Friday, December 31, 2021

Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days

At Amazon, Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler.

'So once it became clear that covid was not in fact a pagan god visiting vengeance on the unwashed Trump voters alone, the media and Democrats are now willing to admit the following...'

A Ben Shapiro thread on the never-ending pandemic, here.

PREVIOUSLY: "California Issues New Health Guidance Amid Omicron Surge (VIDEO)."

California Issues New Health Guidance Amid Omicron Surge (VIDEO)

Tomorrow is a new year. Can you believe we're still going through this shit?

At LAT, "With Omicron surging, California calls for stricter COVID isolation for infected people":

With California’s coronavirus surge worsening, the state has issued new recommendations for when people infected with the virus can end their isolation, guidance that is stricter than what was made earlier this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

California is now recommending that asymptomatic, coronavirus-infected people can exit isolation after the fifth day following a positive test, but only if they get a negative test result.

By contrast, the CDC’s recommendations don’t ask for a follow-up negative test; the CDC only recommends that those ending isolation continue wearing a mask around other people for five additional days.

Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine, praised California’s stricter guidelines. “Kudos,” Wachter wrote. “Safer than [CDC’s] version.”

Los Angeles County on Thursday reported more than 20,000 new cases, fueled in part by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Overall, California’s reported average daily coronavirus caseload has more than quadrupled in the last two weeks — an astonishing rise that has pushed infection levels significantly higher than during the summer surge linked to the Delta variant.

“The risk for virus transmission has never been higher in our county,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health endorsed California’s new isolation recommendations and will codify them in its latest local mandatory health order.

The new California recommendations still largely mirror the CDC’s guidelines. Both shorten the minimum time recommended for isolation from 10 days to five for asymptomatic people.

Both the CDC and California also suggest the quarantine of people who are not up-to-date on their booster shots if they have been exposed to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.

Officials recommend calling 911 if you have difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure on the chest; bluish lips or face; are confused or hard to wake; or have other emergency symptoms.

The Omicron variant is believed to be two to four times as contagious as the previously dominant Delta. People who are eligible for booster shots but haven’t yet received them are at increased risk for infection.

“Data from South Africa and the United Kingdom demonstrate that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine is approximately 35%. A COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restores vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75%,” the CDC said in a statement.

Here’s a summary of California’s new guidelines to exit isolation...

Still more.

Additional video at KPIX News 5 San Francisco, "Crowds Swamp Bay Area COVID Test Sites," and "Mask Mandates Begin Anew Across Bay Area."

New "mask mandates." Right. *Eye-roll.*)

Electric Vehicle Batteries Exploding at General Motors' Orion Assembly Plant, Lake Orion, Michigan

You have to read the whole thing.

The Orion plant shifted to manufacturing 100 percent electricity vehicles, the Chevrolet Bolt, and with an epidemic of battery explosions, G.M. laid off the entire workforce.

Because the shift to green energy is going so swimmingly

At Pirate's Cove, "Oops: GM Electric Vehicle Batteries Keep Exploding":

The crisis involving the Chevrolet Bolt was a painful reminder for the auto industry that despite treating the electric vehicle era as essentially inevitable - a technical fait accompli - significant obstacles to manufacturing the cars, and especially their batteries, continue to threaten that future...

Yes, threatening the future, as I've been blogging recently.

Be smart. Don't buy an electric vehicle.  

Ready for the New Year

Nice boots on this lady.

A beautiful college lady here.

Plus, Christina Ricci

Mark Atwood Lawrence, The End of Ambition

At Amazon, Mark Atwood Lawrence, The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era.

The Republican Party's Threat to Democracy?

It's always the G.O.P. that's a threat to democracy. 

After all of 2020, and the American left's months-long assault on the very institutions of Ameican democracy, law, and social order, the establishment press remains in the grip "Trumpian nationalism" and its "existential" threat to the nation.

After 2020, folks need to realize how the so-called "mainstream" mass media is destroying the very fabric of our republic. 

A change is coming, and by November we'll see the results. Though even as Republicans retake the levers of government at all levels, this so-called "threat" to democracy will never recede. The left's too much invested in that idea as the foundation of their political (and mass media) model. 

At the Economist, "How to think about the threat to American democracy: The Republican Party’s continued Trump infatuation is alarming. It should not lead to fatalism":

Americans are anxious about the stability of their democracy. Roughly 40% of the politically active say that members of the other tribe are evil; 60% believe they are a threat to the country. More than 80% think the system needs “major changes” or “complete reform”. Jeremiads from pundits about the decay of political life no longer seem to match the gravity of the threat. Some scholars have gone so far as to warn of the risk of civil war.

All this became dangerously real in the attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol a year ago, which injured 140 police officers, in an attempt to prevent the certification of their champion’s defeat. After a fleeting moment of clarity, the majority of Republican lawmakers reverted to making excuses for Donald Trump because his lies had rapidly taken hold. Today, fully 70% of Republican voters still believe that the last presidential election was stolen. In head-to-head polling the former president is one point behind President Joe Biden, well within the margin of error and, thanks to the electoral college, possibly ahead in a theoretical match-up.

Extreme partisanship and the Republican refusal to accept the results of the election are indeed a dangerous combination. Yet easily lost in the daily diet of outrage is a fundamental truth about two-party politics: Democrats and Republicans need each other for the system to function. Renewal therefore must flow through the Republican Party. That will be hard—but not as hard as the catastrophists say.

The threats to the system are real. The greatest is that in several key states the administration of voting has been dragged into the partisan arena. In Arizona some of the candidates running to replace the Republican incumbent, Doug Ducey, this year will argue that he ought to have somehow engineered a victory there for Mr Trump. In Georgia Republicans have weakened the office of secretary of state, after Brad Raffensperger refused to change the results of the elections in 2020 to suit Mr Trump. In Michigan and Pennsylvania Republican candidates who claim that the last presidential election was stolen are running for positions administering and certifying the next one...

Notice how they don't stress that all these Republicans now posing a threat to democracy, and who are "weakening" the bulwarks against populist nationalism (and therefore authoritarianism), were, are, or will be elected through the fully legitimate and established constitutional regime and procedures of the American republic.

If you're on Twitter a lot you'll find it cliche to suggest how "always for the leftist mass media, anything that's good for Republican is a 'threat to democracy'." (See Robert Stacy McCain and Melissa Mackenzie). 

Fight these people. If there's a danger to democracy today, it's on the left. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Danielle Allen, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

At Amazon, Danielle Allen, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus.

Surging American Demand Ripples Through the Global Economy

The economy is expected to grow at an annualized rate of 7 percent for the fourth quarter, but big numbers won't help the White House. Voters are really souring on this administration, most likely from relentless inflationary pressures, felt everyday at the gas pumps especially. 

At WSJ, "Booming U.S. Economy Ripples World-Wide":

FRANKFURT—A booming U.S. economy is rippling around the world, leaving global supply chains struggling to keep up and pushing up prices.

The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies.

U.S. consumers, flush with trillions of dollars of fiscal stimulus, are snapping up manufactured goods and scarce materials.

