Monday, August 30, 2021

Who Wins the Last War

War is over. If you want it.
- John Lennon

The United States is officially out of Afghanistan this night (via Scott Neuman and Deepa Shivaram at NPR): 

The last U.S. plane has departed Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced, marking the end of America's longest war and leaving the country's future in disarray and uncertainty under Taliban rule...

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said the last U.S. plane was now clearing Afghan air space.

"I'm here to announce the completion of our mission to Afghanistan, " he said.

More than 123,000 civilians were flown out by the U.S. and its partners, which McKenzie called "a monumental accomplishment." A U.S. official also said today that 6,000 people who self-identified as American were American. The official said the number of Americans left in Afghanistan is below 250...

Despite the end of military presence, McKenzie echoed other administration officials who have emphasized in recent days that diplomatic efforts to get more Americans and American allies out of Afghanistan will continue. U.S. officials have said Taliban forces, who now control Afghanistan's borders and air space, have been told that anyone who wants to leave should be able to do so peacefully...

Meanwhile, President Biden as Commander-in-Chief greeted the coffins of the 13 U.S. troops killed in Kabul by the ISIL last week during the evacuations:

On Sunday, the president attended a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in which the flag-draped caskets containing bodies of the U.S. service members killed in last week's attack in Kabul arrived aboard a C-17 plane.

Biden stood with grieving families as honor guards in dress uniforms removed the caskets. He and first lady Jill Biden also met privately with family members of the dead.

Eleven Marines, one Army soldier and one member of the Navy were among the dead. In a statement Saturday, the president called them "heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others."

"The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others," Biden said in the statement. "Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far..."

Those 13 troops return as the last official casualties of a twenty-year war and occupation of Afghanistan, started in response to the 9/11 attacks and perpetuated by a succession of Presidencies that had few honest solutions how to exit that nation without the Taliban retaking the place the minute we left.

And as the occupation of Afghanistan comes to its dark end, the recriminations have already begun, aimed at Biden's administration by a Beltway Media that can't remember its' own collusion with Bush the Lesser's administration that led us into that mess in the first place.

If there's any voices in the punditry taking a long historic look at how Afghanistan fell apart, one of them is David Rothkopf at The Atlantic (paywall):

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history...

In the days following the fall of Kabul earlier this month—an event that triggered a period of chaos, fear, and grief—critics castigated the Biden administration for its failure to properly coordinate the departure of the last Americans and allies from the country. The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw. The chaos, many said, was symptomatic of a bigger error. They argued that the United States should stay in Afghanistan, that the cost of remaining was worth the benefits a small force might bring.

Former military officers and intelligence operatives, as well as commentators who had long been advocates of extending America’s presence in Afghanistan, railed against Biden’s artificial deadline. Some critics were former Bush-administration officials or supporters who had gotten the U.S. into the mess in the first place, setting us on the impossible path toward nation building and, effectively, a mission without a clear exit or metric for success. Some were Obama-administration officials or supporters who had doubled down on the investment of personnel in the country and later, when the futility of the war was clear, lacked the political courage to withdraw. Some were Trump-administration officials or supporters who had negotiated with and helped strengthen the Taliban with their concessions in the peace deal and then had punted the ultimate exit from the country to the next administration.

They all conveniently forgot that they were responsible for some of America’s biggest errors in this war and instead were incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration. Never mind the fact that the Taliban had been gaining ground since it resumed its military campaign in 2004 and, according to U.S. estimates even four years ago, controlled or contested about a third of Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban included the release of 5,000 fighters from prison and favored an even earlier departure date than the one that Biden embraced. Never mind that Trump had drawn down U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500 during his last year in office and had failed to repatriate America’s equipment on the ground. Never mind the delay caused by Trump and his adviser Stephen Miller’s active obstruction of special visas for Afghans who helped us...

Despite the criticism, Biden, who had argued unsuccessfully when he was Barack Obama’s vice president to seriously reduce America’s presence in Afghanistan, remained resolute. Rather than view the heartbreaking scenes in Afghanistan in a political light as his opponents did, Biden effectively said, “Politics be damned—we’re going to do what’s right” and ordered his team to stick with the deadline and find a way to make the best of the difficult situation in Kabul...

Let us be honest about this situation: The United States could not afford to stay in Afghanistan forever, could not afford to continue a low-scale occupation and brush war. Just as we could not stay in Iraq forever, just as we couldn't stay in Lebanon back in 1983 or even engage in places like Libya and Syria (which is in its tenth year of civil war). It turns out there are limits to what a superpower nation can do, and we seem to keep forgetting the lessons that should have reminded us of that.

For all the political and foreign policy realities that confront our nation every day, we have to remember that wars must end: Whatever objectives we had going into Afghanistan - revenge for 9/11 - could no longer justify our staying there. And while we are going to have to deal with the horror that the returning Taliban regime is going to punish women and rule by terror/fear, the threat of more war is not a feasible option. This is now a moment where diplomacy / money that is foreign policy can direct our local and global allies to push back against the Taliban's dark rule.

We need to acknowledge the losses we incurred in that 20-year struggle, the sacrifices of our soldiers and citizen helpers who did what they could to rebuild Afghanistan where our political will couldn't.

We need to review - with deep insight and focus - all the things our elected officials and generals did wrong the last 20 years, not just the last 4-5 with trump and Biden. We need to hold accountable the Warhawks of every Presidency from Bush the Lesser to Obama to trump to Biden who promised us many things and misread nearly everything. We failed to learn our lessons with wars like Korea and Vietnam and Iraq (both the first and the second), we dare not ignore this moment to learn where Afghanistan went wrong.

The only way we can win this last war is to make sure we don't screw up getting tricked or manipulated into the next war.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

One Tweet Description Of How Bad the Anti-Vaxxers Have Gotten To Make the Pandemic Worse

Yes, it's gotten this bad:


"Sir, I'm gonna need to see your driver's license and an equestrian certificate from Secretariat Junior over there before I sell you this highly toxic horse medication to you."

I can remember when common over-the-counter drugs had to get moved behind the pharmacist's counter because those drugs could be used to make meth. Now we're worried about horse deworming meds that CLEARLY STATE THEY ARE NOT MEANT FOR HUMANS.

All because some con artist out there posted something on social media that this Ivermectin stuff is an "alternative" to the dreaded mRNA vaccines. And if it's not this dewormer stuff, it'll be something else promoted as a quick solution cure, and then something else, and then something after that, everything EXCEPT the vaccines that work all because the Contrarian nature of the Far Right mindset can NEVER accept something the "libs" are pushing as "good".

Gods. Our species IS going to die out from partisan stupidity.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Quick News Tonight III: There's a Storm Comin'

Every year, between June to November, we got to cope with the hurricane season. We've had a couple of close calls, some tropical storms hitting the United States, but this weekend there's a big one acomin' with Ida. Here's some more detailed info via Kevin McGill and Janet McConnaghey from the AP Newswire:

Ida intensified rapidly Friday from a tropical storm to a hurricane with top winds of 80 mph (128 kph) as it crossed western Cuba and entered the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center predicted Ida would strengthen into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, with top winds of 140 mph (225 kph) before making landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast late Sunday.

“This will be a life-altering storm for those who aren’t prepared,” National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott said during a Friday news conference with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The governor urged residents to quickly prepare, saying: “By nightfall tomorrow night, you need to be where you intend to be to ride out the storm.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered a mandatory evacuation for a small area of the city outside the levee system. But with the storm intensifying so much over a short time, she said it wasn’t possible to do so for the entire city. That generally calls for using all lanes of some highways to leave the city...

This is really catching the area at a bad time, not just because of the COVID pandemic overfilling hospitals facing power outages and storm surges.

This is an anniversary of the last big storm that blew threw New Orleans and left the worst damage a hurricane ever did to our nation: Katrina. Just that name alone will summon dread to anyone who lived through those weeks. This article on the ten-year anniversary in 2015 from Letitia Stein for Reuters:

...But recovery has been uneven in the city, which took the brunt of the 2005 storm that killed more than 1,800 people and was the costliest in U.S. history.

