Back On Course
April 14, 2021
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“Our military and weapons prowess is a fantastic and perfectly weighted hammer, but that doesn’t make every international problem a nail.” — Rachel Maddow
“… the purpose of foreign policy is to persuade others to do what we want or, better yet, to want what we want.” — Madeleine Albright
Steering The Ship Of State Back On Course
(Drew Angerer via Getty Images)
On February 4, President Biden outlined “additional steps” his administration would take to “course-correct our foreign policy and better unite our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership.”
First: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken would conduct “a Global Posture Review of our forces so that our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities.” Second: while this review was taking place, any planned troop withdrawals from Germany would be halted. Third: Biden’s Middle East team would ensure US cooperation with the UN-led initiative “to impose a ceasefire [in Yemen], open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks.”
After the review, two decisions were announced this week. Austin said Tuesday not only would there be a reversal of the Trump administration plan to withdraw thousands of troops stationed in Germany, but an additional 500 troops would be added to the US presence there.
The decision comes as Russia is amassing forces on its border with Ukraine, something that has alarmed US and European officials. Austin sidestepped questions on whether the decision means to send a message to Russia amid the Ukraine tensions. “Let me assure you it’s a message to NATO … that we support NATO to the fullest extent, and most importantly we value the relationship with our partner here in Germany,” Austin said.
The review of US options in Afghanistan confirmed that peace talks with the Taliban have failed to advance as hoped — the Taliban remains a potent force despite two decades of effort to defeat the militants and establish stable, democratic governance. The longest war in American history has cost trillions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,000 US service members and at least 100,000 Afghan civilians.
Thus, Biden announced Wednesday that while thousands of US forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond May 1, all American troops will be withdrawn by or before the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks that first drew the US into war. The Taliban has promised to renew attacks on US and NATO personnel if foreign troops are not out by the May 1 deadline, but it gave no initial statement in response to Biden’s announcement.
The President’s decisions highlight trade-offs he is willing to make to shift US global focus away from counterinsurgency campaigns that dominated the post-9/11 world to current priorities. “[T]he reality is that the United States has big strategic interests in the world,” a person familiar with the deliberations said, “like nonproliferation, like an increasingly aggressive and assertive Russia, like North Korea and Iran, whose nuclear programs pose a threat…,” as well as increasing military competition with China. “The main threats to the American homeland are actually from other places: from Africa, from parts of the Middle East — Syria and Yemen. Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point.” (White House.gov; The Hill; WaPo, $)
Japan Tries To Send Its Problems Out To Sea
(Yuki Iwamura via Getty Images)
- Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant melted down following a devastating tsunami in 2011. Since then some 1.25 million tons of contaminated water have accumulated at the site of the crippled plant. Japanese officials have now announced a plan to release more than a million tons of the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, a decision that angers environmentalists and neighboring countries, including China, and devastates local fishers.
- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday the government decided that releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean was “unavoidable in order to achieve Fukushima’s recovery.” The plant’s operator and government officials say tritium, a radioactive material not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but other radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release. “The Japanese government has compiled basic policies to release the processed water into the ocean, after ensuring the safety levels of the water,” Suga said.
- Greenpeace Japan “strongly condemned” the water’s release, calling the government’s decision “to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive waste” wholly unjustified, and pointing out that “clear evidence” exists that “sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts.” The US was supportive, describing Japan’s decision-making process as “transparent.” (Guardian)
Beijing’s All For Collectivism, Until It’s Organized Labor
- 31-year-old Chen Guojiang, better known as Mengzhua, was delivering hundreds of take-out food orders a day, zipping along Beijing’s streets on an electric scooter at death-defying speeds. Along the way, he filmed short videos documenting the viciously competitive conditions for China’s estimated 3 million workers who use digital platforms for delivery jobs. He also called for collective action against powerful e-commerce companies to demand better pay.
- Mengzhua disappeared in February. In March, news emerged that he was being held in detention for picking quarrels and provoking trouble — a catch-all charge commonly used to detain both petty criminals and political activists. After police confirmed Mengzhu would be tried on criminal charges, friends and supporters began collecting donations to cover his lawyer fees. Within days, they had raised about $20,000 and attracted the attention of China’s state security forces, who then contacted each of the donation campaign organizers to warn them not to help Mengzhu.
