Filling The Void
August 3, 2021
The Good News
- Dolly Parton used royalties from ‘I Will Always Love You’ to support a Black neighborhood in Nashville (EW)
- About 99.999% of fully vaccinated Americans have not had a deadly Covid-19 breakthrough case, CDC data shows (CNN)
“The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.” — Carlos Santana
Filling The Void
The Taliban has roughly one-half the number of fighters as the Afghan military, with 85,000 to their 186,000. Yet less than two weeks ago, the top U.S. military general said the Taliban appear to have “strategic momentum” on the battlefield. “This is going to be a test now, of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan,” General Mark Milley told reporters.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the vast majority of Taliban gains have occurred since the U.S. drawdown began in May. What is shocking to many is the speed at which Afghan government forces have lost control of territory to the militants. In the last few weeks, Taliban fighters secured crucial border crossings into Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and Pakistan. The group also captured several critical checkpoints on highways to impede the movement of Afghan government forces.
Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the southwest, sits on strategic routes in all directions, including the highway between Herat in the northwest and Kandahar in the south. Taliban fighters control several districts in Lashkar Gah, and heavy clashes between government forces and the Islamist nationalists continue. If the city were to fall, it would be the first of 34 provincial capitals to be lost by the Afghan government. In the last few days, U.S. forces ramped up airstrikes targeting Taliban positions around Lashkar Gah, as well as Herat and Kandahar, in a bid to turn back advances on these key provincial capitals.
According to the Long War Journal — an American non-profit tracking territorial control in Afghanistan — the Taliban now holds 13 of 16 districts in Herat province. Nationwide, the group controls 223 districts, the government holds 68, and 116 are contested. 17 of the 34 provincial capitals are directly threatened by the Taliban. On Sunday, the militants took control over the state-run TV station in Lashkar Gah.
The situation is exceedingly grave for tens of thousands of Afghans who either worked directly with the U.S. military, or in an otherwise ‘U.S.-friendly’ capacity over the past 20 years. The Biden administration has begun resettling several thousand Afghans and their family members in the Washington area under a Special Immigrant Visa program. In June, the U.S. territory of Guam offered to temporarily house thousands of Afghan refugees until they can obtain U.S. visas. After being pressured by news media organizations and nonprofit advocacy groups, the State Department announced Monday it was offering potential refugee status to several new categories of Afghans who didn’t qualify for the special visa program, including reporters, translators, and support staff who worked for news media and non-governmental organizations.
But Secretary of State Anthony Blinken acknowledged that gaining entry into the U.S. would be “incredibly hard … on so many levels.” Afghans must first leave their country and travel to a second country before applying for U.S. refugee status, and thanks to backlogs and rigorous security vetting the process could take over a year. Plus, the U.S. wouldn’t offer applicants flights out of Afghanistan, raising the question of how Afghans who may be poor and lacking passports or foreign contacts might be expected to relocate to another country to submit applications, and wait around to hear back. (Al Jazeera, CNN, France24, NYT)
A Soft Place To Po-land
- Yesterday we reported on Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s refusal to fly back to her country after she criticized her coaches at the Tokyo Games. Late Sunday, Tsimanouskaya asked Japanese police for protection and issued a plea to the International Olympic Committee after Belarusian Olympic officials pulled her from future competitions, forced her to pack her things, and took her to the airport against her wishes.
- Although the 24-year-old athlete hadn’t directly criticized Belarus’ authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian National Olympic Committee is run by Lukashenko’s eldest son, Viktor, whose election the IOC has refused to recognize. Lukashenko has been in power for 27 years and his brutal crackdown on any dissent has prompted many to leave the country and seek refuge from its Baltic neighbors.
- On Monday, Poland gave Tsimanouskaya a humanitarian visa; she will fly to Warsaw this week to seek asylum. Poland’s deputy foreign minister said his country “will do whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career.” Unfortunately, the official campaign in Belarus to criticize and humiliate Tsimanouskaya is in full force, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport has denied the sprinter’s appeal to overturn the decision blocking her from participating in the women’s 200-meter qualifying event. (WaPo)
Pakistan Reckons With Gender Violence
- In Pakistan, so-called “honor” killings of women are common practice. The World Economic Forum’s global gender index ranks Pakistan 153 out of 156 countries, just above its Taliban-ravaged neighbor Afghanistan. In 2015, prominent Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch was forced to seek asylum in Canada after her life was threatened. Six months ago, the 37-year-old was found dead, her body floating in Lake Ontario.
- Religious conservatism in Pakistan has grown, and with it, domestic violence, particularly during the coronavirus lockdowns. But the government has repeatedly failed to deal with the problem. Pakistan’s obtuse prime minister even suggested the way women dressed was to blame for the rise in sexual violence. In early July, a highly-anticipated domestic violence bill was tabled after objections from the Council of Islamic ideology.
