Later On

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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

The fight to save America

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

For weeks now, I have vowed that I would finish these letters early and get to bed before midnight, and for weeks now, I have finally finished around three in the morning. That was not the case two years ago, when I started writing these at the start of the Ukraine crisis: it was rare enough for me to be writing until midnight that I vividly remember the first time it happened.

I got to thinking today about why things seem more demanding today than they did two years ago, and it strikes me that what makes the writing more time consuming these days is that we have two all-consuming stories running in parallel, and together they illuminate the grand struggle we are in for the survival of American democracy.

On the one hand we have the former president and the attempts by him and his loyalists to seize control of our country regardless of the will of the majority of voters, while Republican Party leaders are refusing to speak out in the hopes that they can retain power to continue advancing their agenda.

Since the 1980s, this branch of the Republican Party has tried to dismantle the government in place since the 1930s that tries to protect equality in America, regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure. Members of this faction of the Republican Party—the faction that is now in control of it—want to take the government back to the 1920s, when businessmen controlled the government, operating it to try to create a booming economy without regard for social or environmental consequences.

Although initially unhappy at Donald Trump’s elevation to the White House, that faction embraced him as he advanced the tax cuts, deregulation, and destruction of government offices they believed were central to freeing businessmen to advance the economy. Believing that Democrats’ determination to use the government to level the playing field among Americans would destroy the individualism that supports the economy, they had come to believe that Democrats could not legitimately govern the country. And so, members of this Republican faction did not back away when Trump refused to accept the election of a Democratic president in 2020.

Almost a year later, the leadership of the Republican Party, composed now as it is of Trump loyalists, is undermining our democracy. It has fallen in line behind Trump’s Big Lie that he and not Biden won the 2020 election, and that the Democratic Party engaged in voter fraud to install their candidate. This is a lie, but Republicans at the state level are using that lie to justify new election laws that suppress Democratic votes and put control of state elections into their own hands. If those laws are allowed to stand, we will be a democracy in name only. We will likely still have elections, but, just as in Russia or Hungary now, the mechanics of the system will mean that only the president’s party can win.

This attack on our democracy is unprecedented, and it cannot be ignored. Tonight, for example, Trump held a “rally” in Perry, Georgia, where, to cheers, he straight up lied that the recent “audit” in Arizona proved he won the 2020 election. And yet, to overemphasize the antics of the former president and his supporters enables them to grow to larger proportions than they deserve, feeding their power. Tonight, for example, Newsmax and OAN covered Trump’s rally live, but the Fox News Channel did not, and the audience appeared bored.

On the other hand, in contrast to the former president’s party, President Joe Biden and the Democrats are trying to demonstrate that democracy actually works. Rather than simply fighting the Republicans, which would permit the Republicans to define the terms under which they govern, they are defending the active government the Republicans have set out to destroy. Biden has been clear since he took office that he intends to strengthen democracy abroad, where it is under pressure from rising autocratic governments, by strengthening it at home.

To that end, he and the Democrats in Congress have aggressively worked to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 9:11 pm

The on-going effort to overthrow the United States government

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Heather Cox Richardson summarizes the situation:

On Monday, we learned that after last year’s election, John Eastman, a well-connected lawyer advising former president Donald Trump, outlined a six-point plan to overturn the outcome of the election and install Trump as America’s leader. They planned to cut the voters’ actual choice, Democrat Joe Biden, out of power: as Trump advisor Steve Bannon put it, they planned to “kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” This appears to have been the plan that Trump and his loyalists tried to execute on January 6.

That is, we now have written proof of an attempt to destroy our democracy and replace it with an autocracy.

This was not some crazy plot of some obscure dude in a shack in the mountains; this was a plan of the president of the United States of America, and it came perilously close to succeeding. The president of the United States tried to overturn the results of an election—the centerpiece of our democracy—and install himself into power illegitimately.

If this is not a hair-on-fire, screaming emergency, what is?

And yet, Republican lawmakers, with the notable exceptions of Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), have largely remained silent about the fact that the head of their party tried to destroy our democracy.

The best spin on their silence is that in refusing to defend the former president while also keeping quiet enough that they do not antagonize the voters in his base, they are choosing their own power over the protection of our country.

The other option is that the leaders of the Republican Party have embraced authoritarianism, and their once-grand party—the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that saved the United States in the 1860s, the party that removed racial enslavement from our fundamental law—has become an existential threat to our nation.

Democracy requires at least two healthy parties capable of running a government in order to provide oversight for those currently in control of the government and to channel opposition into peaceful attempts to change the country’s path rather than into revolution. But Republicans appear to believe that any Democratic government is illegitimate, insisting that Democrats’ calls for business regulation, a basic social safety net, and infrastructure investment are “socialism” that will destroy the country.

With Democrats in charge of the federal government, Republicans are cementing their power in the states to support a future coup like the one Eastman described. Using “audits” of the 2020 elections, notably in Arizona but now also in Pennsylvania and Texas, Trump loyalists have convinced their supporters to distrust elections, softening the ground to overturn them in the future. According to a new poll by NORC at the University of Chicago, 26% of Americans now believe that “[t]he 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president,” and 8% believe that “[u]se of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.”

Arguing that they have to stop the voter fraud they have falsely claimed threw the election to Biden, Republican lawmakers in 18 states have passed more than 30 laws to cut down Democratic voting and cement their own rule. Trump supporters have threatened election workers, prompting them to quit, and have harassed school board members and local officials, driving them from office.

Although attorneys general are charged with nonpartisan enforcement of the law, we learned earlier this month that in September 2020, 32 staff members of Republican attorneys general met in Atlanta, where they participated in “war games” to figure out what to do should Trump not be reelected. The summit was organized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which sent out robocalls on January 5 urging recipients to march to the Capitol the following day “to stop the steal.” In May, RAGA elevated the man responsible for those robocalls to the position of executive director, prompting others to leave.

In states where Republicans have rigged election mechanics, party members need to worry about primary challengers from the right, rather than Democratic opponents. So they are purging from the party all but Trump loyalists, especially as the former president is backing challengers against those who voted in favor of his impeachment in the House in January 2021. Last week, one of those people, Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), announced he was retiring, in part because of right-wing threats against his family. 

Trump loyalists are openly embracing the language of authoritarianism. In Texas, Abbott is now facing a primary challenger who today tweeted: “Texans deserve a strong and robust leader committed to fighting with them against the radical Left. They deserve a leader like Brazil has in Jair Bolsonaro…..” Bolsonaro, a right-wing leader whose approval rating in late August was 23%, is threatening to stay in power in Brazil against the wishes of its people. He claims that the country’s elections are fraudulent and that “[e]ither we’ll have clean elections, or we won’t have elections.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) today used language fascists have used in the past to stoke hatred of their political opponents, tweeting that “ALL House Democrats are evil and will kill unborn babies all the way up to birth and then celebrate.” Yesterday, the leader of Turning Points U.S.A., Charlie Kirk, brought the movement’s white nationalism into the open when he told a YouTube audience that Democrats were backing “an invasion of the country” to bring in “voters that they want and that they like” and to work toward “diminishing and decreasing white demographics in America.” He called for listeners to “[d]eputize a citizen force, put them on the border, give them handcuffs, get it done.”

Today, we learned that the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be held in Budapest, Hungary, where leader Viktor Orbán, whom Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson has openly admired, is dismantling democracy and eroding civil rights. When former vice president Mike Pence spoke in Budapest earlier this week at a forum denouncing immigration and urging traditional social values, he told the audience he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion thanks to the three justices Trump put on the court.

Establishment Republicans who are now out of power are . . .

Continue reading. The US is swirling the drain and most politicians are simply watching.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2021 at 11:44 am

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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Robert Kagan has a lengthy piece in the Washington Post that’s well worth reading — and that link is gift article that skips the paywall. His essay begins:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”  — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

The insurrection effort’s 6-point plan for a coup

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

CNN’s bombshell revelation of Trump loyalist lawyer John Eastman’s six-point memo of instructions for overturning the 2020 election—discussed in the new book by veteran journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa—seems to be sparking a reckoning with how dangerous the Trump loyalists are to the survival of American democracy.

Eastman responded to the story by saying the released memo was only a draft and then giving CNN the final version, which was longer but no less damning—just how damning was indicated by two separate things.

First, J. Michael Luttig, the former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit whom Pence had asked for advice about whether he could overturn the election results, quickly took to Twitter to distance himself from the story, saying: “I was honored to advise Vice President Pence that he had no choice on January 6, 2021, but to accept and count the Electoral College votes as they had been cast and properly certified by the states…. I believe(d) that Professor Eastman was incorrect at every turn of the analysis in his January 2 memorandum.” Eastman had been Luttig’s law clerk.

