Posted: April 15, 2021 Filed under: just because
By Evariste Carpenpier
Wow! There sure is a lot of news out there today. I don’t know how much I can cover in a post, but I’ll do my best.
1. After 20 long years, President Biden is finally going to pull troops out of Afghanistan, against the wishes of military leadership.
Politico: How Biden’s team overrode the brass on Afghanistan.
The military spent more than a decade urging three different American presidents to stay in Afghanistan. With President Joe Biden’s decision this week to withdraw all U.S. forces by Sept. 11, they finally lost the battle.
“We cannot continue this cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result,” Biden said Wednesday in a speech announcing the decision. “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
As Biden weighed a full exit from the country this spring, top military leaders advocated for keeping a small U.S. presence on the ground made up primarily of special operations forces and paramilitary advisers, arguing that a force of a few thousand troops was needed to keep the Taliban in check and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists, according to nine former and current U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.
Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the four-star commanders of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Central Command and Special Operations Command, were emphatic proponents of this strategy, the current and former officials said, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning.
But in the end, Biden and his top national security deputies did what no previous president has done successfully — they overrode the brass.
More from Susan Glasser at The The New Yorker: Biden Finally Got to Say No to the Generals.
On Wednesday, Joe Biden announced the close of the two-decade-long American war in Afghanistan, giving the U.S. military a deadline of the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to withdraw all remaining troops. “It’s time to end the Forever War,” he said, in a speech that was both deeply personal and politically emphatic. Speaking from the White House Treaty Room, where George W. Bush had declared the start of the fight, to root out Al Qaeda and its Taliban enablers, Biden declared that there would be no more extensions of the American military presence, rebuffing pleas of the teetering, pro-Western Afghan government and his own generals. It’s finally, really, for-better-or-worse over. I guess this is how eras end: not with a culminating battle or some movie-thriller crescendo but with a Tuesday-morning leak to the Washington Post and, a day later, a fifteen-minute Presidential speech confirming the historic decision.
Karin Jureck, Behind the News
Biden pulled the plug in an unsentimental, sober address, with the only passionate notes reserved for the U.S. military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the two decades, including his late son Beau. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” he said. The President seemed genuinely sick and tired of the endless pleas for just a little more time. “So when will it be the right moment to leave?” he said, pointedly summarizing the arguments that he had dismissed. “One more year? Two more years? Ten more years?” he asked.
On Wednesday, he made the case that the U.S. had long since accomplished its original objectives of neutralizing the Al Qaeda threat from Afghan territory and bringing justice to the 9/11 perpetrator Osama bin Laden. But no amount of clear-eyed argument from Biden could erase the embarrassing historical fact that Afghanistan has now banished another superpower. America did not lose the war—not exactly—but it did not win, either. And, as Biden pointed out, it could never, in recent years, provide a plausible explanation of what achieving its goals would look like.
Read more at the link.
See also at ABC News: Blinken visits Afghanistan after Biden’s withdrawal decision to press for diplomacy. And at The Daily Beast: The Promise and the Tragedy of Biden’s Afghanistan Speech, by Spencer Ackerman
2. After four years of Trump sucking up to Vladimir Putin, President Biden has laid down the law to Russia.
The New York Times: Biden Administration to Impose Tough Sanctions on Russia.
The Biden administration is set to announce on Thursday a string of long-awaited measures against Russia, including far-reaching financial sanctions, for the hacking of government and private networks and a range of other activity, according to people who have been briefed on the moves.
The sanctions will be among what President Biden’s aides say are “seen and unseen” steps in response to the hacking, known as SolarWinds; to the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia offered to pay bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops; and to Russia’s yearslong effort to interfere in United States elections, according to American officials and others who have been briefed on the actions.
The moves will include the expulsion of a limited number of diplomats, much like the Obama administration did in response to the Russian efforts to influence the election five years ago. But it is unclear whether this set of actions will prove sufficient to deter Russia from further hacking, influence operations or efforts to threaten European countries.
The sanctions are meant to cut deeper than previous efforts to punish Russia for interfering in elections, targeting the country’s sovereign debt, according to people briefed on the matter. Administration officials were determined to draft a response that would impose real costs on Moscow, as many previous rounds of sanctions have been shrugged off.
Daniel R. Celantano, Reading the News
“It will not simply be sanctions,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said in February. He has frequently said it will include “a mix of tools seen and unseen,” though there have been disagreements in the administration about how many of the steps to make public.