Many properties still bear physical scars from the hurricane, particularly in poorer African-American neighborhoods. Social, demographic and political changes still ripple through the city.

In the mostly black Lower Ninth Ward, devastated by the flooding, Charles Brown is still attending services in his pastor’s nearly empty living room, waiting for the day when Mount Nebo Bible Baptist Church is rebuilt.

The black population of the city, long a hub of African-American culture, has plummeted since Aug. 29, 2005, the day Katrina swept in from the Gulf of Mexico and overwhelmed the levees meant to prevent flooding in the low-lying city.

Income gaps between blacks and whites have widened. Many African-American neighborhoods and the businesses supporting them have not fully recovered...

Brown, an emergency responder, stayed behind to search for the missing.

“We should have made so much more progress,” said the 55-year-old Brown in an interview before a series of events the city is planning this month to mark the storm’s 10th anniversary. “I don’t see anything to celebrate...”

I remember visiting New Orleans in 2006 the year after for a library conference, and then taking a cable car ride up into the Ninth Ward area where the post-storm flooding was at its worst. Entire neighborhoods empty. Debris piled up that were never getting picked up for the trash heaps. Houses still showing the watermarks for how high the flooding got. I get the sense from the 2015 article that a lot of the cleanup still hadn't happened, and that not a lot of people came back to rebuild.

And now here comes Ida, possibly as strong as if not stronger than Katrina. Those levees that broke in 2005, were they ever truly repaired or upgraded? 

They're about to find out.

The hard way, in the Big Easy.

God help them.

Quick News Tonight II: The Tragedy of Kabul, The Importance of Evacuating Refugees

Earlier this week, an IS suicide bomber attacked an evacuation point for the ongoing refugee rescue efforts, killing many Afghan civilians and at least 16 US Marines trying to help. Referring to Adam L. Silverman's evaluation of the situation via Balloon Juice:

The window of opportunity for today’s attack has two roots. The first is that large numbers of Afghans are constantly approaching Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul attempting to get into the airport in order that the US can get them out. The second is that Islamic State Khorasan’s leadership, like that of Islamic State proper, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and all of our non-state and state adversaries actually watch our broadcast and cable news and read our newspapers... (The) attack was directly intended to take advantage of both of these realities. The physical one – all the Afghans attempting to get to the airport in Kabul – and the informational/psychological ones resulting from the execrable and irresponsible news media reporting and the politicization of the withdrawal by both Republican officials and an entire ecosystem of people who have gained fame and fortune solely by commenting about the war.

IS-K is violently opposed to the Taliban. The reason for this is that the extreme, politicized version of Islam that the Taliban follow is rooted in Deobandi Islam with a much later added overlay of Saudi tawheed as a result of contact with the Saudi mujahideen who flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets... For all that we see the Taliban as being extreme and unyielding, the Islamic State perceives them as not being pure enough in their understanding and application of tawheed...

Just need to say this: How fucked up do you have to be to make the TALIBAN look sane by comparison? That said, the Taliban aren't saints in all this, but again the entire Middle East region is a minefield of divergent political and religious forces at odds with each other in a pileup that would make it impossible to figure out who the good guys are: All we can ever tell is who the victims always are.

The good news is that the United States under President Biden is committed to getting our people and our allied Afghanis out of there as effectively as possible, in spite of the dangers of the extremist terrorists looking for easy targets to upset the already fragile armistice between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Quick News Tonight Part I: Masking Florida

On Friday, the Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the families suing DeSantis over his anti-mask mandates (via Jeffrey S. Solochek and Ana Ceballos at the Tampa Bay Times (paywall):

A judge in Leon County ruled Friday that Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration acted “without legal authority” when barring universal mask mandates in schools, delivering a blow to the Republican leader as a growing number of school districts defied his order.

Circuit Court Judge John Cooper did not contend the governor violated the state Constitution when it came to providing safe schools or recognizing the local authority of school boards. Rather, he said DeSantis and his administration tried to unlawfully block mask mandates by improperly invoking and selectively enforcing Florida’s new “Parents’ Bill of Rights” law.

“Seeking to enforce a policy through executive order, and through actions that violate the provisions of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, is by definition, arbitrary and capricious,” said Cooper, who spoke for 2½ hours to outline his findings.

DeSantis responded by saying the court ruling was “not based on science and facts” and made with “incoherent justifications.” The Florida Department of Education, which was enforcing the mask mandate ban, said Cooper’s decision “discards the rule of law” and vowed to keep fighting in court...

This means that while DeSantis got punched, he's not down for the count and he's not going to budge on his "pandering to the ignorant trumpsters" agenda.

In the meantime, the COVID infection rates for Florida keep going up and nobody is slapping DeSantis in the face for every single number he's generating through his inaction.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Fighting DeSantis Over Masking This Week

Let's cut to the chase, there's a courtroom decision set to come down this Friday between DeSantis' mad efforts to spread COVID throughout our K-12 schools versus a ton of families and county school boards trying to, you know, KEEP OUR KIDS HEALTHY (via Jeffrey Solochek and Ana Ceballos at Tampa Bay Times (paywalled)):

The third day of Florida’s heated court battle over school mask mandates ended Wednesday with no ruling, leaving observers across the state waiting to see how to proceed next.

Leon County Judge John C. Cooper said he would take closing arguments Thursday morning and rule Friday morning on the case brought by parents from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Alachua counties.

“I need some time. I need what I call alone time, with my door closed and no interruptions to go through this,” Cooper said.

The mask mandate debate has sparked debate statewide and even grabbed the attention of the White House. The judge’s decision could change the way schools work to fend off the coronavirus moving forward and affect the relationship between the state and local school boards...

Meanwhile, how is DeSantis' combatting the state of Florida's ongoing spike of COVID infectees and ICUs getting filled up? While cities like Orlando and Tampa cut back on liquid oxygen for their water treatments because that oxygen is needed for the overwhelmed hospitals?

He's accusing Biden of not doing enough to end COVID.

Bitch, Biden is out there every day asking people to get vaccinated and masking in public to reduce the spread of the pandemic. Biden's plans to get everyone vaccinated by July could have worked if only the goddamned wingnuts and anti-vaxxers getting misinformed by Fox Not-News and Far Right Facebook pages accepted the vaccines as legit and reduced the virus' chances to spread and mutate.

Instead, it was stupid idjits like you Ron who went out there and mocked the vaccines and refused to wear the masks. You campaigned against Fauci to mock his insistence that the pandemic wasn't over yet, while letting thousands of Floridians get sick and spread the COVID into our schools and workplaces well into August.

Thanks to your partisan bullshit, Governor DeSantis, Florida is one of the biggest hot zones on the planet this 2021. And you think this is going to win you votes in 2022, let alone 2024? You think at this rate ANY OF US WILL BE ALIVE TO VOTE BY 2024?!

Goddamn you, DeathSantis.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Starting a Podcast: Got a Name, Now I Need 99 More Things Done

Well, okay, I'm kind of indulging here but:

I'm actually working on a library project, the city Parks and Recreation department was keen on starting up recording studios at some of the Rec centers to get the kids interested in music/podcast recordings. As the library is now partnered with them through Leisure Services, we were tasked with getting some of the resources pulled together and some training done so we could help when called upon. 

While the pandemic kind of stalled that idea, it's still one I'm expecting we'll follow through if/when the pandemic clears up.

So I've done some of the things to get a podcast going - microphone, free app Audacity software to record, stuff like that - and now it's a question of writing up a script, getting it recorded, figuring out the editing, and posting it online with a podcast provider - Apple apparently is huge, Spotify might be another - in time to see if I've got it right and can teach a class on it.

