The Big Story
“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin,” President Biden warned Thursday night, in a speech blaming unvaccinated Americans for the spike in COVID-19 cases and announcing sweeping new vaccine mandates. The White House “action plan” requires private companies with more than 100 employees, a group the Associated Press estimates tops 80 million people, to require workers to get vaccines. Approximately 17 million additional healthcare workers at facilities that receive federal aid will also have to get vaccinated. Organized opposition to the plan, which is being enacted without any substantial legislative oversight, has so far come from Republican elected officials and some labor union leaders.
One issue with the new White House approach is raised by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine, who heads up the school’s medical ethics program. Kheriaty, who has already had COVID-19, points out that current vaccine mandates make no exceptions for people like himself despite evidence showing that natural immunity “is as good, indeed, very likely better, than that conferred by the vaccine.” The second issue is that countries with some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, such as Israel and Mongolia, have also recently had the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases, suggesting that vaccines alone will not entirely eliminate the spread of the disease. Perhaps the strongest argument for government vaccine mandates is that it’s the fastest way to get the country back to normal and revive the economy for working people. But that assumes that the mandates are able and intended to end the pandemic. Well over a year after the public campaigns insisting that lockdowns and other emergency measures were needed to “stop the spread” and “flatten the curve,” the persistence of the “emergency war powers” approach to COVID-19 suggests that the end of the disease will be measured by political rather than health outcomes.
Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads
President Biden’s new vaccine policy could be dangerous disinformation that requires Twitter, YouTube, and other online platforms to ban him and censor coverage of his proposals. YouTube, the digital video streaming service owned by Google, states clearly in its “COVID-19 medical misinformation policy” that it doesn’t allow content that contradicts “the World Health Organization’s (WHO) medical information about COVID-19.” But the WHO has publicly opposed vaccine mandates. Last December, at a time when President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci were both still on record opposing mandatory vaccinations, and mainstream news outlets were reporting that mandates would be illegal and impossible, the director of the WHO’s immunization department told reporters, “I don’t think that mandates are the direction to go in here, especially for these vaccines.” More recently the WHO has called for halting vaccine boosters, another recommendation that the White House has violated, which could also qualify as disinformation.
If you want to see how deep the delusions ran in Afghanistan, watch the reactions from the Afghan women in this video clip as a British NGO worker—no doubt with noble intentions—lectures them about how Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “sculpture” of a urinal inaugurated modern art.
See it here:
Still not over this video of some NGO trying to teach women in Afghanistan how to create “conceptual art”. pic.twitter.com/BFzcTP6tZw
— Lina Arabi (@LinaArabii) September 9, 2021
U.S. unemployment claims fell to 310,000 last week, their lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic started. Last year at the same time there were 881,000 weekly claims, according to data from the Labor Department. First-time claims are still above the pre-pandemic average of 225,000, but the downward trend shows that jobs are holding onto workers despite new restrictions and concerns over the increase in Delta variant COVID-19 cases.
President Biden had a 90-minute talk with China’s leader Xi Jinping on Thursday. The call between the two leaders, the second since Biden took office, was billed as an effort to improve U.S.-China relations. On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted a video to social media mocking the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan captioned, “The graveyard of EMPIRES and their WAR MACHINES.”
After parlaying an exciting and innovative presidential campaign into a boring and uninspired run for mayor in New York City, Andrew Yang is now rumored to be launching a new political party. And get this: Yang is “expected to start the party in conjunction with the Oct. 5 release of his new book,” Politico reports. Is the new party a way to increase book sales? Is the book a way to fundraise for the party? Does anyone care anymore?
Three celebrities whom people have mostly stopped talking about (so I’m told—I’ve only heard of one of them), Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough, are hosting a new reality competition show called The Activist. Contestants will compete “to bring meaningful change to one of three vitally important world causes: health, education, and environment.” The winner of the show will become the next president of the United States. (Maybe).
Saturday marks the 20-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States. In a photo essay, The Wall Street Journal revisits iconic images from the day and catches up with the people featured in them to see where they are now.
See it here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/photos-that-defined-9-11-and-the-people-in-them20-years-later-11631246461
The killer pretended to be a Hasid. To get the sneak on Jermaine Dixon, 47, a former member of Brooklyn’s “Patio Crew” who served 19 years in prison on murder and drug charges, the assassin disguised himself in the traditional Hasidic black hat and black coat. Surveillance video shows him pretending to work on his car in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens when he spots Dixon, sees his chance, and runs up and shoots him in the back of the head, killing him.
