Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, August 14 through Friday, August 20, 2021 [Vol.3 No.5]
The Week’s Most Notable
Afghanistan coverage in the media last week was confusing, many would say atrocious, but the take-home message was that the U.S. botched, was botching, the final pullout. There were two lines of criticism: First, the decision to pull out of Afghanistan was a mistake or, whether it was a mistake or not, planning for the final pullout was either nonexistent or very bad. A majority of media coverage focused on the first line of criticism, implying that Obama, Trump, and Biden were misguided in engineering a complete pullout. This position was so oddly revisionist that people began to wonder why so many in the media were hawkish, when the issue of getting out of Afghanistan was already years old and a matter of general – including a majority of Americans – agreement. Who was promoting the idea of staying in Afghanistan? The military? The right-wing? Russia? In any case, it wasn’t going to happen, so why was the idea being flogged? Good answers are not yet available.
The second line of criticism, that the military and Biden administration screwed up the final stage of extraction seems incontrovertible. Obviously removing military personnel and U.S. citizens from Afghanistan was the priority, with an apparently distant second priority of extracting tens of thousands of Afghanis who one way or another aided the U.S. war effort. The hot mess at the Kabul airport provided the Vietnam-reminiscent optics; the storyline of failing to predict that the Taliban would take over in 11 days was almost worse. Finger-pointing abounded with evidence to implicate the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, the State Department, and the Biden White House with having missed the signs. In fact, the fall of Kabul began on Friday two weeks ago and by Monday the Washington Post had a detailed account of how the country collapsed so quickly – basically, deals being struck by the Taliban with army and government officials over a period of many months (washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/15/Afghanistan-military-collapse-taliban/). If the Post knew about it, so did the U.S. government. Why was this analysis not accepted or prioritized?
Lots of questions, which both House and Senate are convening committees to ask. None of this will look good for Biden’s or the Democrats’ immediate political future, possibly into the 2022 midterms. The administration’s key political advantage, a patina of seamless competence, has been destroyed. Depending on what happens in Afghanistan, especially the success or failure of extracting the remaining U.S. citizens and large numbers of Afghan supporters, the political damage may be quickly forgotten – or not.
During the second wave of the pandemic in the U.S., the worst in terms of deaths (more than 4,000 a day), between 150,000 and 200,000 people a day contracted the coronavirus. This week we are again averaging almost 150,000 infections per day but with deaths of just 1,000 a day. The difference is vaccine. While none of the three vaccines used in the U.S. entirely stop people from contracting COVID-19, they have greatly reduced the number of people needing hospitalization and therefore reduced the death rate. That’s the good news. The less than good news is that because the Delta variant is more than twice as infectious as the original virus, and is both infectious and severe for people not vaccinated, the numbers of people infected could get out of hand – exceeding 200,000 a day. Epidemiologists are worrying that September, October, and November could be very bad months, as people go inside to avoid the colder weather. At the moment, we seem to be pretending that the pandemic is winding down. Sports and entertainment venues are once again crowded with spectators; people are meeting in person; schools are reopening for live classes; and enough vaccine-mitigation deniers continue to drink the Kool-Aid that it seems likely that a clash with reality is inevitable this fall.
The 644,323 total U.S. pandemic deaths as of August 20, 2021 is greater than the total number of deaths, approximately 644,000, caused by the 1918–1919 Spanish flu. In short, the new worst pandemic in American history.
Saturday, August 14
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 37,561,562; Deaths: 639,218
[Afghanistan] Taliban Enter Kabul, Seek to Establish Government – It required 11 days from the beginning of the Taliban offensive in the provinces until it effectively had control of Kabul. This was achieved because there was virtually no resistance from either the military or the existing government of Afghanistan. In fact, the president fled the country, police in all major cities did nothing, and according to the Washington Post, deals had been struck in the previous months with almost all levels of government for the nonviolent transfer of power. None of which appears to have affected U.S. policy.
