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The Morning Dispatch: Big News!
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The Morning Dispatch: Big News!

What's next for The Dispatch, and the latest COVID booster.

Happy Tuesday! Wow, is it great to have college football back. Now if we could only get some football weather.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • After a two-month campaign to succeed outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Liz Truss—Johnson’s foreign secretary—was elected Tory leader by Conservative Party members on Monday, defeating former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak 57 percent to 43 percent. Truss vowed throughout the campaign to cut Britons’ taxes, prioritize economic growth, and continue to be a key ally to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Queen Elizabeth is expected to formally appoint Truss prime minister later today, at which point she will inherit the country’s weakening economy and burgeoning energy crisis.

  • Gazprom’s Nord Stream pipeline did not come back online as expected over the weekend and will be shut down indefinitely, driving European natural-gas futures to jump more than 30 percent in trading on Monday. The Kremlin-controlled gas company originally claimed it discovered a leak during scheduled maintenance last week, but a Kremlin spokesman on Monday said the pipeline would not return to full capacity until the “collective West” lifts sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine. European leaders have been preparing for a Russian gas shutoff for months, but are facing a significant energy shortage heading into the cold winter months.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 315,000 jobs in August, a sharp slowdown from July’s 526,000 figure but still well above the pre-pandemic average and in line with economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent as the labor force participation rate increased 0.3 percentage points month-over-month, driven largely by women ages 25 to 54. Average hourly earnings—a key measure for hints on inflation—were up 5.2 percent year-over-year, holding steady from July’s annual rate.

  • The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced Monday it will decrease its collective oil production by 100,000 barrels per day in October, reverting back to August levels after a brief uptick in September. OPEC countries had expressed concern about “volatility” in the oil market in recent weeks, hinting they would cut their output to boost prices as global demand falls off. 

  • U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon issued a ruling on Monday granting former President Donald Trump’s request for a special master to review the material FBI agents seized during their search of his Mar-a-Lago estate last month for potential documents subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege. Expressing concern about the potential for “improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” Cannon—a Trump appointee—issued a temporary injunction blocking the Justice Department from reviewing and using the seized material for investigative purposes until the special master’s review is completed. The documents will not be returned to Trump, however, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) ongoing assessment of potential national security concerns stemming from the documents will be allowed to continue. The Justice Department and Trump’s legal team have until September 9 to propose a list of special master candidates, though the DOJ may appeal Cannon’s ruling.

  • Prior to Cannon’s ruling, the Justice Department on Friday made public an inventory list outlining in some detail what FBI agents seized from Mar-a-Lago last month. The filing indicates Trump kept dozens of magazine and newspaper clippings from his presidency intermixed in boxes with both classified and unclassified documents, as well as photographs and “clothing/gift items.” Prosecutors also claim to have recovered dozens of empty folders with “classified” or “Return to Staff Secretary/Military Aide” banners on them; it’s not clear if the material previously contained in those folders has already been returned to the government or remains missing.

  • The Israeli military on Monday released the results of its investigation into the May killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, finding that, although it wasn’t possible to “unequivocally determine” the source of the gunfire that hit Abu Akleh, there is a “high possibility” it came from an Israeli soldier who misidentified her as a Palestinian gunman during a counterterrorism operation in Jenin. Israeli military officials said that no one will be criminally charged in the Palestinian-American reporter’s death because the investigation found no intent on the part of any soldier potentially involved, leading Abu Akleh’s family to claim “Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes.”

  • NASA announced Saturday it had scrubbed the launch of its Artemis I mission to the moon for a second time in one week after the launch team discovered a liquid hydrogen leak while loading the propellant into the rocket and were unable to repair it. It could be another several weeks before NASA attempts another launch.

Big Things Are Happening …

There’s an old cliché in political campaigns that nothing important happens until after Labor Day. That’s a slight exaggeration, of course, but clichés are clichés for a reason. Control of Congress is currently a jump ball, and will be decided by a few dozen news cycles between now and November 8. On November 9, the 2024 presidential race will begin in earnest. And one day after that—on November 10—The Dispatch will kick off our first in-person conference (after two-plus years of pandemic postponements). What a time to be alive! 

