and that as it does, inflation will decline to levels much closer to our 2 percent longer-run goal.” 

As we noted on Monday, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index increased 4.4 percent year-over-year in September, and inflation has in recent months become a defining issue in the eyes of everyday Americans: Two-thirds of respondents in a recent Reuters-Ipsos poll said inflation is a “very big” concern of theirs. Whether a result of this public pressure or a genuine change of heart in light of new evidence, Powell seemed to give a bit more credence to inflation hawks’ worries than he had in the past.

“The level of inflation we have right now is not at all consistent with price stability,” he said, noting that he’s moving away from the word “transitory” because people were misinterpreting what he meant by it. “I want to assure people that we will use our tools as appropriate to get inflation under control. We don’t think it’s a good time to raise interest rates, though, because we want to see the labor market heal further, and we have very good reason to think that that will happen as the Delta variant declines.”

Investors noticed the shift. “It’s increasingly clear that [Powell’s] knees are getting wobbly on the transitory thesis,” John Fagan, co-founder of Markets Policy Partners and former director of the Treasury Department’s Markets Room, told The Dispatch. “He’s still trying to defend it, but he’s not able to pull the whole committee over on that side for a full-throated defense of transitory.”

“Because of that, it’s easy for market participants to say, ‘We’re watching what you do, not what you say. What you’re doing is much more consistent with a greater concern about inflation,’” Fagan continued. “I think he still made a pretty solid case for it, but left a lot of wiggle room, a lot of ambiguity.”

There are some political deliberations underlying all of these economic ones. Powell’s term as chair is up in February, and President Biden has not announced whether he will renominate the Republican appointed by former President Trump in 2017 or replace him with someone else. Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Senate have been pushing for a second Powell term, while progressives argue he hasn’t done enough to regulate the financial sector or fight climate change. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called him a “dangerous man” to lead the Fed back in September.

But Biden may be getting closer to a pick—he said on Tuesday it was coming “fairly soon”—and that pick may be Powell. Axios reported last night that the White House is asking senators to meet with Powell in the coming weeks, and he was spotted at the White House on Thursday.

Worth Your Time

  • In an essay for The Atlantic, Matthew Yglesias and Steven Teles outline a proposal they argue could allow moderates to exert more influence, make political institutions more functional, and save democracy itself. “If a cross-party group of moderate senators worked together it could dominate the Senate, and with it the operation of the entire political system,” they write. “Imagine, as a start, that somewhere from six to nine senators agreed to work together, either as a formally separate party or through an agreement of factions in either party. … A moderate bloc could demand rules that prioritize bipartisan bills. The lack of space for this kind of legislation is a primary complaint of a huge share of senators, including fairly ideological ones. But the bulk of members prioritize partisan solidarity over dreams of a more open Senate.”

  • Kristen Soltis Anderson—pollster and friend of The Dispatchlaunched a newsletter this week where she will employ polling and research to dissect cultural and political trends. We highly recommend you check out Thursday’s edition, in which she argues that parents are the new center of politics. “As with any group, parents are hardly a monolith,” she notes. “There are progressive parents who can’t imagine their children going maskless in the classroom and there are conservative parents who can’t imagine making their kid wear a mask on the playground. There are parents with a wide range of desires for their own careers and with very different relationships to issues like childcare or paid leave. You can obviously say that parents want their children to be safe, healthy, and to have opportunities. Parents of all kinds want to provide a good quality of life and a good moral compass to their children. But beyond that? There’s no real one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what parents want. What you can bet on is that parents will be at the heart of our nation’s biggest political debates for the next twelve months, as both parties try to answer the question: what do parents really want?”

  • Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, CNN’s Jake Tapper will present a documentary on former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The Dispatch received an advanced copy, and it will be well worth your time. Featuring interviews with Republican election officials and lawmakers who stood up to the leader of their party, Tapper tells the story of just how close we came to an American coup. “In the moments of truth, you need the right people to pass the most difficult tests,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez tells him. “We had just enough people on January 6 pass the test.” Stick around until the end for an appearance from our very own Chris Stirewalt.

Something Refreshing

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti joined The Remnant yesterday for a conversation about Virginia and what it portends for the GOP. Will Republican candidates in 2022 emulate Glenn Youngkin’s style? Has Trump’s grip on the GOP loosened? And where exactly did Terry McAuliffe go wrong?

  • In a piece for the site, Paul D. Miller addresses the deep divisions in our country, pointing to data that shows both left and right consider their opponents to be dangers to democracy. He writes, “Daydreaming of civil war is a First World privilege. We indulge in fantasies of winning a final victory against political opponents … and we do so because almost none of us have any real experience of physical violence beyond what we see in the movies.  

Let Us Know

Do you think Yglesias and Teles’ idea of a moderate bloc of senators joining forces to influence Congress’ priorities would work?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).