The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Taliban victory

Religious extremists, emboldened by lucky tactical and political successes over the past few years despite declining popular support, today won a major victory in their campaign to return women to a state of subjugation that they had only recently escaped. Supporters and allies of the religious leaders imposing the harsh new laws against women celebrated, driving around in pickup trucks while displaying traditional symbols of oppression.

Afghanistan? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

Nope. Texas:

[T]he Supreme Court on Wednesday confirmed what it had previously only implied through its failure to act the night before: The court rejected a request to block enforcement of the law, which abortion providers say will bar at least 85% of abortions in the state and will likely cause many clinics to close, while a challenge to its constitutionality is litigated in the lower courts. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – in dissent.

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, had come to the court on an emergency basis on Monday, with a group of abortion providers asking the justices to intervene. It was the first major test on abortion rights for the Roberts court since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, and Ginsburg’s replacement by the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was likely decisive in the outcome.

The court’s inaction on Tuesday night that allowed the Texas law to go into effect and its brief order on Wednesday night denying any relief to the abortion providers unquestionably represented a victory for abortion foes, but the five-justice majority emphasized (and Roberts in his dissent reiterated) that the court was not endorsing the constitutionality of the law. The ruling also revealed a court that is deeply divided, not only on the merits of the case but also on the procedures that the court uses to resolve these kinds of emergency appeals.

Justice Sotomayor pulled no punches:

The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents. Today, the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention.

[T]he Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.

The Court's two conservative justices (Roberts and Breyer) joined with the Court's two liberals (Kagan and Sotomayor) but could not overcome the five Republican justices demonstrating their true loyalties.

The immediate effect of the Court's shadow-docket lawmaking is that about half of all abortion services in Texas have closed as of this afternoon.

End-of-summer reading

Only about 7 more hours of meteorological summer remain in Chicago. I opened my windows this afternoon for the first time in more than two weeks, which made debugging a pile of questionable code* more enjoyable.

Said debugging required me to put these aside for future reading:

Finally, one tiny bit of good news: more Americans believe in evolution than ever before, perhaps due to the success of the SARS-COV-2 virus at evolving.

Goodbye, Summer 2021. It's been a hoot.

* Three guesses who wrote the questionable code. Ahem.

Our longest war is over

The last US airplane left Afghanistan today, ending our presence in the country:

A White House official said Monday that since the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, the U.S. had evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 122,300 people, the official said.

A State Department memo obtained by NBC News Sunday said that the agency had begun evacuating remaining diplomatic workers on two planes carrying U.S. government employees, and secured all locally employed U.S. Embassy staff members, processing the last three buses and evacuating 2,800 employees and family members, according to the cable.

On Sunday, about 250 Americans remained in Afghanistan and were seeking to leave the country, according to a State Department spokesperson, who said that assistance was being coordinated “around the clock for this group.” The official said that those Americans might already be at the airport in Kabul or “in the process of being guided there, and all have information on how to reach us.”

The State Department was also in touch Sunday with about 280 additional people who identified themselves as Americans but were either undecided about leaving Afghanistan or said that they did not intend to leave.

Almost 20 years of war, and we did no better than the Russians and the British before us. And that's just in the last century. No one has ever held that territory by force for very long.

It's only a threat if we're afraid of it

Jonathan Chait points out that the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions might want to reconsider their threats to resign en masse if the cities enforce mask and vaccine mandates on them:

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has mandated vaccination for all city employees, and Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara is not taking it well. “This has literally lit a bomb underneath the membership,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re in America, goddamn it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi fucking Germany.”

Making vaccination a condition of municipal employment was not in fact one of the tenets of National Socialism. (Nor, for that matter, is it “literally” a bomb.) What is at least slightly reminiscent of Nazi Germany, however, is detaining people at an off-the-books warehouse and denying them legal counsel, which was both a real practice of Chicago police and one of the first steps taken by the Nazis after Adolf Hitler took power.

It’s usually easy for police to scare a mayor by threatening to leave the streets undefended. But in this instance, vaccine mandates present a rare opportunity for a double win. Cities can simultaneously defend an important anti-pandemic measure, and induce at least some of the most dangerous police officers to leave their jobs.

The public-health benefits of a vaccine mandate are obvious enough. The subtler, but longer-lasting, effect of the mandate would be to push out police officers who refuse vaccines.

I'm all for it. Most Chicago police officers are decent, hard-working people who really want to keep the people of the city safe. Yet they elected this guy their union chief—though I should point out, in Chicago, retired (i.e., older, whiter, more conservative) police officers can vote on union matters.

Catanarza, I should point out, got suspended for misconduct after he supported the January 6th insurrection. His supporters are welcome to leave the police force any time they wish.

How is it already 4pm?

I have opened these on my Surface at work, but I'll have to read them at home:

Finally, Empirical Brewery has a new line of beer that supports Tree House Cats at Work. I'll try some and let you know.

Lunchtime roundup

Stories from the usual suspects:

Finally, Whisky Advocate calls out a few lesser-known distilleries in Scotland worth visiting—or at least sampling.

Could we have avoided 20 years of war?

New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work covering Kabul, looks back on the Bush Administration's refusal to entertain a deal with the Taliban in 2001:

“The Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.

Messengers shuttled back and forth between [Hamid] Karzai and the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai envisioned a Taliban surrender that would keep the militants from playing any significant role in the country’s future.

But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.

Almost 20 years later, the United States did negotiate a deal to end the Afghan war, but the balance of power was entirely different by then — it favored the Taliban.

“When I heard the U.S. were going to meet in Doha with the Taliban and without the Afghan government, I said, ‘That’s not a peace negotiation, those are surrender talks,’” said Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.

“So, now the talks were all about us retreating without the Taliban shooting at us as we went,” Mr. Crocker added, “and we got nothing in return.”

As Winston Churchill once said, "Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war." If only we'd listened.

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.

Happy birthday, Gene

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry would have been 100 years old todayStar Trek and NASA have a livestream today to celebrate.

In other news:

Finally, sometime today I hope to finish reading Joe Pinsker's interview with author Oliver Burkeman about how not to get sucked into things that waste your time, like the Internet.

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.