We’ll have reporters criss-crossing the country on the ground over the next two months—and then the next two years—covering the contests that will determine who will hold power on Capitol Hill and in the White House. And we’ll do it the way we do everything—with an eye toward what really matters. Less manufactured outrage, more substance. What’s the appropriate size and scope of government? What challenges—internal and external—present the greatest threats to the republic? How can we incentivize policymaking over performance? Will campaigning-by-conspiracy continue to shape our public discussions? 

We’re glad to count you as one of nearly 35,000 paying Dispatch members, and one of about 200,000 people who get emails from us on a daily or near-daily basis. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to be your guide through this crazy political moment, doing our best every day to bring you top-notch reporting and analysis on politics, policy and culture. 

And we have lots more in store for you in the weeks and months ahead. Here are four important updates we’re thrilled to tell you about, with more to come soon!

Naples: The Dispatch’s What’s Next conference will take place at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida, from November 10-13, and we’ll begin unveiling details of the agenda—including a great roster of speakers, events, and panel discussions—in tomorrow’s TMD. A limited number of rooms are left in our Dispatch hotel block, so reserve your spot today by clicking here.

Regional events: We’ve had plans to put community at the center of the enterprise since The Dispatch was just a twinkle in Steve and Jonah’s eye. The pandemic complicated those efforts, of course, but it didn’t change our goals. In the coming days, we’ll be announcing several regional events across the country—our effort to bring The Dispatch to you. The nature of the get-togethers will vary, from informal meet-ups and long happy hours to programmed mini-conferences and podcast tapings. Stay tuned.

A new Dispatch: We’ve been working behind the scenes the past few months to improve the way we provide you with our editorial offerings. Our partnership with Substack—the innovative company that created this newsletter platform—has been incredibly fruitful over the years, but given our robust growth and the ambitious plans we have for the future, we decided early this year to build up our own online presence. 

The goal is simple: to continue to provide high-quality newsletters, podcasts, livestreams and web content in a way that sheds light, not heat. If you like what you’ve been getting from us, and how you’ve been getting it, we hope to make the changes virtually imperceptible. But we’ve undertaken this project to improve the member experience and help us grow The Dispatch community. And we think you’ll love it. You can expect to see some updates rolling out in early October.

New faces: Our biggest competitive advantage—and the reason you decided it’s worth becoming a Dispatch member—is our people. From the editorial side to the operations team, we’re so proud of the group we’ve assembled over the last three years. And although we’ve been very deliberate in our plans to grow gradually and methodically, there are now nearly 30 staff members aboard our little pirate skiff.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

We let you know last month we’d hired Adam O’Neal from the Wall Street Journal to serve as our first executive editor, and today we have more exciting news: We’ve added a new writer, and he’ll be getting his own newsletter. Those of you on Twitter may know him as “Allahpundit,” but he’s been pumping out some of the best center-right political blogging in America for 16 years. Not many writers can consistently earn praise from every corner of the ideological spectrum, but Allahpundit has managed to for nearly two decades. And his 36,591st post for HotAir—published on Friday—was his last:

Partisan media serves two masters, the truth and the cause. When they align, all is well. When they conflict, you choose. If you prioritize the truth, you’re a traitor; if you prioritize the cause, you’re a propagandist. One recent example of the latter is the left mocking Republicans who accepted PPP loans during the pandemic for opposing Biden’s student debt bailout. The differences between those two programs would be evident to a reasonably intelligent fourth-grader but the imperative to serve the cause by rationalizing Biden’s giveaway forced liberals to treat it as a smart own. I think some even talked themselves into believing it. Propagandists lie to others, then lie to themselves to justify propagating the original lie. Propaganda rots the brain, then the soul.

That’s one reason why, when I’ve been forced to choose, I preferred to be a traitor than a propagandist. Here’s another: What is the right’s “cause” at this point? What cause does the Republican Party presently serve? It has no meaningful policy agenda. It literally has no platform. The closest thing it has to a cause is justifying abuses of state power to own the libs and defending whatever Trump’s latest boorish or corrupt thought-fart happens to be. Imagine being a propagandist for a cause as impoverished as that. Many don’t need to imagine.

I would rather fail as a writer than succeed if success means being some demagogue’s footstool. To the extent my work at Hot Air has made that clear, I’m happy with it.

