White House

Who Will Believe Biden Now?

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I wrote for Politico today on the hit to Biden’s credibility:

Joe Biden did to himself what his opponents couldn’t — shredded his own credibility in a high-profile, hugely consequential matter that won’t be forgotten.

No memos from the desk of Donald J. Trump, no RNC talking points, no right-wing Twitter memes or excoriating floor speeches by Republican senators possibly could have had the effect on Biden of Biden himself selling and defending his Afghanistan policy in terms instantly discredited by unforgettable and horrifying images on the ground this week.

The fate of Biden’s presidency might now depend on whether Taliban commanders decide to transform an ongoing evacuation crisis in Kabul into an explicit hostage crisis.

Even if the United States and the president escape that scenario, Biden has done himself long-lasting harm — not for the first-time in his career — with his own spectacularly ill-considered words.

Politics & Policy

Of Course Florida Should Be Using Monoclonal Antibody Treatments

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Republican gubernatorial candidate, now governor, Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Orlando, Fla., November 5, 2018. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Governor DeSantis is being criticized again, this time for following the Biden administration’s lead and “promoting” the use of monoclonal antibody treatments in the state of Florida.

As far as I can see, there are two constituent parts to this criticism, neither of which makes much sense. The first part is that DeSantis’s interest in monoclonal antibody treatments is somehow corrupt. This is extremely silly, and it has been debunked here and elsewhere for the conspiratorial nonsense that it is. The second part is that, by setting up mass-treatment sites, the administration has in some way “given up” on the vaccine. This is also silly, but I think it is worth explaining why, because the answer has broader implications for how we should look at the issue of COVID-19, and, indeed, for how we should think about our political challenges more generally.

Implicit in the idea that Governor DeSantis is “pushing” monoclonal antibody treatments is the idea that he is doing so as an “alternative” to pushing vaccines. And implicit in that idea is the idea that DeSantis is omnipotent — or, at least, that he could be if he wanted to be.

But he’s not.

As a matter of elementary fact, it is not even remotely correct to suggest that DeSantis has been lukewarm on vaccines. But, even if it were, the idea that he would be able to cajole his state into 100 percent uptake would remain a ridiculous pipe dream. The harsh truth here is that a good number of Americans are simply not going to take the vaccine, irrespective of what incentives you throw their way. For whatever reason, they don’t want to do it, and they won’t.  It doesn’t matter that it works. It doesn’t matter that it’s free. It doesn’t matter that, rationally speaking, one is far better off accepting the risks associated with the inoculation than the risks associated with contracting COVID-19. From millions of people, the answer is going to be a hard “No,” and there’s nothing anyone else will be able to do about it. Accepting that doesn’t suggest complicity in anti-vaccine propaganda; it shows a willingness to accept reality.

This being so, governors such as DeSantis have a choice. They can stick solely to pushing the vaccine, in the hope that they will finally break through to the recalcitrant; or they can keep pushing the vaccine and develop a plan for those who steadfastly refuse to take it (or who do get it, but still get sick). If the aim here is to save lives, rather than to judge people’s worth as citizens based on their willingness to take the vaccine, it seems pretty obvious that the latter course is the right one.

Yes, even in Florida.

Capital Matters

Woke Capitalism: An Update

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A few months ago, I wrote a piece for National Review about woke capitalism as part of a symposium on the issue. In my article, I laid out a case of optimism. It was a timid case, to be sure, but one of the arguments I made was that it is likely that “woke capitalism is nothing more than costless virtue-signaling.” In other words, corporations talk a big game, make big statements, and take actions with zero consequences for their bottom lines.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita that suggests I may have been onto something:

Corporate leaders have been busy presenting themselves as guardians of the interests of “stakeholders,” such as customers, employees, suppliers and communities as well as shareholders. Our recent research, however, casts serious doubt on whether corporations are matching the talk with action.

The authors look at how the signatories of the Business Roundtable’s Statement on the “Purpose of a Corporation,” aimed at delivering value to all stakeholders, not only shareholders, have behaved since they signed two years ago. A tidbit here:

We’ve identified almost 100 signatory companies that updated their corporate governance guidelines by the end of 2020. We found that the companies that made updates generally didn’t add any language that elevates the status of stakeholders, and most of them reaffirmed governance principles supporting shareholder primacy…

We also found that about 85% of the signatory companies didn’t even mention joining the “historic” statement in their proxy statements sent to shareholders the following year. Among the 19 companies that did mention it, none indicated that joining the statement would cause any changes to how they treat stakeholders.

There is more in the article. This tells me that neither side has yet found a coherent or correct narrative to talk about what corporations are actually doing. Ultimately, both sides need to remember that corporations that wish to survive can’t ignore their bottom line and the impact of the their actual behaviors on it.

Politics & Policy

Why SNAP Might Be the Least-Bad Welfare Program

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A shopper browses for fruits at a grocery store in Pasadena, Calif., June 11, 2020. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Biden recently approved a 25 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, otherwise known as food stamps, following a reassessment of the thrifty food plan, which is defined by the Department of Agriculture as “the cost of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four.” As a result, the average beneficiary of SNAP would enjoy a $36 increase in SNAP benefits for grocery shopping per month.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack maintains that “a modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition — it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security.” The increased SNAP benefits will cost $20 billion.

The Right, on principle, is rarely thrilled by significant increases in federal welfare spending. Libertarians, who may see welfare programs funded by taxpayer dollars as the government coercing citizens to help one another, often reject any kind of increase in size of the welfare state on principle. Conservatives who generally prefer a smaller federal government, on the other hand, often advocate for the privatization of welfare. The administrative costs involved in public welfare programs have also often invited doubt to the efficiency of such allocation of resources. However, stepping back from the idealized vision of welfare through private charity, the welfare state has become an institution which is too entrenched in the social consciousness, with a base of beneficiaries too large, to be abolished without overwhelming opposition. Welfare programs are also potential solutions to social problems such as hunger, poverty, and lack of economic mobility, which some progressives fervently advocate to be solved by socialism or radical redistribution of income. From a realist perspective, one could argue that conservatives benefit to a certain extent from the survival of the welfare state.

So, if we’re going to have welfare, we should acknowledge that SNAP is one of the better existing welfare programs the government offers. It is tailored to address the specific, pressing social ills of poverty and food security, both of which could have dire effects on society if allowed to fester. It is a means-tested program and will specifically confer benefits to the most destitute segment of the American population. The concept of food stamps is in line with the conservative principle that welfare should not be a tool for the distribution of income, and instead should only provide a basic safety net to ensure survival of impoverished citizens in prevention and mitigation of the adverse societal consequences of poverty. SNAP is one of the less controversial and objected welfare programs implemented at the federal level. SNAP benefits, given their narrow purposes and fixed sum, are also less likely to be misused than other welfare programs that confer more capacity for discretion to the beneficiaries. (Which is not to say food-stamp fraud does not occur.) For instance, Medicaid, the public health-insurance program for low-income citizens, can encourage expensive and unnecessary procedures, which the federal government may not have intended to sponsor, and may divert resources from more worthwhile purposes.

Welfare benefits in kind are also far preferable to simple cash payments. If benefits in kind, such as food stamps, can effectively alleviate poverty and hunger, there would be less reason for proponents of a larger welfare state to advocate for cash benefits. One of the commonly raised argument is that cash benefits would more directly and efficiently aid beneficiaries’ livelihood than SNAP and other welfare programs, which are too inefficiently run and hardly induce a sufficient betterment of living standards to beneficiaries.

Although the American welfare system traditionally distributes mostly in-kind benefits, recent COVID-relief checks have suggested an increasing willingness on the part of the federal government to disburse direct cash payments. Yet such payments not only potentially attract more fraud, but also more directly redistribute income. Cash benefits are, by definition, perfectly liquid and transferrable. While COVID-relief may be effective in stimulating economic recovery by contributing to aggregate consumption, they may be less useful in addressing specific issues of concern, such as food security. After all, how the recipients utilize their benefits is beyond the control of administrators of the program.

So even though the welfare budget is increasing by $20 billion, at least the money is going to the least-bad welfare program.

Hospitals in Blue States Are Hitting Capacity, Too

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Phlebotomists stand outside a triage testing area for the coronavirus at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, Ill., April 22, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

While the country has been justifiably focused on the dire situation in Afghanistan for the past week, the U.S. is quietly hitting another bad spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations – not merely cases, but hospitalizations. And when lots of people get hospitalized for COVID-19, sadly, some of them do not pull through. The seven-day average of daily new deaths in the U.S. has crept back up, from 241 new deaths on July 6 to 703 new deaths yesterday.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. had more than 91,000 people in the hospital for COVID-19, which is the highest since February 4 – when

World

Afghanistan, Belarus, Etc.

