The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime lineup

It's another beautiful September afternoon, upon which I will capitalize when Cassie and I go to a new stop on the Brews & Choos Project after work. At the moment, however, I am refactoring a large collection of classes that for unfortunate reasons don't support automated testing, and looking forward to a day of debugging my refactoring Monday.

Meanwhile:

And now, more refactoring.

The best take I've read

"Over-extended, hollowed-out, debt-burdened empires are not exactly intimidating to many enemies. Leaving Afghanistan is therefore not the blow to American power and prestige these pundits are claiming. Staying in Afghanistan is."—Andrew Sullivan.

David Ignatius on our withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Washington Post columnist weaves together all the threads in the story and avoids putting the blame on any one person:

The structure of the Kabul government has been rotting from within for all 20 years of the United States’ war. And every U.S. commander knew its weakness. They worried about the corruption and incompetence of the government, devised elaborate strategies to fix it, kept convincing themselves they were making progress. Hope is not a strategy, as every commander knows. In this case, it was.

Biden is being flayed both for his decision and its sloppy execution. Many of us had warned that by withdrawing the small remaining force too quickly, without a transition plan, he was unwisely ending a low-cost insurance policy against the disaster now unfolding. Biden owns the final decision, for better or worse.

But the hard truth is that this failure is shared by a generation of military commanders and policymakers, who let occasional tactical successes in a counterterrorism mission become a proxy for a strategy that never was. And it was subtly abetted by journalists who were scratching our heads wondering if it would work, but let the senior officials continue their magical thinking.

We never had a clear goal in Afghanistan, other than punishing the Taliban for providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden. Just imagine what we could have done with the $100 billion we spent every year on that debacle.

After 20 years, 200,000 dead, and $1 trillion spent, we get nothing

The Afghan government—or whatever approximation of a government they actually had—has fallen as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban took Kabul earlier today:

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, confirmed earlier reports that Ghani had left Afghanistan.

“He left Afghanistan in a hard time, God hold him accountable,” Abdullah, a longtime rival of Ghani's, said in an online video.

Ghani’s team confirmed the departure to CNBC.

The Taliban ordered their fighters to enter Kabul because they believed police had deserted all their positions, a Taliban spokesman told NBC News, which could not confirm these claims.

The spokesman urged residents of the capital to remain calm.

Earlier, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said fighters would "be on standby on all entrances of Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed." In a separate statement to NBC News, a Taliban spokesman said that those entering Kabul were unarmed on instructions from senior commanders.

American politicians, including people who voted for the calamitous occupation of a country that no foreign army has ever successfully occupied, have tried to spin the Taliban's rapid takeover as some kind of intelligence failure. Josh Marshall points out the obvious flaw in that argument:

There’s no intelligence failure. We don’t need to pretend there is. Every actual report going back many years portrayed the Afghan army is thoroughly compromised by corruption and beset by chronically bad morale. Desertion was commonplace. This isn’t a surprise and we shouldn’t pretend it is.

Just what did we accomplish in 20 years? Absolutely nothing:

The Taliban’s political arm in Doha has claimed that they are no longer the bloody theocrats who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when accused criminals were publicly executed at Kabul’s football grounds, including women who were stoned to death for adultery. Their negotiators have stressed that there is no rule in Islam against the education of women, for example. Yet the disconnect between statements made from Qatar and what is being done by Taliban commanders in Afghanistan is now canyon-sized. In Herat, where 60% of the students at the university were women, they have reportedly already been ordered back to their homes. Female employees have been told to give up their jobs to male relatives. On the education of girls one Taliban commander, interviewed by the BBC, was crystal clear. “Not a single girl has gone to school in our village and our district… the facilities do not exist and we wouldn’t allow it anyway.”

Even the best possible outcome, where the Taliban’s leadership decides to show it is serious about reform, looks bleak. For sure, Afghanistan’s government has made only fitful progress in raising the quality of life for ordinary Afghans, even in cities, where it has had far more control than in the countryside. Its corruption has been deep and galling, and no doubt part of the reason the Taliban were able to conquer the country so effectively. Footage of Taliban soldiers walking through the opulent interiors of the captured house of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord and former vice-president, who is said to have fled to Uzbekistan, underline the rottenness of the state. And yet, buoyed by a tsunami of aid money, the government did educate people, and few Afghans starved. As embassies close and foreigners flee, the aid that has sustained the country’s economy, and helped to educate its children, including girls, will now surely dry up. A humanitarian catastrophe could quickly follow.

