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What Happened: September 3, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: The ivermectin debate; Sotloff’s killer; Weekend Reads

The Scroll
September 03, 2021

The Big Story

After the comedian and top podcast host Joe Rogan posted a message Thursday that he had contracted COVID-19 and was treating it using ivermectin, the drug—which had already been a source of controversy—became even more divisive. In a video posted to his Instagram page, Rogan told his more than 13 million followers that after testing positive for COVID-19, he took “all kinds of meds” to treat it, including monoclonal antibodies, ivermectin, azithromycin, and prednisone. The mention of ivermectin, which has not been approved for COVID-19 treatment by the FDA but has been given to billions of people to treat other illnesses, sparked outrage. The headline in The Guardian, “Joe Rogan has Covid – and his treatment will make health experts feel ill,” was typical. Aside from reflecting the hyperpolarized U.S. pandemic discourse in which inanimate objects such as pharmaceuticals can be assigned a political identity, the coverage also followed a campaign to dissuade people from taking ivermectin. The FDA itself recently tweeted, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” But more than 3 billion people across the world have taken ivermectin, which is prescribed to treat parasitic infections in both humans and animals and appears on the World Health Organization’s list of “essential medicines.” It’s also notable that Rogan did not endorse taking ivermectin in isolation—in fact, he didn’t endorse it at all—but described taking it with a host of other treatments, including a vitamin drip. The effectiveness of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 is debatable, but the drug is best understood as one potential treatment among many rather than a culture war symbol and object of derision.

Read it here:

Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

The death toll from Hurricane Ida continued to rise in the Northeast Friday, with reports from local media outlets putting it between 45 and 48 people across four states. So far, most of the dead have been found in New Jersey, followed by New York, then Pennsylvania, and finally Connecticut. State officials said they expect to find more victims in the days ahead.

The Islamic State member accused of killing Israeli American journalist Steven Sotloff pleaded guilty Thursday to all charges against him at a plea hearing in U.S. District Court. Alexanda Kotey, 37, allegedly belonged to an all-British four-man ISIS team responsible for torturing and killing hostages of the terrorist group. Kotey and another suspect were captured in Syria by Kurdish forces in 2018 and turned over to the U.S. military.
Read it here:

Westchester-area Jewish groups assisted in the daring rescue of a local woman who became stranded in Afghanistan after returning there in late June to visit her sick mother, shortly before the Taliban takeover of the country.
Read it here:,134405

A Muslim terrorist in New Zealand was under round-the-clock surveillance and being tailed by police when he wounded six people in a stabbing attack at a supermarket Friday before being shot and killed by police. The attacker has been identified as a Sri Lankan national who was “inspired” by the Islamic State.

The vaxxers doth protest too much. There is something suspiciously overwrought about messages such as this one from the American Civil Liberties Union. Rather than presenting an adult sense of the trade-offs involved in mandating vaccines—at precisely the moment when the COVID-19 surge in Israel points to the limits of vaccines’ effectiveness—it uses implicit moral threats (if you don’t support mandates, you’re a racist) to disable rather than foster debate. What does it say that with a thousand other institutions in the United States already lining up to make the pro-mandates case, the organization with “civil liberties” in its name can’t bring itself to support its own cause?

Far from compromising them, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties. They protect the most vulnerable, people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated, and communities of color hit hard by the disease.

— ACLU (@ACLU) September 2, 2021

Another push to expand the government’s legally dubious surveillance authorities. The House special committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots is asking phone and social media companies to save the communications of anyone charged with crimes or just “potentially involved with discussions” related to the riots. The list of the names on the request sent to 35 companies Monday—including AT&T, Facebook, and Parler—by the committee’s chair, Bennie Thompson, includes Trump and several Republican members of the House. I’d ask where exactly the line gets drawn on “potential involvement,” but following the logic, I’m pretty sure that would make me a suspect.

In ominous Amazon news, the company announced that its mammoth web hosting services, which provide the infrastructure that supports much of the commercial internet, “plans to take a more proactive approach to determine what types of content violate its cloud service policies, such as rules against promoting violence, and enforce its removal.” Sure, this will end well. Amazon will get right to work removing dangerous content immediately, starting with all that treacherous disinformation about the abysmal working conditions at Amazon and the company buying influence in the American political system.