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U.S. soldiers descend from a Chinook helicopter in Jegdelic village, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, December 24, 2004. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Radek Sikorski first went to Afghanistan in 1986, to cover that war for the Sunday Telegraph. In 1989, he wrote about the Soviets’ withdrawal for us — for National Review. He is my guest on Q&A, here.

The Soviet withdrawal, he points out, was far more dignified than ours. Plus, “the Communist regime they left behind actually survived until 1992” and “collapsed only when the Soviet Union itself collapsed.”

Sikorski had a distinguished career in journalism. When his country, Poland, became free, he entered politics, eventually becoming defense minister and foreign minister. Today, he is a member of the European Parliament and has affiliations with Harvard and other institutions.

About the present debacle in Afghanistan, Sikorski says, “We could have kept one base, with an air strip, with some Predators, with some special forces, in order to be able to whack the bad guys if they established a physical presence again, and such a base we could have kept indefinitely.”

And look: “The United States is present militarily in half the countries of the world. Why should Afghanistan be among those countries where the U.S. is at zero?” Honestly, it should not have been “beyond the powers of the United States to defend the Bagram Air Base, for example, for as long as it took.”

In addition to Afghanistan, Sikorski and I talk about Belarus. When he was in government, Sikorski dealt with Alexander Lukashenko, a dictator both brutal and canny. The same can be said of Lukashenko’s patron: brutal and canny. That patron would be Vladimir Putin, of course.

Sikorski says he is reminded somewhat of Poland in the 1980s. Near the beginning of that decade, General Jaruzelski imposed martial law. For the Solidarity movement, the situation seemed hopeless, as “the Polish dictatorship had an external guarantor in the form of the Soviet Union.” Lukashenko has the same thing: “a big daddy in Moscow, who will not let Belarus slip away.”

But — before the decade was out, Poland had its freedom.

What about Poland today? That is another of our topics, in our Q&A. How fares the independence of the media?

Then, Hungary. Radek Sikorski and Viktor Orbán are almost exactly the same age, and they went to the same Oxford college — Pembroke — though not at the same time. Orbán, by the way, got there on a scholarship from George Soros. This is what some call an “irony of history.” The young men studied with the same professor, the Polish-British political philosopher Zbigniew Pełczyński — who had also taught Bill Clinton.

In America, Britain, and elsewhere, Orbán has a lot of fans on the right. What does Sikorski make of this? “Some of these people are friends of mine,” he says, “and I’m just amazed that people are so easily hoodwinked.” Orbán is “a clever operator.” And “he spends quite a lot of energy and time cultivating Western conservatives, but it belies a reality in Hungary, which is corrupt.”

Forget Greece and southern Italy, Sikorski says: “Hungary today is the most corrupt country in the European Union. Don’t take my word for it: Look at the statistics produced by the European Union’s anti-corruption body.” Orbán, says Sikorski, “has enriched his political friends and his own family. Now, I don’t see any conservative values in this” — or in other moves that Orbán has made.

We end our conversation with a pressing, and related, topic: the attraction of illiberal political ideologies, especially to the young. Sikorski speaks of national socialism, with “its appeal to tribal loyalties and to class envy.” Now, this is “a very powerful and convincing combination. But we have seen this movie in Europe before, and we know how it ends, and the end is horrible.”

Again, to hear our podcast, go here.

Politics & Policy

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Afghanistan, Haiti, Kids in Foster Care & More

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1. The human suffering in Afghanistan is so evil. And that dear girl likely has sexual torture ahead of her, if it hasn’t started already:

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Afghanistan, Haiti, Kids in Foster Care & More”

Culture

Protesting Prayer Again in Brooklyn

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Franciscan priest Father Fidelis Mochinski outside Brooklyn’s Planned Parenthood at a monthly Witness for Life. (Photo: Kathryn Jean Lopez)

A friend pointed out that I’ve been named in a New York abortion-advocacy group’s statement about a protest and NYPD arrests on Saturday in Brooklyn. For the third time in a row, there has been a protest to a Witness for Life, which involves Mass and a peaceful, prayerful procession to an abortion clinic. I’ve been present on and off for years at the Witness in Manhattan and have in the Bronx and Brooklyn more recently.

The protest group questions the outsized response to their protest — which includes national coverage here. Well, the coverage simply is an outgrowth of my personal involvement. Frequently I find myself both participant and press. It’s one of the blessings of opinion journalism — that I can be transparent to you about where I’m coming from. That’s what draws some to this website, and to certain writers — knowledge that we’re coming from a similar point of view. That becomes more cherished, it seems, in times when reality seems to be upended all around.

I’ve also made it a point to be in Brooklyn for the last two months because of what happened three months ago at the first Witness for Life there (and there were way more of the protesters than the pray-ers first time around). People got into the face of Father Fidelis Moscinski, CFR. I think there may be a sincere misunderstanding: Father Fidelis in other parts of the country participates in Red Rose Rescues, where he goes into an abortion clinic and offers women roses. He wants to show them love, that they have great dignity, and there are people who will help them if they do not want to have abortions. He is asked to leave, and he says he will when the abortions stop. It is a kind of madness to go through life pretending that there is not something abhorrent happening in our nation with legal abortion and at all stages and then-some in so many places. What he does is in the noble tradition of civil disobedience — the civil-rights movement was fueled by it, rooted also in faith in God and His laws. This, too, is a civil- and human-rights movement. Father Fidelis does not do red rose rescues in New York, because he been leading these prayer vigils for over a decade and sometimes needs police protection, when people decide to protest the prayer. The protest rallying cry in Brooklyn is to stop clinic invasion and harassment. But all we are there to do is pray and offer a sign of hope to women who are looking for one in a culture that too often expects girls and women to abort their children. It’s out of a deep love and respect for the sacredness of human life and scared women and girls that the pro-lifers gather.

As for the NYPD, we could not have gotten to Planned Parenthood without them on Saturday. They made two arrests, and sadly they were necessary. They gave ample warning. The protesters were keeping us from walking on the streets to Planned Parenthood. I respect their right to express their anger at people praying. I wish they wouldn’t scream obscenities and sacrilege and flash a Franciscan friar and others, but at the very least, they need to not obstruct our free access to the streets. I’ve never seen the police be anything like aggressive in these encounters. From my observation, they’d much rather we just drop the prayer procession. But as Father Fidelis operates: Not until the abortions end.

Religion

Cardinal Burke Is a Man, Not a Caricature. Please Join in Praying for Him

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Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke attends a consistory as Pope Francis elevates five Roman Catholic prelates to the rank of cardinal, at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, June 28, 2017. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is sick with COVID-19. Ventilator sick. With pneumonia.

Some seem to be relishing this, since he has not made known his vaccination status, and he has raised questions about people being coerced into getting it.

Now, first of all, I don’t wish suffering on those I disagree with, and as humans I think that’s generally a good way to try to live. For Christians, it would seem to be mandatory.

As for the media, the coverage of his illness is fascinating. Not the “Gotcha!” nature of it, which is to be expected. But I noticed this in an NBC report on Burke’s sickness:

He has also said the best weapon for battling “the evil of the coronavirus” is a relationship with Jesus, according to The Associated Press.

What on earth is shocking about that? Isn’t that what a pastor would say? Maybe not the year after we shut down houses of worship, opting for the virtual over presence. Religion is essential, in no small part because man will die if he thinks this is all there is. What’s the point? And thus you see the increase in depression and suicide and addiction. At exactly the time when we collectively said religion isn’t essential by our actions.

We absolutely want to keep people safe and act prudently. But it’s not in vaccines we trust ultimately, but God. I went to a funeral Mass yesterday of a priest friend who dropped dead of a heart attack. Each and every one of us is still going to have an end even if we get COVID-19 boosters for the rest of our days.

In one of the Burke talks that is considered controversial, he said quite reasonably:

It is tragic to hear reports of faithful who ask a priest to hear their confession and receive the response that the priests are forbidden to hear confessions, or who ask for Holy Communion and are told that the priests are forbidden to distribute Holy Communion outside of the Holy Mass. It is particularly tragic to hear the accounts of the faithful dying without the help of their priest or without any member of their family or friends present to assist them, and the accounts of lifelong faithful Catholics being buried without any Funeral Rites whatsoever. In some cases, these tragic circumstances have been dictated by the State and in some cases they have been dictated by the Church, beyond the demands of the regulations of the State or in conformity with regulations of the State, which are in violation of religious freedom.