Second, former president Trump promptly sued his niece Dr. Mary L. Trump, the New York Times, and three New York Times reporters, claiming they were part of an “insidious plot” to obtain and publish his tax records “to gain fame, notoriety, acclaim and a financial windfall and were further intended to advance their political agenda.” Although the New York Times articles accused Trump of tax fraud, the former president did not claim libel or defamation in the suit. Legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Joyce Alene White Vance noted that to win on that point, he would have to prove that the reporting about his finances wasn’t true, and he was all but conceding he could not do that.

Trump used a lawyer that he has not used before to launch the suit, which Mary Trump, whose doctorate is in psychology, dismissed as the work of a desperate “loser” who was “going to throw anything against the wall he can.”

Eastman was no fly-by-night; he is a senior member of the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (as well as for Judge Luttig). Eastman’s standing in the so-called conservative movement makes it all the more astonishing that, to my knowledge, no leading Republican lawmaker has commented on the revelations of just how close we came to the installation of Trump instead of the duly elected presidential candidate, Joe Biden, in January.

Instead, Republican lawmakers are making headlines by refusing even to negotiate over the debt ceiling, simply saying the Democrats are on their own. They appear to be trying to replace one crisis with another, trying to turn public attention away from Trump’s attempted coup to the idea that Democrats are wild spendthrifts (although the Trump administration added about $7.8 trillion of today’s $28 trillion debt, and during his term, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling three times).

It is impossible to overstate just how momentous are both an attempted coup and an attempt to force the U.S. to default on its debts.

Other news about the Trump administration and the January 6 Capitol insurrection is surfacing, as well.

On Monday, a federal court in Washington, D.C. unsealed an indictment alleging that, with the help of conservative author Doug Wead, Jesse Benton, a political operative from Kentucky closely allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), illegally directed foreign money from a Russian businessman to the 2016 Trump campaign. That the Department of Justice sat on the case for close to five years, even while the question of connections between the Trump campaign and Russians was white hot, suggests political interference with that department.

On Tuesday, the New York Times broke the story that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The US is encountering a crisis that Republicans either support or refuse to face. I think there are tough times ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 9:42 am

Inside the Conservative Fever Swamp

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Michael A. Cohen (aka, the other Michael Cohen) has a good post on his site. It begins:

As a general rule, I usually don’t read the right-wing website, Breitbart. It is one of the by-products of having a functioning brain.

But I’m making an exception today because a recent piece on the site offers useful insight into the workings of the conservative mind — and the debilitating ideology of modern conservatism.

Last week Breitbart Editor-at-Large John Nolte penned a piece lamenting that conservatives are not getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He also touted the benefits of getting a shot. These days that kind of language on a right-wing website is to be applauded. But Nolte took his argument in a strange direction: he claims that Republicans are not getting vaccinated because of liberals.

According to Nolte, “leftists like (Howard) Stern and CNNLOL and Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Fauci are deliberately looking to manipulate Trump supporters into not getting vaccinated.”

How are they doing this?

“If I wanted to use reverse psychology to convince people not to get a life-saving vaccination, I would do exactly what Stern and the left are doing… I would bully and taunt and mock and ridicule you for not getting vaccinated, knowing the human response would be, Hey, fuck you, I’m never getting vaccinated!” “And why is that a perfectly human response? Because no one ever wants to feel like they are being bullied or ridiculed or mocked or pushed into doing anything.

It’s a helluva thing when a conservative writer takes the position that his fellow ideologues are like immature children who are so super sensitive and insecure that they will refuse to get a life-saving vaccine simply because their political opponents think they should. But that is Nolte’s argument.

It is, in fact, not a 100 percent normal human response to refuse vaccination in this circumstance — particularly if the alternative is death. Less normal is believing that Anthony Fauci, Nancy Pelosi, or Joe Biden are bullying, mocking, or ridiculing conservatives to purposely hasten their deaths. Far less normal is giving a rat’s ass about anything Howard Stern says. Nolte criticizes Stern for mocking anti-vaxxer conservative radio hosts who have died from COVID-19 — and rightfully so. It’s gross. But honestly, who cares? And who in their right mind makes a health care decision based on something that Howard Stern said? According to Nolte, conservatives do.

“No one wants to cave to a piece of shit like that, or a scumbag like Fauci, or any of the scumbags at CNNLOL, so we don’t. And what’s the result? They’re all vaccinated, and we’re not! And when you look at the numbers, the only numbers that matter, which is who’s dying, it’s overwhelmingly the unvaccinated who are dying, and they have just manipulated millions of their political enemies into the unvaccinated camp …

In another column this week, Nolte went a step further and argued that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The crazy never stops, and the stupid sinks ever lower.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 5:36 pm

The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror: 20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives

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Dylan Matthews reports in Vox:

On the evening of September 11, 2001, hours after two hijacked airliners had destroyed the World Trade Center towers and a third had hit the Pentagon building, President George W. Bush announced that the country was embarking on a new kind of war.

“America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism,” Bush announced in a televised address to the nation.

It was Bush’s first use of the term that would come to define his presidency and deeply shape those of his three successors. The global war on terror, as the effort came to be known, was one of the most expansive and far-reaching policy initiatives in modern American history, and certainly the biggest of the 2000s.

It saw the US invade and depose the governments of two nations and engage in years- or decades-long occupations of each; the initiation of a new form of warfare via drones spanning thousands of miles of territory from Pakistan to Somalia to the Philippines; the formalization of a system of detention without charge and pervasive torture of accused militants; numerous smaller raids by special forces teams around the world; and major changes to air travel and border security in the US proper.

The “war on terror” is a purposely vague term. President Barack Obama famously rejected it in a 2013 speech — favoring instead “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists.”

But 9/11 signaled the beginning of a distinct policy regime from the one that preceded it, and a regime that exists in many forms to the present day, even with the US exit from Afghanistan.

Over the past 20 years, the costs of this new policy regime — costs in terms of lives lost, money spent, people and whole communities displaced, bodies tortured — have become clear. It behooves us, then, to try to answer a simple yet vast question: Was it worth it?

A good-faith effort to answer this question — to tally the costs and benefits on the ledger and not just resort to one’s ideological priors — is more challenging than you’d think. That’s largely because it involves quantifying the inherently unquantifiable. If, as proponents argue, the war on terror kept America safe, how do you quantify the psychological value of not being in a state of constant fear of the next attack? What about the damage of increased Islamophobia and violent targeting of Muslims (and those erroneously believed to be Muslims) stoked by the war on terror? There are dozens more unquantifiable purported costs and benefits like these.

But some things can be measured. There have been no 9/11-scale terrorist attacks in the United States in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, according to the most recent estimates from Brown University’s Costs of War Projectat least 897,000 people around the world have died in violence that can be classified as part of the war on terror; at least 38 million people have been displaced due to these wars; and the effort has cost the US at least $5.8 trillion, not including about $2 trillion more needed in health care and disability coverage for veterans in decades to come.

When you lay it all out on paper, an honest accounting of the war on terror yields a dismal conclusion: Even with an incredibly generous view of the war on terror’s benefits, the costs have vastly exceeded them. The past 20 years of war represent a colossal failure by the US government, one it has not begun to reckon with or atone for.

We are now used to the fact that the US government routinely bombs foreign countries with which it is not formally or even informally at war, in the name of killing terrorists. We are used to the fact that the National Security Agency works with companies like Facebook and Google to collect our private information en masse. We are used to the fact that 39 men are sitting in Guantanamo Bay, almost all detained indefinitely without trial.

These realities were not inevitable. They were chosen as part of a policy regime that has done vastly more harm than good.

What America and the world might have gained from the war on terror

Before going further, it’s important to define our terms. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s a harsh indictment. One of several charts in the article:

The road from Nixon

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Heather Cox Richardson lays out recent history in showing how the dominoes topple after Nixon’s criminal presidency:

On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford granted “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.” Ford said he was issuing the pardon to keep from roiling the “tranquility” the nation had begun to enjoy since Nixon stepped down. If Nixon were indicted and brought to trial, the trial would “cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

Ford later said that he issued the pardon with the understanding that accepting a pardon was an admission of guilt. But Nixon refused to accept responsibility for the events surrounding the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C.’s fashionable Watergate office building. He continued to maintain that he had done nothing wrong but was hounded from office by a “liberal” media.

Rather than being chastised by Watergate and the political fallout from it, a faction of Republicans continued to support the idea that Nixon had done nothing wrong when he covered up an attack on the Democrats before the 1972 election. Those Republicans followed Nixon’s strategy of dividing Americans. Part of that polarization was an increasing conviction that Republicans were justified in undercutting Democrats, who were somehow anti-American, even if it meant breaking laws.

In the 1980s, members of the Reagan administration did just that. They were so determined to provide funds for the Nicaraguan Contras, who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government, that they ignored a law passed by a Democratic Congress against such aid. In a terribly complicated plan, administration officials, led by National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his deputy Oliver North, secretly sold arms to Iran, which was on the U.S. terror list and thus ineligible for such a purchase, to try to put pressure on Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorists who were holding U.S. hostages. The other side of the deal was that they illegally funneled the money from the sales to the Contras.