U.S. economic output is set to expand by more than 7% annualized in the final three months of the year, up from about 2% in the previous quarter, according to early output estimates published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That compares with expected annualized growth of about 2% in the eurozone and 4% in China for the fourth quarter, according to JPMorgan Chase.

Major U.S. ports are processing almost one-fifth more container volume this year than they did in 2019, even as volumes at major European ports like Hamburg and Rotterdam are roughly flat or lag behind 2019 levels. The busiest U.S. container ports are leaping ahead of their counterparts in Asia and Europe in global rankings as volumes surge, according to shipping data provider Alphaliner.

In Europe, “durable goods consumption is showing nothing like the boom that is ongoing in the United States,” said Fabio Panetta, who sits on the European Central Bank’s six-member executive board, in a speech last month. Consumption of durable goods has surged about 45% above 2018 levels in the U.S., but is up only about 2% in the eurozone, according to ECB data.

Factory gate prices in China are far outpacing consumer prices, signaling a gulf between weak domestic demand and strong overseas demand that is powered in particular by U.S. hunger for China’s manufactured goods.

While tangled global supply chains also play a role in driving global inflation, economists and central bankers are increasingly pointing to ultrastrong U.S. demand as a root cause.

“Are we crowding out consumers in other countries? Probably,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies in New York. “The U.S. consumer has a lot more purchasing power as a result of fiscal policy than consumers elsewhere. Europe could be in a stagflationary scenario next year as a consequence.”

The U.S. accounts for almost nine-tenths of the roughly 22-percentage-point surge in demand for durable goods among major advanced economies since the end of 2019, according to data from the Bank of England.

“Very strong U.S. demand is certainly where [global supply bottlenecks] started,” said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of network at container ship giant A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S.

“It’s like a queue on a highway. The increase in volume in the U.S…takes ships away from other markets,” said Mr. Jensen. “Problems in one place will trigger problems somewhere else, we live in a global world.”

The U.S. economy will likely grow by around 6% in 2021 and 4% or more in 2022, the highest rates for decades, analysts say. Strong U.S. growth momentum is expected to push the unemployment rate to the lowest level in almost seven decades by 2023, according to Deutsche Bank analysts.

U.S. economic output is likely to surpass its pre-pandemic path early next year, while output in China and emerging markets will remain about 2% below that path through 2023, according to JPMorgan Chase.

U.S. wages are growing by about 4% a year, above the precrisis trend rate, compared with less than 1% growth in the eurozone, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements, a Switzerland-based bank for central banks.

“We threw a lot of support at [the economy] and what’s coming out now is really strong growth, really strong demand, high incomes and all that kind of thing,” said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell after the central bank’s recent meeting. “People will judge in 25 years whether we overdid it or not.”

The Fed said it would more quickly scale back its Covid-19 bond purchases and set the stage for a series of interest-rate increases beginning next spring.

In Europe, the ECB pledged to continue buying bonds at least through October 2022, and said it was unlikely to raise interest rates next year. Underlying U.S. inflation, annualized over two years, has risen above 3%, roughly double the level in the eurozone, according to data that adjust for the impact of the pandemic and changes in volatile food and energy prices.

“The strong post-pandemic recovery that was originally expected for 2022 still hasn’t materialized,” said Timo Wollmershäuser, head of forecasts at Germany’s Ifo think tank. The institute recently lowered its growth forecast for Germany in 2022 by 1.4 percentage points, to 3.7%, citing ongoing supply bottlenecks and a new wave of Covid-19.

The Fed’s assertiveness is pushing up the value of the U.S. dollar and putting pressure on emerging-market central banks to increase interest rates even before their own economic recoveries are assured or risk depreciating currencies and runaway inflation.

Mexico’s central bank on Dec. 16 said it would increase its benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percentage point to 5.50% after inflation rose to a 20-year high of 7.4%.

In Europe, the ECB pledged to continue buying bonds at least through October 2022, and said it was unlikely to raise interest rates next year. Underlying U.S. inflation, annualized over two years, has risen above 3%, roughly double the level in the eurozone, according to data that adjust for the impact of the pandemic and changes in volatile food and energy prices.

“The strong post-pandemic recovery that was originally expected for 2022 still hasn’t materialized,” said Timo Wollmershäuser, head of forecasts at Germany’s Ifo think tank. The institute recently lowered its growth forecast for Germany in 2022 by 1.4 percentage points, to 3.7%, citing ongoing supply bottlenecks and a new wave of Covid-19.

The Fed’s assertiveness is pushing up the value of the U.S. dollar and putting pressure on emerging-market central banks to increase interest rates even before their own economic recoveries are assured or risk depreciating currencies and runaway inflation.

Mexico’s central bank on Dec. 16 said it would increase its benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percentage point to 5.50% after inflation rose to a 20-year high of 7.4%.

Russia’s central bank said Friday it would increase its key interest rate by 1 percentage point to 8.5%, and might raise rates again soon, after inflation hit a near six-year high of 8.4%.

Businesses are pouring money into the U.S., looking to take advantage of what some expect to be a sustainable increase in demand. In some cases, they are bringing production closer to American consumers, looking to avoid supply shocks related to the pandemic and global trade wars...

Still more.


Monday, December 20, 2021

'Dark Winter' at the White House: Just 41 Percent Approve the Way Joe Biden's Handling Job as President (VIDEO)

What a surprise. I mean, with all the Franklin Roosevelt-style leadership Biden's been providing, who would've guessed?

Look, Americans should be worried about this president's dark matter at least as much as his prophesied dark winter. (*Eye-roll.*)

At PBS, "Biden’s approval dips to new low as independents sour on his leadership":

As President Joe Biden heads into the end of the year, he’s facing a sour reality: The number of Americans who approve of his performance has hit a new low. Just 41 percent of Americans approve of the job he has been doing as president, according to a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Support among independents alone dropped eight points in a week.

Overall, more than half – 55 percent – of Americans disapprove of Biden’s performance, including 44 percent who strongly disapprove. His disapproval ratings have jumped 20 points since he took office, reaching a record high this month. The number who strongly disapprove jumped 6 points since a Marist poll conducted just one week earlier...

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Anne Rice, Interview With a Vampire

At Amazon, Anne Rice, Interview With a Vampire.

Bombshell: Senator Joe Manchin Won't Vote for 'Build Back Better' (VIDEO)

He made the announcement on Fox News this morning, of all places.

At the New York Times, "Manchin Pulls Support From Biden’s Social Policy Bill, Imperiling Its Passage":

WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said on Sunday that he could not support President Biden’s signature $2.2 trillion social safety net, climate and tax bill, dooming his party’s drive to pass its marquee domestic policy legislation as written.

The comments from Mr. Manchin, a longtime centrist holdout, dealt the latest and perhaps a fatal blow to the centerpiece of Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, barely a day after senators left Washington for the year after Democrats conceded they could not yet push through any of their top legislative priorities, from the social policy bill to a voting rights overhaul.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Mr. Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday,” citing concerns about adding to the national debt, rising inflation and the spread of the latest coronavirus variant. “I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. This is a no.”

