Cup of Joe – 8/18/21

“Classified assessments by American spy agencies over the summer painted an increasingly grim picture of the prospect of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and warned of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military, even as President Biden and his advisers said publicly that was unlikely to happen as quickly,” the New York Times reports.

“By July, many intelligence reports grew more pessimistic, questioning whether any Afghan security forces would muster serious resistance and whether the government could hold on in Kabul, the capital.”

Key takeaway: “Intelligence agencies predicted that should the Taliban seize cities, a cascading collapse could happen rapidly and the Afghan security forces were at high risk of falling apart.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that she and other global leaders had “misjudged” the Afghan government’s ability to withstand attacks from the Taliban, DW News reports. Said Merkel: “This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic and terrifying.” She added: “It is a terrible development for the millions of Afghans who want a more liberal society.”

Washington Post: “One close Biden foreign policy ally, who is in regular contact with the White House and the State Department, said the president’s team would never have let him leave for Camp David had they known just how quickly Afghanistan would implode amid the president’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops by Sept. 11.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg blames Afghan leaders for the “tragedy” and says the alliance is surprised by the speed of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera reports.

Said Stoltenberg: “Ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and to achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted.”

Washington Post: “The Biden administration on Sunday froze Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, blocking the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars held in U.S. institutions.”

“The Biden administration last week canceled bulk shipments of dollars headed for Afghanistan as Taliban fighters were poised to take control of the capital city of Kabul, part of a continuing scramble to keep hundreds of millions of dollars out of the hands of the terrorist group,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The U.S. is also blocking Taliban access to government accounts managed by the Federal Reserve and other U.S. banks and working to prevent the group’s access to nearly half-billion dollars-worth of reserves at the International Monetary Fund.”

“Newly empowered Taliban militants have informed the U.S. that they are prepared to provide safe passage for civilians attempting to flee Afghanistan through an airport in Kabul,” CNBC reports. Said national security adviser Jake Sullivan: “We intend to hold them to that commitment.”

The U.S. military has secured the international airport in Kabul and flights evacuating civilians and diplomats in Afghanistan have resumed, Axios reports.

Wall Street Journal: “Military flights resumed as the U.S. sent additional troops to secure the U.S.-controlled airport’s perimeter, following two days of chaos there as Westerners and Afghans raced to escape the country.”

“However, many thousands of Afghans who had been employed by Western embassies and nongovernment organizations in Kabul remained stranded and unable to reach the airport for evacuation flights as the Taliban erected checkpoints at airport entrances, whipping and beating Afghans who attempted to cross.”

“The Taliban vowed Tuesday to respect women’s rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed,” the AP reports.

“Older generations remember the Taliban’s ultraconservative Islamic views, which included severe restrictions on women as well as public stonings and amputations before they were ousted by the U.S-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.”

“The Taliban declared an ‘amnesty’ across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country,” the AP reports.

An interesting observation from Domenico Montanaro: “There are a lot of comparisons being made between the fall of Saigon and chaos in Kabul. I’m not saying this will happen, but it’s a point to note that we don’t know everything… After Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, Ford’s approval rating went up — from 37% in March to 51% by June.”

Tucker Carlson called the Afghans trying to flee the Taliban “invaders” on his Fox News show last night, adding that they will probably be coming to “your neighborhood.”

Said Carlson: “If history is any guide, and it’s always a guide, we’ll see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in coming months, probably in your neighborhood. And over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first we invade and then we’re invaded.”

Laura Ingraham continued the theme: “Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of refugees from Afghanistan?”

Associated Press: “Built and trained at a two-decade cost of $83 billion, Afghan security forces collapsed so quickly and completely — in some cases without a shot fired — that the ultimate beneficiary of the American investment turned out to be the Taliban. They grabbed not only political power but also U.S.-supplied firepower — guns, ammunition, helicopters and more.”

Foreign Policy: “Military analysts trying to understand the stunning collapse of the Afghan military are increasingly pointing to the departure of U.S. government contractors starting a month ago as one of the key turning points.”

Atlantic Council: Inside the “operational art” of the Taliban’s military victory.