And also said something that needs to be said and often:

From the beginning, there has been a failure to make clear that among all of the necessities of life the principal necessity is communion with God. Yes, we need what is required for our nourishment, health and hygiene, but none of these essential needs can substitute for our most fundamental need: to know, love and serve God. As I was taught long ago, among the first lessons in the Catechism, God made man to know, love and serve Him in this life and thereby to obtain life everlasting with Him in Heaven.

In the face of an international health crisis, we must turn first to God, asking Him to keep us safe from the contagion and from every other evil. Turning to God, we find the direction and strength to take whatever human measures are required to protect ourselves, according to the demands of right reason and of the moral law. Otherwise, if we falsely think that the combat against the evil depends totally upon us, we take measures which offend our human dignity and, above all, our right relationship with God. In that regard, the State should be attentive to the religious freedom of the citizens, in order that the help of God may be sought at all times and in all things. To think otherwise is to make the State our god and to think that mere humans, without the help of God, can save us.

I’m praying for Cardinal Burke’s healing. And for an increase in humility all around. And also, a respect for conscience rights at this time of great fear. Fear does not bring out the best in us, it would seem. Even while encouraging vaccination — Pope Francis appears in a new ad calling it an act of love to get vaccinated — the Vatican has also said that vaccination must be voluntary. I know a woman who had an abortion who believes it would be turning her back on God who has shown mercy on her to take a vaccine that an aborted baby involuntarily had to do with the production of. You don’t have to agree with her to respect her conscience rights. This has been excruciating — and continues to be — for many people whom I deeply respect, who are doing the Lord’s work on several fronts. And while I recognize moral concerns and medical concerns over autoimmune problems are far from the only reasons people are not getting vaccinated, at a time when the Biden administration has expanded research with the remains of aborted children, I’d be concerned if no one wanted to stand up in protest. That doesn’t make them insurrectionists.

One last thing about Cardinal Burke: The narrative that he and Pope Francis are mortal enemies has always struck me as an unfortunate caricature. But we take great comfort in categories, and conflict entertains. Here’s something I wrote about that a few years ago, for what it’s worth.

National Security & Defense

Biden’s ‘I Am Not Sending My Boy Back There’ Comment in Context

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, with sons Beau and Hunter, delivers remarks after he and his family helped assemble care kits for U.S. military service members during a pre-inauguration service project in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

A lot of people are pointing to Biden’s 2010 exchange with Richard Holbrooke as an omen of his decision-making regarding Afghanistan:

A few months before his death in 2010, Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met privately with the vice president in Washington. Their relationship dated to the 1970s. “They were practically the same age, similarly dominating, agreed on almost everything, and so naturally couldn’t stand each other,” wrote George Packer, Holbrooke’s biographer, in his book “Our Man.”

Holbrooke recorded their brief and contentious exchange in his diary.

Both Biden and Holbrooke were convinced that the war was unwinnable. Still, Holbrooke argued that the United States owed Afghans continued aid and assistance, particularly directed at the women who had suffered under the Taliban’s brutal rule.

The United States simply couldn’t abandon the country.

Holbrooke’s appeal infuriated Biden, who was so angry that he rose from his chair, according to Holbrooke.

“I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights!” the vice president shouted at him. “It just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for.”

Judging by the sequence of events in Holbrooke’s book, this meeting was sometime in August 2010 or later. In the passage right before it, Holbooke mentions he and his wife Kati attended “the final performance of the revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center,” which was August 22, 2010.

The “my boy” in Biden’s comment is undoubtedly a reference to Biden’s son Beau Biden, who was deployed in Iraq from October 2008 to October 2009.

Beau Biden suffered a mild stroke in April of 2010. It is quite likely that at the time of the conversation with Holbrooke, the vice president was deeply worried about his son’s health. In 2013, the younger Biden had a “small lesion” removed from his brain, and was diagnosed with brain cancer. In 2015, Beau Biden passed away from that cancer. In 2018, Joe Biden said that he thinks toxins found in smoke from burning waste at U.S. military installations in Iraq and at other facilities abroad could “play a significant role” in causing veterans’ cancer.

Task and Purpose reported, “in a 2019 speech to the Service Employees International Union, Biden said because of Beau’s ‘exposure to burn pits, in my view, I can’t prove it yet, he came back with stage four glioblastoma. Eighteen months he lived, knowing he was going to die.’”

Biden saw the debate about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in exceptionally personal terms – and had a particularly high bar of whether anything was worth risking U.S. casualties.

It is fair to wonder if Biden still sees Afghanistan in these exceptionally personal terms. Biden didn’t think Afghanistan was worth risking his son’s life in 2010; he doesn’t think it’s worth risking any American service member’s life now.

Politics & Policy

Queen Pelosi Is Not Amused

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill August 6, 2021. (Gabrielle Crockett/Reuters)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tongue lashed a group of nine moderate House Democrats who want to slow down her $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.

Pelosi told her caucus she would press ahead with the bill, despite warnings from the nine members that they will oppose it unless the House first votes on the $1 trillion “infrastructure bill” already passed by the Senate.

Pelosi told her close deputies that “this is no time for amateur hour.” Using lofty language to justify her iron use of power, she told them that, “For the first time America’s children have leverage — I will not surrender that leverage.”

Should all nine moderates — a group that includes Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Jared Golden of Maine, and Henry Cuellar of Texas — vote against the blueprint for the reconciliation bill, it will fail, since it has zero GOP support and Pelosi only has a three-vote margin.

Pelosi knows that the nine moderates are far outvoted by the Crazy Caucus of House progressives. She needs both, but it’s easier to whip the nine moderates into line. In addition, as Political Wire reports: “One truth about politics is that moderates always cave more easily than more ideological members.”

I won’t declare the moderates defeated until I see their white flag, but for now, it appears that Republicans are not going to be able to count on them coming to the rescue.

World

The Barbarians Minding the Gates

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Afghans and Spanish citizens residing in Afghanistan board a military plane during evacuations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (Ministry of Defense of Spain/Handout via Reuters )

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the difficulty people are having getting past the Taliban to the airport:

At Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, crowds of Afghans continued to gather along the perimeter, trying to flee the country. The Taliban once again repulsed these crowds with violence, beating and whipping families trying to get through the checkpoints and unleashing volleys of gunfire in the air, according to witnesses.

Beyond the Taliban checkpoints, U.S. Marines at the gates of the airport focused mostly on keeping anyone from coming close. As a result, many of the evacuation flights continued leaving with empty seats even as tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with Western governments clamored for a way out before the Taliban track them down.

And Allahpundit has a good round-up of various on-the-ground reports of what’s happening outside the airport.

The short story is that we are relying on the Taliban to let our people and our allies through. The Taliban have an incentive not to push it too far, since they just want us to leave without tempting us to hit them. If that calculation were to change, though, this could turn into an even more nightmarish debacle.

As it is, it is a national humiliation that we are dependent on the good will of our enemies — harassing and beating people presumably within sight of our troops — to get terrified Americans and Afghans to safety.

Culture

Scenes from Another Day of Abortion in America

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(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

There’s a humming you typically hear outside Manhattan’s Planned Parenthood. It’s the background noise of cars running — typically boyfriends making sure they are comfortable in air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, as their girlfriends endure the abortion of their unborn child. Of course, we no longer have a culture that quite thinks of it in those terms. Today, one boyfriend sat lounging across the street in a collapsible chair while watching videos during his wait time. As I said, though, the boyfriends are typically inside the cars and when I’m there, I see them rarely even budging to open the car door for the girls after the abortions. Today a girl waiting for one of the girls coming out from an abortion beeped so she would see the car. I just want to give these girls hugs and an Uber ride to the Sisters of Life who will love them back into life and help them know the mercy of God.