Although Poindexter, North, and North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, destroyed crucial documents, enough evidence remained to indict more than a dozen participants, including Poindexter, North, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and four CIA officials. But when he became president himself, Reagan’s vice president George H.W. Bush, himself a former CIA director and implicated in the scandal, pardoned those convicted or likely to be. He was advised to do so by his attorney general, William Barr (who later became attorney general for President Donald Trump).

With his attempt to use foreign policy to get himself reelected, Trump took attacks on democracy to a new level. In July 2019, he withheld congressionally appropriated money from Ukraine in order to force the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to announce he was opening an investigation into the son of then–Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. That is, Trump used the weight of the U.S. government and its enormous power in foreign affairs to try to hamstring his Democratic opponent. When the story broke, Democrats in the House of Representatives called this attack on our democracy for what it was and impeached him, but Republicans voted to acquit.

It was a straight line from 2019’s attack to that of the weeks after the 2020 election, when the former president did all he could to stop the certification of the vote for Democrat Joe Biden. By January 6, though, Trump’s disdain for the law had . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 9:34 am

Kayfabe Ascendent

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Two very interesting videos:

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 6:13 pm

‘I Helped Destroy People’: Terry Albury on his FBI work

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Janet Reitman reports in the NY Times about Terry Albury’s decision that I was worth going to prison to let the public know what the FBI and other government agencies are doing. The articlee mentions that the Obama administration prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act — for revealing to the public what the government was doing — than all previous administrations combined.

I think it is an ominous sign when a government goes to great lengths to keep its citizens from knowing what it is doing.

This article can be read without the paywall — the NY Times has instituted “gift articles,” and this is one I am giving. The article begins:

Early on the morning of Aug. 29, 2017, Terry Albury awoke with a nagging sense of foreboding. It was not yet dawn in Shakopee, Minn., the Minneapolis suburb where Albury, an F.B.I. special agent, lived with his wife and two young children, and he lay in bed for a few minutes, running through the mental checklist of cases and meetings and phone calls, the things that generally made him feel as if his life was in order. He was a 16-year veteran of the F.B.I.: 38, tall and powerfully built, with buzzed black hair and a black goatee. Most of his career he had spent in counterterrorism, investigating sleeper cells and racking up commendations signed by the F.B.I. directors Robert Mueller and James Comey, which praised his “outstanding” work recruiting confidential sources and exposing terrorist financing networks. He was a careful investigator and a keen observer. “Something is going on behind the scenes that I’m not aware of,” he told his wife the night before. She told him to stop worrying. “You always think there’s something going on.” She was right. But this time he had reason to be apprehensive, even though he’d been careful. The memory card was buried in his closet, tucked into a shirt pocket under a pile of clothes. “Stop being so paranoid,” he told himself. Then he left for work.

Albury had spent the past six months assigned to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as a liaison officer. It had always amazed him how little most Americans knew about the legal netherworld of the international terminal, where federal agents from ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection could, at the behest of the F.B.I. or another intelligence agency, pull a person out of the customs line and interrogate him or her based solely on being from Pakistan, or Syria, or Somalia, or another country in which the U.S. government had an interest. His role was to supervise this form of intelligence gathering, a particularly unsavory aspect of counterterrorism, as he saw it, though it was better than being stuck at the sprawling, five-story edifice that was the Minneapolis field office, where he had worked since 2012.

That morning, Albury had been summoned to the field office for an interview with a group of F.B.I. inspectors from Washington. It was fairly routine — headquarters was always dispatching inspection teams to make sure agents and their managers were doing their jobs — but Albury had been at the office so infrequently that the last time his supervisor saw him, he asked him what he was doing there. “I work here,” Albury said. The encounter left him with an uneasy feeling.

Traffic was light. With any luck, he figured, he would be back at the airport before lunchtime. He pulled his government-issued Dodge Charger up to the security gate and flashed his credentials at the guard, who waved him through. The underground parking garage was nearly empty. That’s odd, he thought.

A couple of agents stood by the entrance. Albury chatted with them for a few minutes. “I thought you were over at MSP,” one agent said, referring to the airport. Albury mentioned his meeting with the inspectors. The agents rolled their eyes. “Good luck, man,” one said.

Later, Albury would replay certain moments: that the agents, frequently standoffish, seemed unusually friendly; that at 8 in the morning, the fourth floor, where Albury worked, was entirely empty, and that even though a few people began to trickle in by around 8:15, there were far fewer than were usually at the office at that hour. About 15 minutes after he sat down at his desk, the Minneapolis field office’s in-house counsel, an agent he’d seen maybe twice in his life and never off the management floor, appeared in the squad bay, walked past his desk and, Albury thought, appeared to give him a sideways glance. That, he decided later, was the tell.

After checking his email and reviewing his files, he headed upstairs to meet the inspectors. Awaiting him was the same official who weeks earlier asked him what he was doing at the office. He offered to take Albury downstairs to the interview. This also felt off.

The men rode the elevator to the first floor in silence. The interview room was down the hall. Fighting his growing sense of dread, Albury was halfway down the corridor when three F.B.I. SWAT team members appeared in front of him. “Hands on the wall!”

The agents patted Albury down, removing his Glock 23 service pistol from its holster and confiscating his spare magazines, handcuffs, badge and credentials. Then they led him into a small room. I guess this is it, he thought. Game time.

Two agents, a man and a woman, sat at a table. The woman spoke first. “Tell me about the silver camera,” she said.

More than seven months later, on April 17, 2018, Terry Albury appeared in a federal court in Minneapolis, where he pleaded guilty to charges of leaking classified information to the press. The allegations — that Albury downloaded, printed and photographed internal F.B.I. documents on his office computer, sending some of them electronically to a journalist and saving others on external devices found in his home — resulted from a 17-month-long internal investigation by the F.B.I., prompted by two Freedom of Information Act requests by a news organization (unnamed in the charging document) in March 2016. Nine months after these FOIA requests were made, a trove of internal F.B.I. documents shedding new light on the vast and largely unrestricted power of the post-9/11 F.B.I. was posted on the investigative-journalism site The Intercept. The cache included hundreds of pages of unredacted policy manuals, including the F.B.I.’s byzantine rule book, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, exposing the hidden loopholes that allowed agents to violate the bureau’s own rules against racial and religious profiling and domestic spying as they pursued the domestic war on terror. The Justice Department, under the Trump administration’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, charged Albury with two counts of “knowingly and willfully” retaining and transmitting “national defense information” to a journalist. In October 2018, he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Albury is the first F.B.I. special agent since Robert Hanssen to be convicted under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute that has traditionally been used to punish spies: Hanssen was arrested in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for selling secrets to the Russians. Increasingly, however, the Espionage Act has been used by the Justice Department as a cudgel against people who have leaked sensitive or classified information to the press. The Obama administration prosecuted more government officials for leaking secrets to the press than all previous administrations combined, bringing Espionage Act charges against eight people in eight years and referring 316 cases for investigation. Among those charged were Chelsea Manning, who was tried and convicted in a military court-martial in 2013 for sending hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden, whose 2013 leak of classified N.S.A. documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post alerted the public to the scope of the N.S.A.’s mass-surveillance activities.

The Trump administration referred 334 cases for investigation and brought Espionage Act charges against at least five people in four years. The first was Reality Winner, a 25-year-old N.S.A. contractor who was arrested in June 2017 and accused of leaking a classified intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to The Intercept. The second national-security leak case of the Trump era was against Terry Albury, though unlike Winner’s case, his received little fanfare. Instead, his lawyers quietly hammered out a plea deal with the Justice Department, avoiding the unwanted media attention that would come with a formal criminal complaint.

In recommending that Albury receive a 52-month sentence, government prosecutors cast him as a compulsive leaker, recklessly endangering national security by “stealing” the government secrets he was sworn, as an F.B.I. agent, to protect. But Albury says he felt a moral imperative to make his disclosures, motivated by his belief that the bureau had been so fundamentally transformed by Sept. 11 that its own agents were compelled to commit civil and human rights violations. “As a public servant, my oath is to serve the interest of society, not the F.B.I.,” he says. “My logic was centered on the fact that the public I served had a right to know what the F.B.I. was doing in their name.”

“These documents confirmed what American communities — primarily Muslims and communities of color — and rights groups had long known or thought to be true,” says Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “For years we’ve been hearing from people who were surveilled or investigated or watchlisted with no apparent basis for the F.B.I. to suspect wrongdoing, but based primarily on their race or religion or political organizing and beliefs. And here’s someone who was trying to do the right things from inside government, and ended up either participating or being a witness or adjacent to a range of abuses that defined, and continue to define, the post-9/11 era. What are you supposed to do as a person of conscience when you see what your country is doing?”