[Haiti Earthquake] Major 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Haiti – Several hundred dead are reported with more than a thousand injured and large swaths of buildings in the western part of the country destroyed. [Update: by the end of the week almost 2,000 reported dead, up to 10,000 injured, and the island was feeling the brunt of tropical storm Grace.]
[Wildfires] Utah Evacuates 10,000 from Parley’s Canyon Fire – Such evacuations are not common in Utah, but this summer’s wildfires have touched every Western state.
Sunday, August 15
[Afghanistan] Afghanistan Officially Falls to Taliban – After 20 years, the Taliban have resumed control of Afghanistan. Taliban fighters entered and occupied key locations in Kabul following complete police abandonment of their posts. Signs of panic and looting were minimal, but the fate of the non-Taliban population, especially women, is now called into question, as is the culpability and role of Western governments, especially the U.S.
[Canada Elections] Trudeau Calls for Snap National Election – Scheduled for September 20, the move was widely seen as opportunistic, running ahead of a decline in popularity due to the pandemic.
Monday, August 16
[Afghanistan] Chaos at Kabul Airport, Seven Reported Dead – In video highly reminiscent of Vietnam, there were scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport – people clinging to the underside of airplanes and falling from the sky. American citizens and thousands of Afghans “compromised” in the eyes of the Taliban by association with Americans crowded the civilian portion of the airport, preventing planes from leaving or landing, and presenting one of the most significant PR disasters for the U.S. government, mainly the Biden administration, the intelligence services, and the U.S. military.
[Climate Change] First Ever Colorado River Water Shortage Declared – Reflective of the extreme drought throughout southwestern U.S., the water level in the largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is down to 35% of capacity – the lowest on record. Restrictions on water use along the course of the Colorado are expected shortly, which will have a ripple effect throughout communities and agricultural areas in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California.
[Chinese Economy] Chinese Manufacturing Slows, Threatening Global Economy – Both factory output and retail sales increased, but at a far lower rate than projected. For example, retail sales increased by 8.5% but had been projected to increase by 11.5%. Supply bottlenecks and new coronavirus restrictions are said to be the major negative factors.
[Coronavirus] Pandemic Cases Hit Record High in Five States – Led by Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi with the highest per capita rates in the country, and joined by Hawaii and Oregon, the Delta variant-driven surge has put the U.S.
back on top with the worst coronavirus record in the world. As Gov. Tate-Reeves (R) of Mississippi put it, “This current wave is the pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Tuesday, August 17
[Coronavirus] Texas Governor a Marquee COVID-19 “Breakthrough Case” – Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tested positive for COVID-19, despite having been vaccinated. It’s a high irony since he is the one who banned vaccine and face mask mandates in Texas. The state Supreme Court upheld his order, but several major school districts are disobeying.
[Afghanistan] Taliban Call for Amnesty, Normalized Government – Given the Taliban’s previous record for absolute domination by Sharia Law and ultraconservative Islamic policies, most observers are giving this peaceable opening gambit a very large dose of salt. Sincere or not, it is a policy that seems to be providing a little bit of breathing room for negotiations aimed at a peaceful transition of power and, more importantly, for the U.S. to remove citizens and Afghan supporters from the country.
[Coronavirus] TSA Expands Mask Mandate to January 18, 2022 – Despite right-wing screeching about individuals’ freedom, the TSA, U.S. airlines, and U.S. airline unions quietly agreed that wearing masks makes sense while the Delta variant poses such a great threat.
Wednesday, August 18
[Afghanistan] Biden Vows U.S. Troops Will Remain in Afghanistan until Evacuation Completed – This appears to be part of a complex negotiation with the Taliban, who for the time being seem willing to let the U.S. clear the country of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies, more or less without obstruction. If this holds, it may save Biden’s bacon.
[Coronavirus] Biden Administration OKs Distribution of Booster Shots – In what is likely to be a controversial decision, Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 booster shots will be made available September 20. At this point, it is unclear who should get the shots, where they can get them, what’s in the shots, and what tests support their use.