Wall Street Journal: “The ascent of the Taliban has redrawn the diplomatic map for the U.S. and its rivals as they compete to shape the future of Afghanistan. China and Russia already are moving to build ties with the Taliban and have hosted Taliban officials even before the U.S. military completed its troop withdrawal.”

China is ready to deepen “friendly and cooperative” relations with Afghanistan, a government spokeswoman said Monday, after the Taliban seized control of the country, AFP reports.

Punchbowl News: “Next week is a pivotal moment for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda as the House prepares to vote on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution. Passing that measure — which passed the Senate on party line 50-49 vote Aug. 11 — will allow Democratic congressional leaders to start assembling a massive reconciliation bill this fall that includes big chunks of Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan… Combined with the $1 trillion Senate bipartisan infrastructure bill, this would be an enormous legislative win for Biden and the Democrats, one that the president and party bosses hope saves their embattled Hill majorities in 2022.”

“The problem is that right now, there aren’t enough Democratic votes to pass the budget resolution. A serious split has emerged between House Democratic moderates and progressives on these proposals, one that threatens to imperil passage of both measures.”

“The Biden administration has decided that most Americans should get a coronavirus booster shot eight months after they completed their initial vaccination, and could begin offering the extra shots as early as mid-September,” the New York Times reports.

“Officials are planning to announce the administration’s decision as early as this week. Their goal is to let Americans know now that they will need additional protection against the Delta variant that is causing surging caseloads across the nation.”

Washington Post: “The question of boosters has become increasingly fraught as the pandemic continues to unfurl, with the ferocity of the delta variant surprising scientists. Data continues to accumulate suggesting that vaccines lose some anti-virus potency over time.”

“But officials have been reluctant to highlight that fact because they are still trying to persuade broad swaths of Americans to get vaccinated — considered the best way to exit from the pandemic. And they are not sure how much of the reduction in protection is from the passage of time and how much is due to the variant.”

Fareed Zakaria: “The United States had been watching the Taliban gain ground in Afghanistan for years now. It is rich and powerful enough to have been able to mask that reality through a steady stream of counter-attacks and air, missile and drone strikes.”

“But none of that changed the fact that, despite all its efforts, it had not been able to achieve victory — it could not defeat the Taliban. Could it have withdrawn better, more slowly, in a different season, after more negotiations? Certainly. This withdrawal has been poorly planned and executed. But the naked truth is this: There is no elegant way to lose a war.”

Walter Russell Mead: “Joe Biden believed three things about Afghanistan. First, that he could stage a dignified and orderly withdrawal from America’s longest war. Second, that a Taliban win in Afghanistan would not seriously affect U.S. power and prestige world-wide. Third, that Americans were eager enough to put the Afghan war behind them that voters wouldn’t punish him even if the withdrawal went pear-shaped.”

“He was utterly and unspinnably wrong about the first. One fears he was equally wrong about the second. We shall see about the third, and his Monday afternoon speech staunchly defending the pullout indicates that he believes he can carry the country with him.”

Wall Street Journal: “The program, which DHS under Trump introduced in 2019 at the height of a surge in Central American families coming to the U.S. border, was wound down by Biden soon after he took office.”

“In a ruling late Friday, U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the Northern District of Texas said the elimination of the policy was arbitrary and violated federal law because the administration didn’t properly consider the benefits of the program. He also wrote that ending it has contributed to the current border surge.”

“China is staging an extensive air and sea military exercise near Taiwan in response to ‘provocations’ by Taiwan independence forces, which it described as the biggest source of security risks across the Taiwan Strait,” the South China Morning Post reports.

Chinese state media published an editorial with an ominous message to Taiwan that the outcome of the Afghanistan war shows that the U.S. won’t be around to help when the island needs it most, The Week reports.

The piece argues that Taiwan’s political leaders “need to a keep a sober head, and the secessionist forces should reserve the ability to wake up from their dreams. From what happened in Afghanistan, they should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse within hours and the U.S. military won’t come to help.”

“The Biden administration has revised the nutrition standards of the food stamp program and prompted the largest permanent increase to benefits in the program’s history, a move that will give poor people more power to fill their grocery carts but add billions of dollars to the cost of a program that feeds one in eight Americans,” the New York Times reports.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg “has become one of the White House’s favorite cabinet secretaries, since he does what he’s asked,” the Washington Post reports.