This article is a product of close to three years of interviews with Terry Albury, whom I met for the first time in November 2018, shortly before he went to prison. Our initial, five-hour conversation took place in a hotel room in Berkeley, Calif.; subsequent interviews have been conducted through letters and email while Albury was in prison and more recently using Signal, an encrypted phone and messaging service. He has not previously spoken to the press about his case. In addition to his own account, this article is based on a review of hundreds of pages of government documents and reports by civil liberties and human rights organizations, as well as interviews with Albury’s attorney and friends; experts in national security and constitutional law; and a number of former F.B.I. officials and colleagues, several of whom insisted on anonymity out of a reluctance to publicly criticize the F.B.I. (The F.B.I. declined to comment on Albury’s case.)

“I was very idealistic when I joined the F.B.I.,” Albury says. “I really wanted to make the world a better place, and I stayed as long as I did because I continued to believe that I could help make things better, as naïve as that sounds. But the war on terror is like this game, right? We’ve built this entire apparatus and convinced the world that there is a terrorist in every mosque, and that every newly arrived Muslim immigrant is secretly anti-American, and because we have promoted that false notion, we have to validate it. So we catch some kid who doesn’t know his ear from his [expletive] for building a bomb fed to them by the F.B.I., or we take people from foreign countries where they have secret police and recruit them as informants and capitalize on their fear to ensure there is compliance. It’s a very dangerous and toxic environment, and we have not come to terms with the fact that maybe we really screwed up here,” he says. “Maybe what we’re doing is wrong.”

Albury joined the F.B.I. in 2001, one month before the attacks of Sept. 11. At 22, he had just graduated from Berea, a small liberal arts college in Kentucky, where he became fascinated with the idea of joining the bureau after completing a 10-week summer internship with the F.B.I.’s Crimes Against Children unit in Washington. He spent the summer shadowing agents as they worked cases against child sex traffickers and purveyors of child pornography, and he went back to college intent on joining the bureau immediately after graduation. That August, he was hired as an investigative specialist, an entry-level surveillance job he saw as a steppingstone to his ultimate goal of becoming a special agent and going after pedophiles. “Terry wanted to save people,” recalls his friend Felemon Belay.

Albury was an unusual candidate for the F.B.I. He grew up in . .

Continue reading — without worrying about the paywall. And there is a lot more in the article. At the link, you can also listen to an audio recording of the article.

Written by Leisureguy

1 September 2021 at 7:27 pm

The Real Story Behind the $25,000 Trump Donation to Pam Bondi

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Jose Pagliery reports in Daily Beast:

It was the personally signed $25,000 check that landed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in hot water—the check that sparked accusations that he had bribed Florida’s top prosecutor, Pam Bondi, with funds from his charity.

Much has been written about the suspicious timing of Trump’s 2013 gift to the Florida attorney general’s political campaign. But contrary to previous claims from Trump’s presidential campaign and company executives, new records acquired by The Daily Beast show that Trump Organization employees were explicitly told this was a donation to a political group, and emails show that Trump’s own executive assistant had met in person with Bondi’s finance director in New York City.

In its 2018 case against the Trump Foundation, the New York attorney general noted how Trump broke the law by using his charity to fund Bondi’s political group. And the charity was ultimately dissolved after a state judge found Trump had “breached his fiduciary duty” to the charity in other ways, behavior that the AG’s office called a “shocking pattern of illegality.”

The donation occurred just as Bondi was supposed to be considering joining New York’s investigation of the Trump University scam. And Trump himself got off easy. His campaign and foundation executives chalked it up to a mistake. The nonprofit didn’t realize it was a political group, the campaign told The Wall Street Journal. An ignorant company clerk hadn’t known, otherwise “we would have taken it out of [Trump’s] own personal account,” Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg told The Washington Post.

The conversation is laid out in an email exchanged on Aug. 28, 2013 between Bondi campaign finance director Deborah Ramsey Aleksander and Trump’s long-serving executive assistant, Rhona Graff.

Aleksander provided Graff with the name and federal tax identification number for “And Justice for All,” a political action committee associated with Ms. Bondi’s re-election campaign. Aleksander described it as an “ECO,” which stands for “Electioneering Communications Organization.”

“Again, it was a pleasure meeting you today!!! Thanks again for always being so responsive and wonderful to work with.” Aleksander wrote to Graff. “Let Mr. Trump know that we are SO VERY thankful for his commitment of 25k and If he wants to make it 50k, that’s perfectly acceptable. 🙂 Seriously, thanks again for everything!!!”

In a subsequent email sent exactly two weeks later on Sept. 11, 2013, Aleksander mentioned their previous meeting in New York City and provided Graff with a copy of And Justice for All’s Internal Revenue Service W-9 form, which lists the group’s “federal tax classification” as a “political organization.”

Two days later, Trump sent Bondi the check with a signed letter that misspelled her name as “Pam Biondi” and read, “Dear Pam: You are the greatest!”

The signed check to the political group was issued from The Donald J. Trump Foundation, Inc., a tax-exempt nonprofit regulated by Section 501(c)(3) of U.S. tax code—which prohibits political donations by charities.

The Daily Beast showed these documents to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that filed the initial complaint that exposed this entire ordeal. Jordan Libowitz, the CREW communications director who led this project, called the emails “a smoking gun.”

“It kind of blows up their whole story,” Libowitz said. “The Trump Organization staffers knew they were making this political donation. There are no questions about it. There is no ambiguity.”

The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about the matter on Wednesday. Bondi, who is now listed as a partner at the Washington offices of the lobbying firm Ballard Partners, did not respond to a request for comment, neither did Aleksander, who lists herself as an independent fundraising consultant for Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

The emails obtained by The Daily Beast also cast doubt on another explanation given by the Trump Organization when this matter came under public scrutiny in 2016.

At the time, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2021 at 10:04 am

The US shows signs of breaking down

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Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, where she teaches courses on the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, writes in her Substack column:

At 3:29 ET on August 30, 2021—early on the morning of August 31 in Afghanistan—the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan ended. It was the longest war in American history.

Among the last to come home were the 13 Americans killed in an ISIS-K attack last Thursday. They arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Sunday morning from Germany. President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and 8 aides attended the dignified transfer between the plane and a waiting vehicle.

In the last 17 days in Afghanistan, U.S. troops evacuated more than 120,000 people, making up the largest airlift in our history. For comparison, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post pointed out, the U.S. evacuated no Americans from the civil war in Yemen in 2015, and only about 167 from Libya in 2011.

While critics have suggested that America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will hurt American credibility abroad, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have called for combatting terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes like the one they used to retaliate against ISIS-K for the attack on the Kabul airport that killed more than 160 Afghans and 13 Americans last Friday, and by strengthening democracy at home.

There is plenty of work to do on that last front.

Last week, Peter Wehner, who served in the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations, pointed out in The Atlantic that the right wing has moved to such extremism that former president Trump, whose behavior seemed so shocking in 2015 and 2016, is now being sidelined by lawmakers and pundits who are even more extreme.

Yesterday, in an event hosted by the Macon County Republican Party, Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) insisted that the January 6 rioters are “political hostages” and said he wanted to “bust them out.” When someone in the audience asked “When are you going to call us to Washington again?” he said, “We are actively working on that one…. We have a few plans in motion that I can’t make public right now.” He called for removing Biden from office under the 25th Amendment and added, “when Kamala Harris inevitably screws up, we will take them down, one at a time.” He concluded by saying: “The Second Amendment was not written so that we can go hunting or we can shoot sporting clays…. The Second Amendment was written so that we can fight against tyranny.”

Increasingly, right-wing agitators are calling for violent overthrow of the government.

Today in Pennsylvania, Steve Lynch, a candidate for Northampton County executive, said: “Forget going into these school boards with freaking data. You go into these school boards to remove them. I’m going in with 20 strong men and I’m gonna give them an option—they can leave or they can be removed.”

At a protest in Santa Monica yesterday before a vote on a mask mandate, a man held a sign with the names and home addresses of each Los Angeles City Council member and said protesters would go to the homes of anyone who voted for the mandate and, if it passed, “Civil War is coming! Get your guns!”

This sort of street-level violence is known for radicalizing individuals as they get swept up in it and then later embrace the larger political arguments behind it. It also forces more reasonable individuals out of government positions as they conclude that their position on a school board, for example,  is not worth threats against their families and their lives.

Far from trying to tamp down this violence, right-wing leaders are egging it on. Tonight, on the Fox News Channel, personality Tucker Carlson told his audience that no leader had apologized for “these terrible decisions” in Afghanistan. “This can’t go on,” he said. “When leaders refuse to hold themselves accountable, over time, people revolt…. We need to change course immediately… or else the consequences will be awful.”