In a statement released shortly afterward, he was scathing toward his own party, declaring that “my Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face.”

“I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful,” he said.

It amounted to Mr. Manchin’s most definitive rejection of the sprawling measure, which party leaders muscled through the House in November, after maintaining a drumbeat of concern about its cost and ambitious scope. With Republicans united in opposing the legislation, Democrats needed the votes of all 50 senators who caucus with their party for the measure to pass an evenly divided Senate, effectively handing each of them veto power.

Mr. Manchin’s comments provoked an unusually blistering broadside from Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, who accused Mr. Manchin in a lengthy statement of reneging on his promises. As recently as Tuesday, Ms. Psaki said, Mr. Manchin had pledged to work with administration officials to finalize a compromise agreement and had even shared his own outline for legislation that mirrored the size of Mr. Biden’s initial $1.85 trillion framework.

“If his comments on Fox and written statement indicate an end to that effort,” she said, “they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the president and the senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”

Mr. Manchin outlined what he would support in a July 28 memo signed with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, which became public in late September. As of Sunday, it remained unclear whether an overhaul of the legislation could both salvage Mr. Manchin’s support and retain enough liberal votes in both chambers.

The impasse jeopardizes Mr. Biden’s reputation as a dealmaker — he had campaigned on his ability to capitalize on nearly four decades of Senate experience to helm negotiations and unite his party’s narrow majorities in both chambers. Mr. Biden had poured weeks of work into talks with Mr. Manchin, inviting the senator for breakfast at his Delaware home in October and insisting that the West Virginian could ultimately be swayed.

At stake is what Mr. Biden has hailed as transformative, New Deal-style legislation that would touch virtually every American life from birth to death, from subsidies for child care to price controls for prescription drugs to funding for the construction and maintenance of public housing.

Failure to pass the measure also would deal a setback to vulnerable Democratic lawmakers bracing for what is expected to be a challenging midterm campaign in the coming months. They had hoped that passage of the bill would help their political standing, given that Republicans are widely expected to reclaim control of the House...

Still more.


Kamala Harris Definitely Not Ready for Prime Time (VIDEO)

This is painfully cringe.

She's just a baby, damn. 

At the New York Post, "Kamala Harris interview with Charlamagne Tha God gets heated after he asks who is ‘real’ president."


Alex Biston's Sunday Forecast

She's absolutely lovely.

At CBS News 2 Los Angeles:

Biden's Covid Death Toll Passes Trump's, But Good Luck Discovering This Grim Milestone on the Leftwing Propaganda Media Sites

At AoSHQ, "Quick Hits 1." 

Richard Slokin, Regeneration Through Violence

At Amazon, Richard Slokin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Howard, Cosell, I Never Played the Game

At Amazon, Howard, Cosell, I Never Played the Game.

NFL Grapples With Covid Outbreaks and Postponed Games

Yeah, one of those postponed is Seahawks at Rams, to which I've got tickets. 

It's not too easy organizing a game day at the stadium for the weekend before Christmas. For one thing, this last week was finals week. My oldest still has a term paper to get done by Monday and I gave my last final yesterday. Now I've got a bit more grading to do, then I'm done.

But no, the NFL has to implement protocols and yesterday 29 PLAYERS were listed on the covid inacatives, including Odell Beckham Jr., man!

The game's now Tuesday at 4:00pm, and he's expected to play, but what a pain, sheesh.

At WSJ, "The NFL Pivots to Less Covid Testing—Not More—to Thwart Disruptions":

The NFL eliminated weekly Covid-19 testing for vaccinated players who are asymptomatic, according to new protocols agreed upon by the league and the players’ union, a move that reverses its past pandemic practice in a bid to keep players from being sidelined while not feeling sick.

The idea of decreasing, not increasing, testing arose as the league suffered through a brutal round of Covid outbreaks. More than 100 players tested positive this week, and the league on Friday postponed three games, to Monday and Tuesday, hoping that decimated team rosters can be stabilized.

“We’re entering a very different phase of this pandemic and in some way battling a very new disease,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said after the new rules were agreed upon. “We’re trying to test smarter and test in a more strategic fashion.”

The move away from testing is a high-profile and potentially divisive shift for the NFL. Earlier in the pandemic, it was envied for testing employees daily in order to keep playing. It now risks a new wrath by reducing its testing to continue playing in the era of vaccines.

Yet as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant takes hold, it could provide a more nuanced option for life going ahead that acknowledges the public’s waning appetite for lengthy quarantines and cancellations at a time when most people have the option of protecting themselves from illness with shots.

“We can’t apply 2020 solutions to the 2021 problems that we’re having,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said earlier in the week. “We’re often at the tip of the spear in seeing some of these changes before they show up in other elements of society because we do have so many tools at our disposal.”

Under the new protocols, unvaccinated players are still tested daily and anyone who is symptomatic is subject to a test, with players and staff now subject to “enhanced symptom screening.” Vaccinated players will also be subject to targeted spot testing and could be made to take a test if they are deemed a high-risk contact of someone who is positive.

The agreement between the NFL and NFL Players association also paved the way for players to opt out of the rest of the season, with just a few weeks and the playoffs remaining. Players deemed higher risk, based on a number of medical factors, have until Monday to opt out and they would not be paid for the remainder of the season.

The NFL’s possible move raises the question of whether it could be an acceptable compromise to let fully vaccinated asymptomatic people play or party on—as long as it’s only with other fully vaccinated people who face low risks from the virus. . In a league where almost 95% of players and 100% of staff are vaccinated, the problem isn’t individuals getting sick. It’s players getting removed from action when they test positive despite feeling completely healthy.

Sills noted that while the Omicron variant has rapidly spread, the league is also seeing more cases with little-to-no symptoms. Two-thirds of the players who have tested positive this week are asymptomatic, Sills said. The other third, he said, are suffering very mild symptoms.

Yet under the current protocols, all individuals who test positive have to isolate.

That has led the league to wonder: Is it over-testing? The question has been at the heart of negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association this week as the surge in Covid-19 cases rocked both the country and the sport.

The league took a small step in that direction on Thursday when it announced that some fully vaccinated players who tested positive, but had relatively little virus in their samples, would be allowed back onto the field. The thinking is that their positive test didn’t necessarily mean they were infectious, and that the risk they posed to other vaccinated players was very low. Ignoring the possibility of positive tests altogether would be an extension of that thinking.

It’s an idea that drew support from George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco​—who emphasized that his backing was contingent on near-100% boosted vaccination rates.

“If everybody’s fully vaccinated [including a booster], I could certainly understand how you could get away without testing,” he said. “I think you might be able to tolerate a slightly less aggressive disease control approach.”

A significant concern with this strategy may be treating individuals who have not received a booster shot the same as those who have. Early research into Omicron has also shown that people who aren’t boosted have a lower level of protection against the new variant.

The NFL’s own antibody study on staff members showed the waning immunity from the standard shot regimen while also showing that antibody levels were far higher—and lasted longer—in people who have gotten boosted. A recent memo from the league also required eligible staff to get booster shots, though it stopped short of requiring that for players.