So, it seems Book With the Blue Cover is the winner of the poll (I'm a bit disappointed the more poetic Always Sober Never Sane didn't win over the votes), now it's a question of making sure it wasn't trademarked yet. With a title like that, I may be forced to stick to library-related topics although the urge to rant about politics will overtake me. We'll see...

I'll update as needed. I'm busy until then.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Florida's Schools Under Threat of DeSantis' Power Plays (w/ Update)

(Update: Many thanks as always to Batocchio for adding this blog to Mike's Blog Round Up at Crooks&Liars! I have a more recent article regarding the parents' lawsuit against DeSantis' anti-masking policy that we all need to keep track of - the ruling should be this Friday - and as always keep pushing back against the anti-vaxxers who are making us sicker)

As more Florida school districts - Sarasota County just voted last night - pass their own masking mandates in opposition to Ron DeSantis' anti-mask orders, the governor and his officials are pushing back (via AP News linking to NPR):

Florida officials are threatening to withhold funds equal to the salaries of school board members if school districts in two counties don't immediately do away with strict mask mandates as the state continues to battle through high hospitalization rates.

School boards in Broward and Alachua counties received a warning Friday from the State Board of Education giving them 48 hours to walk back their decisions to require masks for all students, only exempting those with a doctor's note. Broward County has the second-largest school district in the state.

"We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow," said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran in an emailed statement. "These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents..."

Yet which rights are Corcoran and DeSantis are desperate to uphold: The rights of certain parents to be secure with the hope that their masked kids are going to stay healthy while at high-risk schools, or the rights of other parents who don't give a rat's ass about the COVID pandemic and are willing for everyone to get sick and risk dying all because they bought into the Far Right misinformation telling them it's all a hoax/conspiracy?

DeSantis maintains masks can be detrimental for children's development and that younger children simply don't wear masks properly. But board members in the counties of Broward, home to Fort Lauderdale, and Alachua, home to Gainesville, decided not to allow parents to easily opt out of the mandate as surging cases fueled by the Delta variant began straining hospitals.

Florida on Friday surpassed 3 million total COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a weekly report from the state's health department. It also reported 1,486 new deaths in a week, significantly raising the seven-day average of reported deaths per day from 153 to 212 over the past week.

The state continued to have the highest hospitalization rates in the country, with 16,849 patients with COVID-19 — 3,500 of them in intensive care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services...

These aren't fake numbers, or works of fiction: Florida is currently one of the biggest COVID hot zones in the United States, and you'd think a sane response to a contagious virus would be to listen to the medical experts and go back to the steps we took in 2020 to reduce the risks of the pandemic. Instead, DeSantis is turning this into a pissing contest between himself and the various county school boards who are on the ground living the nightmare in-person as COVID races through their classrooms infecting children and teachers alike.

At some point, the needs of many - the ones who are vaccinating and masking and doing their part to bring this year-long-and-counting pandemic to an end - are going to have to take priority over the needs of the few who want to be assholes to the rest of us. Like Rude Pundit notes:

...And that's because something else is true: the people at these (school board) meetings don't represent how actually reasonable most people are. Polls show that over two-thirds of the public support mask mandates in schools. But you know who don't go to meetings where they know that a bunch of screaming fucknuts aren't going to be wearing masks? The people who support mask mandates...

I have long, long ago given up having any sympathy for the belligerently unmasked and/or unvaccinated. I have given up feeling bad when someone who said COVID is a hoax or vaccines are mind control ends up dying from the virus. As I've said, I want them to be vaccinated. I want them to save their own lives. But, you know, you fucked around and you found out. Just stop taking up ICU beds from people who gave a shit or the kids you gave COVID to...

And yet, for all the majority of Americans and all the majority of Floridians, these assholes aren't listening. DeSantis and his ilk aren't listening because they don't care to listen. 

One of the problems in Florida is how decades of gerrymandering and voter suppression allowed the Republicans to maintain an outsized and unbalanced control of the state legislature and governorship. As a result, the Republican leadership only cares to stay in power by pandering to the minority voting base they control. Because of that, DeSantis and the other state/federal officials would rather double-down on their base's ignorance and fear - and push for an anti-mask anti-vax position that's genuinely harmful - than do the right things that the real majority of residents want them do to.

The local boards at the county and city level can't afford to play those partisan games. Granted, many of them can be partisan themselves, but the school boards and county commissioners and city halls have to deal with the daily workings of schools and public services and whatnot. The local governments have to deal with the hospitals overflowing, and the school children getting sicker, while the governor can go dance in front of the Fox News cameras posing for 2024. It's been left to the school boards and city halls to find ways to keep people alive.

And so you have this fight now, between an out-of-touch state leader in DeSantis against the overwhelmed county-level school districts. DeSantis doesn't want to concede or compromise on COVID responses because that will ruin his Narrative that he's already beaten the pandemic. It would ruin his image as the Male Alpha Dominus able to replace donald trump on the national ticket. 

Ron DeSantis is turning a crisis response to the COVID pandemic into a power play against the lower-rung county offices actually trying to survive COVID.

This is why DeSantis' nickname on Twitter is #DeathSantis 

Goddamn him and his Republican buddies for putting partisanship ahead of public safety.

I keep saying this: This is not going to end well. And I keep saying that because these asshole Republicans never admit what they're doing wrong and change their efforts towards what does work, and they keep proving me right.

See you next week when I'll likely rant about DeSantis' partisan bullshit agenda even more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What To Say About Afghanistan In the Aftermath

Me, I'm just a lowly blogger with no direct military, national intelligence, or foreign policy creds.

But I read a number of people on the Intertubes who ARE well-credentialed, and sometimes it's best to just link straight to them to get an idea of 1) what might have happened that led to Afghanistan's government swift fall to the Taliban, and 2) who's accountable for what happened in Afghanistan.

I've quote Adam L. Silverman here before, with his intel analysis and experience that he posts at Balloon Juice, and here he is going into detail about what led up to this past weekend's collapse:

...The agreement negotiated by Ambassador Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghan Reconstruction working under the direction of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the direct orders of then President Trump makes the Treaty of Versailles look like strategic genius.

The abject surrender is in part one and sections 2 and 3 of part 3. Part 2, which is the Taliban’s responsibilities as a result of the agreement, are not enforceable by the US once the US and its Coalition allies complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan and because of what the US agreed to in part 1: to never again threaten to use force, use force, or interfere in any way in Afghanistan.

What did the US agree to:

1. Release of Taliban prisoners,

2. Lifting of all sanctions,

3. Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan,

4. To never again threaten to use force, use force, or interfere in any way in Afghanistan

5. To seek positive relations with the Taliban

6. To establish economic reconciliation with the new post occupation Islamic government of Afghanistan...

Essentially, the great deal-maker donald trump traded away an entire pro football roster for the sake of getting a Third Round draft pick to snag the best-available college punter. 

Back to Silverman, who noted that the Afghan President Ghani issued a stand-down order that basically made the nation's military surrender, and also noted strong evidence that the manpower of the Afghan military and police were overstated with no-shows and payroll grifts:

We have four documentable, verifiable reasons for why the Taliban were able to so quickly and easily retake Afghanistan and not a single one of them was the result of something the Biden administration did...

Which leads to the second part of what we need to discuss, and I'd like to link to Stonekettle - whose bio has him with an extensive military background - at his blog Stonekettle Station to quote a few words from his article "Bitter Pill" (you should follow the link to read the article in full. It is bitter and brutal and honest and factual about all the follies our nation's done from Vietnam to now in the name of war):

The ragged American forces left in-country are in full retreat, falling back and back to the airplanes that will maybe get them out of the carnage. No time to destroy their equipment. No time to destroy classified materials. No time to save our allies. No time left but to run. And it's the fall of Saigon all over again. All it needs is a sad Billy Joel ballad and some helicopters being pushed into the sea on the Six-O-Clock news. If Joel was still writing ballads and we still had such a thing as the evening news anyway. 

And it's all Joe Biden's fault.

Yes it is. 

But that's not surprising, is it?

No, that's not surprising at all. 