Of course we accomplished nothing. President George W Bush never had a clear idea of what victory would look like, even with Colin Powell—the guy whose Rule #2 for armed conflict is "have a clear, attainable objective"—running the State Department.

And in case you already had trouble sleeping, the Department of Homeland Security has put out a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin that says, basically, the right wing nut jobs are about to go batshit:

  • Through the remainder of 2021, racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists will remain a national threat priority for the United States. These extremists may seek to exploit the emergence of COVID-19 variants by viewing the potential re-establishment of public health restrictions across the United States as a rationale to conduct attacks.  Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by domestic violent extremists, and they may contribute to more violence this year.
  • Law enforcement have expressed concerns that the broader sharing of false narratives and conspiracy theories will gain traction in mainstream environments, resulting in individuals or small groups embracing violent tactics to achieve their desired objectives. With a diverse array of threats, DHS is concerned that increased outbreaks of violence in some locations, as well as targeted attacks against law enforcement, may strain local resources.

Yay us?

Two big wins for all of us

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation this morning:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.

Mr. Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him.

“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Mr. Cuomo said from his office in Manhattan. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”

The resignation of Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, came a week after a report from the New York State attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments. The 165-page report also found that Mr. Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.

Good. He needs to go. And yes, I am happy that my party threw the book at one of our own. We hold ourselves accountable, unlike the other guys.

But that's not all the Democratic Party did today. We also passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in the Senate with the support of nine Republicans:

The 69-to-30 vote follows weeks of turbulent private talks and fierce public debates that sometimes teetered on collapse, as the White House labored alongside Democrats and Republicans to achieve the sort of deal that had eluded them for years. Even though the proposal must still clear the House, where some Democrats recently have raised concerns the measure falls short of what they seek, the Senate outcome moves the bill one step closer to delivering President Biden his first major bipartisan win.

The bill proposes more than $110 billion to replace and repair roads, bridges and highways, and $66 billion to boost passenger and freight rail. That transit investment marks the most significant infusion of cash in the country’s railways since the creation of Amtrak about half a century ago, the White House said.

The infrastructure plan includes an additional $55 billion to address lingering issues in the U.S. water supply, such as an effort to replace every lead pipe in the nation. It allocates $65 billion to modernize the country’s power grid. And it devotes billions in additional sums to rehabilitating waterways, improving airports and expanding broadband Internet service, particularly after a pandemic that forced Americans to conduct much of their lives online.

If this bill becomes law, it's possible that within my lifetime the United States could have the same quality of roads, bridges, and trains that Western Europe has today. (NB: I expect to live at least another 50 years.)

Meanwhile, as if to underscore this week's IPCC report, the dewpoint outside my window right now has almost reached 26°C, giving us a delightful heat index of 38.7°C. Even Cassie didn't want to be outside for her lunchtime walk.

Update: the 2pm readings at O'Hare show even lovelier weather: temperature 33°, dewpoint 25°C, heat index 40.4°C. Bleah.

More stuff to read

I know, two days in a row I can't be arsed to write a real blog post. Sometimes I have actual work to do, y'know?

Finally, as I've gone through my CD collection in the order I bought them, I occasionally encounter something that has not aged well. Today I came across Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun," which...just, no. Not in this century.

Don't play the other guy's game

Adam Gopnik makes a good point about President Biden's successful, if invisible, ideology:

Biden and his team, widely attacked as pusillanimous centrists with no particular convictions, are in fact ideologues. Their ideology is largely invisible but no less ideological for refusing to present itself out in the open. It is the belief, animating Biden’s whole career, that there is a surprisingly large area of agreement in American life and that, by appealing to that area of agreement, electoral victory and progress can be found.

He didn’t say as much as he might have or as many might have wanted [about the XPOTUS's crimes]. But this was surely due to his conviction, and the conviction of his circle, that an atmosphere of aggravation can only work to the advantage of the permanently aggrieved. With so many Americans in the grip of a totalized ideology of Trumpism—one that surmounts their obvious self-interest or normal calculations of economic utility—the way to get them out of it is to stop thinking in totalized terms. You get people out of a cult not by offering them a better cult but by helping them see why they don’t need a cult.