“Boosters are the best way to restore that immunity,” Sills said Saturday.

The same question has reverberated around other sports leagues. A surge of cases across the NBA compelled the league to update its testing protocols for the two weeks after Christmas. Under the new guidance, boosted players aren’t subject to the daily testing required of fully vaccinated players, though there may be exceptions for teams battling potential outbreaks.

The idea for scaling back testing has met some pushback. Before the season—and before Covid-19 was raging inside locker rooms—the NFLPA had pushed for daily testing. That’s why the discussions between the league and its union have ranged from increasing testing to doing it in a more targeted manner.

Daily testing was a critical tool as the NFL navigated its first pandemic season in 2020. It allowed the league to quickly remove positive personnel and—along with various social distancing, masking and contact tracing measures—thwart the spread of the virus inside clubs.

That changed in 2021 to account for the widespread availability of safe vaccines that large clinical trials showed were effective at preventing serious illness due to the virus. Under the current rules, the small number of unvaccinated players are tested daily while vaccinated players are tested once a week, though that can increase in outbreak scenarios.

The new testing cadence wasn’t problematic as the league coasted through most of its season. That changed this week when the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns and Washington Football team experienced outbreaks that led to the first game postponements of the season...

Stunning Florida Gulf Coast Co-Ed

On Twitter.

This woman here has a lot of tats, and one of those is an elf

And some country booty here.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering

At Amazon, Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering.

Afghan Women Lose Hope

 At WSJ, "After Taliban Return, Afghan Women Face Old Pressures From Fathers, Brothers":

KABUL—When Marjan Amiri marched for women’s rights on the streets of Kabul in September, Taliban gunmen called her a prostitute, kicked her and threatened to shoot her in the head. But what scared the 24-year-old Afghan civil servant most was her father’s reaction when she returned home.

Furious that she defied his orders against attending the protest, he repeatedly hit her “like a ball on the ground,” she said. Ms. Amiri’s younger sister, who witnessed the violence, confirmed her account. Her father couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Nothing scares me more than my father. Not even the Taliban,” said Ms. Amiri, who worked at the ministry of interior and like almost all Afghan female government employees lost her job after the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15. “I am standing against the Taliban because of what I went through with my father,” she said.

Even in Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, women used to be able to carve a path to independence for themselves, at least in relatively more liberal cities such as Kabul. Despite her family’s opposition, Ms. Amiri earned a university degree, found a job and aspired to become a diplomat.

Now those aspirations are gone.

The Taliban, who follow the ultraconservative rural traditions of Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt, have gone beyond what Islamic scholars elsewhere in the world consider to be appropriate, including restricting women’s education and work. While Afghan men in cities such as Kabul generally consider those views too extreme, many do believe that women are better off at home. Emboldened by the Taliban comeback, these men are telling their daughters, sisters and wives to adapt their lifestyles to the new regime and let go of the liberties they enjoyed until August.

As a result, young urban women such as Ms. Amiri find themselves largely confined to their homes. The United Nations’ women’s agency said this month that the reversals of women’s freedom had been immediate and dramatic. “Families are also self-censoring and imposing restrictions on the mobility of women and girls as a protection measure,” the agency said, pointing to how the fear of the Taliban transcends specific prohibitions on what women can and can’t do.

Empowering women was a key objective during the 20 years of American-led international involvement in Afghanistan. The change was especially visible in places such as Kabul, where women pursued careers in sectors from politics to journalism to law, and were often their family’s breadwinners.

Since August, women have been barred from many workplaces. Schools for girls over sixth grade are shut in most of the country. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been disbanded, as have shelters for victims of domestic violence. Fearing harassment by Taliban fighters—who often demand women to be accompanied by a male guardian—many women are too scared to go outside.

Afghan women say other men on the streets have become more aggressive as well, scolding them for their choice of clothes.

Hila, 25, is one of the few Afghan women still employed, working at one of the foreign embassies that remained in Kabul after the Taliban takeover. She says she has financially supported her parents and younger siblings for years. Even so, her younger brother, who is unemployed, welcomed the Taliban’s policy on women.

“He says: ‘What the Taliban say is good for women. It is good for girls because it’s based on Islamic rules and we should obey that.’ But I don’t think these are Islamic rules,” Hila said. “The men who are like my brother, they are happy that the Taliban are back. They think the power is now in their hands.”

Hila considers herself lucky: She says her cousin, a law graduate, was pressured by her in-laws to quit her job as a third-grade teacher when the Taliban took over Kabul. But she is worried that if she loses her job she will have to get married to a man of her parents’ choice. “Girls who have their own salaries can protect themselves,” she said.

In a society where many believe women have no place in public life, women’s rights were often fragile. Most women who served in the Afghan armed forces, for instance, tried to keep their profession secret from family and friends.

Fahima, a 24-year-old Afghan Air Force officer, said that her best friend stopped seeing her when she found out she was in the military. When her brother-in-law found out, he threatened to kill her.

She and other female officers say they were never truly accepted by their male colleagues. When the Taliban arrived on Kabul’s doorstep, these colleagues turned even more hostile.

Fahima was still at the Air Force headquarters on the morning of Aug. 15, the day of the Taliban takeover, when her male colleagues started mocking her: “From now on you have to either wear a burqa or sit at home,” she recalls them saying.

Now living in hiding after selling many of her possessions for food, Fahima worries she could be hunted down by the Taliban, who have killed some former members of the armed forces despite promises of an amnesty.

Nargis Nehan, who served as a cabinet minister and as an adviser to ousted President Ashraf Ghani, said the U.S. used the issue of women’s rights to persuade other countries to join them in Afghanistan. “The moment they decided to leave Afghanistan, women were left behind. If helping women was a real objective they would not have given up so easily.”

The U.S. and its Western allies say they are committed to supporting Afghan women, and consider the Taliban’s respect of women’s rights as a precondition to recognizing their government as legitimate...


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Michael Shellenberger, San Fransicko

At Amazon, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.

Lovely Lady

On Twitter.

More here and here.

BONUS: Cindy Crawford.

Why Democrats Self-Destruct on Crime

From Michael Shellenberger, "Progressives still deny rising crime even as it undermines Joe Biden's presidency."

Plus, "Victory! San Francisco Mayor Promises Crackdown on Drug Dealing & Crime."

Tough Talk: Mayor London Breed Cracks Down on Crime (VIDEO)

At KPIX CBS 5 San Francisco, "S.F. Mayor London Breed Announces Crime Crackdown; ‘Less Tolerant Of All The Bulls-t That Has Destroyed Our City’."

And from the Mayor, "A Safer San Francisco."

Big California Storm Unleashes Flooding, Mudslides, and Rescues (VIDEO)

At LAT, "Rain prompts flood rescues, downs trees and forces evacuations":

As Tuesday’s powerful storm pounded Southern California, firefighters plucked a man from the Los Angeles River and searched for other possible victims, while emergency crews in Orange County rescued homeowners trapped by mudslides.