The images on the screen behind Carlson were of President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley. Carlson often tries to undermine the current leadership of the military, suggesting that he would welcome its replacement by officers he finds less objectionable.

Republican offense may be an attempt at defense.

Today, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, announced that the committee has demanded that 35 major communications companies preserve their records from April 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021, for people involved in the January 5 and January 6 rallies in Washington, D.C., or “potentially involved with discussions” about stopping the electoral vote count on January 6 or otherwise  “potentially involved with discussions” in planning the January 6 insurrection. According to CNN, the companies affected include cell phone giants Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Sprint. Social media companies covered under the request include Apple, Google, Facebook, Signal, Slack, YouTube, Twitch, and Twitter.

CNN reports that members of the committee have requested preservation of the records of representatives Cawthorn, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jody Hice (R-GA), and Scott Perry (R-PA). They have also asked the companies to preserve the records of former president Trump; those of his children Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump; and those of his daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Don Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, who worked on the campaign.

Those determined to regain control of the country from the Democrats also have to contend with continuing good news from Biden’s policies. A new . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s somewhat more comforting.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2021 at 1:49 am

Afghanistan evacuation: How would Trump have done?

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David Fisk on Facebook quotes an email sent by Olivia Troye, a former White House national security staffer during the Trump admin., on behalf of the Republican Accountability Project

My heart breaks right now for the people of Afghanistan, and for our allies who are trapped in the country and surrounded by the Taliban. This was a disaster that never had to happen, and I hope they are evacuated quickly and safely.

I’m seeing Republicans claim that Trump would have handled the situation far better—and I know for a fact that’s just not true. Until 2020, I was a national security staffer for the Trump administration, until I quit after seeing just how incompetent and cruel he was. Afghanistan was no exception.

I sat in cabinet meetings about getting Americans and our Afghan allies out of the country. In them, Stephen Miller would peddle his racist hysteria. He and his enablers across the government undermined anyone who worked on solving the issues in getting special immigrant visas (SIVs) for our Afghan allies by undermining the system at Homeland Security and the State Department.

I tracked this issue personally in my role at the White House. I met with many refugee advocate organizations who pleaded for help in getting U.S. allies through the process.

But we got nowhere because Trump and Miller had watchdogs in place at the Justice Department, Homeland Security, State and other agencies that made an already cumbersome SIV process even more challenging.
The system wouldn’t budge, no matter how much we argued in National Security Council meetings. The Pentagon weighed in, saying we needed to get these allies through the process. Mattis and others sent memos trying to help. We all knew the urgency, but we were blocked at every turn.

Good people within the Trump Administration tried to counter Miller’s obstruction, but their fear of retaliation was palpable. Numerous closed door meetings were held, strategizing how to navigate this issue.
Trump had four years to develop a plan. We could have used that time to lay the groundwork to evacuate our Afghan allies. They were the lifelines for many of us who spent time in Afghanistan.

They’d been waiting a long time, all the while under the threat of death at the hands of the Taliban. The process slowed to a trickle for reviews and “other priorities.” Ultimately, they came to a halt.

I have one thing to say to Trump’s defenders who are making blanket statements and pushing false narratives about Afghanistan: please, just stop. Some of you were actively involved in making it harder to get our Afghan allies to safety. Your comments are uninformed and hurtful. And we see right through you.

I’m grateful for everyone now advocating the urgency of getting our allies out of Afghanistan ASAP and those who are doing everything they can to help. This is a matter of national security.

Most importantly, it’s the least we can do for these individuals. The world is watching.

Olivia Troye
Director, Republican Accountability Project

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2021 at 10:20 am

The evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies is proceeding briskly and effectively

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[Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.), awarded the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Image from NARA.]

Heather Cox Richardson has a particularly interesting column tonight, touching on:

• the House investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol

The last items the committee asked NARA to produce were: “All documents and communications related to the January 3, 2021, letter from 10 former Defense Secretaries warning of use of the military in election disputes.” 

That letter, which was published in the Washington Post and signed by all ten of the living former defense secretaries, warned that “[e]fforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.” The letter reminded then–acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates that they were “each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

It was an extraordinary letter, and its authors thought it was important enough to write it over the holidays, for publication three days before the January 6 electoral count. The driving force behind the letter was former vice president Dick Cheney. 

Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney (R-WY) sits on the House select committee. 

Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege to stop the release of the documents. 

• the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies

The first days of the evacuation after the Afghan army crumbled and the Taliban swept into control of the country in nine days were chaotic, indeed, but since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated more than 82,300 people, bringing out 19,000 people yesterday alone.

• the recognition by the US of the bravery and dedication of the Harlem Hellfighters in the Great War

Sent into the field, they stayed out for 191 days, the longest combat deployment of any unit in the war. At the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne, the unit had some of the worst casualties of that mangling war, suffering 144 dead and about 1,000 wounded. “My men never retire, they go forward or they die,” said their commander, Colonel William Hayward. Germans called them the “Bloodthirsty Black Men.” The French called them “hell-fighters.” A month after the armistice, the French government awarded the entire 369th the Croix de Guerre. 

There’s much more in her column, and I recommend reading it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 10:27 pm

Formaldehyde Causes Leukemia, According to Epa Assessment Suppressed by Trump Officials

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Sharon Lerner reports in the Intercept:

A 2017 DRAFT assessment of formaldehyde that was suppressed by the Trump administration found that the chemical causes myeloid leukemia, according to several sources familiar with the document. The draft assessment concludes that 1 microgram of formaldehyde in a cubic meter of air increases the number of myeloid leukemia cases by roughly 3.5 in 100,000 people, more than three times the cancer risk in the assessment now in use. The EPA currently regulates formaldehyde using an outdated set of calculations, finalized in 1991, based on the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. If the nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukemia risks are combined, the cancer risk could be 4.5 times higher than the current value.

Although the suppressed assessment, produced by a division of the Environmental Protection Agency known as the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS, has grave implications for public health, Trump administration officials, including former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, refused to allow the agency to release the assessment, several sources told The Intercept.

If the Biden EPA permits IRIS to finalize the assessment, which is among the most controversial in the agency’s history, other branches of the EPA will likely set regulatory limits based on the new risk value. IRIS values are used to determine safety thresholds for the amounts of the chemical permitted in air and water, emissions caps from industrial facilities, and guidance for cleanups. Such thresholds also alert exposed people to the dangers they face.

“This is a big, big deal. It could trigger significant interest by the personal injury bar,” said Bob Sussman, who served as the senior policy counsel to the EPA administrator during the Obama administration and deputy EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton. “Even without including the leukemia, the risk is a significant one. With the leukemia, it’s certainly a very significant public health concern.”

Even using the much lower, outdated cancer risk number set in 1991, formaldehyde is already the greatest source of nationwide cancer risk from industrial air pollutants, estimated to cause roughly 18 of the 32 cancers in every 1 million people in the U.S. that are caused by toxic pollutants in the air, according to the EPA’s own data. If the risk values are increased by a factor of four or more, the reported cancer risk from formaldehyde will go up accordingly, revealing previously unrecognized cancer hot spots around the country.

Formaldehyde, mainly used to make plywood, particleboard, and glues, is also a hazard for millions of workers who are exposed to the chemical through the production of resins, wood composite and furniture production, plastics manufacturing, paper production, embalming, foundry work, fiberglass production, building construction, agriculture, firefighting, and the teaching of biology, among other occupations. The general public is exposed to formaldehyde through tobacco smokecosmetics, food and water, as well as “off-gassing” from consumer goods, construction materials, and furniture. In 2019, 662 facilities reported releasing 47.7 million pounds of formaldehyde.

In addition to looking at the chemical’s relationships to nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia, the draft assessment also factored in evidence that formaldehyde causes decreased lung function, allergic conditions, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and sensory irritation.

In part because formaldehyde is so pervasive, a wide range of business interests have attempted to prevent the EPA from finalizing the assessment and publicly acknowledging the connection to leukemia. Until now, the EPA has kept the contents of its assessment under tight wraps. The leaked information provides a window into how the science and regulation around the chemical will finally be updated.

“Just knowing that the IRIS assessment acknowledges that formaldehyde causes myeloid leukemia is huge, regardless of what the value is,” Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said after being told about the main findings of the draft assessment. “But the numbers tell you even more. They set the tone for how the agency will proceed with risk management.”

Assessment Was “Ready to Go”

While the EPA has claimed in court that the formaldehyde assessment did not exist in a form that allowed it to be shared — and used that argument to refuse to release it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the environmental whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER — former EPA officials told The Intercept that the completed assessment not only existed but that it had also been prepared for release in early 2018.

“We had the document ready to go for review within the agency, but we were not allowed to proceed,” said

. . .

Continue reading. The government is supposed to protect the public. Republicans don’t understand that.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 4:28 pm

Where are the anti-war voices?