Because that was the plan...

It enraged Trump that the military experts and the diplomats wouldn't kiss his ass like the rest of his cabinet. Wouldn't do what he wanted, just get out of Afghanistan, quit the war and bring the troops home. You're so smart, Sir! So handsome and brilliant! 

No, instead the military experts told Trump what would happen if we just pulled out. They told him how it would go, just like it's going right now. He didn't care ...until his handlers, Bannon, Miller, maybe Ivanka, told him how it would look. 

It would be a disaster, it would be Saigon, and it would be all on him.

He couldn't keep his promise. 

Now, all presidents learn this. 

All presidents discover pretty quickly that they aren't going to be able to keep their campaign promises. 

It happened to Obama. He promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He couldn't. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, wouldn't let him. He had to eat it and he did. Obama learned, like the presidents before him, that the political realities of the office are vastly different when you're actually sitting behind the Resolute Desk. 

But not Trump...

But then, Trump lost the election.

Joe Biden won.

Trump lost the White House and Republicans lost the Senate. 

And that's when Donald Trump could finally make good on his promise. 

As soon as it became certain that he would have to leave office, Trump ordered American forces out of Afghanistan. Trump and Pompeo invited the Taliban to Camp David -- not the actual government of Afghanistan and our alleged allies, but the Taliban. And he turned thousands of Taliban prisoners loose, one of which is now the de facto president of Afghanistan...

And now, Joe Biden owns this disaster. 

Because that's how it works. 

I didn't say it was right. I didn't say it was fair, because it most assuredly is not.  I said that's how it is. That's how public perception and politics work. The buck stops at the Resolute Desk and America will remember this as Joe Biden's disaster. 

Trump, with the support of the most radical elements of the Republican party, finally made good on his promise and left Joe Biden holding the bag

That was the plan...

If everyone in the mainstream media is mad at Biden (and a lot of them are), that's by their own design. Many pundits do not care for the history or causes of why our foreign invasions/occupations seem to collapse upon themselves, they only care to defend their own world-views ("Here's how I'm right and everyone else is wrong") and place blame on those leaders who fail in their (flawed and partisan) judgment.

If the Republicans are mad at Biden - and that's a fucking given thanks to their decades-long partisan rancor and obstructionism - it's a means to deflect the blame for Afghanistan's failures away from the bastards and warhawks who drove us into that nation in the first place after 9/11: The Republicans don't want the pundits or historians to remember that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld sent in our armed forces without a realistic Exit Strategy; and then fucked up the end game even more by dividing our focus and military strength into a needless occupation of Iraq.

The Republicans are desperate to blame anyone else in order to avoid the blame they truly deserve.

And so here's Joe Biden, who has been tossed this hot potato, this live grenade of an ongoing Afghanistan occupation for the United States closing in on twenty goddamned years, all because NOBODY ELSE sitting in the White House - Bush the Lesser, Obama, trump - wanted to fall on that grenade and end the war, because they all knew it would end like Vietnam with the local bad guys in control and American prestige in tatters (although thanks to that prolonged indecision, our prestige already suffered).

And yet Biden has the courage to fall on that grenade. We ought to recognize that.

In Biden's own words, he did not want to pass this burden onto another generation of men and women in a military already fatigued by decades of fighting. In other moments he's quoted saying "I know my decision will be criticized. But I would rather take that criticism than pass this on to a fifth president," said Biden. “I am the president of the United States, the buck stops with me."

With that, Biden defers to Harry S Truman, a President who made hard choices and stuck by them, even as the public opinion soured and when history proved he made the best possible moves.

These are the things we need to remember when we talk now about Afghanistan.

We also need to act and do what our nation can do to provide sanctuary for the thousands of Afghani civilians and government officials who aided the United States in their desire to rebuild a nation that is no longer safe for them.

The Occupation of Afghanistan is over. The fight to save people is still ongoing.

Monday, August 16, 2021

All It Takes Is One Week To Prove How COVID-19 Hits Us. One Week, And DeSantis Proves Himself a Fool

Before the regular school season started, even I knew it was a huge risk to send our children and our teachers back into classrooms that could turn into COVID super-spreader locations. All it takes is five to fourteen days to see the results. Well, it's five days after school opened across Florida, and look what's happening in my backyard (via WFLA):

The Hillsborough County School Board will hold an Emergency School Board Meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 18, from 1-3:30 p.m. due to rising COVID-19 cases across the county.

As of 7 a.m., Monday, 5,599 students and 316 employees in Hillsborough County Public Schools are in isolation or quarantine. Isolation refers to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 while quarantine refers to those who have had close contact with a positive case...

Hillsborough County is the seventh-largest student population in the state. Let's check in with some of the others. Here's Jacksonville/Duval County (via News4Jax):

Over the first four days of the 2021-2022 school year in Duval County, the number of positive COVID-19 cases listed on the district’s online tracking dashboard grew at a nearly exponential rate.

After only two cases were listed on Tuesday, one student and one employee, the following days saw six students, 18 students and 41 students added, respectively...

While it hasn’t been used so far this year, the district also plans to use a similar process to decide if and when an outbreak grows to the point that a classroom, a school, or the entire district has to move to virtual learning.

Generally in Duval County, if 20% of a class or school has been exposed, that switch will happen...

If you look at the chart (I can't link it) in that report for Duval County schools, each day saw a huge jump in cases, and that was just in three days. Has it been updated yet for this Monday...?

The Sun-Sentinel paper in South Florida reports (behind paywall) that 1,000 students are quarantined in Palm Beach County by now. That number is only going to go up.

And while it's not school related, Polk County in the middle of the state in a major population hub (the I-4 corridor) is the hottest hotspot in the hottest COVID state (via Sarah Megan-Walsh at the Lakeland Ledger):

In Polk, there were 6,521 new COVID infections reported from Aug. 6 to 12, according to the Florida Department of Health's latest report issued Friday. That's about 700 more than last week's record 5,703 cases. It brings the county's total to 93,349 infected since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The rapid spike in new cases locally appears to be leveling off slightly. Polk's week-over-week increase in cases was up about 14%, where in prior weeks the number of weekly infections nearly doubled in mid-July.

Statewide, Florida reported 151,415 new COVID cases last week — also setting a record, according to the state health department. On Wednesday, the state reported an all-time high of 24,869 people newly infected with the coronavirus in a single day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker...

And in the midst of all this, what is Governor DeSantis doing?

He dare not speak out to encourage masks in public again, he dare not encourage people to get vaccinated when they can, because that would enrage the trumpian GOP base.

No, he's out there promoting an expensive drug Regeneron to help those in the ICU wards recover faster... which isn't a smart alternative to, you know, getting a super-cheap vaccine and avoid getting super-sick in the first place.

This is where we are as the COVID-19 pandemic speeds along: Utterly screwed by our Republican leadership that would rather get us all sick before doing a damn thing to help us.

Woodstock Memories for 2021

Sorry, but with all the bad news right now - the fall of Afghanistan, the tragic earthquake in Haiti that deserves more attention (and find some charities to donate to help out like Hope For Haiti!), the ongoing COVID BS here in the Red States - I'm not in the mood to talk about Woodstock today. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Fall of Afghanistan

While we're coping with pandemic horrors here in the United States, we have to cope with the horror of our foreign policies failing as our decades-long military and political intervention into Afghanistan falls apart. 

To quote Mike Jason at the Atlantic (paywalled): 

Watching the rapid deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan—the Taliban have captured a third of the country’s provincial capitals in the weeks since the U.S. military pulled its troops out—has evoked a feeling of déjà vu for me.

In 2005, I was an adviser to an Iraqi infantry battalion conducting counterinsurgency operations in and around Baghdad, one of the most violent parts of Iraq during one of the most violent periods in that conflict. It was difficult to have any hope at the time. I returned to Iraq in 2009, this time in Mosul, where my unit advised and supported two Iraqi-army divisions, one Iraqi-federal-police division, and thousands of local police officers. This time, I sensed more progress: Leaving Iraq in 2010, I felt we had done a great job, turning a corner and building a capable and competent security force. A year later, I found myself in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, recruiting and training Afghan police units and commandos. After nine months there, I again rotated home thinking we had done some good.