It’s all a grave injustice we’re going to have to answer for one day. What did I do to make the world more hospitable to life? To let young girls and women know that there is help? Honestly, I fear even in my own desire to help, people only see judgment. This past Saturday in Brooklyn, the memory of the chant of not only “God loves abortion” but “Mary loves abortion,” still gives me chills, as our Witness for Life prayer was protested for a third month in a row. After the protesters formed a human blockage keeping us from processing to Planned Parenthood from St. Paul’s Church after Mass, with ample warning, the police made two arrests. A most courageous priest was maligned for his loving witness with ugly words, inspired by the abhorrently evil crimes of other priests. He wants to save women from the pain of abortion, as well as save the lives of innocent children. Those protesting prayer see the rosary as harassment. It’s actually a plea for God’s mercy on us all. Americans haven’t just failed the women and children of Afghanistan, but those of our own cities, too. The young Hispanic woman I watched devastated, holding her stomach, after her abortion today in Manhattan deserved better than standing alone on a sidewalk. And with the rise of chemical and abortion by mail, we’re always working to become less humane, rather than more. Our nation is filled with young women who are enslaved to legal abortion in America. It’s not health care, it’s cruel and unusal punishment. And we tend to be numb to it — unless we now prefer it to the truth and beauty of human person and possibilities of the joys of unexpected of life.

Media

The Problem Isn’t Socialist Publications . . .

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. . . the problem is that socialist publications have never been tried.

 

 

Politics & Policy

New Poll Shows Support for Heartbeat Bill in Missouri

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(Bilderbuch/Getty Images)

A new poll from Saint Louis University and YouGov found that the pro-life heartbeat bill signed by Missouri governor Mike Parsons enjoys strong support among Missouri voters.

The survey, which included questions about a range of policies, found that 56 percent of likely voters believe abortion should be prohibited after eight weeks’ gestation. The pro-life bill enjoyed broad support from a range of demographic groups, including majorities of white voters and black voters. The survey also found that women were more supportive of the heartbeat bill than men were. These statistics are good news for pro-lifers in Missouri.

This particular poll is notable for two reasons. First, the survey was conducted by two organizations unconnected to the pro-life movement.  Second, the wording of the question about the bill was not particularly favorable to the pro-life position. It asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed that “the Missouri state government should prohibit abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy?”

Typically, respondents are more likely to support pro-life legislation if the survey question asks about “protecting the preborn” rather than about “prohibiting abortion.” The fact that the poll found 56 percent of Missouri voters support the recent heartbeat bill is especially noteworthy.

We shouldn’t read too much into the results of any one survey, but it is significant that this is the second recent poll showing strong support for heartbeat legislation among Missouri voters. A November 2019 poll conducted by Remington Research Group and Missouri Scout found that 61 percent of likely voters in the state supported House Bill 216 which “prohibits abortion at 8 weeks gestation.”

As I pointed out at NRO earlier this year, Missouri has an exceptionally strong pro-life culture, with numerous groups building a culture of life through education, service, and legislative activity. This might explain why strong pro-life legislation polls particularly well in the state.

In the last few years, about a dozen states have attempted to enact heartbeat bills, which protect preborn children anywhere from six to eight weeks’ gestation. Several surveys have indicated that this type of legislation polls well in conservative states. Two recent polls of Texas voters, for example, found that heartbeat bills enjoyed plurality support in the state.

Even though heartbeat bills have been struck down in court, they remain a wise pro-life strategy, especially because Supreme Court decisions are often influenced by public opinion. The fact that strong, protective pro-life laws enjoy support in conservative parts of the country sends a message to the Court as it prepares to consider the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion limit this fall.

Media

MSNBC Columnist Compares Pro-Lifers to the Taliban

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Women with their children try to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

In an absurd and tone-deaf opinion piece, MSNBC columnist Dean Obeidallah argues that Republicans must be insincere in condemning the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan because they themselves oppose “women’s rights.”

“I have to wonder where these voices were when extremists, based on a narrow reading of their religion’s beliefs, enacted a law that forces a woman who was raped to carry the fetus of the rapist to term?” Obeidallah writes, referring to GOP lawmakers supporting a recent pro-life law in Arkansas that offered very limited exceptions to its prohibitions on abortion.

He goes on to argue that, while “nobody is saying the GOP and the Taliban are equally bad,” pro-life Republicans can’t sincerely oppose the Taliban’s egregious violations of women’s rights because GOP lawmakers themselves have voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and joined in filing a brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s one thing to support legal abortion, as Obeidallah does, but it’s another entirely to compare the Taliban’s misogynistic policies — such as, for instance, forbidding women to show any skin or attend school or drive a car — to the eminently reasonable pro-life view that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy does not extend so far that she can end the life of the unborn child in her womb.

By insinuating that the two are even remotely comparable, Obeidallah has exposed a passion for legal abortion so vigorous that he has abandoned all good sense and charity.

World

How Worried Should We Be about Taiwan’s Future?

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A Taiwanese navy honor guard looks on in front of a Taiwanese flag at a ceremony in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, April 13, 2021. (Ann Wang / Reuters)

With China running another wargame on Taiwan’s doorstep, and Chinese state-run media taunting Taiwan that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is “a clearer demonstration of US impotence than the Vietnam War — the US is indeed like a ‘paper tiger,’” Asia-watchers are understandably concerned that a Chinese invasion has rapidly become more likely.

Three big questions to consider:

One: If you were a Chinese military planner preparing for an invasion of Taiwan, would you want Chinese-run state media taunting Taiwan that “once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and the US military won’t come to help”? Or would you prefer that state-run media shut up to maximize the element of surprise?

Would the psychological morale value of this state-run media message be worth it, considering the offsetting factor of Taiwanese forces and the population being on high alert? Or would Chinese military planners prefer for cross-strait tensions to settle and grow quiet, in hopes of catching the Taiwanese government and people off-guard?

Two: If you’re a Chinese military strategist, and you think the U.S. ability to defend Taiwan declined from 2001 to 2011, and from 2011 to 2021, would you want to invade now, or wait and see if your geopolitical leverage is even better a few years from now? What is the trend-line in U.S. readiness and willingness to defend Taiwan?

Three: One of the lowest-hanging fruits that a Chinese invasion would target is Kinmen Island, “Taiwan’s DMZ,” six miles from the Chinese coast, and about 170 miles from the main island of Taiwan, what used to be called Formosa. One of the other lowest-hanging fruits that a Chinese invasion would target is the Matsu Islands — where the Chinese are sending hundreds of dredgers to scoop up sand off the seafloor, in what Taiwanese authorities fear is a Chinese attempt to wear down, provoke, or intimidate the residents there. Matsu is also only about six miles from mainland China, and 130 miles from the main island of Taiwan.

If the Chinese doubt the American willingness to make sacrifices to defend Taiwan’s main island . . . how much is the United States willing to sacrifice to defend Kinmen and Matsu? And if you wanted to test American resolve, wouldn’t some small obscure islands be the right spot to start a small conflict that would, in theory, be easy to de-escalate from?

Politics & Policy

Biden in, um, Full

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After reading Jim’s Jolt this morning, on the crisis of competence in our government, I thought it might be worth revisiting my pre-election synopsis of (now) President Biden:

Biden, too, is deeply flawed, in ways different from Trump. His embarrassingly patent senescence and habitual incoherence are problems, to be sure. But in his prime, such as it was, he was never regarded as serious presidential material, despite his several attempts. Mediocrity is something he’d have to aspire to. He was a gentleman’s-C undergrad who went on to finish 76th out of 85 in his law-school class. He entered politics in a one-party state right out of law school, and there he has stayed for a half century, plagiarizing his way through as he did in school. If he has distinguished himself, it is mainly by being wrong on virtually every issue of great public consequence, often after vacillating from one side to the other. His accomplishments are nil. The defining attribute of his current campaign is to run away from a few sensible positions he used to hold. Otherwise, he would not have been viable to today’s woke Left, against which he is largely impotent.

Education

This Is ‘Equity’ on the March

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Governor Kate Brown has signed into law a bill that eliminates the requirement that students in the state’s public high schools be able to demonstrate basic ability in reading and math to graduate. This, it is said, will make things more “fair” for minority students.

Rick Hess of AEI has some sharp words for this policy here.

He writes, “To be blunt, too many grownups on the American left have thrown in the towel. Many of the same Democratic leaders who, just a few years ago, were cheering Common Core and Obama’s Race to the Top, now nod along as the woke fringe and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” officialdom insist that schools frequently serve as little more than engines of systemic racism. This line of argument turns out to be surprisingly convenient for Democratic officials, as it permits them to placate the woke base, back away from the kinds of demands that offend their teacher union allies, and suggest that the disappointments of grandiose school reform were a product not of their missteps or excessive faith in bureaucracies but of the public’s own moral failings.”

It’s obvious that the far-left now sees education as little more than an empty credentialing process that provides jobs for many of its supporters while instilling a host of “progressive” notions in the minds of students (if they’re paying any attention).