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Judd Legum has another excellent piece in Popular Information, which begins:

Yesterday’s newsletter detailed how the media is largely overlooking voices that supported Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Instead media reports are almost exclusively highlighting criticism of the withdrawal — often from people complicit in two decades of failed policy in Afghanistan.

We have reason to believe that this is not an accident. On Wednesday, Popular Information spoke to a veteran communications professional who has been trying to place prominent voices supportive of the withdrawal on television and in print. The source said that it has been next to impossible:

I’ve been in political media for over two decades, and I have never experienced something like this before. Not only can I not get people booked on shows, but I can’t even get TV bookers who frequently book my guests to give me a call back…

I’ve fed sources to reporters, who end up not quoting the sources, but do quote multiple voices who are critical of the president and/or put the withdrawal in a negative light.

I turn on TV and watch CNN and, frankly, a lot of MSNBC shows, and they’re presenting it as if there’s not a voice out there willing to defend the president and his decision to withdraw. But I offered those very shows those voices, and the shows purposely decided to shut them out.

In so many ways this feels like Iraq and 2003 all over again. The media has coalesced around a narrative, and any threat to that narrative needs to be shut out.

Who is on TV? As Media Matters has documented, there are plenty of former Bush administration officials criticizing the withdrawal.

Is it really about execution?

Much of the criticism of Biden’s decision to withdraw has focused on the administration’s “execution.” The critics claim the withdrawal was poorly planned, chaotic, and unnecessarily put Americans — and their Afghan allies — in danger.

Some of these claims may be true. It’s hard to know, for example, how many people have been left behind since evacuations are ongoing. But, with a few exceptions, the criticisms of Biden’s execution are being made by people who opposed withdrawal altogether.

For example, in a scathing column published in the Washington Post, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticizes the execution of the withdrawal. But she also makes clear that she does not think the U.S. military should have left.

Twenty years was not enough to complete a journey from the 7th-century rule of the Taliban and a 30-year civil war to a stable government. Twenty years may also not have been enough to consolidate our gains against terrorism and assure our own safety. We — and they — needed more time.

Rice’s argument for why the withdrawal was executed poorly is very similar. She says that waiting a few more months, until winter, would have made it more difficult for the Taliban to fight and “given the Afghans a little more time to develop a strategy to prevent the chaotic fall of Kabul.”

But Rice’s argument makes clear that it is impossible to disentangle the execution of the withdrawal with the broader policy failures of the last two decades. It may be more difficult for the Taliban to fight in the winter, but the Taliban did not need to fight. Afghan security forces simply evaporated.

The twenty-year effort to build up these institutions — touted by Rice and much of the national security establishment — was a total failure. A . . .

Continue reading. There may be a paywall, unfortunately, but the newsletter is excellent.

The Afghanistan Debacle: How Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden Bamboozled the American Public

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David Corn’s newsletter The Land is available three times a week through a paid subscription, but the current issue — on the very interesting topic of how the public was betrayed by a succession of Presidents — is available free. It begins:

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the calamitous collapse of Kabul are the result of years of American failure to understand that nation and that war—an immense failure that was covered up by the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

It was Bush and Dick Cheney who led the United States into what would be the longest-running quagmire in American history. And they did so with little strategic thought about what to do after chasing Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan and running the al-Qaeda-friendly Taliban out of power. Most notoriously, before figuring out how to proceed in Afghanistan after the initial attack, they launched the even more misguided war in Iraq on the basis of lies and, in similar fashion, without a clear plan for what would come after the fall of Saddam Hussein. As a result, over 4,400 American soldiers would perish there, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians would die in the years of post-invasion fighting. Meanwhile, nearly 6,300 American GIs and contractors would lose their lives in Afghanistan. The arrogance and ineptitude of Bush, Cheney, and their henchmen have led to the horrible images and tales we have seen reported from Afghanistan in the past few days—which themselves are the continuation of many years of horrible images and tales from the double-debacle of these two wars.

But the Obama and Trump administrations were complicit in the Afghanistan catastrophe, particularly for perpetuating the national security establishment’s delusions—and lies—about the war. In 2019, the Washington Post obtained access to a trove of confidential US government documents about the Afghanistan war that were produced as part of an inspector general’s project that investigated the root failures of the war by conducting interviews with 400 insiders involved with the effort, including generals, White House officials, diplomats, and Afghan officials. The findings were damning. As the Post put it, “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

That was a helluva secret to keep from the public. A sharp indictment came from Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who was the White House Afghan war czar for Bush and Obama. In 2015, he told the project’s interviewers, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan­—we didn’t know what we were doing.” The guy in charge of Afghanistan remarkably added, “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” Lute also observed, “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction.” Yes, imagine if we did—though the vast corruption that undermined the massive US rebuilding endeavor was well reported repeatedly over the years. As were the continuous failures within the war itself. Yet Congress, the media, and the citizenry paid insufficient attention to this never-ending, going-nowhere conflict.

Several officials interviewed noted the US government—military HQ in Kabul and the White House—consistently hoodwinked the public to make it seem the US was winning in Afghanistan when it was not. Remember the steady stream of assurances the Afghan military was becoming more capable of beating back the Taliban? That was BS. A senior National Security Council official said there was pressure from the Obama White House and the Pentagon to concoct stats showing the American troop surge was succeeding: “It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory, and none of it painted an accurate picture. The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

John Sopko, who headed the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which ran the project, bottom-lined this for the Post: “The American people have constantly been lied to.”

Think about that. Americans have paid about $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. Thousands have given their lives; many more have suffered tremendous injuries. And the public was not told the truth about this venture. It was bamboozled by successive administrations. The Post had to twice sue SIGAR to force the release of these papers under the Freedom of Information Act. The Trump administration preferred to keep this material under wraps.

These documents were somewhat akin to the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page long history of the Vietnam War that was leaked to the media by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 and showed that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had routinely deceived the public about supposed progress in that war. (The Afghanistan papers, unlike the Vietnam study, were not classified.) Yet the Post’s big get did not detonate a major controversy, as the Pentagon Papers did. This holy-shit scoop was duly noted, and then, as is often the case, we all moved on. The Afghanistan war had long since become a non-story, relegated to p. A15, if covered at all.

Now we are worried, perhaps angered, by the fall of Kabul, and we fear for the Afghans—especially the women and girls, the human rights activists, and those who aided US forces and Western journalists—who are about to become inhabitants of the Taliban’s fundamentalist hellscape. But however we reached this point—and whether or not President Joe Biden committed a grave error with the US troop withdrawal and its management—one thing is clear: US presidents, military officials, and policymakers were not straight with the American public about Afghanistan. We never had an honest debate about what was being done there and what could—and couldn’t—be accomplished. (For a snapshot of the absurdity of the Afghanistan war, see this recent thread from Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.)

As Afghans in Kabul, including President Ashraf Ghani, fled the incoming Taliban this past weekend, the blame game kicked in. Who lost Afghanistan? Well, it wasn’t ours to lose in the first place. But everyone is to blame, for everyone lied or got it wrong: Bush and Cheney, Obama and Biden, Trump and Pence, and now Biden and Harris. When Trump in February 2020 signed a “peace deal” with the Taliban obligating the US troop withdrawal that has just occurred, he told Americans that he expected the Taliban would act responsibly. He claimed the Taliban was “tired of war.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called it a “hopeful moment.” Months later, there was intensified fighting. In July, President Joe Biden, who had the choice of abiding by this deal or confronting an anticipated expansion in Taliban attacks, presented a false impression of what to expect with the troop pullout Trump had negotiated: “The jury is still out, but the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Ending the US military involvement in Afghanistan is a noble goal. But while it was too easy for the United States, in the wake of 9/11, to launch a forever war in the land that previously defied the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and other outsiders, extrication was never going to be smooth and cost-free. History doesn’t lie. And with no honest dialogue about the war, this brutal finish is even more shocking.

The American public has been conned about Afghanistan for two decades by successive administrations. Did any of those lies do the Afghan people any good? . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Government Report: Pentagon Had ‘Willful Disregard’ for Reality in Afghanistan

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Matthew Gault reports in Motherboard:

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government watchdog group that chronicled America’s failures in the country, has released a new report summing up two decades of war. The 140-page report, titled What We Need to Learn: Lessons From Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, is a damning list of failures. It tells the story of an ineffectual empire with no plan, no will to learn, and no idea how to do anything but spend money.

Much of the report is a brutal condemnation of a historic failure, and some of the anecdotes—one of which explains how officials used the TV shows Cops and NCIS to teach policing concepts—are simply mind-boggling. “The U.S. government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly,” the report states. And, it says, “U.S. government agencies rarely conducted sufficient monitoring and evaluation to understand the impact of their efforts.”