I would be proved wrong on both counts. In 2014, by then stationed at the Pentagon, I watched in dismay as the Iraqi divisions I’d helped train collapsed in a matter of days when faced with the Islamic State. Today, as the Taliban seizes terrain across Afghanistan, including in what was my area of operations, I cannot help but stop and reflect on my role. What did my colleagues and I get wrong? Plenty...

To quote John Cole (who served out there) at Balloon Juice:

What is happening right now in Afghanistan is horrifying. It’s awful. Tens of thousands of people will be slaughtered, the women and children of the area will be sent backwards in history hundreds of years, chaos and brutality and backwards ass theology will rule the day, and it will be awful for a long time to come. And it was all entirely predictable and completely inevitable...

We’ll see a lot of blame thrown at Joe Biden over the next couple of months, and no doubt right-wingers will blame him for “losing” Afghanistan, but most of it is bullshit. Are there some things that could possibly have been done better? Sure. Much of the bitching by our warrior class is focused on the timing of the withdrawal (often ignoring the fact that it was Trump who set the original date), saying we should have waited until the winter when the majority of the Taliban will be at home and it won’t be “the fighting season,” the name for what you and I know as summer and fall. And I suppose he could have. And then we would be reading all of these headlines next spring and summer instead of right now. That’s the thing about delaying the inevitable, it is, in fact, just a delay. This was going to happen no matter when we left and there is nothing anyone can say that will convince me otherwise...

I'd quote from Fred Kaplan at Slate, but he's behind a paywall I haven't subscribed to so all you get are the links. But he's pretty pissed and bummed as well.

So what the hell went wrong with American intervention in Afghanistan?

If you ask me, it all went wrong at the beginning when we charged into Afghanistan back in 2001.

We went into Afghanistan not for any humanitarian reason, not to stop the Taliban's horrific abuse of women. We went in because September 11 happened, Osama Bid Laden pulled off his big attack on the United States and wounded us far worse than any enemy nation ever could. And so wounded, and angry, and vicious, and blind, we charged into the country that was giving him safe haven in order to hunt him down and punish his extremist allies.

We went into Afghanistan out of revenge.

We didn't go in with a grand objective, and we certainly didn't go in with a coherent plan on how we were going to get out of Afghanistan in a timely fashion. We had no exit strategy in the first place.

Oh, our political leadership - George W. Bush's administration at the time - thought they had a plan: clear out the Taliban, kill Bin Laden, install a puppet regime that would perform like a westernized democracy (but really leave in place a corrupt autocrat), and get out. 

Except we never did any of that right.

We couldn't clear out the Taliban because the Taliban had allies right across the border in Pakistan, where they could hide out because Pakistan was technically an ally of the United States and we didn't have the political might to force Pakistan to abandon the Taliban to us.

We hunted Bin Laden alright, at least as far as Tora Bora, but then for some goddamn reason Dubya's administration let him slip away. It was left to the next administration under Obama to bring justice to one of the persons most responsible for 9/11, but by then it had been TEN YEARS during which our occupation of Afghanistan had turned into a quagmire far greater than Vietnam.

As for our nation-building efforts to stabilize a nation that had been literally The Graveyard of Empires for 1000 years, let's refer back to Mike Jason

From the very beginning, nearly two decades ago, the American military’s effort to advise and mentor Iraqi and Afghan forces was treated like a pickup game—informal, ad hoc, and absent of strategy. We patched together small teams of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, taught them some basic survival skills, and gave them an hour-long lesson in the local language before placing them with foreign units...

But from my tours in Iraq through to my time in Afghanistan, larger systemic problems were never truly addressed. We did not successfully build the Iraqi and Afghan forces as institutions. We failed to establish the necessary infrastructure that dealt effectively with military education, training, pay systems, career progression, personnel, accountability—all the things that make a professional security force. Rotating teams through tours of six months to a year, we could not resolve the vexing problems facing Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s armies and police: endemic corruption, plummeting morale, rampant drug use, abysmal maintenance, and inept logistics. We got really good at preparing platoons and companies to conduct raids and operate checkpoints, but little worked behind them...

Over these past 20 years, there have been many failings. We checked the box when it came to saying that we had trained our partners, spun a rosy narrative of progress, and perhaps prioritized the safety and well-being of our troops over the mission of buttressing partner capacity... We didn’t send the right people, prepare them well, or reward them afterward. We rotated strangers on tours of up to a year and expected them to build relationships, then replaced them. We were overly optimistic and largely made things up as we went along. We didn’t like oversight or tough questions from Washington, and no one really bothered to hold us accountable anyway. We had no capacity or experience with some of our tasks, and we stumbled...

In short: We failed to nation-build in Afghanistan because nobody at the political level - not in Washington DC and not in corrupt Kabul - took it serious enough to follow through. We got stuck going through the motions, posing for the cameras, cheering on the minor successes while sweeping the major disasters under the rugs.

Even shorter: We had no exit strategy.

Unspoken in all of this was how Bush the Lesser shifted focus away from Afghanistan onto the more "glorious" and desired target of overthrowing Saddam in Iraq. While we were still engaged on the ground in Afghanistan, our military under Rumsfeld - and pushed along by Dick Cheney (aka Halliburton's Best Bud) and other neoconservatives eager for war as a profiteering scam - pursued an invasion of Iraq that was under-manned and under-planned, and ended up becoming a quagmire just like Afghanistan did. But where the disasters in Iraq made the front pages - thanks to the Big Lies of WMDs that turned out to be fake - the disasters in Afghanistan got shunted to Page 16 of the newspapers and rarely talked about on the cable pundit shows: It all turned into a forgotten Shadow War that nobody cared about.

And Afghanistan turned into this Thing That Would Not Go Away for the administrations that followed Bush the Lesser's into the White House and Pentagon. Obama inherited this mess, and went through enough headaches evacuating Iraq that getting out of Afghanistan seemed impossible. He ended up pursuing a military agenda of getting after Taliban leadership with drone airstrikes, but it never broke the will of the Taliban itself. Like the Viet Cong did to LBJ and Nixon, the Taliban realized they didn't have to beat the United States, they just have to outlast us...

Leading up to trump taking over in 2016. A blustering amateur at foreign policy and nowhere near being "smarter than the generals," trump made the big show of figuring out a ceasefire plan with the Taliban in 2020... which was so full of loopholes that the Taliban are exploiting in 2021 as they retake most of the major cities. The peace deal was more trump's attempt to win a Nobel Peace Prize and win over voters for 2020 than it was a serious attempt to broker a lasting peace in a part of the world that's known only war for generations.

Again, we had no exit strategy.

We were blinded by rage when we invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and we are now stumbling out blind and drunk 20 years later with nothing to show for it but the tears and blood of the Taliban's victims.

Are we doing enough now to help evacuate the thousands of Afghanis - especially women - who are going to suffer under Taliban rule? Because we can't stop them from retaking that nation. It's no longer a question of "If" but of "When."

And are we ever going to learn our lessons as John Cole asks of us:

...There is a reason terms like “mission creep” exist. There is a reason when I was a young E-3 my tank commander and Troop CO gave me reading lists, and included on those lists were books like Bernard Fall’s Street Without Joy and A Bright Shining Lie and All Quiet on the Western Front and About Face and so many others that sit on my bookshelf to this day. There were lessons to be learned. And we didn’t learn them, myself included. I will grapple with my own culpability the rest of my life.

And I know that my seeming nonchalant writing here about this can seem smarmy and irritating, and I hope that is not what you are taking from this. It’s horrible. I feel terrible for all those innocents. I feel terrible for all our guys who served there and are dealing with trauma and injuries, barely getting their lives back together finally, only to turn on the tv, stare at the horrible images unfolding while glancing at the scarred stumps where their legs and arms used to be, realizing everything they gave everything for has turned out to be nothing.