Around 7:50 a.m., fire dispatchers received a call from a man who had been swept into a small tributary of the L.A. River in Sylmar, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. Usually shallow, gentle streams, the river and its offshoots were transformed by the storm into torrents.

The man was carried about half a mile and into a tunnel that runs underground near Dronfield Avenue and Hubbard Street, said Nicholas Prange, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. In the darkness, he managed to grab an object to stop himself from being swept further downstream, Prange said.

“He was still on the phone with dispatchers who were relaying the message on the radio,” Prange said.

Sounding the fire engine’s horn to alert the man to their location, the rescue team checked one maintenance hole after the next until finding him.

After he was pulled to safety, the man was treated him for scrapes, cuts, bruises and hypothermia, Prange said. How he was caught in the river was not immediately clear.

Earlier Tuesday morning, bystanders reported a rollover crash on North Main Street in Chinatown near the L.A. River, according to the fire department.

Within minutes, fire crews realized the vehicle had fallen into the swollen, fast-moving river and swept away, Prange said.

Firefighters took up positions at bridges downstream as a helicopter flew in search of the vehicle and possible occupants.

After two hours, crews spotted the vehicle pinned beneath the Washington Boulevard bridge near Soto Street in South Los Angeles, about four miles downstream, Prange said. No victims were found.

Shortly afterward, firefighters saw a second car being carried by the river’s suddenly powerful current. As the water continued to rise, both vehicles became pinned against the bridge’s footing. An hour later, a third vehicle, a gray Toyota Camry, ripped past the bridge and continued downstream into Long Beach, where it eventually came to rest, fully submerged, at the center of the river near Wardlow Road, said Capt. Jack Crabtree, spokesman for Long Beach fire.

Firefighters planned to let the waters subside before trying to pull the vehicles out of the river. It was unclear how the vehicles entered the river and whether they were operating or parked before being swept away.

The search for victims was continuing.

Elsewhere in Southern California, San Bernardino County authorities announced evacuation orders as mud and debris flows from fire-ravaged slopes threatened to damage dozens of homes and businesses in mountain and foothill communities including Oak Glen, Yucaipa, Forest Falls, and Nealey’s Corner.

There were no reports of injuries or property damage on Tuesday morning, though some roads were closed due to mudflow, said San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin...


Democrats Legalized Crime, Thousands Died (VIDEO)

 From Sultan Knish, at FrontPage Magazine, "And the killing is just getting started":

4,901 more people were murdered last year than in 2019. The 30% increase in murders during the year of Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform was catastrophic. And it’s not over.

With the early numbers coming in, over a dozen cities broke their murder records in 2021. Cities across California are continuing to show double digit increases. Philly broke past 500 murders and in response Soros DA Larry Krasner, whom many blame for the crime wave, assured tourists that everything was fine and they should feel safe coming to the City of Brotherly Love.

"We don't have a crisis of lawlessness. We don't have a crisis of crime. We don't have a crisis of violence,” Krasner, newly reelected with a mandate to keep giving criminals a pass, insisted.

That was too much for even Philly’s Democrat establishment.

"It takes a certain audacity of ignorance and white privilege to say that right now," former Mayor Michael Nutter blasted Krasner, "I have to wonder what kind of messed up world of white wokeness Krasner is living in to have so little regard for human lives lost, many of them Black and brown, while he advances his own national profile as a progressive district attorney."

"I’d like to ask Krasner: How many more Black and brown people, and others, would have to be gunned down in our streets daily to meet your definition of a 'crisis?'"

Krasner belatedly apologized, after critics, many of them, like Nutter, black, attacked him for gaslighting them, insisting that he had just said “some inarticulate things”. Why did Krasner think he could offer up a crazy lie like that? He had just won his reelection race by 69% to 31%.

The proponents of the leftist pro-crime policies that led to this nightmare keep telling crazy lies.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed that, “A lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki falsely argued that the pandemic was the "a root cause" of the crime wave.

The legalization of theft, the elimination of bail, the revolving door arrests and releases of criminals, the mass jailbreak of violent felons and gang members to “protect them” from the pandemic, reduction in sentences, diversion programs, refusals to prosecute certain offenses, police defunding, and the rest of the catalog of criminal justice reform are the real root causes.

In typical leftist fashion, a radical transformation was enacted through a set of policies disguised as reforms based on an even more radical understanding of how society should work. And, much as with critical race theory or wealth redistribution, we’ve been bombarded with pop propaganda, but virtually no discussion of what the underlying ideology behind it believes.

Criminal justice reform was based on the conviction that crime was due to social inequity, that criminals were innocent victims of an uncaring society, that the police were the latest incarnation of slave catchers, that prisons were the new slavery, and that crime prevention was racist.

Pro-crime ideologues argued for legalizing property crimes since property was theft, and for substituting restorative justice therapy sessions for prison sentences for rapists and killers. They called for abolishing police and prisons because once society is transformed, there will be no more crime because the root cause of crime isn’t individual choice, but systemic racism.

This isn’t some fringe idea by a few nuts. It’s what the Squad believes. That’s why Rep. Tlaib introduced a bill that called for freeing all federal prisoners. It’s what key elected officials in cities like New York City, Minneapolis, and Chicago used as their guiding light when advancing the disastrous policies that wrecked their respective cities.

And yet the media has offered virtually no exploration of these beliefs to mainstream audiences.

Instead the media lied about the most basic things like the meaning of “defund the police”, denying that it meant the elimination of police departments, and justifying assorted “abolitionist” measures like opening up prisons as one-time responses to the pandemic. Even now the media continues echoing the false claims of the Democrats that the crime wave is a pandemic crisis.

And that’s a lie.

The crime wave has followed political patterns. That’s why commercial burglaries and gang murders are up while rape is down. Those crimes that Democrats still take seriously, like rape, are not in crisis mode. It’s those crimes that they either don’t take seriously, like property crimes, or those that they enable, like murders by the career criminals they freed, that are booming.

Criminal justice reform is not the first time that radical leftists imposed a dramatic policy program with virtually no public explanation of what it was or how it would work. The few times that media talking heads actually asked Democrat officials, like those in Minneapolis, who would deal with crime if the police were no longer around to respond to calls, the responses were nonsensical.

And yet no media outlet was willing to bottom line the agenda of criminal justice reform by admitting that its proponents did not believe that crime needed to be “fought” to begin with.

"If you are a comfortable white person asking to dismantle the police I invite you to reflect: are you willing to stick with it? Will you be calling in three months to ask about garage break-ins? Are you willing to dismantle white supremacy in all systems, including a new system?" Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender tweeted.

What was this new system? No one was willing to discuss what exactly it entailed.

But the system is plain to see. Watch a video of a thug hauling away trash bags full of stolen merchandise from a CVS. Or more videos of porch pirates brazenly walking away with packages. At the local supermarket, staff have been told not to interfere with shoplifters.

The new system abolishes private property by legalizing theft.

It’s a simple proposition that the media refuses to speak out loud because the vast majority of the public would never go along with it. That’s why statements by criminal justice reform politicians and police defunding slogans can never be followed to their logical conclusion.