Parents who care will, I’m sure, start to exit Oregon’s public schools. The next move by the statists will probably be to make that illegal. It was just about a century ago that Oregon tried to compel all students to attend public schools, but the Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional in Pierce v. Society of Sisters.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the education blob doesn’t try again.

U.S.

Critical Race Theory versus Our National Survival

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The many people who are certain that America must be torn down and rebuilt along their utopian collectivist fantasies have unleashed a diabolical weapon — something called critical race theory. If its proponents were to have their way, the U.S. would be utterly transformed, from a country where people succeed or fail as individuals into one where government works incessantly to ensure “equity” among racial groups, favoring certain ones at the expense of others.

In today’s Martin Center article, law professor William Jacobson of Cornell explains why the fight against CRT is a fight for national survival. He writes, “The ideology of critical race theory puts, at its core, in its center, that race is the most important thing in a student’s life. That skin color is the most important thing in how their life is going to develop. It’s an extremely pernicious ideology. If you wanted to think of a way to tear this country apart, it’s hard to think of a way better than what they are doing.”

But CRT isn’t just about race. It smuggles in an attack on capitalism, telling listeners that we must adopt socialism which (contrary to all evidence) is fair and just.

Moreover, CRT isn’t even an academic theory. Theories can be debated. The purveyors of CRT abhor debate and insist that America is irredeemably racist. Anyone who challenges that only proves his own racism.

In his talk, Jacobson argues that we should not just oppose CRT, but put in place positive ideas about our ideals of individual liberty and limited government.

National Security & Defense

How Biden Plans for ‘Every Contingency’ . . . Except Getting Americans Out . . . and Getting Afghans Out

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Taliban fighters ride on a police vehicle outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Our Zachary Evans reports that the Biden State Department is telling Americans stuck in Afghanistan that they are on their own. Our fellow citizens have been advised by their government both that they should make their way to the airport and — in capital block highlighted print — that “THE UNITED STATES CANNOT GUARANTEE YOUR SECURITY AS YOU MAKE THIS TRIP.”

Given this shocking notification, it is worth remembering what President Biden represented to the nation just a day ago.

Twice, he assured us that his administration had planned for “every contingency,” expressly “including the rapid collapse we’re seeing now” — i.e., the collapse of the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul and takeover of the country by the Taliban. One glaringly obvious and imperative contingency, of course, was the safe evacuation of American civilians.

Biden added:

Let me lay out the current mission in Afghanistan: I was asked to authorize, and I did, 6,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan for the purpose of assisting in the departure of U.S. and allied civilian personnel from Afghanistan, and to evacuate our Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans to safety outside of Afghanistan.

And:

Over the coming days we intend to transport out thousands of American citizens who have been living and working in Afghanistan. We’ll also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel — the civilian personnel of our allies who are still serving in Afghanistan.

He can’t guarantee the safety of the Americans. How is he possibly going to get tens of thousands of Afghan civilians out?

Every contingency.

World

Which Part of America Being Back Does the President Hiding Serve?

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President Joe Biden hosts a briefing in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 10, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Jake Sullivan confirmed today that President Biden has not spoken to a single world leader since Kabul fell to the Taliban.

I’m confused as to which part of the “America is back” philosophy this decision represents. In Britain, the prime minister is recalling Parliament. In France, the president is trying to rally the U.N. And President Biden is . . . doing nothing at Camp David.

In February, Biden said, “I know the past few years have strained and tested the transatlantic relationship. The United States is determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.” In June, he said, “America’s back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values”; “I think we’ve made some progress in re-establishing American credibility among our closest friends”; “the lack of participation in the past and full engagement was noticed significantly.”

As opposed to this new, fresh approach, which is warming everyone’s hearts.

Energy & Environment

The Big Bright Green Jobs Machine (or Not)

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A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, China, in 2013. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

There are so many delusions running through the Biden administration’s climate agenda that it seems unfair to pick out just one for discussion today, but there will be other opportunities on other days, and so today it’s worth taking a quick look at the idea that this agenda will, as a whole, create jobs on, to use a possibly unfortunate word, any sustainable basis. That’s not to deny that some sectors will benefit. There will, for example, be plenty of openings for bureaucrats and enforcers of many descriptions. Some of those jobs will be well rewarded: command-and-control is like that.

To believe that overturning much of the basis on which our market economy has been run (and doing so in a relatively short period) will lead to an employment bonanza is either delusional or very, very optimistic. The same can be said about those who peddle the idea that this happy outcome lies ahead, although there are plenty of other considerably less polite adjectives that could also be used to describe them.

Those adjectives might be heading climate warriors’ way rather sooner than some might like.

Sarah O’Connor, writing in the Financial Times:

My exchange with Gideon Rachman about climate change last week got me thinking about the problem facing democratically elected politicians everywhere: how to sell some of the painful measures that will be necessary to avert environmental catastrophe.

“Environmental catastrophe”! The FT is going to FT, but that’s another discussion for another time. Meanwhile there are also plenty of measures that can be put in place to reduce climate risks that do not involve following the warped priorities and lunatic timetables now being pushed by so many governments (and those who advise them) — in the West, anyway. That, too, is a discussion for another occasion.

Back to O’Connor:

In the US, President Joe Biden usually stresses the benefits of combating climate change over the costs. Here’s what he said earlier this month, for example, at a White House event on electric cars:

“When I hear ‘climate’, I think ‘jobs’ — good-paying union jobs . . . If we act to save the planet, we can also come out of it better. We can create millions of good-paying jobs that generate significant economic growth and opportunity, to raise the standard of living for people not only here, but around the world.”

I can see why it’s smart politics to promise a green jobs boom. But I wonder if it’s also a risk. If those jobs don’t materialise, or they’re insufficient in quantity or quality to replace the jobs that will be lost in carbon-heavy sectors, the result could be a “betrayal” narrative that turns nasty.

Do you think?

The mismatch between the objectives of those promoting the current climate agenda and what is electorally palatable already explains why so much of this agenda is being pursued via the regulatory or corporatist route rather than through legislatures. That mismatch is going to get a lot worse, something with ominous implications for the proper functioning of Western democracy.

O’Connor refers to an article in the New York Times from July, in which it was “argued [that] the green economy was “’shaping up to look less like the industrial workplace that lifted workers into the middle class in the 20th century than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse or a fleet of Uber drivers: gruelling work schedules, few unions, middling wages and limited benefits.’”

She felt that assessment was “a bit harsh”:

Data from the latest US Energy and Employment Report show median hourly wages in the solar and wind industries are about $24 and $26 respectively, roughly a third higher than the national median wage. That said, they pay substantially less than jobs in fossil fuel sectors, and their unionisation rates are lower too. That should hardly be a surprise. Nascent industries such as solar energy are developing in an era where unions are hugely diminished in scale and influence. But Biden is the most pro-union US president in decades: it will be interesting to see which levers he can pull to fulfil his promise that these will be “good paying union jobs”.

Indeed it will: After a century of central-planning failures, it’s not unfair to observe that good jobs are rarely created by a politician pulling a lever. Maybe the clever and canny architect of our recent triumph in Kabul can beat the odds, but taxpayers shouldn’t have to bet on it — although they will be forced to.

It is well worth reading the New York Times’ article in full, not least the discussion on union issues and the economics of building, say, a wind farm. But securing well-paid jobs is going to involve rather more than higher rates of unionization. (Most) renewables have either been developed (or transformed into their current form) in the age of automation, and it shows:

Many solar farms often make do without a single worker on site.

And it is not enough that the ‘climate economy’ spurs the creation of new (and well-paid) jobs. It must create enough of them to make up for the existing jobs that will inevitably be lost in the transition towards net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions.

From the New York Times article (my emphasis added):

Since 2000, the United States has lost about two million private-sector union jobs, which pay above-average wages. To help revive such “high-quality middle-class” employment, as Mr. Biden refers to it, he has proposed federal subsidies to plug abandoned oil and gas wells, build electric vehicles and charging stations and speed the transition to renewable energy.

Industry studies, including one cited by the White House, suggest that vastly increasing the number of wind and solar farms could produce over half a million jobs a year over the next decade — primarily in construction and manufacturing.

David Popp, an economist at Syracuse University, said those job estimates were roughly in line with his study of the green jobs created by the Recovery Act of 2009, but with two caveats: First, the green jobs created then coincided with a loss of jobs elsewhere, including high-paying, unionized industrial jobs. And the green jobs did not appear to raise the wages of workers who filled them.