- An academic who studies Chinese labor activism said “Anything that coheres collective power for workers is seen as a threat to state power. [Authorities] cannot accept … anything that looks a little bit like an independent trade union. That is a red line for the Chinese government.” Mengzhu’s social media accounts have been deleted, and he faces up to five years in prison. (NPR)
Additional World News
- Is Russia moving towards war with Ukraine? (Al Jazeera)
- Bhutan Vaccinates 93% Of Eligible Adults In Under 2 Weeks (NPR)
- Tired of Muslim ‘terrorists’, charity tackles cinema stereotypes (Al Jazeera)
- Iran sharply boosts uranium enrichment to 60 percent after Natanz attack (WaPo, $)
- UK’s Johnson warns lockdown, not vaccines, behind drop in COVID deaths (Reuters)
- Ancient New Zealand kauri trees tell a climate change story (Vox)
- Taiwan Hunters Contend With Taboos, and Trials, to Uphold Tradition (NYT, $)
- Life’s a Bitche: Facebook says sorry for shutting down town’s page (Guardian)
- Protests continue across Pakistan over arrest of TLP leader (Al Jazeera)
- Egypt seizes the Ever Given, saying its owners owe nearly $1 billion for Suez Canal traffic jam (WaPo, $)
US Gives J&J A Breather
- More than 6.8 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the US. But after six people developed a rare and severe type of blood clot about two weeks after receiving a J&J shot, the FDA and the CDC announced Tuesday they are calling for an immediate pause on the use of the J&J vaccine.
- The agencies are reviewing data involving these six cases — all of which occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, whose symptoms occurred from six to 13 days after they were vaccinated with the J&J vaccine. A joint statement from the agencies said: “People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.
- Health care providers are asked to report adverse events to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.” The acting FDA commissioner said that while the blood clots were “extremely rare,” the government was acting “out of an abundance of caution.” “We are committed to patient safety,” she said, encouraging. Americans to continue to get vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. (ABC News)
The Latest Legal Skirmish In A Constitutional War
- Federal judges on the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati decided Tuesday to lift the stay on enforcement of a 2017 Ohio law that bans abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Planned Parenthood and several other abortion providers in the case, had argued that the law infringes on a woman’s constitutional right to a procedure that is legal.
- Some parents of children with Down syndrome even joined with abortion rights groups opposing the law, arguing that the genetic disorder was being used to gain sympathy for a new restriction. However, the state argued the law does not ban the procedure but instead regulates doctors.
- The majority of the court said, “In this case, Ohio does not rely on its interest in protecting potential fetal life.” Instead, its interest in passing the law was to protect the Down syndrome community from “the stigma it suffers from the practice of Down-syndrome-selective abortions.” (The Hill)
Additional USA News
- Democrats pressure Republicans to support Asian-American hate crimes bill (CBS)
- As Michigan GOP Plans Voting Limits, Top Corporations Fire a Warning Shot (NYT, $)
- Wisconsin poised for devastating wildfire season as hundreds of blazes rage (Guardian)
- Biden strikes international deal in bid to stop migrants reaching US border (Guardian)
- CDC Studies Find Racial, Ethnic Disparities In COVID-19 Hospitalizations (NPR)
- Daunte Wright’s killing is a reminder of how quickly traffic stops can become deadly (Vox)
- “How I Became a Police Abolitionist” (Atlantic)
- Harvey Weinstein indicted on sexual assault charges in California (Guardian)
I, Robot, Will Deliver Your Pizza
- Nuro is a Silicon Valley startup whose business model is a small, low-speed vehicle that carries packages instead of people. The company, founded in 2016 by two former Google engineers, raised $940 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund.
- Nuro has been pulling ahead of other autonomous vehicle startups in gaining regulatory approvals. Last year the company won US clearance to start unmanned delivery services.
- Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partner relations, said the company has partnerships with retailers Kroger, Walmart, and CVS to deliver groceries and prescriptions. “It’s generally difficult for large companies to hire enough drivers to fill their delivery demand,” Leipold said, noting that Nuro’s weekly deliveries nearly tripled in the first three months of the pandemic.
- In 2019, Nuro and Domino’s Pizza said they expected to launch a robot pizza delivery service late that year in Houston, Texas. It didn’t happen. Leipold says “Nuro and Domino’s have taken a measured approach to prioritize a smooth and safe deployment.” Part of that measured approach could have been because Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US, has one of the country’s highest road fatality rates. Leipold admits that navigating Houston’s roadways creates “challenging scenarios for our technology to work with.”
- Nuro’s engineers apparently figured things out, because a robotic pizza delivery service is beginning this week at a Domino’s outlet in Houston. It’s a test run before expanding to serve customers in many other locations.
- With another infusion of $500 million, including an equity investment from Woven Capital, the mobility investment arm of a Toyota subsidiary, the company’s total valuation now exceeds $5 billion. Nuro is definitely on a roll. (Guardian)
- ‘What Is That In The Sky?’ Floridians Catch Meteor’s Close Brush With Earth (NPR)
- Nasa scientists find unlikely tool as rising temperatures bleach corals: a phone app (Guardian)
- Strange blue structures glow on Mars in new NASA image (Livescience)
- Rockin’ in the free world? Inside the rightwing takeover of protest music (Guardian)
- 100,000-year-old Neanderthal footprints show children playing in the sand (Livescience)
- Tinder’s plan for criminal record checks raises fears of ‘lifelong punishment’ (Guardian)
- Darius, ‘World’s Longest Rabbit,’ Is Missing (NYT, $)
- Value of cryptocurrency bitcoin climbs 5% to record high of $63,000 (Guardian)
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