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What Happened: November 15, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: COVID-19 mandate denied; Russia’s buildup; Rittenhouse cover-up.

The Scroll
November 15, 2021

The Big Story

The planned COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private companies is “fatally flawed,” declares a scathing ruling issued late Friday by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that orders the Biden administration to “take no steps to implement or enforce the Mandate until further court order.” The three-judge panel’s unanimous opinion extends the stay that the court had already placed on the vaccine mandate while presenting a significant challenge to the Biden administration’s policy agenda and runaway executive authority. The proposed mandate “threatens to substantially burden the liberty interests of reluctant individual recipients put to a choice between their job(s) and their jab(s),” wrote Judge Kurt Engelhardt. The terms of the planned mandate were released last week by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health, the agency in charge of enforcing the policy. The plan, affecting employers with 100 or more workers, would require some 74 million American workers to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing by Jan. 4. Businesses found to be in violation of the rule would be subject to fines of almost $14,000 per employee out of compliance. But the court countered that “occupational safety administrations do not make health policy” and that “the Mandate’s true purpose is not to enhance workplace safety but instead to ramp up vaccine uptake by any means necessary.”

Today’s Back Pages: The Rittenhouse Cover-Up Part I

The Rest

→ Following warnings from U.S. intelligence officials and NATO’s secretary general about a Russian troop buildup on the country’s border with Ukraine, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed Monday that the United Kingdom would “remain in unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and will continue to support them in the face of Russian hostility.” The situation on Ukraine’s border—where there are currently reports of 90,000 to 100,000 troops, a “large and unusual” buildup, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg—is playing out at the same time as the escalating border conflict between Belarus and Poland, in which Russia is also accused of playing a part. British General Nick Carter told the BBC that the border conflict between Belarus and Poland, ostensibly over the issue of refugees, was a “classic example of a bit of distraction” being used by Russia to draw attention away from its activities near Ukraine.

→ In a quiet but profound shift in COVID-19 policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that it is no longer pursuing herd immunity as a public health goal. The change reflects an acknowledgement by the CDC of something that has been clear for months in the empirical data: that while vaccines have been very effective at lowering the rate of deaths and severe infections caused by the virus, they have not stopped its transmission.

→ Austria is implementing a strict new lockdown policy aimed only at unvaccinated people. Effective at midnight on Monday, the rule applies to children as well and allows unvaccinated people to leave their homes only for limited approved reasons like working, getting food, or getting vaccinated. The policy contains an exemption for people who recently recovered from the novel coronavirus and developed natural immunity.

→ Israel’s Authority for Combating Terror Financing and Money Laundering, announced new regulations on Sunday affecting cryptocurrency and other digital financial products that require them to comply with standard bank reporting procedures in an effort to crack down on fraud and criminal activity. The new policy would bring Israel into compliance with the 2018 guidelines of the Financial Action Task Force, a global organization whose rules are already adhered to by one third of the world’s countries.

→ Following an explosion outside a women’s hospital in Liverpool Sunday that killed one person, who appears to have been the person transporting an improvised bomb in a taxi cab, the driver or which was hospitalized, British officials have arrested four men under the Terrorism Act. Authorities have not yet announced a motive for the attack.

→Helene Fortunoff, who rose from working with her husband, Alan Fortunoff, in his family’s housewares business in 1953 to running a multimillion-dollar retail jewelry business, died on Nov. 8 in Miami Beach. She was 88.

→ The judge presiding over the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse dismissed a misdemeanor weapons charge against the 18-year-old. That leaves the five felonies Rittenhouse is facing related to the events last August, when he shot three people at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two, in what he and his lawyers argue was self-defense and the prosecution says was muder. Both sides made their closing arguments Monday as the case heads toward a conclusion likely to be contentious, whichever way it breaks.

Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to Donald Trump and media executive, surrendered to federal authorities Monday after refusing a summons to testify to a congressional committee about the events surrounding the January 6 Capitol riots. “We’re tired of playing defense. We’re going to go on the offense on this,” Bannon told reporters Monday after leaving court.

→ Jake Gyllenhaal has been trending on social media—lucky him!—following the release of Taylor Swift’s nearly 15-minute short film titled “All Too Well,” which many Switifies suspect is inspired by the singer’s former relationship with the Oscar-nominated actor. The video has amassed 28 million views in its first two days.

The Back Pages

backpagesThe Rittenhouse Cover-Up Part I

The larger question buried beneath the furor over the Kyle Rittenhouse trial is this: Why was an armed 17-year-old patrolling the streets of a U.S. city to begin with? It is an important question, which is why so much effort has gone into diverting attention away from where it might lead—which is to decisions made by elected officials in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., and their enablers in the media—and onto Rittenhouse himself, or rather the fantasy of Rittenhouse as a bloodthirsty white supremacist, which is now collapsing under the weight of evidence in court.

No one disputes that Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two, on the night of Aug. 25, 2020. The question is what motivated him to travel to Kenosha from his home in Illinois in the midst of the convulsive protests and riots sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

“He ran around with an AR-15 all night and lied about being an EMT,” Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said in his closing statements on Monday. “Does that suggest to you that he genuinely is there to help?”

Here, we need not trust either the word of Rittenhouse or the state prosecutors, because there is video that can help us determine the truth for ourselves—not just an isolated clip or two but hours of video: cell phone footage and TV camera footage and drone feeds from the FBI’s aerial surveillance platform that was recording the whole thing. What it shows is Rittenhouse telling interviewers before the shooting that he was there to protect property and provide medical aid. And then, especially striking, there is footage of Rittenhouse running down the street when there is no interviewer around to prompt him, and he shows no awareness of being filmed, calling out repeatedly, “Anybody need medical.” In other words, the video shows exactly what the prosecutor wants to disprove: that Rittenhouse, unprepared, ill suited, and misguided as he might have been, was genuinely there to help.

But the claim, as everyone has heard by now, is that Rittenhouse was a racist militia member—“a white supremacist domestic terrorist” who “drove across state lines, armed with an AR 15,” as Progressive Squad member Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted last summer two days after the shooting.

“Rittenhouse’s likely acquittal will simply make these right-wing murder safaris more common,” wrote Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo in a tweet on Nov. 12. So there you have the dominant view of the young man’s motives from a journalist with a knack for translating Democratic Party talking points into spicy headlines for excitable partisans.

Pressley and Marshall are merely two voices in the vast chorus of people denouncing Rittenhouse as a racist terrorist. If they’re right, then the trial bears on the scourge of domestic extremism and organized racist violence in the United States and the ability and willingness of the justice system to deal with that threat.

But if Rittenhouse wasn’t a white supremacist domestic terrorist, a possibility you may wish to silently contemplate away from the prying algorithms and misinformation detectors, then the shooting must reflect on some other social phenomenon, such as, for instance, the yearlong abandonment of U.S. cities to idleness and violence over the course of mandatory lockdowns in which healthy and restless young people were prohibited from all manner of social interaction, with the one exception being mass protests …

In tomorrow’s Back Pages: The Rittenhouse Cover-Up Part 2.

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