The effect of Mr. Biden’s plan, which would go further in displacing well-paid workers in fossil-fuel-related industries, could be similarly disappointing.

Adding the knock-on effects of the administration’s climate agenda on other areas of the economy (spoiler: they won’t be positive), and it’s difficult to feel much confidence in predictions of a positive net effect on jobs or wages.

Then throw in the impact of, say, higher corporate taxation or the continuing automation wave on employment . . .

But those are yet more discussions for another day.

Health Care

Barely a Week After Publicly Downplaying the Need for Booster Shots, the CDC Is Expected to Endorse Boosters

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Grace Demars receives a COVID-19 vaccine at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond, La., August 5, 2021. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Once you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, how long does your body’s ability to effectively fight off the virus last? We’ve seen a small – one-tenth of one percent of all vaccinated Americans — but increasing number of “breakthrough infections” among fully vaccinated individuals. Those infections rarely if ever amount to serious illness, and those infected almost always stay out of the hospital. But it does suggest that a body’s ability to fight off COVID-19 – or perhaps the Delta variant in particular – wanes over time.

At the end of July, Pfizer’s CEO  Albert Bourla said during the appearance on CNBC that the efficacy of his company’s vaccine steadily declines to about 84 percent about six months after a second dose, and that the declined an average of 6 percent every two months. That’s not disastrous, but it does present a potential problem for those most vulnerable to the virus.

“We have seen also data from Israel that there is a waning of immunity and that starts impacting what used to be what was 100 percent against hospitalization. Now, after the six-month period, is becoming low 90s and mid-to-high 80s,” Bourla said.

Numbers like that suggested that the most vulnerable Americans would need a booster shot, probably in the fall.

Keep in mind, by January 31, the U.S. had administered nearly 30 million doses of the vaccine, and 5.2 million people were fully vaccinated – many of whom were front-line responders, medical personnel, and the elderly and immunocompromised. That was seven and a half months ago.

I wrote in the Morning Jolt last Thursday, “if the 44 million American senior citizens who are fully vaccinated are going to need boosters in the fall, it is probably a good idea to start openly discussing this now — instead of mid-August FDA statements declaring that ‘individuals who are fully vaccinated are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine at this time.’”

The good news is, NIH Director Francis Collins says the data from Israel on the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines over time is causing U.S. health leaders to rethink their position on vaccine booster shots – and the U.S. is expected to endorse booster shots for everyone who is fully vaccinated in the coming days.

The bad news is, that we’re seeing the U.S. government discussing the need for boosters, while the Israelis started administering their boosters to the elderly three weeks ago. And CDC director Rochelle Walensky complained last week about the roughly million Americans who went out and got a third shot without waiting for the government to recommend them.

And five days ago, the CDC declared, “individuals who are fully vaccinated are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine at this time.”

If it seems like the Biden administration’s message isn’t keeping up with the changing situation on the ground… well, there’s a lot of that going around these days.

Science & Tech

Workers Should Say No to At-Home Big Tech Surveillance

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A man is reflected on surveillance cameras at the annual Huawei Connect event in Shanghai, China, September 18, 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)

More and more voices are decrying the increasing influence of tech companies in political discourse. Many on the left and the right have called for antitrust legislation to curtail the influence of these large conglomerates. However, the increase in teleworking may open up a new and even more dangerous avenue for Big Tech to exert influence, not over politics but over everyday life itself. 

A recent report from NBC News found that Big Tech companies have installed cameras inside worker’s bedrooms to make sure they are working hard enough. The report specifically examines the practices of a Columbia-based call center that services companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Uber. The details of the arrangement are truly terrifying:

The contract allows monitoring by AI-powered cameras in workers’ homes, voice analytics and storage of data collected from the worker’s family members, including minors. … “The contract allows constant monitoring of what we are doing, but also our family,” said a Bogota-based worker on the Apple account who was not authorized to speak to the news media. “I think it’s really bad. We don’t work in an office. I work in my bedroom. I don’t want to have a camera in my bedroom.”

The Bogota-based worker is simply stating a natural impulse: Most people don’t want their boss to watch them sleeping. However, vocalizing this perfectly normal response isn’t allowed. The Bogota worker gave his statement anonymously for fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, this kind of corporate behavior is happening in the United States, too. 

Big Tech spies on its employees constantly. Amazon has installed cameras in their trucks to read the faces of the drivers to make sure they are watching the road. Warehouse employees are monitored for how long they use the bathroom. Google is building an entire town so that employees essentially never have to leave work.

This kind of paternalistic behavior will only escalate because of the pandemic. Google and Facebook already require vaccines for those who want to work in their office. Working from home is a perk that many employees want, but the rise of teleworking could spark a surveillance surge from companies that want to squeeze productivity out of their workers. The lockdowns helped collapse the distinction between work life and home life, and as more people work from home, surveillance stipulations could increase.

Workers should stand up and refuse to cave to these demands. Allowing a privatized Big Tech surveillance system would result in a peculiar kind of neo-feudalism. Feudalism is an economic system centered on a central employer who wholly owns the central means of production. Feudal lords had significant control over the workers’ private lives, and in return, they guaranteed their employees a high level of security. 

Big Tech companies already have significant influence over what is said, what is promoted, and where we work. I don’t believe this warrants government intervention, as I’ve stated here, here, and here. Private ownership over advanced technological capabilities is far preferable to state-owned surveillance (see: China). Nevertheless, our at-home life is one of the few places Big Tech technology shouldn’t touch, and white-collar workers should set the industry standard that employers can’t spy on their employees. 

The importance of privacy is more precarious than ever, but the sanctity of the home is still worth fighting over. Without being hyperbolic, this genuine “safe space” is being eroded by smart TVs, phones, and at-home devices that monitor our conversations; placing cameras in bedrooms is only the next step. It is not weird or unusual to dislike this, and Americans should be empowered to push back against it. It’s not too late to reject this brave new world. 

World

‘This Is a Catastrophe’: House Democrat on Biden’s Afghanistan Withdrawal

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President Biden takes questions from reporters at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 19, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Congressmen Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has published a scathing piece on Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal at Foreign Policy.

“Public executions and forced marriages are reportedly back. People are fleeing. The Taliban are in Kabul, and the government has fallen. This is a catastrophe,” Langevin writes. “This negligence [from the Biden administration] was par for the course for the last U.S. administration. I am disappointed to see it now. At minimum, the Biden administration owed our Afghan allies of 20 years a real plan. They also owed it to our military service members and their families, particularly the men and women in uniform and their families who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Not to mention the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now experiencing a devastating new reality.”

Langevin goes to make the case that the United States would have been better off keeping a small presence in Afghanistan, and he discusses what must be done now that Kabul has fallen to the Taliban. You can read the rest of his article here.

National Security & Defense

‘Biden’s Shameful Afghanistan Speech’

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We have an editorial up on Biden’s speech yesterday: 

Joe Biden may be the first U.S. president to argue that if a decision leads to disastrous consequences, it must be the correct one. 

In his speech on the meltdown in Afghanistan, the president said that the rapid collapse of government forces “reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

This is bizarre, since not too long ago Biden was insisting that we could withdraw because the Afghan military would be perfectly capable of carrying on without us. 

What’s clear is that Biden was absolutely committed to exiting Afghanistan no matter what. He expressed no regrets yesterday, even as the worst case unspooled in Afghanistan, including unforgettable images of terrified Afghans clinging to a U.S. transport plane as it took off from Kabul’s international airport, with some falling to their deaths. 

National Security & Defense

President Biden’s Man-Made Disasters 

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I wrote today about how Biden inherited sustainable situations at the border and in Afghanistan, and blew them up for no good reason.

 

 

National Security & Defense

What’s the Plan for Getting Out Americans Not Already at the Kabul Airport?

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That’s the most urgent question now, and it’s not clear that the administration has an answer.

Ed Morrisey has a good post on John Kirby’s CNN appearance where he was pressed on this.

World

Biden and McGovern

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Senator George McGovern accepts the Democratic nomination for president in 1972 at Miami Beach. (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

Images are flooding the Internet comparing the chaos in Kabul in August 2021 to Saigon in April 1975. In defending his Afghanistan policy on Monday, President Biden himself invoked Vietnam. The president was clearly more comfortable with the broad strokes of the idea of withdrawal from Afghanistan than the specifics of how his administration implemented this withdrawal. Nor did he offer an accounting of why his public predictions about the strength of the Taliban turned out so wrong.

