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What Happened: September 13, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Greenlight on election interference; Yale epidemiologist answers vaccine questions

The Scroll
September 13, 2021

The Big Story

Twitter did not break the law when it censored reporting on President Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s shady business deals weeks before voters went to the polls in 2020, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has ruled. The ruling sets a clear precedent for greater interference by social media companies in U.S. elections. Testifying before Congress in March, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called his company’s decision to block access to reporting by the New York Post, and to suspend the account of the more than 200-year-old newspaper, a “total mistake.” But the FEC determined that because Twitter censored the article for commercial rather than political reasons, it did not break election laws. The New York Times article that broke the news about the FEC ruling on Monday refers dismissively to the censored report as an “unsubstantiated New York Post article.” That description echoes the narrative put forward by political operatives and politically interventionist members of the U.S. intelligence community, but it is substantially misleading. In fact, while many of the specific allegations against Hunter Biden have not yet been proved in court, the president’s son is the subject of an ongoing ​investigation by the Department of Justice related to suspected tax violations, money-laundering charges, and “business dealings with foreign interests.” The lead prosecutor in the Justice Department case decided to suspend it prior to the 2020 election to prevent it from coming to the public’s attention and creating the appearance of interference in the election, Politico reported in July.

Read it here:

Today’s Back Pages: A Yale Epidemiologist Answers The Scroll’s Vaccine Questions

The Rest

There was no bomb in the car destroyed by a U.S. drone strike in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Aug. 29, an in-depth investigation by The New York Times concluded. The car, supposedly carrying terrorists on their way to attack Americans shortly after an attack on Aug. 26 killed 13 U.S. troops and more than 100 Afghans, was hit by a Reaper drone strike. The explosion killed a family of 10 in the vicinity of the car. While U.S. officials have acknowledged that the strike might have killed three civilians, the Times maintains that 10 civilians were killed, including seven children.
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In a conversation between Israeli officials captured on a “hot mic,” the country’s minister of health says that while “epidemiologically it’s correct” to remove some restrictions on public activities, the government is keeping them in place despite knowing they don’t work as a means of pressuring people into getting vaccinated.

Google suspended an animal rights organization’s account after The White Coat Waste Project (WCW) purchased ads from the search giant to publicize the fact that “Anthony Fauci’s division at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $424,000 to commission a study in which healthy beagles are given an experimental drug and then intentionally infested with flies that carry a disease-causing parasite that affects humans.” The ads bought by the WCW were taken down the same day they were purchased, according to a spokesman for the group who told the website Inquire that Google “refused to provide any information about what was wrong with the ads and why they took them down.”
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Tips from Arab Israelis led to the arrest of four out of the six Palestinian prisoners whose escape from a high-security jail last Monday set off a series of riots and disturbances. Among the prisoners recaptured was Zakaria Zubeidi, the former head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who coordinated multiple attacks on Israeli citizens. 

North Korea successfully test-fired cruise missiles into the country’s territorial waters over the weekend, according to state media reports, which listed the missile’s range at 1,500 kilometers, or 930 miles. If the range is accurate, the missiles could reach “all of South Korea and Japan—including such key U.S. bases as Pyeongtaek in Korea and Yokosuka and Okinawa in Japan,” Asia Times reports. While the launches took place over the weekend, state media didn’t announce them until Monday morning, seemingly timing them to coincide with meetings scheduled for today between the United States and officials from Japan and South Korea. 

Exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, an outspoken critic of China’s government, will pay more than $539 million in fines levied by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the illegal sale of stocks and digital assets related to three companies. Wengui is also known for his association with Trump officials, including former Trump White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

“The only president who delivered a formal speech on 9/11 was former President George W. Bush. And it was terrible,” declares conservative commentator Byron York at Washington Examiner. Bush’s speech on Sept. 11, 2021, was also critiqued from the left by Glenn Greenwald and others for attempting to draw an equivalence between the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in which almost 3,000 people were killed by terrorists, and the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021, where the only person who died violently was the pro-Trump protestor shot by a Capitol police officer.

A new meme making the rounds claims that reporting about the spike in violent crime in U.S. cities is a media fabrication. The only problem is that it leaves out murders, which is in fact exactly the kind of crime—not tax violations or real estate fraud—that most people are concerned about.