Restrictions on sovereign debt affect a nation’s ability to raise dollar-denominated bonds, with lenders fearful of being cut off from American financial markets. The United States has used similar techniques against Iran, among others.
Russian bond prices have fluctuated in recent weeks in anticipation of possible sanctions. Russia has relatively little debt, making it potentially less vulnerable to the tactic. And rising oil prices will benefit the country’s economy.
Nevertheless, any broad sanctions on Russia’s financial sector would amount to a significant escalation in the costs that the United States has been willing to impose on Moscow. And part of the administration’s concern has been whether Russian entities could retaliate by exploiting “back doors” implanted in American systems.
See also The Washington Post: Biden administration imposes significant economic sanctions on Russia over cyberspying, efforts to influence presidential election.
3. Democrats are seriously considering expanding the Supreme Court.
NBC News: Democrats to introduce bill to expand Supreme Court from 9 to 13 justices.
Congressional Democrats will introduce legislation Thursday to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices, joining progressive activists pushing to transform the court.
The move intensifies a high-stakes ideological fight over the future of the court after President Donald Trump and Republicans appointed three conservative justices in four years, including one who was confirmed days before the 2020 election.
The Democratic bill is led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. It is co-sponsored by Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mondaire Jones of New York.
The Supreme Court can be expanded by an act of Congress, but the legislation is highly unlikely to become law in the near future given Democrats’ slim majorities, which include scores of lawmakers who are not on board with the idea. President Joe Biden has said he is “not a fan” of packing the court.
But it represents an undercurrent of progressive fury at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for denying a vote in 2016 to President Barack Obama’s pick to fill a vacancy, citing the approaching election, before confirming Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett the week before the election last year.
The anger has taken hold within the Democratic Party, and the new push indicates that it has not dissipated in an era when the party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.
The lawmakers, who intend to announce the introduction of the bill outside the Supreme Court building, will be joined by progressive activists Aaron Belkin, who leads Take Back the Court; Chris Kang, a co-founder and chief counsel of Demand Justice; and Meagan Hatcher-Mays of Indivisible, according to an advisory notice. All three groups advocate adding justices.
Read more at Vox: A new bill would add 4 seats to the Supreme Court, by Ian Millhauser
4. In Minnesota, another officer is charged in the senseless killing of a Black man.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in killing of Daunte Wright.
Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly A. Potter was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright, joining just a handful of officers who have faced charges after shooting someone they said they intended to shock with a Taser.
Haynes King, Recent News
Potter, a 26-year veteran of the department who resigned Tuesday, was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County jail shortly after noon. Bodycam footage from the shooting Sunday shows her shouting “Taser!” three times before killing Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, with a single shot from her Glock 9-millimeter handgun. Police officials blamed the death on human error.
Protests over Wright’s killing have focused on how Potter, who is white, carried out a sequence of events that led to the death of a Black motorist who had been stopped for a minor traffic violation. Wright cooperated with Potter and another police officer at first, but a criminal complaint filed Wednesday showed how the encounter turned violent after one of the officers told Wright he was being arrested on a warrant.
Potter fired her gun 12 seconds after Wright pulled himself free from the officers.
Potter was released from jail Wednesday evening after posting $100,000 bond. Her attorney, Earl Gray, was unavailable for comment.
5. The Matt Gaetz scandal grows worse every passing day.
The Daily Beast: Matt Gaetz’s Wingman Paid Dozens of Young Women—and a 17-Year-Old.
As new details emerge about Rep. Matt Gaetz’s role in an alleged sex ring, The Daily Beast has obtained several documents showing that the suspected ringleader of the group, Joel Greenberg, made more than 150 Venmo payments to dozens of young women, and to a girl who was 17 at the time.
The payment from Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker, to the 17-year-old took place in June 2017. It was for $300 and, according to the memo field, was for “Food.”
Greenberg’s relationship with Gaetz, and the money Greenberg paid to women, is a focal point for the Justice Department investigation into Gaetz. And the new documents obtained by The Daily Beast—containing years of online financial transactions—establish a clear pattern: Greenberg paid multiple young women (and at least one girl) hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars on Venmo in one transaction after another.
Nearly a year after Greenberg’s June 2017 payment, Gaetz Venmo’d Greenberg to “Hit up ___,” using a nickname for the teen. She was 18 years old by then, and as The Daily Beast reported, Greenberg described the payment as being for “School.”
It was one of at least 16 Venmo payments to 12 different women listed as being for “School.” Typically, the payments were for around $500, but also went higher than $1,000 in the transactions obtained by The Daily Beast.