Despite all the substantive differences between Vietnam and Afghanistan, the road from Saigon to Kabul shows certain continuities in Biden’s political career. He was elected to the Senate in 1972, the same year as George McGovern’s epic loss. McGovern ran on the slogan of “Come Home America,” and, as a freshman U.S. senator, Biden backed cutting off American support for an embattled South Vietnam.

Most American combat troops left South Vietnam by the end of March 1973, though North and South Vietnam continued to battle each other. In April 1975, President Ford requested additional appropriations to help shore up the South Vietnamese government. In a dramatic meeting, Ford pleaded with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make his (rebuffed) case for the funding.

Biden reflected on this episode in his 2012 eulogy for McGovern:

It was decided that we were not going to try to sustain our presence. And it was about five weeks later, helicopters were taking off the roof. Not because of me — I mean, that was the plan. But the point was, I remember walking out of there thinking I was right. I got to go to Washington and be with George McGovern and play a little, little tiny part in ending that war.

Also in that eulogy, Biden called McGovern the “father of the modern Democratic Party.” A McGovernite ethos of “social-justice” economics and policies anchored in a certain elite-driven narrative of identity now enjoys great influence in the Democratic Party. And Biden, elected the same year as McGovern’s electoral drubbing, has contributed to that influence. A president who staked his administration on opposing triangulation, Barack Obama called Biden’s 2020 campaign platform “the most progressive platform of any major party nominee in history.”

George McGovern may have lost the 1972 presidential election, but his legacy endures.

Monetary Policy

Transitory Distractions

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(Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via Reuters)

Whether the elevated inflation readings of the last few months will prove “transitory” has been the main subject of comment about them. It’s understandable that we want to know how long we will be going through the pain and disruption of this burst of inflation, and I’ve written about that question myself. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the extent to which this inflation is transitory is not directly relevant to the debate over macroeconomic policy. What matters for that debate is the related but distinct question of what’s causing this increase in inflation.

If the cause is mostly monetary factors — an increase in the money supply or a decrease in demand for money balances — that’s an indication that the Federal Reserve may need to tighten monetary policy. If, on the other hand, it’s mostly supply disruptions, then tightening would compound the problem of lost output from those disruptions. And tightening in response to negative supply shocks would be a mistake even if such shocks continued indefinitely.

My views on the “transitory” question remain what they were a few months ago: The inflation spike is probably mostly transitory. By mid fall, the comparison of prices to prices twelve months earlier won’t reflect the peculiar circumstances of the initial lockdown period, and supply-chain weaknesses at the start of the recovery should have been worked out (partly because high prices create an incentive to generate supply).

Afterward, I’d expect inflation to run a bit higher than it did on average during the 2009-2019 period, because a few years ago the Federal Reserve shifted to an “average inflation targeting” regime that seems less likely to yield results chronically below its 2 percent annual target. That’s why I think higher inflation is likely to be “mostly” rather than entirely transitory.

The Fed might well be justified in tightening modestly (e.g., by adjusting its forward guidance). It would be a mistake to tighten substantially. That’s not because today’s inflation is mostly transitory. It’s because it mostly doesn’t have monetary causes (which is also why it’s mostly transitory).

Wait, What Happened to ‘Joe Biden, the Experienced, Wise Old Hand’?

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President Joe Biden discusses his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda and administration efforts to “lower prescription drug prices,” in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 12, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters )

In the coming weeks, we will see a lot of political and foreign policy voices trying to pinpoint the moment or decision that doomed Afghanistan to a return to the brutal rule of the Taliban.

Neil Stevens makes one of the fairer assessments, contending that once the Taliban had a de facto sanctuary on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border, the U.S. effort was doomed in the long run. The Taliban could simply sit, recruit and build up their forces, and wait until America and its allies left.

And yet, the Bush administration didn’t have many good options regarding Pakistan. President

National Security & Defense

Obama’s Defense Secretary Says Biden Doesn’t Have His Act Together

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President Joe Biden answers questions from reporters after speaking about the pace of coronavirus vaccinations at the House in Washington, D.C., July 29, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

When an Obama cabinet secretary feels the need to criticize President Biden, you know things are bad.

Here’s what Leon Panetta, who served as secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013, has to say to the Washington Post about Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal:

“He didn’t really spend much time on the issue that I think really concerns the American people, which is the execution of that decision. What went wrong and how it is going to be fixed?” said Leon Panetta, a longtime adviser to Democratic presidents who served as defense secretary under President Barack Obama. “It just struck me that they were crossing their fingers and hoping chaos would not result. And it doesn’t work that way.”

Panetta, who said he has been unsure what to tell the numerous contacts in Afghanistan calling him seeking a way out of the country, said, “right now it just does not look like we have our act together” and expressed surprise at the seeming lack of preparation.

“It’s not the Joe Biden that I often saw in the National Security Council raising questions about the planning involved in any decision that the president had to face,” he said. “He would be among those that would say, ‘Have we looked at all the consequences? Have we looked at all the possible land mines that we might have to face in implementing that decision?’ He was good at that. I assume he must have asked those questions. But it’s clear that, for whatever reason, those plans or strategies or precautions were not put in place.”

In a separate interview with CNN, Panetta said of Biden: “He’s just got to ensure that the United States of America remains a strong world leader that can work with our allies to try to protect peace and prosperity. That is the message he’s got to give the American people and the world, because our credibility right now is in question.”

World

A Powerful Plea to Rescue Those Who Served with America in Afghanistan

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A Taliban fighter runs toward a crowd outside Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (Reuters TV)

In an interview on MSNBC on Monday, Afghanistan war veteran Matt Zeller issued a powerful plea to President Biden that he should implement a plan to rescue tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted America’s war effort over the last 20 years.

“I have been personally trying to tell this administration since it took office . . .  that this was coming,” said Zeller, cofounder of the nonprofit No One Left Behind, an organization dedicated to helping former Afghan interpreters. “Nobody listened to us. They didn’t plan for the evacuation of our Afghan wartime allies. They’re trying to conduct it now at the eleventh hour.

“We had all the people and equipment in place to save these people months ago — and we did nothing. I’m appalled that [President Biden] thinks we only need to take 2,000 people. There’s 86,000 people who are currently left behind in Afghanistan alone,” Zeller said. “We’ve identified them for the government.”

Zeller, who said his Afghan interpreter saved his life during a gun battle in 2008, made the case that U.S. troops should hold the Kabul airport as long as necessary to evacuate allies. “I’m sick and tired of trying to defer to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on what we’re going to do. We’re the United States of America. They’re terrified of us,” Zeller said. “The Taliban are not going to wipe these people out so long as we have a beachhead. We should be holding that for as long as it takes to get every single one of them out.”

It’s worth watching Zeller’s full interview here.

Education

The Gift of Teachers, Etc.

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Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of High Priestess, lights the flame during the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics at Ancient Olympia in Olympia, Greece, March 12, 2020. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

I would like to throw some links at you, then follow up on an article. (Like a White House reporter: “I have a follow-up.”) Here is a remembrance of Donald Kagan, the great historian of the ancient world — and great guy — who passed away earlier this month. Here is an article on the Salzburg Festival: the festival in general and a great pianist, Grigory Sokolov, in particular.

If you want more music, try these posts in The New Criterion — on Arcadi Volodos, another great pianist; on an Italian evening, with the Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva; on an all-Mozart concert in the Mozarteum (appropriately enough); and on a Bach presentation by the pianist András Schiff.

In Schiff’s estimation, Bach is “the greatest European,” whose face should be on the European flag. In his keyboard partitas, for instance, Bach took styles from all over, and exalted them — even jigs from Scotland and Ireland! My line is: Today, in America, he would be accused of “cultural appropriation.” Maybe even “canceled.”

This is a Q&A podcast with Daniel Hannan, the British columnist, book-author, and politician — who is now in the House of Lords. What is the House of Lords, by the way? A kind of senate? Hannan explains. Are they still wearing wigs? Is Hannan a Whig in a wig? He explains that one, too.

Hannan was born and raised in Peru, which has a new president, a real bolshie. Hannan talks about this fellow, Pedro Castillo, and about the fortunes of democracy around the world. Or misfortunes. Have we entered an authoritarian age? It appears that way. Can the open society survive? Are open societies always and everywhere rare — exceptions to the rule of history and mankind?

There’s a lot more in our conversation — which ends with Shakespeare, about which Hannan is gloriously authoritative. There is so much Shakespeare in his head, I can hardly see how there’s room for all the other things he knows, too.