Yeah, but murders rose by around 25 percent — the biggest surge in decades.

— German Lopez (@germanrlopez) September 12, 2021

The Back Pages

Shortly before the beginning of the High Holy Days, Tablet’s Liel Leibovitz argued that rabbis must not turn any Jews away from services during these Days of Awe, regardless of vaccination status or other COVID-19 considerations, and that to do so would be tantamount to idolatry. A response came quickly from Tablet contributor Shaul Magid, the rabbi of the Fire Island Synagogue, disputing Leibovitz’s arguments and insisting that he and other rabbis had a responsibility to their congregation’s safety. The same day Magid’s article was published, Tablet received a response from Dr. Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine, jumping into the fray:

“Rabbi Magid’s reasoning is entirely logically correct, that from his assumptions, it is logical that shuls can require unvaccinated people not to attend,” Dr. Risch wrote. “However, his one critical assumption underlying this argument is false. It was true in March of this year that vaccinated people were substantially less likely to transmit Covid-19 than unvaccinated people. That was for a different virus, and when vaccination immunity was stronger. Now, with the Delta strain highly predominant, and vaccine immunity strongly waning (think boosters), vaccinated people can get infected and are likely to transmit the infection, and vaccination does not serve as any form of guarantee against that fact. Whether vaccinated people are somewhat more or less likely to transmit than unvaccinated people is a quantitative question but essentially irrelevant to the argument; vaccinated people do transmit the infection. The people who should stay home from shul are those with or with close family members at high risk of bad outcome should they become infected. People with diabetes, or obesity, or cardiovascular disease, or immunocompromised, or kidney disease, etc. These are the people needing the most protection and who would not be adequately protected by having only vaccinated congregants present.”

Given his role as a preeminent epidemiologist and expert on public health, The Scroll decided to take the opportunity of having Dr. Risch on the line, as it were, to ask a few follow-up questions. He was generous enough to oblige:

Why is it that countries like Israel and Mongolia, which have some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, also now have the highest COVID-19 case rates?

When the vaccines were first rolled out, the evidence from the original clinical trials suggested that they would have 90%+ efficacy in preventing symptomatic infections. However, over time this efficacy has not lasted, as we have seen it decline in Israel and Qatar over three to six months after vaccination and also become less with the recent spread of the Delta strain. The Israeli and Qatar studies together provide major evidence that natural immunity from having had COVID-19 is stronger, generalizes to mutant strains, and is longer-lasting than vaccine immunity. A second issue is the degree to which vaccination prevents infection spread. This was not examined in the original trials and is not the same as risk of symptomatic infection. The Israel experience over the past six months suggests that the vaccines do reduce spread, but not as much as they reduce symptomatic infection, and both benefits wane over time as we have seen. There are two ways that the pandemic will end: either repeated vaccination every three to six months, with vaccines updated to reflect new strains, or widespread natural immunity from low-risk people having had the infection. Israel locked down too much, which prevented sufficient natural immunity from developing across the country.

If vaccine immunity is now “strongly waning,” as you say in your letter, it suggests that the regiment of booster shots could continue indefinitely as each subsequent jab also wears off over time. Is that correct, and if so, is it sustainable?

See previous paragraph. I think that people’s receptivity to repeated vaccination will decline with each subsequent vaccination cycle.

Now that curves have long been flattened, are we prolonging the pandemic by inhibiting the growth of natural immunity among healthy and vaccinated populations who are at minimal risk from COVID-19 infections?

The Delta wave is large in some jurisdictions but small in others—those where natural immunity was allowed to become widespread (e.g., North and South Dakota, Rhode Island). After the first two weeks of lockdown from uncertainty about how to manage the pandemic at the very beginning, lockdown was the exact wrong thing to do. Lockdowns prevented the development of natural immunity. The whole pandemic has been mismanaged by focusing on case numbers. What matters are hospitalizations and deaths. It is not “cruel” to say that people who can tolerate COVID-19 infection without serious outcomes should have been allowed to do that. And we have medications and monoclonal antibodies that when used in the first five to six days of symptoms dramatically reduce risk of hospitalization and mortality (contra the nonsense peddled by FDA, CDC, and WHO). Showing that is another extended discussion, though.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.