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What Happened: December 17, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Gregory Meeks sides with anti-Israel DSA against Eric Adams’ City Council speaker candidate; Dems aged 18-29 say America is worse than other countries; Biden admin announces bonuses to doctors who ‘create and implement an anti-racism plan’

The Scroll
December 17, 2021

The Big Story

It’s a testament to the strength of the socialist bloc in the New York City Council that Israel is now an issue in the very local, very insider political wrangling to determine the next council speaker. Despite having as much relevance to the contest as Mongolia does—that is, none—Israel became part of the conversation after Jewish groups on Thursday criticized Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks for allying with the council’s five members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to back Adrienne Adams for council speaker and block another Democrat, Councilman Francisco Moya, from getting the job. “It’s just wrong. It’s indefensible,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, pointing to the DSA members’ support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Meeks, the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party, has been an outspoken supporter of Israel in the past and only last year was slamming the DSA for refusing to visit Israel (and asking candidates seeking its endorsement if they would commit to not visiting) and backing BDS. The fact that he’s now making common cause with those same people makes sense in the context of the real battleground here, which is not Israel but New York City’s internal party politics. The council speaker’s race is unusually backbiting and unhinged because it isn’t a public election. Only the council members get to decide on the speaker, it’s all rumors until there’s a backroom deal, and none of the fundraising gets disclosed until after the race. Right now, New York’s Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ surrogates want Moya as the next council speaker, while Meeks wants Moya’s opponent. What turns this into a matter of larger relevance is the fact that the DSA has won enough leverage inside the city’s political machine that a politician like Meeks cannot afford forming alliances with its members. And that means that the DSA agenda—which includes intense hostility to Israel, along with a raft of other issues popular among the highly educated members of the United States’ professional managerial class socialist movement—stands to gain influence, regardless of whether someone like Meeks would object to it in other circumstances.

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Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

→ The case for masking school children—a policy that has required millions of American kids to spend more than a year hiding their faces—is based on an unreliable study and faulty data that appears to have grossly exaggerated the benefits of masking in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a new report. The primary study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in support of masking children and published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is “so unreliable that it probably should not have been entered into the public discourse,” according to Noah Haber, an interdisciplinary scientist whose assessment is echoed by numerous other scientists quoted in a thorough new analysis of “The CDC’s Flawed Case for Wearing Masks in School.”
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→ Warnings about hospitals being overwhelmed because of COVID-19 have materialized, but instead of happening in ERs, it’s in the United States’ mental health industry. A new survey of 1,320 therapists from across the country paints a dire picture of mass emotional and mental distress tied to the pandemic that is overwhelming counselors and psychologists, forcing them to turn patients away—including children. “It might be some years before we have some sense of normalcy in mental health for children,” Pooja Sharma, a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California, told The New York Times.
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→ Major pharmaceutical companies that together received more than $10.5 billion from the U.S. government to produce COVID-19 vaccines were also funneling dark money to politicians from both parties last year in a bid for influence that seems to have paid dividends. Tax filings from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a lobbying organization that represents the major drug companies involved in the vaccines, show that it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed donations to groups such as Majority Forward, a nonprofit that works to get Democrats elected to the Senate. “After the election, many prominent Democrats, including Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, sided with BIO against proposals to share vaccine intellectual property with low-income countries,” along with other measures favorable to the drug companies that were taken by politicians from both parties, according to a report in The Intercept.

→ A federal judge overturned Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement that would have resolved thousands of lawsuits and included payments of roughly $4.5 billion because it would have shielded the Sackler family from further litigation related to their alleged role in fueling the explosion of opioid addiction in the United States.

→ When is a cartoon of George Soros not just a cartoon of Soros but an anti-Jewish caricature? Dollar signs for the s’s in Soros and a puppet master motif is a pretty clear indication. And yet, when the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), along with other groups, criticized Fox News for running just such a cartoon, which the network has since removed, a number of conservatives accused the ADL of partisanship and claimed it was shielding Soros from legitimate criticism. They were wrong here. The ADL has certainly been guilty of opportunistic partisanship, but that was not the case here. Criticism of Soros’ influence on American politics—including scathing criticism—is not only legitimate but also politically healthy given Soros’ habit of spending vast sums of money to reshape the American political system, often with destructive outcomes. The problem with the cartoon in question, which you can see for yourself below, was not what it said about the billionaire’s role in bankrolling judges and attorneys general whose progressive ideologies have directly contributed to a violent crime wave, but the fact that it used classically anti-Jewish visual tropes to do so. You could say it’s a fine line, but in fact it’s cartoonishly clear.

→The impact of the rise of violent crime in the United States has disproportionately affected “low-income communities of color,” a new study by the University of California-Davis Violence Prevention Research Program found. Using zip-code-level data, the study looked at 13 cities across the United States and found “the greatest burdens of violence are shouldered by our most marginalized and economically vulnerable neighborhoods.”

→Starting on Jan. 1, 2022, a new initiative from the Biden administration, in line with the administration’s larger racial “equity agenda,” will pay bonuses to doctors who “create and implement an anti-racism plan.” Guidelines for the prospective plans from the Department of Health and Human Services declares that it is “important to acknowledge systemic racism as a root cause for differences in health outcomes between socially defined racial groups.”