Gaetz made only one previously unreported transaction in the newly obtained documents: a payment from the Florida congressman to the former Seminole County tax commissioner for $300 on November 1, 2018, with the love hotel emoji (“🏩”) in the memo field. The Daily Beast was unable to tie that transaction directly to any woman, but confirmed that Greenberg booked one night for that date at The Alfond Inn, a luxury hotel in Winter Park, Florida.
Click the Daily Beast link to read the rest.
6. House hearing on law enforcement and the Capitol insurrection.
NPR: Ahead Of Hearing, Capitol Police Says It Needs Help To Address Insurrection Failures.
Members of Congress on Thursday will hear for the first time public testimony from the U.S. Capitol Police inspector general that will detail the most extensive findings yet in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Charles Sims, Reading the News
The inspector general, Michael Bolton, will tell a congressional committee in prepared remarks that the agency must pivot from its reactionary role as a police department to one that works in a protection posture to deal with rising threats to the Capitol.
U.S. Capitol Police responded Wednesday to reports of Bolton’s findings by acknowledging that “much additional work needs to be done,” but that it will need “significant resources” from Congress to implement the new changes.
“January 6 was a pivotal moment in USCP, U.S. and world history that demonstrated the need for major changes to the way USCP operates,” the agency said in a statement.
Lawmakers will hear more about those major changes needed in a hearing before the House Administration Committee that will feature Bolton and his findings after submitting to them a 104-page report detailing a litany of concerns.
The panel’s chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, called for the testimony after receiving a briefing from Bolton last month. Lofgren, D-Calif., has said the report provides “detailed and disturbing findings and important recommendations.”
Bolton’s report — which was labeled law enforcement sensitive and was obtained by NPR but has not been made public in its entirety — said Capitol Police mishandled intelligence gathering ahead of the attack. Bolton said some of the agency’s own intelligence offered a “more alarming” warning that Congress itself was a target.
Some scary insurrection stories:
The Washington Post: Armed ‘quick reaction force’ was waiting for order to storm Capitol, Justice Dept. says.
As the Capitol was overrun on Jan. 6, armed supporters of President Donald Trump were waiting across the Potomac in Virginia for orders to bring guns into the fray, a prosecutor said Wednesday in federal court.
Reading the Newspaper, Georgio Gosti
The Justice Department has repeatedly highlighted comments from some alleged riot participants who discussed being part of a “quick reaction force” with stashes of weapons. Defendants have dismissed those conversations as bluster. But in a detention hearing for Kenneth Harrelson, accused of conspiring with other members of the Oath Keepers militia group to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Nestler said the government has evidence indicating otherwise.\“This is not pure conjecture,” Nestler said. In a court filing this week, he noted, prosecutors obtained cellphone and video evidence from the day before the riot showing that Harrelson asked someone about the quick reaction force. He then went to a Comfort Inn in the Ballston area of Arlington for about an hour before driving into D.C., prosecutors said. The day after the riot, surveillance video from the hotel shows him moving “what appears to be at least one rifle case down a hallway and towards the elevator,” according to the court records….
“We believe that at least one quick reaction force location was here and that Mr. Harrelson and others had stashed a large amount of weapons there,” Nestler said. “People affiliated with this group were in Ballston, monitoring what was happening at the Capitol and prepared to come into D.C. and ferry these weapons into the ground team that Kenneth Harrelson was running at a moment’s notice, if anyone said the word.”
The Washington Post: 17 requests for backup in 78 minutes.
At 1:13 p.m. on Jan. 6, a D.C. police commander facing a swelling crowd of protesters on the west side of the U.S. Capitol made an urgent call for more officers in riot gear. “Hard gear at the Capitol! Hard gear at the Capitol!” Cmdr. Robert Glover shouted into his radio.
Glover and a team of D.C. police officers had rushed to the besieged complex moments earlier at the behest of Capitol Police. By the time they arrived, the Capitol grounds were already being overrun by a mob intent on overturning President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat.
Over the next 78 minutes, Glover requested backup at least 17 times, according to a Washington Post analysis of the events, and the mob on the west side eventually grew to at least 9,400 people, outnumbering officers by more than 58 to one.
The Post reviewed police radio communications, synchronized them with hours of footage and drew on testimony and interviews with police supervisors to understand how failures of preparation and planning played out that day. The examination reveals how police were hampered by an insufficient number of officers and shortages of less-lethal weapons and protective equipment and also provides a glimpse into communications breakdowns within the police response.
Read about it at the WaPo.
That’s a hell of a lot of news. What did I miss?