Oh, and he’s dropping the pseudonym. So everyone give a warm welcome to Nick Cattogio in the comments. He’ll be joining us full-time in a few weeks, and we’ll have a detailed explanation on how to sign up for his newsletter. You’ll want to make sure you get it.

There’s Another COVID-19 Booster, If You Want It

Coming soon to a pharmacy near you: a shiny new COVID-19 booster. It’s been authorized—and the federal government has purchased millions of doses—but we’re not exactly sure how well it works.

In June, aware that new COVID-19 variants were more easily slipping past the existing vaccines’ first line of defense, the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel of infectious disease specialists recommended a fall booster campaign targeted at the new strains. Vaccine makers answered the call, and last Wednesday the FDA authorized new Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for most adults. The reformulated doses are bivalent, targeting both the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which between them account for nearly all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. 

The Centers for Disease Control quickly followed the FDA’s lead, formally recommending the shots Thursday. “If you are eligible, there is no bad time to get your COVID-19 booster and I strongly encourage you to receive it,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. Who’s eligible? People already vaccinated for COVID-19 who received their most recent dose at least two months ago—as long as they’re at least 12 years old for Pfizer’s version, or 18 for Moderna’s.

The Biden administration has purchased 171 million doses, and availability is expected to ramp up quickly this week. COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths have been trending downward, but the disease is far from eradicated in the United States: The CDC is reporting an average of about 400 deaths attributed to the virus per day, and about 30,000 people are currently hospitalized with it. Officials hope the new shots will help mitigate what is expected to be a third consecutive fall and winter surge as people spend more time inside.

The “plug-and-play” design of mRNA vaccines allowed scientists to quickly develop these latest iterations, and the shots are similar enough to the previous COVID-19 vaccines that most experts aren’t worried about a change in their safety. “Given that we have already administered over 600 million doses of the COVID vaccines to the U.S. population alone—never mind the global experience—we’re very comfortable with the safety issues,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told The Dispatch. “We have those all buttoned up, we know what they are, and they’re very low.” 

Researchers have observed, for instance, a slightly increased risk of myocarditis and pericarditis—inflammation of the heart muscle or its outer lining—in the week after getting a second vaccine dose, particularly among young men. But we mean slightly increased risk: A June study published in The Lancet found only 411 such cases among a set of 15.1 million Moderna and Pfizer vaccine recipients. An initial CDC review in March found such adverse events are even less common after a booster dose, and—younger men excepted—the general population is more likely to experience such inflammation after a COVID-19 infection than after a vaccine dose.

But while experts are generally confident about safety, they have less data about efficacy. In the push to get the updated boosters in arms before a potential fall surge, the FDA and CDC didn’t wait on results from full human clinical trials for the BA.4/BA.5-specific doses. Instead, the shot was tested on mice—and regulators relied on human trials for similar bivalent vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer targeting BA.1, the original Omicron variant. Those data found the BA.1-specific shots boosted neutralizing-antibody levels against the Omicron variant higher than the original vaccines, and that was enough for the United Kingdom, which authorized Moderna’s BA.1-specific booster in mid-August.

The lack of BA.4/BA.5-specific human clinical trial data was what drove Dr. Pablo Sánchez—professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital—to cast the lone ‘no’ vote on the CDC’s 14-member Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). “It certainly looks very promising,” he said last week. “But studies with the BA.4 and BA.5 are ongoing in humans and I just wonder if it’s a little premature. … There’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy already. We need human data.” A handful of other ACIP members expressed similar concerns—and concerns that a two-month interval between doses may be too narrow—but ultimately voted in favor of recommending both vaccines.

One reassuring detail: We’ve been doing something similar for years. FDA officials have compared the COVID-19 booster process to the annual tweaking of the flu shot, which is also carried out without extensive human trials. “We have been planning for and gathering input on our approach to updated boosters since earlier this year,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said. “The FDA has extensive experience with evaluating strain changes for influenza vaccines and is confident in the data supporting these latest booster authorizations.”

Also like annual flu vaccines, researchers don’t expect the latest COVID-19 booster to be a silver bullet. “These vaccines are very good, but they’re not perfect,” Schaffner said. “We anticipate that there will be an incremental degree of protection against serious disease caused by these Omicron variants BA.4, BA.5. Will it be a huge increase? Probably not. But the anticipation is that there will be some increase.”

