The real reason Israel isn’t reopening the skies

Israel was one of the first countries to impose a global 14-day entry quarantine in March. At the time, the quarantine seemed too broad because the virus was only widespread in a few countries, but it emerged that US Vice President Mike Pence, who was then heading up the Federal Coronavirus Taskforce, had urged Benjamin Netanyahu to make the quarantine global to avoid embarrassing Donald Trump.

The quarantine was augmented by a ban on entry to all non-citizens a few days later.

The entry ban made a kind of sense back in April and May when Israel came close to eliminating the coronavirus altogether. It’s been pointless since June and it’s ludicrous now Israel has lost control over the virus and almost every country in the world has a lower population incidence.

  • Germany (population 83M), for example has about 1000 cases a day at the moment, which works out at something like 1/15th of the incidence of cases in Israel.
  • France (pop 67M) is currently in a virus surge of 3000 cases a day. The surge is bad enough that travellers from France to the UK now have a 14-day quarantine. But it’s still about a tenth of Israel’s incidence.
  • The UK (pop 67M) has 1000 cases a day…. Well, you get the idea.

Almost every country on earth has lower Covid-19 cases than Israel right now. Why keep the skies closed and ban travellers who want to see their families or even just tourists who could pump some money into Israel’s tourism-heavy economy?

At the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, a National Security Council member finally said out loud what many of us had been suspecting.

Eitan Ben-David, an NSC representative, told the committee that it wasn’t just about health.

On the question of [reallowing the entry of] foreigners, you have to understand that there are also foreign policy considerations. There are also Foreign Ministry representatives who would doubtless also have something to say about this story. You have to understand that there are also policy considerations. As soon as you open specific countries for tourism, whether with testing or without testing or with a quarantine, you’d have to clarify why you haven’t opened for other countries. For example, the USA is a red country by many orders of magnitude, but it’s our ally… we obviously have to think about this well.

So, yup, the reason why Israel’s entire tourist industry is shut, and why Olim haven’t seen their parents or children in months, is… Donald Trump again.

Ultimately there are discussions underway to lift the ban in a limited fashion and allow some travellers to visit, but the Trump Factor is looming over that decision.

Romney didn’t ‘win’ the Iowa caucuses

Bleary-eyed from watching the Iowa caucuses last night. They started at 3:30am Israel time. C-SPAN carried the Urbandale caucus live, showing a bunch of people in a hall putting bits of paper in a hat, followed by the 300ish voted being counted and announced.

What happened next – when most people went home – means that Mitt Romney didn’t win Iowa.

Most states hold primary elections to select their delegates for the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012, which formally choose the Republican Party’s candidate for President. Some, like Iowa, hold caucuses.

Once, most primaries were “winner takes all”, meaning the whole state delegation would be allocated to supporters of whoever gets the most votes in the primary. Now, though, most Republican state parties (and all Democratic state parties) allocate their delegates based broadly on the proportion of votes per candidate, usually with a threshold – meaning that the candidate who comes second or third will still get delegates.

So in Iowa last night, Romney narrowly “won” the caucus beating Rick Santorum by only 8 votes. But Iowa’s delegates will be apportioned as follows:

Mitt Romney 25% 30,015 11 delegates
Rick Santorum 25% 30,007 11 delegates
Ron Paul 21% 26,219 3 delegates

Note that both Romney and Santorum get 11 delegates: a tie. Ron Paul, only 4% fewer votes than Romney and Santorum, takes a mere 3 delegates. Everyone else – Newt Gingrich with his 14%, Perry with 10 and Bachmann’s 6% – go home with nothing.

Rick Perry has gone back to Texas to “reassess” his campaign, which is politics-speak for “going to withdraw in the next two days”. There is pressure on Bachmann, who came sixth despite working Iowa for months, to do the same, clearing the field for Santorum to be the candidate of the Republican Religious Right.

update 13:30 GMT – Bachmann will make an “announcement” later today.

Romney will probably lead in New Hampshire on Sunday, but Santorum, with the backing of the Religious Right, could seriously challenge him in South Carolina, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

A bigger challenge is Florida – it has 50 delegates in a winner-takes-all primary at the end of January, after South Carolina. Whoever wins Florida will likely be in a commanding position going into super Tuesday. Florida polling has been varied, with Perry and Cain both leading at one point and Gingrich being a close second to Romney in late December polling. Floridians could coalecse around Santorum as their Anyone But Romney candidate, especially if he puts in a good showing in South Carolina.

The Republican party is one step closer to nominating for President a man who looks like a cross between Alan Partridge and Bryn from Gavin and Stacy (see left), and whose name is a slang synonym for… well, for something unpleasant.

All of which means that Mitt Romney didn’t win anything in Iowa and his campaign is probably pretty nervous.

The real evidence on Circumcision and HIV

Writing in the Guardian, Neil Howard and Rebecca Steinfeld argue for a ban on circumcision. I disagree with them, but luckily so do many others and they’ve done a good job of responding. See this direct response from Adam Wagner, and this pre-emptive piece by Alex Stein.

I have an instant prejudice against the potluck buffet approach to advocacy. I feel people should pick a line of argument and stick with it, rather than offering all sort of different forms of case. Steinfeld and Howard’s article makes rights-based claims, offers ends-based and harm-based objections, even flirts with anthropolatry.

It’s the section on the medical argument that really bothers me though. Howard and Steinfeld, in their wish to make every argument they can, dismiss the good evidence for circumcision as an HIV-prevention method. They do this in two ways – using problematic sources, and using good sources but misinterpreting them. The offending paragraph in the Guardian article is:

What about the health argument, that male circumcision is “cleaner” and prevents HIV transmission? There is a body of research that claims a correlation between circumcision and reduced transmission rates, and this is not to be taken lightly, since it represents the strongest case for male genital cutting – at least in Aids-ravaged regions. But such research is heavily contested. A 2007 study by Dowsett and Couch asserted that insufficient evidence exists to believe that circumcision does reduce transmission, while Gregorio et al’s later analysis cast doubt on correlations between circumcision and transmission of HIV and STI’s more generally. Read More