Phil Schaap, a cult radio personality in New York City and world-class jazz obsessive, died Tuesday at his home after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 70. Born in Queens to a jazz historian father, Walter Schaap, and mother Marjorie Wood Schaap, a classically trained pianist with a love for Louis Armstrong, the young Schapp grew up steeped in music and surrounded by jazz musicians. Aside from his scholastic intensity, Schaap was known for hosting regular music marathons on his radio show, spending hours or days playing the catalog of a single musician, such as his beloved “Charlie Parker.” He will be missed.
Alex Gutentag, the former Oakland public school teacher who grew disillusioned with COVID-19 policies after seeing how much they were hurting the underprivileged kids at her school, is not optimistic about the new mandates.
Mandates won’t end after two doses of an mRNA vax or even after a few boosters. If the government can tie your job to these shots, then the government can also tie housing, electricity, healthcare, and food to vaccines and good behavior. It’s not about a virus and it never was.
— alex g (@galexybrane) September 10, 2021
Check out The Scroll interview with Gutentag here: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/the-scroll/articles/the-scroll-today-afternoon-news-digest-daily-210901
The Back Pages
—This New Yorker essay by the novelist, National Book Award winner, and Marine veteran Phil Klay is a few weeks old but apropos for the anniversary of 9/11. (Klay is also a friend, and the co-host of my podcast about art and manifestos.)
How does it feel, as a veteran who watched the Iraqi province where I served fall to isis, to now watch this country—where marines I knew were shot or blown up or killed—fall to the Taliban? Who cares? As the Taliban go house to house looking for those Afghans who believed in us, and who had the physical courage to put that belief to the test, who cares how I feel? Who cares how the vets who battled alcohol addiction only to start drinking again this week are feeling? Who cares what my marine friends are feeling as they receive frantic text messages from Afghan allies? Not, for sure, Americans for the last twenty years.
Read it here: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/american-purpose-after-the-fall-of-kabul
—Hillbilly Elegy author and now Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance gave a long interview to Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
In my experience, Jews, whatever their political affiliation, are pretty patriotic. They care a lot about living in a country that’s prosperous and free, and they don’t see Western civilization, which obviously has deep roots in the State of Israel and in the Jewish tradition, as something that’s evil and needs to be rejected but as something that needs to be built upon. When the left talks about Israel as sort of an evil colonizer apartheid state, I think that’s a pretty radical departure from how politicians have talked about the State of Israel. Even in the last decade, it’s changed pretty dramatically, and I think most Jews probably recognize what I’ve seen.
Read it here: https://jewishinsider.com/2021/09/jd-vance-ohio-senate-race/
—And finally, for the Days of Awe, a tale borrowed from an old Yom Kippur reading list put together by my Tablet colleague Liel Leibovitz.
There’s an old Hasidic story, attributed to the great master Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. It’s the day before Yom Kippur, and the hassidim come to Rabbi Elimelech and ask him how he prepares for the most holy of days. “Tell you the truth,” says the old rabbi, “I don’t know how to do it. But Moishele? The shoemaker? He knows how to do it. Go ask him.” So the hassidim walk over to Moishele’s house, and they peek in through the window, and they see this simple man sitting around his simple wooden table eating dinner. And when he’s done, he calls out to his children, “The great moment is here! Bring out the books.” And the children return with two books, one very small and the other very large and bound in expensive leather. Moishele, looking up, begins to speak. “Dear God, master of the world,” he says. “It’s me, Moishele, the shoemaker. God, I want to read you something.” And Moishele takes the small book and opens it up. “God,” he continues, “I want to read you a list of my sins.” And he reads on from the book: “I’ve yelled at my wife. I’ve been impatient with my children. I’ve charged a bit too much for shoes sometimes. I kept a scrap of material for myself instead of giving it to the customer who paid for it. I think you’ll agree, God, these are all pretty petty sins.” Moishele closes the small book and picks up the large one. “And now, God,” he says, “now, let me read to you a list of your sins: A mother of nine dies and leaves all of her small children orphans? A famine forces entire families to forage for their food like animals? A war takes thousands of innocent lives? These are major crimes, God, very major crimes.” And with that, Moishele looks solemnly to the heavens. “But I’ll tell you what, God,” he says. “This year, if you forgive me my sins, I’ll forgive you yours.” The hassidim are elated! They run back to Rabbi Elimelech and tell him all about Moishele’s wisdom. But hearing the story, Elimelech starts to cry. “What’s the matter?” the hassidim ask, and the rebbe looks at them with his eyes all swollen. “Don’t you get it?” he says. “Moishele had God in the palm of his hand! He should’ve said, ‘No, God, I won’t forgive you! I won’t forgive you until you redeem the entire world.’”
Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.