But while this horror is occurring right now, we can still take advantage of the opportunity to learn this lesson once more. Maybe this will save us a couple generations of needless military adventurism, like Vietnam did before we went and fucked up our memories in Gulf War I and thought war was easy again. Stop listening to the war pigs. Ignore them. Stop listening to the Kagans and Ledeens and the Cheneys and the Kristols and the Tom Cottons and the Friedmans and that one curly hair young twat name Michael something or other who was all over the tv in the late aughts. Don’t let this happen again...

It's all tragic, there's nothing we can do - other than to continue pumping in more bodies and spilling more blood - to stop it, and we're likely setting ourselves up for the next cycle of international terrorism that will drive us back into roaring rampages flattening the countryside and solving nothing.

Even Charlie Wilson saw this coming and nobody else cared enough to stop it coming.


Update: Not more than thirty minutes after I posted this, reports are now out that the Afghan President has fled the country, and the Taliban are in Kabul itself. This is a nightmare.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Alas, A Writer's Lament 2021

On a personal note: You might remember back in February I asked for input about which blog articles to submit to the Florida Writers' Association's Royal Palm Literary Awards. They have a Non-Fiction/Blog category and I had placed Silver with them in 2020, and was hoping to make a mark for this year.

I went with four articles (I could max out to five), along with the short story submission "War of the Murder Hornets" to mix it up a little.

Well, the judging panel finally reached back to me and...

You know, I could have sworn the article about the reality of trump having a Presidential Library would have been relevant and coherent enough to get past the Semifinalist stage... /sigh

I had submitted that one along with Not All Heroes Wear Capes about John Lewis' passing, and How America Fell Into the Darkest Timeline of 2020 due to their relevancy and partly non-partisan rancor. They too did not reach Semifinalist levels. /sigh

I haven't heard back about this one - The Five Reasons trump Refuses to Concede - and so I may yet have some good news that my political blogging isn't out of vogue. (Update 8/14: Aaaaannnddddd nope that didn't make Semifinalist either.)

Oh, and they didn't like the Murder Hornets either.

I should note that judging depends a lot of who volunteers to read and score the submissions, which changes every year. It depends a lot on the mood, whims, and personal belief structure of those judges - even as they're required to leave such world-views at the door in order to be impartial - so I may have well gotten a judge or two this time who were ardent trump voters (this IS Florida, alas. Also, "alas" has become my word of the year, please punch me if I keep using it too much).

I served as a judge for a couple of years, before they opened up Non-fiction to Blogging (when they did in the interests of fairness I dropped out so I could submit to that category without conflict). I should mention I judged a lot of Non-Fiction works that I scored harshly due to factors such as "lack of research" and "lack of citations to outside data or materials that could back your claims." I'm sorry, but as a librarian and researcher, I value the ability - the right - to examine the merits of a claim with the facts that prove that claim. I had several Non-fiction books to review where I agreed with the author's opening arguments... and still graded them poor because they failed to cite their facts. Alas. (punch) Owww stop hitting me.

I got one submission from someone who WASN'T a scholar on the subject who claimed his "copyrighting" of an idea on that subject made him an expert (um, no, an expert goes through an educational vetting process towards an accredited degree, and then garners recognition from peers in that field through a series of published works that demonstrate due diligence to facts while generating results that are reproducible by said peers), and the first three chapters for review were mostly about how he gained insight where everyone else hadn't (also, he offered no outside citations). "Death of Expertise" indeed. When I blog, I at least try to provide links to sources that back up what I'm ranting aboot...

That all said, I don't blame the judges if I didn't pass muster this year. I do recognize my rants aren't for everyone, and my writing style perhaps not to their tastes.

As they say in baseball, Better luck next year.

Also, the Rays are poised to win the AL East again this year. Maybe if I blogged about that... 

(gets judges who are Marlins fans) aw DAMMIT!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

What Would Ye Have The Ladies Do, O Sexists?

I hadn't commented on it much, but the ongoing sexual harassment scandal involving Governor Andrew Cuomo is coming to an end. He's resigning to avoid a likely impeachment process (via NPR): 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced he will resign from office following a scathing report from the state's attorney general concluding that the third-term Democrat sexually harassed 11 women, and in one instance, sought to retaliate against one of his accusers who went public with her allegations.

"Wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing, and I cannot be the cause of that," Cuomo, 63, said in remarks from the capital of Albany on Tuesday...

In a nice touch, the Lt. Governor is a woman Kathy Hochul who will replace him as New York's first female Governor.

Hochul, who served one term in Congress before being tapped by Cuomo to be his running mate in 2014, said in a statement she agreed with the governor's decision to step down.

"It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers," she said. "As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State's 57th Governor..."

Cuomo's departure from office, which will take effect in 14 days, represents a remarkable turn of events from just over a year ago, when the governor was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party for his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet even that performance is now under a cloud of scrutiny, as a separate investigation by the attorney general found that the number of nursing home deaths disclosed by the state was far worse than officials disclosed.

But it was the allegations of harassment that precipitated the once unthinkable prospect of Cuomo's resignation. The 165-page report released last week followed a months-long investigation into Cuomo's actions and outlined what New York Attorney General Letitia James called violations of both state and federal law. Prosecutors said their findings substantiated allegations from several women — allegations that included unwanted and nonconsensual touching, groping and kissing and sexual comments...

Another thing to note is how Cuomo handled the whole situation: Pursuing a policy of shaming his victims or attacking any accusers to bully his way through the scandal. "Deny deny deny" with a helpful dosage of "Attack attack attack."

But that's the common mindset, isn't it, of the hypocritical bastards who play their way to the top tier of politics or finance or anything to do with power. It's rare, hasn't it been, to see someone seize the reins of power who hasn't been a son-of-a-bitch towards those he (usually a he) views as his lessers (usually women).

I've noted it here often enough: The hypocrisy of sexism in high office. Cuomo is not even the first New York Governor I'm commenting about. There have been many others - across both major parties here in the United States - that it all starts to blend into each other as an ongoing crisis of leadership. A failure to be better men towards women, a failure of justice where fully one-half of our population suffers in the hallways and back rooms of power.

When you look at how men of power mistreat and attack the women in their circles, you should also pay attention to how women's pay in this country remains sickeningly unequal, you should also pay attention to how our legal system refuses to honor or defend rape victims far too often, you should also pay attention to how our culture continues to belittle and devalue anything women say or need.

Kicking Cuomo to the curb is one step towards holding men accountable for the bad behavior we've been showing women for millennia. But our nation has a long way to go and many steps to make - EQUAL PAY for Women! Take rape crimes seriously! - before women are going to be any safer in our workplaces and schools and homes.

In the meantime: Keep punching back, women.

Monday, August 09, 2021

DeSantis The COVID Bully

I can't keep up with this shit (via USA Today):

The state "could" defund the salaries of district superintendents and county school board members who mandate mask wearing in schools, according to a statement from Gov. Ron DeSantis' office. 

The statement comes as the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over mandating masks in schools, a fight that has flared in school districts across the country as the pandemic resurges as the school year is set to start...

At least one superintendent offered an immediate defiant response. Leon County Superintendent Hanna told school officials at a meeting Monday afternoon "you can't put a price tag on someone's life, including my salary."

“We want to make sure that children also have access to a high-quality education but they can’t if they’re sick and in the hospital,” he added. Hours earlier, Hanna announced that students in elementary and middle schools will be required to wear masks as the upcoming school year begins in Tallahassee...

DeSantis has been running around, acting like he's on top of things, like he's got COVID-19 beat, that all of the talk about the Delta variant surge is just panicking from hospital admins and doctors.

DeSantis wants to pretend he knows what's best. DeSantis is buying into the Far Right Narrative that masks "destroys our Freedoms." Because DeSantis knows damn well pandering to that Narrative is how he wins the Presidential nomination in 2024 (he's gambling trump will be in jail by then). 