Speaking of the knowledgeable: back to Donald Kagan. In a podcast two and a half years ago, he told me how he came to be a classical historian. At Brooklyn College, he had a teacher whom not many students liked. She wasn’t for the many; she was for the few. Young Don Kagan was absolutely ripe for her.

She was a battle axe — a “maiden lady in her sixties,” as Kagan said to me — named Meta Elizabeth Schutz. She did not want to be your friend. She did not want to cuddle you. But, if you were serious about the ancient world — boy, would she teach you.

After talking with Kagan, and hearing about “Miss Schutz,” I googled around — and found an interview with a retired Foreign Service officer, Leon Picon, conducted in 1989. He talked about his career. “I don’t know exactly where to start,” he said. He continued,

Let’s start with my having gone to Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York, where I first intended to become a French teacher, and so I majored in French. Before a month was out, I became intensely interested in becoming a lawyer instead of a teacher. In order to do so I would have to switch from the Arts curriculum to the Social Sciences curriculum, which I did.

In the Social Sciences Department, Ancient History (History 9 & 10) was a required course, so I found myself being taught by one of the finest teachers I had ever encountered, a Professor Meta Schutz. She brought the ancient world to life for me, and before I knew what was happening, I had fallen deeply in love with ancient Egypt, and wanted to become an Egyptologist. Professor Schutz advised me to get a sound background in languages, particularly Latin and Greek. So I switched back to the Arts curriculum and did in fact major in Latin and Greek.

I wish I could enroll with Meta Elizabeth Schutz right today.

In my talk with Donald Kagan, he brought up a basketball player — a hotshot in Brooklyn, where Kagan grew up — named Ziggy Banks (“Ziggy” for “Siegmund”). “Basketball was the religion of Brownsville,” said Kagan — Brownsville, Brooklyn. And Ziggy Banks did everyone proud.

Googling around, I found some news items about him, including this:

Ziggy Banks of Long Island University was the big man for the Merry Bachelors with a harvest of 25. A shot by Banks tied the game at 54, necessitating overtime.

I forwarded these items — concerning Leon Picon and Meta Schutz, and Ziggy Banks and the Merry Bachelors — to Kagan. He answered, “Enormous thanks for your wonderful historical labors. One amazing story and one delightful piece of information.” He ended his note, “Long may you wave.”

I said the same back to him. And I’m sure he is waving — shining, flourishing — as we speak.

World

What Biden Left Out When He Blamed Afghans for the Taliban’s Swift Victory

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the crisis in Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 16, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

During remarks at the White House on Monday, President Biden blamed the Afghan army’s lack of will for the Taliban’s swift victory and the fall of Kabul.

In particular, Biden emphasized that the United States provided the Afghans with “the maintenance of their air force” and “close air support”:

“We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force—something the Taliban doesn’t have. Taliban does not have an air force. We provided close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. [What] we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

But as the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend, the “U.S. pulled its air support,” and after that occurred, “the Afghan military simply couldn’t operate anymore.”

From the Journal’s August 14 report:

The Afghan army fighting alongside American troops was molded to match the way the Americans operate. The U.S. military, the world’s most advanced, relies heavily on combining ground operations with air power, using aircraft to resupply outposts, strike targets, ferry the wounded, and collect reconnaissance and intelligence.

In the wake of President Biden’s withdrawal decision, the U.S. pulled its air support, intelligence and contractors servicing Afghanistan’s planes and helicopters. That meant the Afghan military simply couldn’t operate anymore. The same happened with another failed American effort, the South Vietnamese army in the 1970s, said retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, who commanded the U.S.-led coalition’s mission to train Afghan forces in 2011-2013.

As National Review‘s editors argue in the latest editorial on Afghanistan: “Even if Biden insisted on pulling out, there was no reason to do it this heedlessly and incompetently — in the middle of fighting season and a gathering Taliban offensive, without any alternative U.S. base in the region, without any substitute for U.S. air support or the Americans contractors who kept Afghan planes in the sky, without an orderly process to get out vulnerable Afghans who helped us over the years, and without a plan to secure the airport in Kabul.”

National Security & Defense

The Kabul Airport 

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Luther noted below the sickening scenes of panic at the Kabul airport. We reportedly have a deal with the Taliban for them to leave operations at the airport alone — if true, and if the Taliban abides by it, this is a good thing, since it would only take some indirect fire to make an already nightmarish situation even worse.

National Security & Defense

How Reliable Is the Perspective of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin?

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., February 10, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Charlie, I have a slight disagreement with your assessment that the only person who should resign over the disaster in Afghanistan is President Joe Biden. Indeed, as Harry Truman declared, the buck stops with the president.

But… there’s at least some past evidence indicating Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s ability to clearly assess a gathering threat is… less than ideal.

Early in 2014, Obama’s intelligence advisers told him that ISIS was of marginal importance. According to administration officials, General Lloyd Austin, then the commander of Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the White House that the Islamic State was “a flash in the pan.” This analysis led Obama, in an interview with The New Yorker, to describe the constellation of jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria as terrorism’s “jayvee team.” (A spokesman for Austin told me, “At no time has General Austin ever considered isil a ‘flash in the pan’ phenomenon.”)

And then in 2015:

A 2015 video circulating widely in Washington shows Austin, then in charge of Central Command, being scolded by then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) for failing to support measures to protect Syrian civilians or to develop a viable strategy for protecting U.S. interests there.

“I have never seen a hearing that is as divorced from the reality of every outside expert and what you are saying,” McCain told Austin.

Also in that testimony, Austin admitted Centcom’s $500 million train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels had produced only “four or five” trained fighters who survived the first battle. For Syria-watchers, the Obama administration’s policy as partially implemented by Austin was, as McCain said, “an abject failure.”

And then the following year:

Officials from the United States Central Command altered intelligence reports to portray a more optimistic picture of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria than events on the ground warranted, a congressional panel said in a report issued Thursday.

“After months of investigation, this much is very clear,” Representative Mike Pompeo, Republican of Kansas, said in a statement. “From the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the United States Central Command’s most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command’s intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq.”

Centcom’s commander then, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, came under criticism last year after Senate testimony viewed by many lawmakers as being an overly positive assessment of the war.

If Austin’s assessment of the stability and security of Afghanistan was wildly erroneous, it still doesn’t get Biden off the hook. And as you note, there’s considerable evidence that Biden ignored the assessments and recommendations of the Pentagon. But with the withdrawal from Afghanistan appearing to repeat the same mistakes as the withdrawal from Iraq, it seems fair to ask whether Biden’s top defense official might have a bad habit of seeing security situations as better than they really are.

White House

Why Would Anyone Other Than President Biden Resign?

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Detail of portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1796. (Clark Art Institute/Wikimedia)

The Pentagon confirms that the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, will not resign over the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan.

Good. Why should he?

Joe Biden is the president of the United States, and he, not Secretary Austin, made this call. Indeed, by all accounts, Biden repeatedly ignored the advice of his staff on this question, and went it alone. And that’s fine — indeed, given that the military is subordinate to the civil authority, it’s constitutionally mandatory in such cases as the president believes that the military is wrong — but it also means that this is Joe Biden’s fault.

By the terms of our constitutional order, the various departments inside the executive branch are under the authority of President Biden, and they exist to carry out his orders (consistent with statute). Unless Congress has set the terms or made its will known in detail — which, in this case, it did not — those orders are the responsibility of the president. After they have been given, there really are only two options available to staff: (a) to carry them out, or, (b) if they believe them to be illegal or immoral, to resign.

Who deserves ultimate blame for President Biden’s mistake? The answer, surely, should be obvious.

World

Afghan Allies Burn Their Connection to the U.S. to Avoid Reprisal

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A member of the Taliban stands guard as people walk at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Thirteen days ago, I wrote we should airlift all U.S.-affiliated Afghans and our own people out of that reeling country. Today, we see mobs hugging the sides of aircraft — some of whom seemingly fall to their deaths — to escape the Taliban advance into Kabul. 

The outrage of our incompetence is titanic, with Monica Campbell of The World reporting Afghan allies finding it necessary to choose between keeping or destroying documents that connect them to the U.S. Keeping the documents is the only way to confirm they worked for us and prove eligibility for relocation. However, every second they maintain these records invites the chance that the Taliban discovers the documentation and reprisals begin. One can hardly blame our erstwhile allies for burning their papers, seeing as our promise of salvation is specious in the extreme. 

The only successful evacuation of the last week was by the Biden administration vacating their duties, and it’s sickening.