The report, based on hundreds of interviews and done by a government entity that has studied the war in Afghanistan for more than a decade, portrays the United States as a country that attempted to do nation building in a nation it didn’t understand and didn’t care to learn about. It said that the turnover within the rebuilding efforts’ ranks was such that the U.S. made the same mistakes over and over again, which SIGAR likened to an “annual lobotomy.”

“U.S. officials rarely had even a mediocre understanding of the Afghan environment, much less how it was responding to U.S. interventions,” it said. “Many mistakes were borne from a willful disregard for information that may have been available.”

From the very beginning of the report, which tallies the dead and the amount of money spent, the report explains how the U.S. government failed its own people and, more importantly, the people of Afghanistan: “The U.S. government has now spent 20 years and $145 billion trying to rebuild Afghanistan, its security forces, civilian government institutions, economy, and civil society. The Department of Defense has also spent $837 billion on warfighting, during which 2,433 American troops and 1,144 allied troops have been killed and 20,666 U.S. troops injured,” the report said.

“Afghans, meanwhile, have faced an even greater toll,” it said. “At least 66,000 Afghan troops have been killed. More than 48,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, and at least 75,000 have been injured since 2001—both likely significant underestimations.”

The report has seven lessons it wants America’s leaders to learn from Afghanistan. In a list, they feel like a tallying of major failures. According to SGIAR, the U.S. government continuously struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy for what it hoped to achieve, set unrealistic timelines that fostered corruption, poured money into unsustainable infrastructure projects, hired and trained the wrong people poorly, and underestimated the violence that would plague an occupied country.

It’s a big-picture report with specific anecdotes that explain how terrible America’s efforts were. Facing a shortage of cops to train local civilian forces, America hired helicopter pilots to do the job. Helicopter pilots knew little about policing and had to be trained themselves. “The training many military advisors did receive was not even Afghanistan-specific,” the report said. “With such a training deficiency, some policy advisors turned in desperation to television shows like Cops and NCIS to become more familiar with policing.”

In 2009, when America realized it didn’t have enough people to build out the country’s infrastructure, “it tried to mass-produce these teams by taking chemical warfare response units and giving them a four-week-long PowerPoint training, with poor results.”

When these chemical warfare experts turned their sights to civil engineering, they began to turn in policy proposals with information copied from each other and the PowerPoint slides. “Another senior military officer told SIGAR that some justifications even included references to ‘sheikhs,’ indicating they were being copied from proposals written in Iraq.”

Staffing ambitious projects were a perennial problem in Afghanistan, the report found. The more than $144 billion the U.S. spent in the country on reconstruction went, largely, to buildings. It often couldn’t find people to do the jobs it needed done. “The United States government repeatedly undertook new projects without first guaranteeing enough personnel resources were available to see them through,” it said. “At one point, a USAID employee noted that the organization was so desperate for additional staff that they were hiring anyone with ‘a pulse and a master’s degree.’”

Those who did come to work didn’t stay very long, and by the time a competent person had gotten a handle on their job, it was often time for them to go home. “With personnel taking critical information with them as they rotated out, the reconstruction effort essentially experienced an annual lobotomy, as newly arriving staff made the same mistakes as their predecessors,” SIGAR said.

SIGAR documented the various problems of America’s war in Afghanistan for 12 years. The mistakes of the past were available for any U.S. official or general who cared to learn. According to SIGAR, its warnings were mostly ignored. “The U.S. government continuously struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy for what it hoped to achieve in Afghanistan,” the report said. “The most fundamental of questions were continuously revisited, including who America’s enemies and allies were, and exactly what the U.S. government should try to accomplish. The ends were murky, and grew in number and complexity.”

As new political parties and new leaders took control in America, . . .

Continue reading. There’s (sadly) more.

Leaving Afghanistan

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post on where much of the blame for the US debacle in Afghanistan lies: the military. That conclusion was also reached by Mike Jason, who retired in 2019 as a U.S. Army colonel after 24 years on active duty during which he commanded combat units in Germany, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he asks why the military failed so bad at its task. His entire article is worth reading; here’s its conclusion:

. . . Over these past 20 years, there have been many failings. We checked the box when it came to saying that we had trained our partners, spun a rosy narrative of progress, and perhaps prioritized the safety and well-being of our troops over the mission of buttressing partner capacity. (When our Afghan partners shot at us, killing our comrades in the now infamous “green on blue” incidents, we tightened up our security procedures but didn’t address the hard questions of why they were shooting at us in the first place.) We didn’t send the right people, prepare them well, or reward them afterward. We rotated strangers on tours of up to a year and expected them to build relationships, then replaced them. We were overly optimistic and largely made things up as we went along. We didn’t like oversight or tough questions from Washington, and no one really bothered to hold us accountable anyway. We had no capacity or experience with some of our tasks, and we stumbled.

Yet these failings—egregious as they were—make it easy to focus on the armed forces as a scapegoat. In fact, the military, our allies, and our Iraqi and Afghan partners were responding to a lack of coherent policy and strategy.

We invaded Afghanistan with righteous anger after 9/11, but then what? Why was the United States in Afghanistan for years afterward? What about our fraught relationship with Pakistan and its influence in Afghanistan? A coherent strategy to address these questions would have made my job easier on the ground. First and foremost, a clearly articulated end goal would have assured our Afghan partners and our allies from other nations (as well as our foes) of our determination. Instead of leaving the entire effort to the Department of Defense, a coordinated strategy with commensurate resources across government could have produced better results in multiple Afghan institutions. Further, 20 years ago, a commitment to law enforcement might have been very attractive to our allies, many of whom have their own national police force and a track record of success in performing such missions. Perhaps most crucial, a clear and forceful foreign policy regarding Pakistan, coupled with a commitment to supporting and employing a new Afghan army, would have provided much clarity and focus for our military.

We didn’t fight a 20-year war in Afghanistan; we fought 20 incoherent wars, one year at a time, without a sense of direction. The U.S. military can and should be blamed for the collapse of security forces in Afghanistan—I hold us responsible. The current collapse keeps me up at night. In the military, the main effort gets the best resources and the best talent available. For more than 20 years, no matter what was reported, what we read in the headlines, efforts to build and train large-scale conventional security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have mostly been an aimless, ham-fisted acronym soup of trial and error that never became the true main effort, and we are to blame for that.

But we are not the only ones responsible. Someday we will ask young men and women to do this again—to fight a war overseas, to partner with local forces, to train them and build them up. Before we do, we owe it to those young people to ask the tough questions of how, and why, we all failed.

Heather Cox Richardson offers a good summary in her post this morning. I recommend reading the entire post; here’s the conclusion:

. . . By 2018 the Taliban, which is well funded by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system operated in the shadow of the official government, had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan. Americans were tired of the seemingly endless war and were eager for it to end.

To end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” former president Donald Trump sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with NATO allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.

The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they did not kill any American soldiers after the deal was signed.

Meanwhile, by announcing their intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”

Hoping to win voters with this deal to end the war, the Trump administration celebrated the agreement. In September, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for forever war in the Middle East. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote to finally bring our troops home.” Then–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the U.S. would have “zero” troops left in Afghanistan by spring 2021.

When he was Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden had made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan. By the time he took office as president in January 2021, he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

In July, 73% of Americans agreed that the U.S. should withdraw.

On July 8, Biden announced that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned and that the military mission of the U.S. in Afghanistan would end on August 31. He said the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan—kill bin Laden and destroy a haven for international terrorists—and had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”

For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”

Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

Instead of using troops, Biden has focused on cutting off the flow of money to terrorists through financial and economic sanctions. (Today, a U.S. official told CNN that the “vast majority” of the assets of Afghanistan’s central bank are not held in Afghanistan and that the U.S. will freeze whatever assets are in the U.S.)

As the U.S. pulled out of the country, the Afghan military simply melted away. Regional capitals fell to the Taliban with little resistance, and Kabul today fell with similar ease. Just five weeks after Biden’s July speech, the Afghan president has left the country and the Taliban is in power.

Already, Republicans are trying to blame the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan on Biden, ignoring former president Trump’s insistence that Biden speed up the exit because “getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do.” So eager are Republicans to rewrite history that they are literally erasing it. Tonight, Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel noticed that the Republican National Committee has scrubbed from its website a section celebrating the deal the Trump administration cut with the Taliban and praising Trump for taking “the lead in peace talks as he signed a historic peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which would end America’s longest war.”

Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who served in Afghanistan and who opposed Biden’s plan for withdrawal, has been highlighting the past statements of pro-exit Republicans who are now attacking the president. “Do not let my party preten[d] to be outraged by this,” he tweeted. “Both the [Republicans] and [Democrats] failed here. Time for Americans to put their country over their party.”