[L]ike a virus that infects the country, long Trump is an ailment that won’t go away.

The urge to fight it, hard, before it can return, seems irresistible. Yet Biden and his circle resist this fight, and it would be foolish to think that they resist it only out of blindness and opacity. They are betting on Charley Goldman’s wisdom: you can’t win playing the other guy’s game. This wisdom has taken them further than the more aggressive conventional kind might have imagined.

The President is about to get a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package through Congress on Democratic votes alone. He's doing everything he said he'd do, and succeeding (mostly). He might know what he's doing.

Relaxing weekend

Cassie and I headed up to Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills, Wis., yesterday to hang out with family. Today, other than a trip to the grocery and adjacent pet store where Cassie picked out an "indestructible" toy that now lies in tatters on the couch, we've had a pretty relaxing Sunday. I thought I'd take a break from Hard Times to queue up some stuff to read tomorrow at lunch:

I will now return to Dickens, because it's funny and sad.

He was a Champ

President Biden's 13-year-old German shepherd died earlier this week:

Champ Biden, one of two German shepherds belonging to President Biden and his family has died, the president and first lady Jill Biden announced late Saturday morning. He was 13 years old.

"Our hearts are heavy today," Biden and first lady Jill Biden wrote in a statement, adding that the dog had died at their home.

Champ was a puppy during Biden's tenure as vice president under the Obama administration. The same statement commemorated the dog's love for chasing golf balls at the Naval Observatory and spending time with the Biden grandchildren.

Champ's longtime loyalty was also remembered in the Bidens' statement Saturday.

"In our most joyful moments and in our most grief-stricken days, he was there with us, sensitive to our every unspoken feeling and emotion," the statement said. "We love our sweet, good boy and will miss him always."

Champ was a Good Boy. Major, though...he's getting there.

Biden's first 100 days: the critics

The BBC Fact Checker corrects the record on things the President has said since he took office:

"An increase in border migration 'happens every year... in the winter months'"

The number fluctuates widely - but there is not always a significant increase during the winter months.

At a press conference in March, he said: "There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year."

Of the seven statements the BBC checked, only this and his claim about when polls close in Georgia was inaccurate.

The Washington Post found that President Biden made 78 false or misleading claims during his first 100 days in office, only two of which earned 4 Pinocchios. In contrast, the XPOTUS made 511 such statements in 100 days, including a few dozen whoppers. The Post also noted that the President "generally does not repeat his false claims if they have been fact-checked as false."

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran an op-ed this morning from Matthew Walther, a contributing editor at The American Conservative. Walther claims the President is governing the same as his predecessor:

After announcing his intention to “get tough on China,” the president has kept Mr. Trump’s tariffs largely in place and supplemented them with a wide-ranging “Buy American” order. Perhaps even more worthy of Mr. Trump was the new administration’s refusal in March to export unused supplies of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca on the grounds that the United States needed to be “oversupplied and overprepared.” Mr. Biden’s sudden about-face on this issue a few weeks later was also fittingly Trumpian.

There is also the matter of immigration policy. Despite his formal reinstatement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and other, mostly symbolic actions, such as proposing that the word “alien” be replaced with “noncitizen” in American law, Mr. Biden has presided over the sorts of barbarous spectacles at our southern border that were all too familiar during the past four years.

Even in the area of economics, where it might have been supposed by both supporters and critics during the presidential campaign that Mr. Biden would adopt a more progressive agenda, he has differed from the bipartisan center-right economic consensus along curiously familiar lines. In addition to keeping Mr. Trump’s moratorium on evictions in place, for example, he has continued with the suspension of interest on student loan debt and the collection of monthly payments.

So, I'm not entirely sure what Walther's criticisms are, really. I agree that the administration has taken more time than one would hope to correct the abuses at the border, but that seems more like bureaucratic inertia than policy—not to mention the philosophical bent of many of our border agents.

What Walther and other critics from the right get totally wrong is how the President corrects himself, and how the tone of the administration matters both at home and abroad. Not all of the previous administration's policies were awful. Not all of President Biden's are wonderful. But on balance, the world has become a better place now that we've seen the back of the last guy.