[Wildfires] Caldor Fire in California Explodes – Now covering more than 63,000 acres, the blaze has already destroyed homes, churches, schools, and threatens entire communities. The fire started on Saturday, and officials call it “unprecedented” as it rips through “large amounts of dry vegetation.”
Thursday, August 19
[Economy] Fed to Reevaluate Economic Subsidy in the Fall – The Federal Reserve is currently providing billions in financial subsidies to bolster the economy, but signs that the economy is becoming more robust, even up to the point of irregular inflation, have prompted talk of taking the Fed’s foot off the gas by the end of the year.
[Afghanistan] Anti-Taliban Protests and Gunfire Erupt in Afghanistan – Whether ultimately significant or not, the existence of protest and resistance may indicate that the Taliban will have their hands full in establishing control, which in turn could lead to continued disengagement from the U.S. presence at the Kabul airport – buying time for the U.S evacuation. Most accounts indicate that the U.S. and allies are struggling with the logistics of extracting tens of thousands of people, not least of which is bureaucratic red tape, a lack of places to take the refugees, and the problem of moving, housing, feeding, and caring for huge numbers. (Also highlighting the woeful lack of planning for such an event.)
[Texas Mask Mandates] Texas Supreme Court Allows Schools to Ignore Governor’s Mask Mandate Block – It’s been a seesaw battle, but this ruling by the court allows Harris County schools (Houston) and eight other school districts to ignore the governor’s order and mandate masks in schools. Currently 58 school districts and eight counties have mask requirements.
[Hurricanes] Hurricane Grace Comes Ashore in Mexico, Twice – The same storm that bedeviled Haiti a few days ago is now bringing high winds and torrential rain to the Yucatán and shortly to the main body of Mexico.
Friday, August 20
[Afghanistan] Taliban, Former Afghan Officials in Talks about Government – A cofounder of the Taliban movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and others are involved in discussions on how to set up a new government. Whether substantive or not, their meeting indicates that the Taliban must feel the need for negotiations.
[Gig Workers] California Judge Rules Gig Worker Law Unconstitutional – A 2020 proposition 22 that exempted rideshare and food delivery workers from benefits and from being hired as employees (i.e., they are all contract workers) was struck down by the judge for being “unenforceable.” This is hardly the end of the judicial journey, but since this is California, it has widespread relevance and will be closely followed.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 38,428,512; Deaths: 644,323
Not more than a week ago media called them “breakthrough cases,” COVID-19 infections caused mainly by the Delta variant, which occurred in people already vaccinated. This week it’s understood that such cases are going to be commonplace. For one thing an important issue has emerged: Vaccines lose effectiveness over time. Studies are incomplete but it appears that most vaccines, whether Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J, begin to allow more infection and initial symptoms, while still being extremely effective against serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. For another thing, the vaccines are responding to the Delta variant differently depending on individual cases, which generally means an increase in infections. By the end of this week epidemiologists at the Biden administration began talking about the need for booster shots, and Pfizer and Moderna have already announced they are close to production. On the other hand, there are scientific reasons, namely the effect of natural immunity caused by having had the disease, which make it debatable if booster shots are required. There’s also the moral issue of rich countries administering third shots, while many people in developing countries have yet to receive any shots. Expect this issue to continue for the near future.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Republicans are debating whether to make Afghanistan refugees a political issue. Of course they are. Some, such as Fox News celebrities Carlson and Ingraham, are already loudly decrying the influx of terrorists along with the Afghan refugees, etc. It probably depends on how the Biden administration handles the situation, but the general Republican response so far has been, we don’t know who these people are and we owe them nothing.
Pinned Trend: Very little reporting this week on other COVID-19 variants.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Conservatives claim to believe in American exceptionalism, and they once took pride in welcoming exiles from authoritarian lands. They still court the votes of Cuban, Venezuelan, Korean, and Vietnamese immigrants — all as American as anyone. Afghans who fought with us deserve no less.
Editorial, “The Right and Our Afghan Allies,” The Wall Street Journal, 08/19/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]