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Honestly, I’m just tired.

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2020 won’t stop, and I’m exhausted. 

Maybe I should have known this year would be cursed when the New Year’s Eve party I attended missed the countdown to midnight by three minutes — the year has been a downward spiral ever since. On the personal front, my cat died on my 24th birthday, I went through a break up during the loneliest period of modern history, and my apartment flooded three times. 

The world, meanwhile, experienced a string of disasters: a global pandemic is forcing us to completely restructure our way of life, raging wildfires tear up the West Coast and confine those outside of the evacuation zones to our homes because the air is so toxic, and democracy could crumble at any given moment as the president wages war on an app infamous for dancing teenagers ahead of an election. 2020 has been marred by the losses of celebrities like Kobe Bryant, Naya Rivera, and Chadwick Boseman, whose deaths felt especially sudden because they were so young.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was icing on the cake of a profoundly shitty year. 

Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer for equality in the United States. She lived an incredibly full life, and leaves behind a powerful legacy of dignity and respect amid a divisive political climate. Justice Ginsburg was a fierce defender of reproductive rights, and her dedication was unmatched. She even participated in several Supreme Court hearings from her hospital bed; in May, she defended cost-free contraceptive coverage while recovering from a gallstone. Despite her age, battle with cancer, and judicial duties, she still managed to maintain a workout routine. Regardless of politics, Justice Ginsburg was an inspiration. 

While the news of her death is heartbreaking, especially for the women who looked up to her, I had been bracing for it for the last few years. Justice Ginsburg had fought colon, lung, liver, and pancreatic cancer. She was aging. It was inevitable. I thought I would be better prepared for the loss, but I still felt deflated.

There are others who are experiencing grief more tangibly in wake of Justice Ginsburg’s death, but as someone who’s skeptical of worshipping public figures, I’m mostly just tired. 

The grief I’m experiencing isn’t quite grief. It isn’t quite despair, either. It’s more a quiet, overwhelming exhaustion that creeps into every aspect of existing and clings to my day to day. It’s grief compounded over the entirety of 2020, growing larger and stickier with every tragedy this year tosses at us. I’ve learned to stop saying, “It can’t get worse than this!” because it does, in fact, get worse than this. 

Describing this sensation as depression doesn’t feel right. I was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder in college, and have spent a majority of my adult life being treated for it. Major depression is characterized by a severe and persistent low mood, a loss of interest or pleasure in life, and an ongoing sense of despair. Exhaustion is a common symptom as well, but none of my depressive episodes have put me in a state like this before. This state of being seems to be a universal experience. 

I’ve been describing this feeling as the “hell zone,” a sudden dip in mood and energy that’s unique to existing through this pandemic. In April, comedian Dan Sheehan described the hell zone as an “anxious, semi-agitated state where you’re just sorta ‘off’ for the whole day and time flows like you’re wading through chili.” It tends to follow an otherwise normal feeling period of a few days when you can almost forget about everything that happened this year. 

Despite promises of a vaccine and a return to normalcy, the last few months of 2020 are looking bleak, and the hell zones I’ve been falling into are more frequent than they were when social distancing began. My coworkers and I have been referring to the days of decreased productivity, gentle dissociation, and overwhelming exhaustion as hell zone days, because this is so widely felt.

It’s easy to wax poetic about honoring Justice Ginsburg’s legacy by continuing her fight for equality. The sense of despair over possibly losing our civil liberties should galvanize all of us into activism if we haven’t been doing so already. 

Following the news of her death, I checked my voter registration to make sure I’ll receive my mail-in ballot in time for the election. I made sure my family had theirs all squared away, too. I donated to another bail fund for protesters fighting against police brutality and systemic racism, even though Justice Ginsburg had some outdated stances on race. I briefly considered getting a copper IUD, which is effective for 10 years, and stockpiling Plan B in case reproductive rights are stripped away by a conservative-led Supreme Court. 

Justice Ginsburg’s last wishes were weighted by a similar urgency. In her last days, she told her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” 

But the morning after her death, I fell back into the hell zone. Time felt warped, moving both too fast and too slowly. I chugged a latte loaded with espresso shots and even though my heart was racing with the sheer amount of caffeine I consumed, I still felt tired. There was objectively nothing wrong, so why did I wake up so easily annoyed? It’s just the hell zone. 

Existing in a constant state of crisis is exhausting. I am, of course, immensely privileged. I have a salaried job during some of the worst unemployment rates in American history. My home in California is not threatened by wildfires. While so much of the world struggles with loneliness during social distancing, I have a tight knit quarantine bubble that keeps me somewhat sane. I’m not an essential worker who has to interact with the public amid increasing COVID cases. My medications are covered by insurance, for now. 

That being said, I find it greatly comforting to let myself despair every now and then. This capitalist hell we live in encourages productivity and looks down on spending the whole day curled up in a depression nest. 

It’s almost easier to ignore that sticky exhaustion that comes with the hell zone, and distract yourself with working and hobbies and organizing for progressive causes. But you’ll have to take a break from it eventually, and you’ll have to contend with the fact that everything just sucks right now. That’s not to say that you can’t find joy in this bleak quarantine — I’ve picked up new hobbies, adopted two sweet cats, and finally started medications to treat my mental health. That compounding grief, though, will continue to grow with each tragic event this year manages to spawn. 

During our weekly sessions, my therapist reminds me that it’s perfectly fine to feel exhausted and defeated. Sometimes, it’s all you can feel, and you have to let it wash over you before you can begin feeling anything else. Some call it self care, and others might call it laziness. For me, accepting the fact that I’m in the hell zone gives me a chance to recharge. 

Is it enjoyable? Not particularly. I’d rather not deal with it at all, but suppressing this ongoing exhaustion will only make it worse. You do not need to be on top of it all of the time. 

When I let myself really settle into the hell zone, I’ll sequester myself in my bedroom for the night without doing the errands I planned for the day. I’ll smoke enough weed to get cozy, burrow in my comforter, and play Animal Crossing until I fall asleep. I’ll ignore messages until the next morning, and when I emerge from my self-imposed hermitage, I’ll be ready for another handful of days without the hell zone. I think of these nights as controlled depressive episodes – if I indulge in these every now and then, I won’t fall into an actual depressive episode. 

A lot of people don’t have the luxury of hell zone nights like mine. I’m not responsible for small humans like many parents dealing with a lack of childcare are, and I don’t work overnight. Sinking into the hell zone doesn’t necessarily require blocking off a whole night. You can let yourself be in the hell zone in a variety of ways, whether it’s having a good shower cry or indulging in a late night ice cream. The most radical thing about hell zone moments is that they’re a rejection of productivity. 

If Justice Ginsburg’s death sparked a fresh wave of energy and you’re ready to take action, by all means do it. If you’re dealing with this ongoing, dull exhaustion like me (and you probably are, given the state of the world right now) sit with it. Take a moment, or a few hours, to really soak it in. Maybe this year will get better. It’ll probably get worse. Let yourself wallow in the hell zone for a bit. Once you emerge, you’ll be ready to tackle whatever shit 2020 has in store for the rest of the year. 

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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