The new system abolishes private property and treats gang violence as a social problem to be met with wealth redistribution, community intervention, and other means of bribing the thugs.

The crime wave is not a baffling phenomenon, but exactly what the defunders wanted.

Thousands of people have died as a result of a leftist social experiment. And thousands more will go on dying because it’s a lot easier to destroy public safety than it is to restore it.

And that won’t change until we start telling the truth about what’s really happening...


Five-Star Emporium of Ambition in Kinshasha

Following-up, "A Power Struggle Over Cobalt Rattles the Clean Energy Revolution."

At NYT. "On the Banks of the Furious Congo River, a 5-Star Emporium of Ambition":

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The lobby of the Fleuve Congo Hotel was a swirl of double-breasted suits and tailored dresses one April morning. Shiny gold watches dangled from wrists. Stilettos clacked across marble floors. Smooth jazz played as men in designer loafers sipped espressos.

Situated on the banks of the muddy, furious Congo River, the Fleuve is an emporium of ambition in a nation that, despite extreme poverty and chronic corruption, serves up raw materials crucial to the planet’s battle against climate change.

The soil in the Democratic Republic of Congo is bursting with cobalt and other metals used in the production of electric car batteries, wind turbines and other mainstays of the green energy revolution. Practically everyone who passes through the hotel, where the air conditioning battles the sweltering heat, seems determined to grab a piece of the wealth.

Just off the lobby that day, near a sumptuous brunch buffet, sat Dikembe Mutombo, the 7-foot-2 former NBA all-star player. He had teamed up in his quest for mineral riches with Gentry Beach, a Texas hedge-fund manager who is a family friend and major fund-raiser to former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Mutombo shared his table with a top Congolese mining lawyer turned politician whose office is conveniently located in a complex near the hotel.

As the clean energy revolution upends the centuries-long lock of fossil fuels on the global economy, dealmakers and hustlers converge on the Fleuve Congo Hotel.

Felix Tshisekedi, the Congolese president, top in the gray suit, arrived this spring at the Fleuve Congo Hotel in Kinshasa.Credit...

Situated on the banks of the muddy, furious Congo River, the Fleuve is an emporium of ambition in a nation that, despite extreme poverty and chronic corruption, serves up raw materials crucial to the planet’s battle against climate change.

The soil in the Democratic Republic of Congo is bursting with cobalt and other metals used in the production of electric car batteries, wind turbines and other mainstays of the green energy revolution. Practically everyone who passes through the hotel, where the air conditioning battles the sweltering heat, seems determined to grab a piece of the wealth.

Just off the lobby that day, near a sumptuous brunch buffet, sat Dikembe Mutombo, the 7-foot-2 former NBA all-star player. He had teamed up in his quest for mineral riches with Gentry Beach, a Texas hedge-fund manager who is a family friend and major fund-raiser to former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Mutombo shared his table with a top Congolese mining lawyer turned politician whose office is conveniently located in a complex near the hotel.

Mr. Mutombo is among a wave of adventurers and opportunists who have filled a vacuum created by the departure of major American mining companies, and by the reluctance of other traditional Western firms to do business in a country with a reputation for labor abuses and bribery.

The list of fortune hunters includes Erik Prince, the security contractor and ex-Navy SEAL; Jide Zeitlin, the Nigerian-born former chief executive of the parent company of Coach and Kate Spade; and Aliaune Thiam, the Senegalese-American musician known as Akon.

All have been drawn to Congo’s high-risk, high-reward mining sector as the demand for cobalt has skyrocketed because automakers around the world are speeding up plans to convert from gasoline- to electric-powered fleets.

Most recently, Ford Motor, General Motors and Toyota announced they would spend billions of dollars to build battery factories in the United States. The price of cobalt has doubled since January, and more than two-thirds of the global supply is here in Congo.

The Fleuve became the go-to luxury destination after a politically connected Chinese businessman — himself a mining dealmaker — was awarded a contract to run what had once been an abandoned 1970s-era office building. The now five-star hotel has usurped the elite status of its competitor next door, built in the 1960s with U.S. government financing, and it is the kind of place where swashbucklers arrive by private plane trailed by paparazzi, and where some guests keep suitcases of cash and nuggets of gold locked in their rooms.

The frenzied atmosphere at the hotel reflects a pivotal moment for the country — and the world — as the clean energy revolution upends the centuries-long lock of fossil fuels on the global economy.

“Congo is the one who is going to deliver the EV of the future,” Mr. Mutombo, the retired basketball player, said of electric vehicles. “There is no other answer.”

But such bravado signals trouble to some seasoned business people, who see a lot of show and little substance in the new class of deal seekers.

“The country has become the prey of international adventurers,” said Jozsef M. Kovacs, who built the neighboring hotel, originally an InterContinental, which once hosted waves of executives from major Western mining companies that had billions of dollars in capital available to them and decades of mining experience. A handful of those traditional investors remain in Congo, including Robert Friedland, founder of Vancouver, B.C.-based Ivanhoe Mines. But Ivanhoe’s operations are now in large part financed by Chinese investors, who dominate the industrial mining sector in Congo.

“You don’t have a lot of these Fortune 500 mining companies,” said Luc Gerard Nyafé, a regular at the Fleuve who advises the Congolese president and is pursuing mining interests here. “That is something that needs to change.”

But for now, at least, the adventurers have taken center stage, and sometimes their ambitions converge at the Fleuve. Ambassadors, mercenaries, celebrities, musicians, athletes, entrepreneurs — they all pass through...

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, The Triumph of Injustice

At Amazon, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay.

Facing Economic Collapse, Afghanistan Is Gripped by Starvation

This is going to be biblical, and the world won't care.

No "Concerts for Kabul" to raise the tens/hundreds of $millions needed to save nearly an entire population.

At NYT, "Facing Economic Collapse, Afghanistan Is Gripped by Starvation":

SHAH WALI KOT, Afghanistan — One by one, women poured into the mud brick clinic, the frames of famished children peeking out beneath the folds of their pale gray, blue and pink burqas.

Many had walked for more than an hour across this drab stretch of southern Afghanistan, where parched earth meets a washed-out sky, desperate for medicine to pump life back into their children’s shrunken veins. For months, their once-daily meals had grown more sparse as harvests failed, wells ran dry and credit for flour from shopkeepers ran out.

Now as the crisp air grew colder, reality was setting in: Their children might not survive the winter.

“I’m very afraid, this winter will be even worse than we can imagine,” said Laltak, 40, who like many women in rural Afghanistan goes by only one name.

Nearly four months since the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan is on the brink of a mass starvation that aid groups say threatens to kill a million children this winter — a toll that would dwarf the total number of Afghan civilians estimated to have been killed as a direct result of the war over the past 20 years.

While Afghanistan has suffered from malnutrition for decades, the country’s hunger crisis has drastically worsened in recent months. This winter, an estimated 22.8 million people — more than half the population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity, according to an analysis by the United Nations World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization. Of those, 8.7 million people are nearing famine — the worst stage of a food crisis.