New York Times contributor Kaveh Afrasiabi pleaded not guilty in February to criminal charges related to being an unregistered foreign agent of Iran. Afrasiabi admitted to The Algemeiner that he had received $265,000 from Iran’s U.N. mission since 2007 as well as health benefits, but denied that the payments influenced his writing.
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New York-based hedge fund Renaissance is set to pay the largest tax settlement in U.S. history. The payouts for back taxes and penalties from Renaissance investors, board members, and their spouses is expected to total $7 billion. Forbes reports that the penalties stem from Renaissance using “financial instruments called ‘basket options’ to turn short-term profits into long-term capital gains, for which the IRS charges a lower tax rate.”

Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, whose popularity has dipped below 30%, announced Friday that he will step down this month. Suga took office a year ago after Japan’s previous prime minister Shinzo Abe stepped down for health reasons. Barron’s reports that the Tokyo Nikkei index was up 2% after the announcement “on hopes [Suga’s] successor might prove more efficient in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and implement a stronger fiscal stimulus to boost the battered economy.”

The Back Pages

—One of the things I loved about the U.S. Army, and on my good days I can still remember that there were many such things, was getting the chance to witness the irrepressible dynamism of American soldiers who are convinced they can fix anything. They are right more often than not, when they are given a fighting chance. You need a working aid station constructed in the next two hours out of nothing more than small rocks, candy wrappers, and some 550 cord? No problem—find a fire team led by a motivated young sergeant, brief him on the mission, and then get the hell out of the way; he’ll take care of the rest. It’s like witnessing, in a thousand different daily ways, a version of how the American frontier was settled and this country was built.
Staff Sergeant Andrew McCaffrey was at the uppermost end of that drive and ingenuity. After he was blown up in Afghanistan in 2003 and lost his right arm below the elbow, the Special Forces soldier “trained himself to shoot left-handed and became the first soldier in U.S. Army history to return to combat duty after losing a limb.” McCaffrey went on to serve three more tours in Afghanistan before getting discharged and sinking into drink and depression. 

The leaders of this country are unworthy of such men.

I asked him if he regretted ever having gone to war and whether, knowing the toll it had taken, he would do it again. He thought for a moment: “I don’t know. I really don’t know.” Of course he was ambivalent. His sense of self was bound up inextricably with being a soldier. The Army had given him a skillset, a community, a purpose, an entire identity. He couldn’t simply wish all that away. What would be left? He was what they made him. They made him what he was. But unlike God, who so loved his broken creatures that he died for them, the politicians and generals who formed Andy from the clay had no problem breaking him, tossing him aside, and making a mockery of the cause for which he fought.

Read it here:

—The alleged killer of Steven Sotloff pleaded guilty this week to eight charges related to his role as torturer and executioner for the Islamic State. Sotloff led a restless, searching life that was the subject of an extensive two-part 2015 Tablet profile that retraces the steps of the Israeli American journalist, whose front-line war reporting led him to Syria, where he was kidnapped in 2013 and beheaded on video in 2014.

Sotloff’s own sensitivity to living things was clear. “When we were living together [Steve] was always buying things,” said Larroche. “I don’t know where he got the money, because he was broke, and later he got more broke. But, when we were living together, he was super, super generous. He shared his weed. He shared his alcohol. He shared his food, of course. He shared his couch.” At one point, Sotloff and Larroche took in a kitten that was roaming around the bottom of their building. “Steve has a really big heart when it comes to animals,” said Larroche. When they both went away for the summer, Sotloff spent over $1,000 to put the cat in a care center for animals. “He just pulled out money randomly out of places,” she said. “I didn’t have the same heart that he did towards the cat. He was really amazing.

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—As the father of two young children, there is nothing remotely surprising to me about the fact that “The Guy Wants to Build a Utopian Megalopolis,” as the headline of this Bloomberg article puts it. Do you know what it takes to keep up with diaper supply? It just never ends. The kind of person who can come up with a solution to that problem is just the sort of visionary who might be able to push the United States out of this rut and into the future.

Lore started working on the idea of creating his own city almost as soon as he joined Walmart. Katie Finnegan, Jet’s head of corporate development at the time, says he brought it up to her during a plane ride on a cross-country business trip. “The thing I remember thinking is, ‘Where do you even begin?’” she says. Even so, Finnegan played along, quizzing her boss on land acquisition and other challenges, before the two settled into a debate about improving package delivery in a city built from scratch, a topic that allowed her to segue back to their actual jobs.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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