→A new survey on attitudes toward patriotism finds that the only cohort in the United States that believes “other countries are better than the U.S.” is Democrats aged 18 to 29. Overall, every other age group from both parties express a pro-America bias.

→In Chile’s presidential runoff this Sunday, Jewish voters will face a choice between a far-right candidate who is avidly pro-Israel and a leftist candidate who has fiercely criticized and delegitimized Israel on multiple occasions. Because no centrist candidate advanced in an earlier round of voting, the country now has a runoff between Gabriel Boric, a former student activist who has called Israel “genocidal” and has close ties to the 400,000-person Palestinian diaspora community in Chile—the largest anywhere outside the Middle East—and José Antonio Kast. An arch conservative politician, Kast has longstanding ties to Chile’s infamous former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and his late father was recently revealed to have been a member of the Nazi party. As Haaretz’s Judy Maltz reports, however, with the exception of the country’s youngest Jewish voters, it is likely that the preponderance of Chile’s 18,000 Jewish citizens will opt for the right-wing Kast over the left-wing Boric. 
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The Back Pages

backpages Your Weekend Reads

—The way they play it in the movies, the teenage boyfriend is supposed to be terrified when he meets his girlfriend’s ex-con father. But that wasn’t my experience. I thought Steve Lynn was cool from the first time I met him in the 1990s, when he was only a decade or so out of federal prison and I was dating his daughter, Alexandra Lynn—or pining after her (there was a lot of that, too). As Alex vividly describes in this great portrait of her old man, Steve was a classic New York character: a Coney Island kid and born hustler, the kind of guy who was so charismatic that he bought his own bullshit, including the fanciful notion that his imprisonment for marijuana trafficking qualified him as a political prisoner.

Why did I use a fake name throughout my twenties in the emergency room, which essentially served as primary care? Because I remembered what day-to-day life was like for my mother back when hospitals could still sell your debt to companies that sent guys to your door to ring the intercom relentlessly, or had no problem harassing you while you were walking your kid to school. These debt collectors were functionally indistinguishable from the criminal extortionists that tried to strong-arm my dad a few years earlier on Christmas Eve while walking with my five-year-old sister. I grew up without a respect for things like debt because I was raised on the premise that banks tricked you into debt, or that illness necessitated it—and if banks didn’t act in good faith, why would I take it upon myself to assume a moral failing for being unable to pay?

I admire the way my dad spoke of things; without pretense, without guile, he didn’t have to spin a story politically for it to be clear that most stories revealed that no one is safe, not really. When Jeffery Epstein “committed suicide” in Manhattan’s notorious Metropolitan Correctional Center, my dad went over the many ways in which guards, other prisoners, and criminals at-large have influence on who lives and dies in jail, and none of it seemed conspiratorial or crazy. If, I wondered, some local low-life could get a guard to look the other way for money, why couldn’t someone with more money? It wouldn’t have needed to be a grand national government cover-up; it could’ve just been a two-bit suit who a decade prior had boarded a plane for a good time.

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—This very popular idea that the United States and China are locked in a bitter existential struggle that is veering toward war contains more than a bit of truth but consistently avoids a crucial complication in that version of the relationship. As frequent Tablet contributor Joel Kotkin explains, American elites—the same people ostensibly competing with China’s ruling elite—have played a leading and enthusiastic role in building up China’s power. As the headline plainly puts it: “Western Greed Fuels China’s Domination.”

Prospects for standing up to China from the White House are limited. As recently as 2019 Biden, a stalwart cog in the Washington consensus, minimized the Chinese threat to our economy, recently claiming, incredibly, that “you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” More worrisome still has been the Biden family’s close business ties with Beijing. The somewhat dissolute Hunter, in particular, has profited hugely and gained expensive gifts working for the Chinese. Most recently, he helped a Chinese firm to corner the cobalt market, a key component in the administration’s green energy strategy.

But kowtowing is hardly a partisan phenomenon. Prominent figures from both parties, including former GOP Speaker John Boehner, and many connected Washington think tanks receive funding from Beijing. Even members of the Bush family have cozied up to CCP apparatchiks, including one with strong ties to that country’s rising military.

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—A key feature of the cyborg age, as it turns out, is that it doesn’t involve democratic consent. No one asks if you want to give up your political rights and private desires to algorithms; it just happens all but invisibly. There are exceptions, such as Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, announcing very publicly that he plans to implant microchips into the brains of human beings by 2022. “To some degree we are already a cyborg … your phone, your computer, the applications you have,” Musk said at a public summit in 2017. Who would control that chip, you might be wondering? How many chips can you put in a person’s brain before they cease to be that person? Good questions. Time is running out to come up with the answers.

Transhumanism is the issue of our age, and it doesn’t matter if old folks reject it as a disgusting abomination. The kids will love it, blissfully indifferent to the perils ...

While I’m no man of the cloth, the spiritual implications can’t be ignored. The materialist philosophy underpinning this work sees the human soul as mere neurological phenomena. Dreams and visions arise from flowing electrons and magnetic bonds. From that perspective, a brain-computer interface connects the soul to the digital realm.

Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to [email protected].

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

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