DeSantis wants to show that Florida's economy is running strong: That everyone's back to work in offices and eateries and tourist traps, and smiling happily at crappy wages and increased exposure to the pandemic. But he can't get everyone back into the offices and coffee shops if the kids are still at home needing parental supervision, so he's GOT to ship all the kids back to in-person classrooms that also work well as super-spreader locations. It matters not that children under 12 can't yet qualify for the vaccines (we're not sure it's safe yet for those ages). It sure as hell doesn't matter to DeSantis that the prominent Delta variant is more lethal to the young.

Above all: DeSantis cannot abide anyone ranked lower than he is on the chain of command doing something that makes HIM look bad. Having all these school board commissioners and superintendents speaking to student safety makes HIM look bad.

So DeSantis is going to threaten, to bully, to scare those lesser mortals into bending to HIS will.

No matter the cost to the number of dying and sick children in the GREAT STATE OF FLORIDA.

All hail DeSantis! All hail the King of COVID-19!

HIS public image matters more than our lives, after all.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

How Fared the 2021 Olympics?

Well, all things considered the United States fared rather well at the Tokyo shindig (via Deepa Shivaram and Mandalit del Barco at NPR):

After 17 days of competition at the Tokyo Olympics, the United States finished with the most medals won overall and the most gold medals, with its 39 golds just barely beating out China, which won 38.

On the last day of the Games, the U.S. women's volleyball team secured the 39th gold medal, beating out Brazil to win the country's first gold in the sport.

Team USA is taking home 113 medals. In addition to their gold medals, U.S. athletes won 41 silver and 33 bronze medals. China, which was also second in total medals won, is bringing home 88 medals, including 32 silver and 18 bronze.

U.S. women won 66 medals — more than half of the U.S. team's tally. According to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, if the American women were a separate country, they would have ranked fourth in the world in terms of how many Olympic medals they won...

And to hell with trump anti-patriotic dismissal of our women athletes. USA! USA! USA!

There was, to be honest, a lot of concern going into these events that we were going to witness a massive COVID-19 super-spreader event. I had spelled out an argument for cancelling these games in fear of the pandemic:

While a majority of the athletes may be vaccinated, and most of the on-site workers as well, that's no guarantee of complete immunity. The vaccines help in reducing the harmful effects, and reduces the likelihood of spreading the virus further, but there's still odds that COVID could spread and affect far too many athletes to effectively hold the sporting events...

But we're risking the reality that too many athletes intermingle - it's one of the few joys of this international event for them - and they're bound to become vectors of the pandemic towards each other. Even with Tokyo refusing to provide solid beds and condoms to discourage the sex that happens each Olympics, there's other ways of socializing and moments during competition when COVID can spread in an instant. And then you'll have hundreds sick all at once, unable to participate and likely infecting those still unvaccinated.

The Olympics organizers might be praying to every deity in the phone book, and it WILL take divine intervention to make sure most of the Olympians survive this summer...

Still a little too early to know which Gods deigned to provide good health to our global athletes, and an honest reckoning of what COVID did pop up at the games should matter (PDF via the website): It's looking so far that they had 33 athletes/coaches and about 105 workers test positive up to August 6.

We should also note it takes at least five days to two weeks for a Positive test to show, so not until next week should we consider these Olympics as any level of success against the pandemic.

Here's to another week or so to praying to the Sports Gods on this.

Also, another two months of praying to the Baseball Gods that the Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East again and make a serious return to the World Series. What? I gotta root for my home team, be true to your school, peeps. 

Thursday, August 05, 2021

An Inglorious August Ahead

This year's August is starting to terrify me.

I'm living in a state led by a mad governor in DeSantis who is so obsessed with winning the leadership of the Republican Party he's willing to let COVID infect and kill our kids in school starting next week.

There are ongoing signs of the Far Right that eagerly participated in the January 6 Insurrection are making plans to repeat that act again. One of trump's business allies - the MyPillow CEO Lindell, who's so far gone he's abandoned Fox Not-News as being not crazy enough - has been openly backing trump's Big Lie that the election "was stolen," and is shilling this "symposium" scheduled for August 13 (a Friday no less) and claiming his revelations are so shocking it will force Biden and Harris to both resign in shame and a regretful House to make trump Speaker, allowing trump to reclaim the Presidency through the 25th Amendment. As with everything else surrounding this Big Lie, Lindell has no proof to reveal and is selling shit to trump's fanbase... who are still going to eat it all up like steak and get driven further into their own bubble of madness. 

There is a good chance Lindell's antics - especially if trump joins in - can stir up another riot in DC or elsewhere. Given how Congress tends to hold recess in August, this would be a perfect month for Proud Boys/Oath Keepers/Other White Separatists to band together to storm Capitol Hill again...

Last night, one of the foreign policy/intelligence/unconventional warfare contributors to Balloon Juice Adam L. Silverman posted a brief entry basically sending up a warning flag to the rest of the United States:

I just wanted to post a quick note. I’m really not actually trying to depress, scare, upset, and/or anger anyone here, though I’m not surprised if everyone thinks I am. I’ve already done two threat assessments on this insanity we’re living with – one in November that covered the transition and one started the night of 6 January covering the attack at the capitol and what it might lead to – and I’m currently working on a third one. I’m hoping to have it done before 13 August, which is Mike Lindell’s day of miracles or something.

I think everyone has figured out I’m incredibly concerned. Every bit of my professional experience and expertise is screaming at me right now. While hope and I stopped talking a long time ago, and don’t even get me started on faith, nothing would please me more than to write a marking my beliefs to market post in a couple of months about how the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate managed to overcome all the obstacles and pass voting rights and electoral integrity legislation...

Only time will tell if I’m Cassandra of Troy or James Jesus Angleton lost in the wilderness of mirrors. Until then, I’m going to make a real effort to not post about this stuff anymore...

I’m truly sorry that we all have to live through this. I’m also very sorry to those I’ve upset or angered in trying to make clear what I think the threats are. And that’s not a “if you are offended” apology. I know I’ve made some of you quite angry and upset and I’m sorry that that has been the effect of my posts and comments on this topic, which is why I’m going to try not to post or comment on it anymore...

Silverman has access to a lot of intel and connections to a lot of other experts in the Intelligence Community (for you conspiracy-minded that's the Deep State, but relax he's a good guy he brings the occasional donut box in). This is someone who knows what terrorism and high-level threats looks like, and has contributed some thoughtful and analytical essays on terrorism (especially domestic) for BJ for years.

That brief entry is telling me at least that Silverman has seen something that scares the hell out of him. He's trying to downplay it, offering caveats that he may yet be wrong (if you know your Cold War history, his reference to Angleton - whoa, his middle name WAS Jesus - is to a high-ranking CIA official who went mad thinking there were deep mole Soviet spies everywhere).

One of the scary things about trump and his willing cohorts supporting trump's coup attempts is how inept they've been planning those attempts. They didn't do a very good job of hiding their efforts for the January 6 insurrection, and they're likely doing a poor job of it now for whatever they've got planned for Friday the 13th. If you read that ProPublica article and various others that looked back at how that riot unfurled itself, you'll realize one of the biggest reasons it got as far as it did was poor response and awareness by various law enforcement agencies who didn't grok how serious it was going to get.

The other big reason trump's riot got as far as it did was trump himself making sure a stronger response like the National Guard wouldn't deploy in time. One would hope under a Biden Presidency that won't become an issue... but it still boils down to whether or not the proper authorities will take things seriously this time.

If whatever it is Silverman saw is a legitimately big scary deal, let's pray those authorities are as rattled by it as he is and are taking proper steps to prevent it.

What is adding to all of this paranoia - yes, I admit I am being a bit panicky right now - is trump's latest money-making scam that also happens to double as a big fat "OMFG WHAT DID HE DO" warning.