- Now, the brutal murder of a wealthy family’s daughter, committed by the son of a business tycoon, has forced Pakistan to examine what has been called a “gender terrorism epidemic.” Zahir Zakir Jaffer was arrested for the premeditated murder of Noor Mukadam, the youngest daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat. Jaffer allegedly held the 27-year-old captive in his apartment for three days, torturing her, and eventually beheading her. The status of the two families and the brutality of the crime have brought worldwide attention to this case. But for victims from lower-class backgrounds, without money or publicity, the fight for justice is lost before it has even begun. (WEF, Guardian)
Additional World News
- Israeli Supreme Court set to rule on controversial east Jerusalem evictions (NBC)
- China floods death toll rises to 302 with 50 people still missing (Guardian)
- Delta variant challenges China’s zero Covid strategy — and raises questions over its vaccine efficacy (CNN)
- Thousands Protest in France Against Health Pass for 3rd Weekend (NYT, $)
- Where Covax, the Vast Global Vaccine Program, Went Wrong (NYT, $)
- War crimes trial could cast harsh light on Iran’s new president (Guardian)
Stumped By Trump Stumping
- On July 27, a Trump-backed candidate in a Texas special election lost her bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, dealing the twice-impeached former president a defeat in a test of his endorsement power since leaving office. Trump allies quickly turned their attention to Ohio to try warding off another potentially embarrassing loss.
- A super PAC chaired by Trump’s former campaign manager quietly purchased $300,000 in TV advertising to boost another Trump-backed candidate facing a crowded field of Republicans in a special election on Tuesday. Low turnout summertime special elections don’t usually get national attention, but this one has become a really high-stakes test of Trump’s endorsement power, which he has wielded like a cudgel to silence opposition in the GOP.
- Trump endorsed coal lobbyist Mike Carey, one of 10 Republicans vying to replace former GOP Representative Steve Stivers, who retired earlier this year. Should Carey lose, it would be the second defeat of a Trump-backed candidate in as many weeks, and could chip away at the former president’s self-proclaimed kingmaker status heading into the 2022 midterms. (AP)
Not Electing To Comply
- Last March, the Arizona Senate subpoenaed the voting machines and all 2.1 million votes cast in Maricopa County in the 2020 election. County officials turned everything over to the company hired to recount the votes and examine the machines. The head of the Florida-based technology company leading the Senate’s election review, Cyber Ninjas, was a purveyor of unfounded election fraud claims, and was previously involved in an effort to overturn election results in Michigan.
- The strange and prolonged “audit” resulted in nothing but abject embarrassment. It also cost Maricopa County taxpayers nearly $3 million to replace voting machines that officials said were now permanently tainted. The long-overdue review finally ground to a rocky halt last week. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Senate President Karen Fann (R) issued a second subpoena seeking local computer routers and internal logs.
- On Monday, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers (R) rejected Fann’s demand in a scathing letter, saying: “It is now August of 2021. The election of November 2020 is over. If you haven’t figured out that the election in Maricopa County was free, fair, and accurate yet, I’m not sure you ever will.” Sellers added: “The Board has real work to do and little time to entertain this adventure in never-never land. Please finish whatever it is that you are doing and release whatever it is you are going to release.” (AZ Central, WaPo)
Additional USA News
- Donald Trump’s $100 million threat to democracy (CNN)
- It’s in and it’s big: Senate unveils $1T infrastructure bill (AP)
- Florida’s largest school district is worried about funding after governor bans mask mandates for schools (CNN)
- Texans march on capitol to protect voting rights – will Washington listen? (Guardian)
- Researchers paint bleak picture of forest fires beyond 2030 (The Hill)
- How House Democrats’ Campaign Chief Plans To Defy History In 2022 (NPR)
- Three numbers tell the tale of the upcoming California recall (NBC)
The Root Of The Problem
A cluster of ancient eastern bald cypress trees live in North Carolina’s Black River wetlands. In 1985, Julie Moore, a retired botanist and former coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, introduced University of Arkansas professor Dr. David Stahle to the stand in the Black River in southeast North Carolina. A dendrochronologist exploring the relationship between tree growth rings and climate, Stahle began using tree ring mapping and radiocarbon dating on the trees, leading to his discovery of “Methuselah” a bald cypress dating back to 364 AD.
25 years later, Stahle returned to the site, a maze-like waterway navigable only by small watercraft. He went farther into the Black River, and eventually, after coring hundreds of old trees, he identified one singular tree that has been alive since at least 605 BCE, a period of 2,624 years. It’s the oldest-known living tree in eastern North America and the fifth-oldest living non-clonal tree species in the world.
This tree has lived in the Black River all this time and survived all kinds of catastrophes. But it won’t survive climate change. Currently, there is little more than six feet of elevation standing between the tree and the Atlantic Ocean. Based on estimates that sea levels could rise at least 20 feet in the next 100 to 200 years, this bald cypress could be buried underwater by about 2080. (Guardian)
- Sharks fleeing toxic red tide take refuge in Florida canal (Guardian)
- Nauka module’s near miss raises concerns about future of space station (Ars Technica)
- Sunny-Day Flooding Is About to Become More Than a Nuisance (Wired)
- How the Jaguar, King of the Forest, Might Save Its Ecosystem (Wired)
- Smoke from unusually intense Siberian blazes reaches North Pole (Axios)
- Spanish cave art was made by Neanderthals, study confirms (Guardian)
- Never too late: Cancer centers push patients to quit smoking (LAT, $)
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