Buttigieg announced that he and his husband, Chasten, have adopted a child:  “We’re overjoyed to share that we’ve become parents! The process isn’t done yet and we’re thankful for the love, support, and respect for our privacy that has been offered to us. We can’t wait to share more soon.”

New and active coronavirus cases, along with hospitalizations, are “growing exponentially” in Wyoming, but Gov. Mark Gordon (R) “made clear Monday afternoon that his office would not be enacting any sweeping virus mitigation policies, deferring instead to the federal government and local officials,” the Casper Tribune reports.

Said Gordon: “On COVID, let me be clear that we are not going to issue any mandates, no mandates will come from this office. No face masks, no vaccination mandates. Fortunately, the issue is not masks, the issue is COVID and the disruption this virus poses to us all.”

NBC News: “With Covid-19 surging across the state, Texas has requested five mortuary trailers from the federal government in anticipation of an influx of dead bodies.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a staunch opponent of mask mandates, tests positive for the coronavirus, the Texas Tribune reports. Abbott’s office says he was vaccinated.

Washington Post: “Abbott is among the Republican governors who have resisted public-health mandates aimed at stemming the tide of the virus’s delta variant, which has caused a new spike in cases as the country attempts to reopen schools, restaurants and other businesses.”

CNBC: “Five states broke records for the average number of daily new Covid cases over the weekend as the delta variant strains hospital systems across the U.S. and forces many states to reinstate public health restrictions.”

“Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, Oregon and Mississippi all reached new peaks in their seven-day average of new cases per day as of Sunday.”

“On a per capita basis, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida are suffering from the three worst outbreaks in the country.”

“Grappling with an unprecedented flood of COVID-19 patients, Louisiana’s hospitals are struggling to provide the public with the most basic levels of care — and are quickly approaching catastrophe,” the Baton Rouge Advocate reports.

Said Gov. John Bel Edwards (D): “We are rapidly getting to the point where we could have a major failure of our health care delivery system. There’s some people out there whose care is being delayed to the point where, for them, it’s already failed.”

The Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus appears to be breaking through the protection vaccines provide at a higher rate than previous strains, though infections among the fully inoculated remain a tiny fraction of overall cases, and symptoms tend to be milder, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Said infectious disease expert Jorge Bernett: “All we’re really seeing, with vaccine breakthrough cases that come into the hospital, are people who are over 80 or have a compromised immune system.”

Washington Post: “New Zealand will go into a three-day, nationwide lockdown late Tuesday after the country reported its first local case of the coronavirus in nearly six months. Auckland, the largest city, where the case was detected, is likely to be shut down for seven days.”

Wisconsin state Sen. Andre Jacque (R), one of the state legislature’s most active lawmakers who has opposed mask and vaccine mandates, is in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

“Jacque has been one of most outspoken lawmakers against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and has authored legislation that would bar government officials or business owners from requiring Wisconsinites be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show proof of vaccination to access services. Jacque also opposed the statewide mask mandate.”

“The origin story of Covid-19 remains a mystery mired in contentious geopolitical debate,” Bloomberg reports.

“But a research paper that languished in publishing limbo for a year and a half contains meticulously collected data and photographic evidence supporting scientists’ initial hypothesis—that the outbreak stemmed from infected wild animals—which prevailed until speculation that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a nearby lab gained traction.”

NBC News: “Bipartisan negotiators aren’t giving up, but they are increasingly talking about abandoning thornier issues and moving forward with a slimmed-down bill that would accomplish the pieces of police reform that already have consensus.”

“We approached nearly a dozen Republican senators this week to ask them whether they endorse Fox host Tucker Carlson’s promotion of Hungary’s right-wing populist leader,” Insider reports.

“The only GOP senator who said he was very familiar with Hungary’s government was Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and close ally of former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Orbán’s leadership as a model for the US. He called Carlson’s glowing portrayal of the autocrat ‘pretty accurate.’”

Said Johnson: “I recognize the liberal left doesn’t like Hungary, but there are so many positive things about what they’re doing in that country.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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