Such widespread hunger is the most devastating sign of the economic crash that has crippled Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power. Practically overnight, billions of dollars in foreign aid that propped up the previous Western-backed government vanished and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban isolated the country from the global financial system, paralyzing Afghan banks and impeding relief work by humanitarian organizations.

Across the country, millions of Afghans — from day laborers to doctors and teachers — have gone months without steady or any incomes. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared beyond the reach of many families. Emaciated children and anemic mothers have flooded into the malnutrition wards of hospitals, many of those facilities bereft of medical supplies that donor aid once provided.

Compounding its economic woes, the country is confronting one of the worst droughts in decades, which has withered fields, starved farm animals and dried irrigation channels. Afghanistan’s wheat harvest is expected to be as much as 25 percent below average this year, according to the United Nations. In rural areas — where roughly 70 percent of the population lives — many farmers have given up cultivating their land.

Now, as freezing winter weather sets in, with humanitarian organizations warning that a million children could die, the crisis is potentially damning to both the new Taliban government and to the United States, which is facing mounting pressure to ease the economic restrictions that are worsening the crisis.

“We need to separate the politics from the humanitarian imperative,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Program’s country director for Afghanistan. “The millions of women, of children, of men in the current crisis in Afghanistan are innocent people who are being condemned to a winter of absolute desperation and potentially death.”

In Shah Wali Kot, a barren district in Kandahar Province, the drought and economic crash have converged in a perfect storm.

For decades, small farmers survived the winters on stored wheat from their summer harvest and the income from selling onions in the market. But this year yielded barely enough to sustain families during the fall months. Without food to last the winter, some people migrated to cities hoping to find work or to other districts to lean on the help of relatives.

Inside one of the two mud huts of the clinic, which is run by the Afghan Red Crescent and supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Laltak clutched her granddaughter’s gaunt frame as if steeling herself for the hardships she knew this winter would bring.

Her family has no wheat left, no wood to make fires for heat, no money to buy food. They have exhausted the support of nearby relatives who cannot even feed their own families.

“Nothing, we have nothing,” Laltak said in an interview at the end of October.

She and most of the mothers interviewed did not own cellphones or have phone service in their villages, so The Times could not follow up with them on the health of their children.

The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan comes as hunger has steadily risen around the world in recent years, driven by the coronavirus pandemic, conflict and climate-related shocks.

Thirty percent more Afghans faced crisis-level food shortages in September and October compared with the same period last year, according to the United Nations. In the coming months, the number of Afghans in crisis is expected to hit a record high.

“It was never this bad,” said Sifatullah Sifat, the head doctor at the Shamsul Haq clinic on the outskirts of Kandahar city, where malnutrition cases have doubled in recent months. “Donors are shipping in medicine, but it’s still not enough.”

By 10 a.m. each morning, a throng of mothers carrying skeletal children masses in the hallway of the malnutrition unit.

Inside an examination room in October, Zarmina, 20, cradled her 18-month-old son while her 3-year-old daughter stood behind her, clutching her blue burqa. Since the Taliban seized power and her husband’s work as a day laborer dried up, her family has survived on mostly bread and tea — meals that left her children’s stomachs gnawing with hunger.

“They are crying to have food. I wish I could bring them something, but we have nothing,” said Zarmina, who is six months pregnant and severely anemic...


Monday, December 13, 2021

Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology

At Amazon, Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology.

For a Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, and the Rest of the World, a Crisis Looms

A year-end review, at WSJ, "The new Taliban administration is struggling with a devastated economy. The fallout likely will extend well beyond the country’s borders":

Afghanistan is heading into one of its most difficult years.

The new Taliban administration, devoid of international recognition and cut off by the U.S. from the global financial system, is struggling to restart an economy that has shrunk by more than 40% since the American withdrawal in August. The worst drought in decades, combined with the suspension of many foreign-aid projects, means that millions of Afghans could face starvation in coming months.

“We are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe that is preventable,” says the United Nations representative to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons.

Capitalizing on growing discontent, particularly in eastern and northern Afghanistan, the extremist Islamic State group already is launching nearly daily attacks that target the Taliban and the country’s Shiite minority. That terrorism threat, combined with the Taliban’s so-far unyielding position on issues such as women’s education, means that most Western embassies that escaped the country in August won’t be returning soon.

The only question amid this bleak landscape is to what extent Afghanistan’s crisis can be contained within Afghanistan in 2022. Will the looming famine prompt millions of Afghans to try to reach Europe on foot, the way millions of Syrians did in 2014-2015? Will Islamic State garner enough strength to start launching attacks on Western targets from within Afghanistan? And will the year see a record-breaking outflow of opium and other illicit drugs, now the main livelihood of desperate farmers in many parts of the country?

Past experiences suggest that the fallout will inevitably spread beyond Afghanistan’s immediate neighborhood.

Historical lessons

Historically, Afghanistan has gone through cycles of intense American interest, followed by years of neglect that produced dramatic consequences down the line. In the 1980s, Washington invested great effort and capital into fostering the mujahedeen resistance against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. Then, it turned away when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Backed by regional proxies, victorious mujahedeen engaged in a long and bloody civil war that eventually spurred the Taliban’s rise and led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Now, after two decades of intense military and diplomatic engagement, the temptation in Washington—and other Western capitals—is to tune out once again. Maintaining the status quo policy of sanctions on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and minimal engagement with Kabul’s new authorities requires little immediate expenditure of political capital, even though it may be the riskiest approach over the long term. “The West wants to punish the Taliban, but the economic chokehold is self-defeating,” says Graeme Smith, co-author of a recent report on Afghanistan by the International Crisis Group conflict-resolution organization. “History shows that ignoring Afghanistan allows problems to fester and grow. Migration, terrorism, drugs: All of these issues could destabilize the region and spill over into Europe.”

The Taliban, of course, are playing up such concerns to win a reprieve from sanctions, and to persuade Washington to unfreeze more than $9 billion in Afghan central-bank assets.

“The suffering of a child from malnutrition, the death of a mother from lack of health services, the deprivation of a common Afghan from food, shelter, medicine and other primary needs has no political or logical justification,” the Taliban government’s foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, wrote in a recent open letter to the U.S. Congress...

Very sad. 

At one photo, "Wazir Nazari was shot in the face, taking both of her eyes, by Taliban fighters going door-to-door in her village in the Malistan district of central Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in early July, her father said."

Florida Beauty

On Twitter.

Grim Scale of Destruction in Kentucky (VIDEO)

The governor says it'll take years to rebuild.

At NBC News, "‘I’ve got towns that are gone’: Kentucky struggles to count dead after tornadoes."

At at the New York Times, "In Kentucky, Tallying the Grim Scale of Destruction":

MAYFIELD, Ky. — Darryl Johnson didn’t know what his sister did at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory or why she worked nights; he knew only that her husband dropped her off on Friday evening and that they never heard from her again.

