Monday, August 16th, 2021


Exit Wound

Let's stipulate that the U.S. hasn't had a clear objective in Afghanistan since Osama Bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora, and that the whole effort has been mismanaged from Bush's initial strategy to Trump and Pompeo's "deal" to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. And let's confirm Fareed Zakaria's take that, "There is no elegant way to lose a war." And, for argument's sake, let's even cede Natl Security Advisor Jake Sullivan's point about Biden's thinking on ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. "Should U.S. men and women be put into the middle of another country's civil war when their own army won't fight to defend them? His answer to that question was no." But there's another question: Should the Afghan men and women who fought and worked alongside those American men and women have been abandoned? The answer to that question is also no. The US pullout from Afghanistan has been an intel and military disaster, adds another stain on America's world leadership status, and deals a blow to Joe Biden's empathic brand. How could we not know, after 20 years, that the Taliban would take control of the country in days? How was it not clear that the already weak Afghan military couldn't possibly defend cities from the Taliban without US airpower? How were we so unprepared to get Americans and our allies out of the country that we actually had to send troops back in after we had pulled them out?

+ George Packer in The Atlantic: "There's plenty of blame to go around for the 20-year debacle in Afghanistan—enough to fill a library of books. Perhaps the effort to rebuild the country was doomed from the start. But our abandonment of the Afghans who helped us, counted on us, staked their lives on us, is a final, gratuitous shame that we could have avoided. The Biden administration failed to heed the warnings on Afghanistan, failed to act with urgency—and its failure has left tens of thousands of Afghans to a terrible fate. This betrayal will live in infamy." (And let's be honest, this particular section of infamy is getting crowded.)

+ Steve Coll in conversation with Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker: "The Afghans now have suffered generation after generation of not just continuous warfare but humanitarian crises, one after the other, and Americans have to remember that this wasn't a civil war that the Afghans started among themselves that the rest of the world got sucked into. This situation was triggered by an outside invasion, initially by the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and since then the country has been a battleground for regional and global powers seeking their own security by trying to militarily intervene in Afghanistan, whether it be the United States after 2001, the C.I.A. in the nineteen-eighties, Pakistan through its support first for the mujahideen and later the Taliban, or Iran and its clients. To blame Afghans for not getting their act together in light of that history is just wrong."

+ Congressman and Marine Seth Mouton: "To our Afghanistan veterans and their families, I am too honest to stand here today and try to convince you that your sacrifice was worth it."

+ The indelible image: "In a distressing video, Afghans can be seen attempting to hold onto a U.S. military plane as it takes off from Kabul airport." And here are more photos from the scene. The Taliban in the presidential office might remind you of another insurrection.

+ The US is evacuating staff from Kabul—Russia and China are not.

+ The latest from BBC and CNN.


Biden Speech

President Biden says he stands squarely behind his decision. "Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy ... [it was] preventing a terrorist attack on the American homeland." He also admits that "this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated." He made an eloquent and convincing speech about why we're leaving. He also took full responsibility for the decision and, refreshingly, was quite open about America's mistakes in Afghanistan. But I'm guessing that, behind the scenes, there is fury being directed at the advisors and leaders who screwed up the withdrawal. Here's the speech.


They’re Back

One of the world's most extreme, stomach-churning, violent, evil cults is back in control of a country. And it's going to be ugly. "Recently, the price of burkas has doubled, and in some cases increased by even more. Women are purchasing the best armor to protect themselves from the Taliban: the veil." A must-read from Lynsey Addario in The Atlantic: The Taliban's Return Is Catastrophic for Women.

+ "Already, in Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan ... Taliban have rulers 'have asked families to marry off one girl per family to their fighters; said women should not leave home without a male relative; and ordered men to pray in mosques and grow beards.'" Afghan government collapses, Taliban seize control: 5 essential reads.

+ The Taliban are megarich – here's where they get the money. (Mostly drugs.)


Let Them Eat … Food

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture will increase benefits for about 42 million program participants by more than 25% after finishing a review that determined existing benefits are too low to pay for a healthy diet." Food stamp benefits to permanently expand by over 25% in October.


Haiti’s Hard Times

Haiti is a country that knows what it feels like for things to go from bad to worse, and sadly, that trend is playing out again. First Covid, then the assassination of their leader, then another massive earthquake. And now a storm is coming. Haiti earthquake: Death toll climbs to 1,297 as storm nears.


For Those About to Rock

"Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows, and as of October 4th we will be following the model we developed for Lollapalooza and requiring this for artists, fans and employees." Live Nation will require vaccines or negative Covid tests from artists, customers. (That's what we're all hoping to remain: A live nation.)

+ "Texas high court blocks mask mandates in two of state's largest counties." (Outlawing caution is the hot, new thing...)


The Social Fabric

"This ragged cliff, some 20 metres high, is formed not of earth or stone, but of landfill. Most of it — an estimated 60 per cent — is unwanted clothing ... It's the dirty secret behind the world's fashion addiction. Many of the clothes we donate to charity end up dumped in landfill, creating an environmental catastrophe on the other side of the world." Dead white man's clothes.


Lyme Aid

"In 1975, two mothers living near Lyme, Connecticut, reported an outbreak of juvenile arthritis among 39 children. Field interviews by rheumatologist Allen Steere, from the Yale School of Medicine, and David Snydman, from the state health department, revealed striking similarities between many of the patients. They all lived in wooded areas of town. Many said their symptoms occurred between June and September. Most notably, a quarter of them also reported a red skin lesion, shaped like a bull's-eye, that appeared about four weeks before their arthritis began." Since then, Lyme disease has gotten a lot more common. Do we finally have a shot to prevent Lyme Disease? (And if we find it, will people be willing to take it, or is the freedom to get Lyme Disease a value too sacred to relinquish?)


I Do Over

"State lawmakers are nearing passage of a bill that could dampen the state's appeal as the go-to place to bring child brides — but would still leave it short of a national push to increase the age to 18. The proposed legislation would raise the minimum marriage age from 14 to 16 and limit the age difference between a 16-year-old and their spouse to four years." North Carolina is close to passing a bill that will tighten up their child marriage laws a bit. "Known for its coastlines, mountains and the state that was "first in flight," North Carolina has also developed a more dubious reputation recently: as a regional destination for adults who want to marry children."


Bottom of the News

"People often don't even realize when there are sharks around them, drone footage shows, and much of the time the sharks don't seem to pay humans much attention either." I know this is supposed to make me feel better about taking an ocean dip, but I'm not sure it does.

+ Sharks like surfing with us too.

+ While we're on the topic. That time when a Captive Shark Vomited Up a Human Arm—and Sparked a Murder Investigation.

+ And something for those who are happy enough just having an ocean view: Murray Bartlett On Letting Loose As Armond in The White Lotus.

+ I wrote a book. Please buy it and share my landing page: Please Scream Inside Your Heart.