Not everyone is convinced that’s enough to justify this new dose, as the original vaccine formulation still protects recipients well against hospitalization. Adjusting for age, the latest CDC data suggests people who’ve received one or two original booster shots had about a 0.02 percent chance of being hospitalized due to COVID-19 in June. For unvaccinated people, the risk was 0.11 percent.

“I really think you need more evidence that this vaccine is of value as compared to just getting the ancestral strain,” Dr. Paul Offit—an infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and vaccinology professor at University of Pennsylvania Medical School—told The Dispatch. “I just don’t think mouse data are enough. … Do I think they’re going to be less safe? No. But there has to be a certain humility that comes with new products.” Offit argues the FDA and CDC should focus on boosting higher-risk people with the updated shot, rather than the general population as a whole.

But questions about the new dose’s efficacy will be moot if Americans don’t take it at all. About 80 percent of the U.S. population has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but less than half of fully vaccinated people are boosted—and even fewer are double-boosted. A July Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 57 percent of people who were vaccinated but not boosted felt like they had enough protection already, and 52 percent “just [didn’t] want to get” another shot.

The latest booster rollout also coincides with flu shot season—the two vaccines may be combined in the future, but they aren’t this year. Given the already lackluster rollout for previous boosters, Schaffner is clear-eyed about the challenge of convincing Americans to take both. “We’ll be asking the public—figuratively and literally—to roll up both their sleeves, one to get the flu shot, the other to get the updated COVID vaccine,” Schaffner said. “That will require a lot of persuasion. I am cautious about how successful we will be.”

Worth Your Time

  • If Joe Biden truly believes we’re on the precipice of a democratic crisis, why isn’t he acting like it? “The speech’s warning against eroding democratic norms was delivered a week after Biden’s semi-Caesarist announcement of a $500 billion student-loan forgiveness plan without consulting Congress,” Ross Douthat writes in his Sunday column. “And it was immediately succeeded by the news that Democrats would be pouring millions in advertising into New Hampshire’s Republican Senate primary, in the hopes of making sure that the Trumpiest candidate wins—the latest example of liberal strategists deliberately elevating figures their party and president officially consider an existential threat to the ‌Republic. The ultimate blame for nominating those unfit candidates lies with the G.O.P. electorate, not Democrats. But in the debate about the risks of Republican extremism, the debate the president just joined, it’s still important to judge the leaders of the Democratic Party by their behavior. You may believe that American democracy is threatened as at no other point since the Civil War, dear reader, but they do not. They are running a political operation in which the threat to democracy is leverage, used to keep swing voters onside without having to make difficult concessions to the center or the right.”

Something Fun

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Have any questions about how The Morning Dispatch gets put together every night? Or what the earliest days of The Dispatch were like? Or whether the Bears are going to hit the over on 6.5 wins this season? Declan is taking over The Monthly Mailbag in September, so drop any questions you have for him in the comments here.

  • Just because Joe Biden can deliver a primetime speech excoriating Republicans in front of Independence Hall doesn’t mean he should deliver a primetime speech excoriating Republicans in front of Independence Hall. “Some of the most important questions in our politics often get turned into arguments about whether so-and-so has the right to do wrong as a way to avoid answering the question of whether they were right to do it in the first place,” Jonah writes in Friday’s G-File

  • David thinks we need a little more Lord of the Rings and less Game of Thrones in American public life. Those in Westeros tend to win by fighting fire with fire, but J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters realize that, in the quest to confront the enemy, you run the risk of becoming the enemy. Exhibiting restraint isn’t “retreat,” David argues in Sunday’s French Press. “In many ways, it’s the most courageous form of confrontation. It’s an act of faith that often defies our senses.”

  • Need more Tolkien content? On the site over the weekend, Alec wrote about the author’s unfinished Lord of the Rings sequel, and the insight it provides into young radicals on the left and right. Plus: Peter Meilaender reviews Robert Kaplan’s most recent book on southeastern Europe, and Ethan McGuire explains why conservatives should care about hip-hop.

  • On the site today, Harvest Prude examines the current state of America’s Ukrainian refugee resettlement, and Frederick M. Hess questions whether the politics of unilateral student debt relief will be as good for Biden and congressional Democrats as they seem to think.

Let Us Know

Which of today’s announcements are you most excited about?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.