Any similarity between that gold eagle card and the Nazi eagle is purely intentional...

They may look like credit cards - and the thing is, if these ARE credit cards who the hell is stupid enough to back a trump business like this given all his failures? - but all they really are is just symbols of membership to trump's "exclusive club" of fellow MAGA drum-beaters and potential brownshirts.

Ever see that TV Afternoon Special movie about a high school teacher who started a social experiment to show his students how a fascist movement can take over an entire nation? One of the things that happened in that experiment was the students making their own membership card to emphasize who belonged and who didn't.

That social experiment incident was the first thing I flashed back to when I saw those trump Cards. More so than the damn red MAGA hats or the damn fan art that portrayed trump as a muscled Rambo, these cards are more terrifying than mocking. These cards are terrifying because they're promoting devotion to one thing: trump. his name in big letters. These cards aren't membership to the Republican Party, or to a Make America X movement. These cards spell out fidelity to trump himself.

This is the point where the fascist movement embraces the Cult of Personality with a whole heart, without embarrassment or excuse.

It Can't Happen Here? It's already happened, and it's getting worse.

Along with what Silverman's seen, none of this is making me hopeful for the next couple weeks.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Republican FREEDOM Is Really Their Freedom To Condemn Everyone Else

Let Paul Krugman at the New York Times (paywall) set the indictment not only for DeSantis but for the entire Republican philosophy of "F-ck You":

...Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, isn’t stupid. He is, however, ambitious and supremely cynical. So when he says things that sound stupid it’s worth asking why. And his recent statements on Covid-19 help us understand why so many Americans are still dying or getting severely ill from the disease...

We now have highly effective vaccines freely available to every American who is at least 12 years old. There has been a lot of hype about “breakthrough” infections associated with the Delta variant, but they remain rare, and serious illness among the vaccinated is rarer still. There is no good reason we should still be suffering severely from this pandemic.

But Florida is in the grip of a Covid surge worse than it experienced before the vaccines. More than 10,000 Floridians are hospitalized, around 10 times the number in New York, which has about as many residents; an average of 58 Florida residents are dying each day, compared with six in New York. And the Florida hospital system is under extreme stress.

There’s no mystery about why this has happened. At every stage of the pandemic DeSantis has effectively acted as an ally of the coronavirus, for example by issuing orders blocking businesses from requiring that their patrons show proof of vaccination and schools from requiring masks. More generally, he has helped create a state of mind in which vaccine skepticism flourishes and refusal to take precautions is normalized...

So, given these grim developments, one might have expected or at least hoped that DeSantis would reconsider his position. In fact, he has been making excuses — it’s all about the air-conditioning! He has been claiming that any new restrictions would have unacceptable costs for the economy — although Florida’s recent performance looks terrible if you place any value on human life.

Above all, he has been playing the liberal-conspiracy-theory card, with fund-raising letters declaring that the “radical left” is “coming for your freedom.”

So let’s talk about what the right means when it talks about “freedom.” Since the pandemic began, many conservatives have insisted that actions to limit the death toll — social distancing, wearing a mask and now getting vaccinated — should be matters of personal choice. Does that position make any sense?

Well, driving drunk is also a personal choice. But almost everyone understands that it’s a personal choice that endangers others; 97 percent of the public considers driving while impaired by alcohol a serious problem. Why don’t we have the same kind of unanimity on refusing to get vaccinated, a choice that helps perpetuate the pandemic and puts others at risk...?

True, many people doubt the science; the link between vaccine refusal and Covid deaths is every bit as real as the link between D.U.I. and traffic deaths, but is less obvious to the naked eye. But why are people on the right so receptive to misinformation on this subject, and so angry about efforts to set the record straight?

My answer is that when people on the right talk about “freedom” what they actually mean is closer to “defense of privilege” — specifically the right of certain people (generally white male Christians) to do whatever they want...

Once you understand that the rhetoric of freedom is actually about privilege, things that look on the surface like gross inconsistency and hypocrisy start to make sense.

Why, for example, are conservatives so insistent on the right of businesses to make their own decisions, free from regulation — but quick to stop them from denying service to customers who refuse to wear masks or show proof of vaccination? Why is the autonomy of local school districts a fundamental principle — unless they want to require masks or teach America’s racial history? It’s all about whose privilege is being protected...

DeSantis for months has been describing his decision-making against closing businesses and against masking people in public places as his efforts to keep Florida's economy going... even at the risk of collapsing said economy when (not if) the ICUs fill up with too many sick people and too many of those businesses have to close anyway because half the staff are out sick (or dying).

The rhetoric of FREEDOM means nothing when the people who can enjoy those freedoms have tubes shoved down their throats to ensure they get enough oxygen to live. The illogic of that makes no sense until you remove from the equation the logical assumption that our leadership should be empathetic to the needs of the people.

DeSantis has no empathy, save only for those billionaires who can fund his 2024 Presidential aspirations.

The rest of us are condemned to the FREEDOM of choosing the colors of our coffin linings.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

August 2021: This Is the Only Story That Matters Right Now

This is the only thing I can blog about right now.

Right now, in Florida and across half the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic is flaring back up due to a Delta variant that is more contagious and more harmful to our young.

Every day it is getting worse out there. Even with the good news that full vaccination can minimize the damage, people are still catching COVID and likely to spread it to others.

A fellow librarian I follow on Twitter just reported this morning she tested positive. She has children, the youngest apparently at high risk if he catches it himself.

We've spent more than a year now fighting this pandemic, and yet the political will to push back against this spike - the necessity of closing down public places again like we did in March-April 2020, the need to keep our children and teens out of super-spreader locations like schools - has pretty much died.

Our elected leaders like Gov. DeSantis are actively pushing laws and executive orders forcing our cities and counties to stay open, forcing our schools to reopen for fall semesters this August, and insisting our schools NOT do the simplest easiest step of mandating face masks to reduce transmission of the virus.

It's like DeSantis and his fellow Republicans WANT the virus to spread to our kids.

And nobody's rising up to stop them.

It's like we've given up fighting the anti-vaxxer and anti-mask madness.

If I were able to talk to every parent in Florida, I would be telling them right now to insist on keeping your kids at home and safe from the Delta COVID. If I were able to talk to every business owner and county/city commissioner, I would be begging them to close the offices and do all work remotely and over the phone like we did last year.

If I were able to talk to Joe Biden, I would be begging him to realize this is another medical crisis threatening our entire nation and he needs to issue executive orders overriding every Red State governor's madness, insisting on masks in public and delaying our school openings at least until September, and DEMANDING we make vaccinations mandatory for people to go to work or travel from state to state. 

Something, ANYTHING, to get our nation back to fighting against COVID and preventing our hospitals from getting overwhelmed again.

I know everyone's tired and emotionally screwed up from more than a year of this pandemic. I'm there myself, my anxiety and depression are all over the place. Thing is, what's causing my anxiety is the reality I work in a public sector - library - and I have to deal every fucking day with the nightmare that just one person can come in sick as hell with COVID and spreading that damn thing everywhere.

I may be fully vaccinated but I am still a high-risk person (diabetic and sleep apnea/pulmonary issues). I am ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED I WILL CATCH COVID.

My anxiety and stress would go down a lot if we mandated masks and did a two-week lockdown to reduce the spread of the virus. But it's not going to happen, is it? I live in a Red State that was already notorious for crazy self-destructive behavior, and everyone around me is doubling down on this shit.

And DeSantis' failures of leadership right now - refusing to put Florida on even a temporary lockdown, refusing to mandate masks indoors, refusing to admit COVID is back and more dangerous than before - increases the risks I face every day.

I am going to see more of my fellow librarians report online that they've caught COVID.

I am risking every day I go to work that same fate.

Goddamn you, DeSantis. Your posing and preening for the cameras while Florida burns in fever ought to condemn you to the deepest pit of Hell.

Goddamn every anti-masker and every anti-vaxxer. Your contrarian bullshit is not only killing yourselves but killing the rest of us.