The Afghanistan occupation and the Japan occupation

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Noah Smith has an interesting post:

Everyone is talking about the Taliban’s swift reconquest of Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. As usual, most Americans understand this event only through the lens of their domestic political viewpoints. Conservatives who just a few years ago were praising Trump’s new “America first” attitude and his withdrawal from Iraq are now wailing that Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is the sign of a dying, decaying empire (that can of course only be restored by a conservative return to cultural and electoral dominance). Some on the left are decrying the U.S. “defeat”, raising the question of whether they think we should have continued occupying Afghanistan forever in order to secure “victory”. Others on the left are bewildered, bereft of talking points except to call for accepting a bunch of Afghan refugees (which of course is something we really ought to do).

Americans are approaching the situation this way because America is an insular country. Americans are among the least likely people to travel abroad, and our foreign language ability is among the world’s worst. Even our economy is unusually closed. When asked to identify Iran on a map, here is how Americans responded: . . .

I’m just sad they didn’t include the Western hemisphere on the map. Anyway, you get the point.

I’m no foreign policy expert, but I have lived overseas (about 4 years in Japan). That experience taught me how insular my own views of the world had been, and gave me a desire to bring the same perspective to my fellow countrymen. Realistically, though, this won’t happen, so instead all I can do is offer my thoughts on a blog.

Basically, my thought is this: Military occupations are much less able to transform countries than Americans tend to think. In particular, we should never go into a war expecting the outcome to look like post-WW2 Japan.

The Afghanistan War

I supported the Afghanistan War in 2001. I’m not a military interventionist in general — I strongly opposed the Iraq War just two years later, and protested against it. But in 2001, the case for war in Afghanistan seemed strong. America had suffered a huge, devastating attack on our territory; the terrorist group who perpetrated the attack was still at large; the Taliban government of Afghanistan was sheltering those terrorists. The case for war, as I saw it, had nothing to do with the odious nature of the Taliban regime — there are lots of odious regimes in the world, and we don’t go invading them just because they’re nasty and bad, nor should we. Instead, it was about eliminating a clear and present threat to the United States, and about punishing those who had been responsible for it.

Ten years later, that case for war still seemed strong. Bin Laden slept with the fishes. The leadership of al Qaeda had all been killed or captured, except for Ayman al-Zawahiri, a cranky old man who we seemed to leave in place in order to alienate as many people as possible before al Qaeda finally slipped into the history books. Though no one will ever say al Qaeda is dead, the centralized, competent organization that attacked us on 9/11 is certainly gone, and the name is now basically just a franchise used by a ragtag bunch of scattered local Islamist gangs who usually lose the wars they’re fighting in. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader who chose to shelter and support al Qaeda, bought the farm in 2013 (though we didn’t know it til 2015).

In other words, America did what I saw us as having come to do. The threat (al Qaeda) was eliminated, and the punitive expedition seemed to have inflicted sufficient punishment on the people who sheltered them. Accordingly, the U.S. began to draw down troops, and by 2015 our military presence in the country was relatively minor. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and the bit about Japan is interesting (and convincing).

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2021 at 6:15 pm

Will the U.S. Pass a Point of No Return?

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James Fallows has a particularly interesting column in the Atlantic, that perhaps is appropriate for Friday the 13th. It begins:

This is the latest installment in a series that began back in 2019, with an article I did for the print magazine on Americans’ long-standing obsession with the decline-and-fall narrative of Rome.

Many people wrote in to agree, disagree, and otherwise react. The online discussion begins here. But the most sustained line of response has been from my friend Eric Schnurer.

In his first installment, in the fall of 2019, Schnurer emphasized the parts of the America-and-Rome comparison he thought were most significant—and worrisome. Then last summer, during the election campaign and the pandemic lockdown, he extended the comparison in an even-less-cheering way. In a third and more cautionary extension of his argument this summer, he concentrated on the U.S. Senate.

Now, chapter four: crossing the Rubicon. Schnurer argues that this is more than just a familiar phrase. And he says that a Rubicon moment is in view—which would be triggered by a possible indictment of Donald Trump. Over to Eric Schnurer:


Crossing the Rubicon:
If the United States, in recent years, has been tracking the decline and fall of Republican Rome, when do we pass the point of no return?

By Eric B. Schnurer

As James Fallows has observed, Americans long have been fascinated by the fall of the Roman Empire and frequently fret whether a similar fate awaits our own. But the more pressing comparison is the collapse of the Roman Republic: How did a wealthy, powerful, and successfully self-governing people—proud of their frontier origins, piety and traditional values, and above all their origin story in throwing off monarchical rule—essentially commit democratic suicide and settle, more-or-less willingly, for a half-millennium of dictatorship?

Over the last two years I’ve been charting how our politics today increasingly resemble those of ancient Rome. From rising economic inequality, political violence, and governmental dysfunction on through the generally lackadaisical reaction of the Senate to a losing chief-executive candidate’s conspiracy to murder many of them, overthrow the government, and thereby block certifying his defeat, events in ancient Rome have remarkably paralleled some you might recognize more recently.

History isn’t destiny, of course; the demise of the Roman Republic is a point of comparison—not prediction. But the accelerating comparisons nonetheless beg the question: If one were to make a prediction, what comes next? What might signal the end of democracy as we know it?  There is, it turns out, an easy answer at hand.

While there is no precise end date to the Republic, there was a bright-line occurrence generally recognized as the irreversible beginning of the end for participatory government. In fact, it is such a bright line that the event itself has become universally synonymous with “point-of-no-return”: Julius Caesar’s crossing of the river Rubicon.

And there is indeed an event looming—probably before the end of this year— that poses almost precisely the same situation as what provoked Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon: the possible indictment of former president Donald J. Trump.

Not long after empanelment of the special grand jury investigating the former president and the Trump Organization, Maggie Haberman, who has covered Trump for the past half-dozen years for The New York Times, tweeted that he is obsessed with the idea that he will soon be returned to office by the various, multiplying efforts to recount and overturn state-level results from the 2020 election. As Haberman reported, the impetus behind Trump’s restoration fever-dream is the realization that he needs the immunity afforded by the presidency to avoid prosecution for the career that got him there. Just last month, Michael Wolff recounted his conversations with Trump for his new book in Times opinion essay and concluded that Trump believes that “[r]unning for president is the best way to directly challenge the prosecutors.”

Now the month prophesied in Trumpian circles for his restoration to the White House has arrived—and with it, the intelligence services are reporting increased online traffic on the subject, including calls for violence, not unlike the uptick in advance of January 6th. It is no coincidence that insurrectionists that day carried banners urging Trump to “Cross the Rubicon” and declaring “The Die Is Cast”— Caesar’s words upon alighting on the Italian side of the river—or that they will be with him to storm the forces of the Republic and ignite a civil war over Trump’s potential indictment: Avoiding criminal prosecution is precisely why Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army and ignited a civil war 21 centuries ago.


The ancient Roman Republic diverged from our notions of republican government in several respects. Although the word “republic” itself derives from a Latin phrase meaning “a thing of the people,” it was more like a closely-held corporation than anything we think of today as a public enterprise—more-or-less “owned” by those who operated it. Elected officials were expected to spend their own money on state functions like erecting public structures or organizing public events (such as the famous gladiatorial games), and in return they could expect to reap sizeable “profits” when they attained higher office. Today, we would think of basic Roman government as institutionalized graft.

Yet even the Romans had their limits. Officials who pushed the envelope too far could be criminally prosecuted. But the Romans also had a concept very similar to ours, and crucial to what motivated Caesar’s actions and is now animating Trump’s:  As long as an official held “imperium”—essentially, the authority of the state itself— he was shielded from prosecution. As soon as he left office, however—boom!, he could be subjected to criminal charges.

Caesar, like most politicians, had committed his share of excesses and gained his share of enemies in his rise to the highest office in Rome, the consulship. After his consular year, he had secured the governorship of one of the more lucrative provinces—Transalpine Gaul—and, partially for self-advancement and partially to postpone prosecution, got his governorship extended to an unprecedented five years. Officials historically had been limited to serving only a single one-year term in most offices, in order to keep one man from accruing too much power, but constitutional norms had begun to fray under ambitious men like Caesar, who had his eyes on a second, and then hopefully permanent, consulship.

But he faced three obstacles. First, his governorship was scheduled to end six months before the beginning of the next consular term, so he would have to keep his army in the field until then to maintain his imperium and immunity to prosecution.  Second, his political enemies had enacted a requirement that candidates had to campaign for consul in-person in Rome—which, thirdly, since it was illegal for a general to lead armed men into Italy or Rome itself, meant that Caesar had to choose: return to the city to campaign without legal immunity, almost certainly to face prosecution; forego the consulship, and thus forfeit any further hope of future immunity; or cross the Rubicon that formally separated Italy proper from the provinces at the head of his army—by definition an act of insurrection not only stripping his immunity but criminal in itself.

Caesar’s ultimate rise had begun with . . .

Continue reading. Wasn’t today the day when true believers thought Trump would ascend to the presidency?

Written by Leisureguy

13 August 2021 at 6:23 pm

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