He stood in a gravel lot next to the giant ruin of metal and wood, which just days ago was the candle factory where his sister, Janine Johnson-Williams, had clocked in for her shift. The factory where he works, 45 miles up the road, shut down when the storms were approaching, Mr. Johnson said. He could not find anyone in Mayfield to tell him anything.

Late Sunday evening, Mr. Johnson finally got word. His sister was dead.

Sunday was a day of wrenching discoveries across the middle of the country, where an outbreak of tornadoes on Friday night, including one that traveled more than 220 catastrophic miles, left a deep scar of devastation. But as work crews dug through ruins and small-town coroners counted the dead on Sunday, there was at least a glimmer of hope that the death toll may not end up being as enormous as initially feared.

On Sunday evening, Troy Propes, the chief executive of Mayfield Consumer Products, which runs the candle factory that was demolished by the tornado, and which many dread may account for the largest number of deaths in the storm, said in an interview that only eight people had been confirmed dead at the factory and another six remained missing.

Bob Ferguson a company spokesman, said that of the roughly 110 workers who were on the late shift at the factory on Friday night, more than 90 employees had been accounted for.

Still, Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters on Sunday that the state had not confirmed those figures and said that search operations were still underway at the site.

“There have been, I think, multiple bodies,” Mr. Beshear said. “The wreckage is extensive.”

The death toll from the tornado swarm includes people who had been killed in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee, but the greatest loss of life was unquestionably in Kentucky, where Mr. Beshear said that at least four counties had tolls in the double digits. A dozen people were killed in Warren County, several of them children; in Muhlenberg County, there were 11 victims, all in the tiny town of Bremen. One was 4 months old.

“We’re still finding bodies,” Mr. Beshear said. “I mean, we’ve got cadaver dogs in towns that they shouldn’t have to be in.”

In Edwardsville, Ill., officials released the names of six people who were killed while working at an Amazon delivery depot that was hit by a tornado. “At this time, there are no additional reports of people missing,” the Edwardsville Police Department said in a statement on Sunday.

More than 50,000 customers were still without power in Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, and more than 150,000 were without power in Michigan, which was also affected by the sprawling storm. Mr. Beshear said that there were “thousands of people without homes” in Kentucky, though the sheer amount of devastation made precise figures, at this point, impossible to come by.

“I don’t think we’ll have seen damage at this scale, ever,” he said.

But even as the accounting of the storm was slowly being made, much was still dreadfully unknown.

In the town of Dawson Springs, where Mr. Beshear’s father was born and where his grandfather owned a funeral home, the list of the missing was eight pages long, single-spaced, the governor said in an interview on CNN.

On Sunday, slabs lay bare on the ground where houses once stood along the streets of Dawson Springs. Mattresses hung in trees and were strewn about the housing lots. Teams hunting for victims and survivors left spray-painted symbols on walls that remained standing.

Families bearing bruises and scrapes from Friday night walked among the wreckage, looking through the rubble for medicine, insurance information and food stamps.

Lacy Duke and her family were searching for two missing cats. In between calling out names, they described 22 seconds of deafening horror on Friday night as they huddled in a storm cellar, and an aftermath that was almost apocalyptic. Their house had folded like an accordion. A mobile home had disappeared. A teenage boy had injured his arm so badly it had to be amputated. The boy’s grandmother had been stuck under a car.

“This year’s been rough,” Ms. Duke said. She had been in a car accident, her son had been sick with Covid-19 and, at the auto part supplier where she had worked, everyone in her department had been laid off. “And then this happened.”

The storm system’s devastation exposed all along its path a late-night world of warehouses and factories on the outskirts of towns and cities, where people worked handling the seasonal traffic of packages or making scented candles for $8 to $12 an hour. A current of anger ran through the communities that were hit badly in the storm, as people demanded to know why so many were still on the job after alarms had sounded about the approaching danger.

At a Sunday morning church service in Granite City, Ill., when the pastor asked for prayers for the loved ones of the six who died in the Amazon warehouse, Paul Reagan, a retired steelworker, raised his hand...

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

At Amazon, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Novel.

Deadly Devastation: More Than 70 Killed in 'One of the Toughest' Tornado Events in Kentucky History (VIDEO)


Just biblical destruction and death. 

Watch the most dramatic images here

Story from the Lexington Herald-Leader, "‘One of the toughest nights in Kentucky history’: 70 or more feared dead in tornadoes":

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The “most severe tornado event in Kentucky’s history” is believed to have claimed the lives of at least 70 people, Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference in Graves County late Saturday morning.

He said the death toll “may in fact end up exceeding 100 before the day is done.”

Beshear said earlier Saturday that four likely tornadoes wreaked havoc on the state with one traveling for more than 200 miles in Western Kentucky, “something we have never seen before.”

More than a dozen Kentucky counties have reported damage from the storms, he said.

Deaths have been reported in multiple counties.

The hardest hit appears to be Graves County in far Western Kentucky, where Mayfield, the county seat, has been devastated, the governor said.

A collapsed roof at a Mayfield candle factory with about 110 people inside resulted in mass casualties and will account for the largest loss of life in the state as a result of the storms, he said.

As of just before noon, Beshear said about 40 of the 110 people inside the plant had been rescued. The last successful rescue there was at about 3:30 a.m., Beshear said, though he said “we still hope and pray that there’s some opportunity for others.”

Eleven people died in Muhlenberg County, Coroner Larry Vincent said. Other counties reporting deaths and injuries were Hopkins, Marshall, Warren, and Caldwell, Beshear said Saturday.

Up to 10 counties may have casualties, he said. Widespread damage was reported in Bowling Green. A Bowling Green police spokesman said Saturday morning that the number of people hurt or killed was not yet known, as first responders were still working to find people amid the wreckage.

The National Weather Service in Louisville said evidence of damage from an EF-3 tornado with estimated wind speeds of 150 mph had been found by its survey team in Bowling Green.

The weather service office in Paducah said in a tweet that crews were out doing storm damage surveys Saturday, but that it will take some time to get a rating on the intensity of the tornado that hit Mayfield.

More than 75,000 Kentucky customers remained without power as of 1:17 p.m. Saturday, according to the website

Keep reading.  

Also, via Reuters, "Six Amazon workers killed after tornadoes reduce warehouse near St. Louis to rubble."

Oh, the humanity. 

More at Memeorandum

Lana Mae

On Twitter.

Plus a nice sweetie from Florida Atlantic University

And Maya Luxx

Covid-Era Travel Risks Are Changing

 At WSJ, "What to Consider So You Don’t Get Stranded: Sudden border closures. Quarantines. Given the new risks, the days of improvised trips for business or pleasure have become endangered in the Covid-19 era":

At least you can see hurricanes coming.

The new Omicron variant did more than prompt governments to quickly close borders and tighten Covid-19-related travel restrictions. It signaled that health disruptions are here to stay as a normal part of travel concerns, right along with storms, strikes and terrorism.

For travelers, this means that you must now consider a new set of risks before making your trip, especially when going abroad. Travel can spread disease. There’s also uncertainty over testing and quarantines.

If you miscalculate or misstep, or just end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could be stranded, perhaps for weeks. Such a high penalty may make some people change where and how often they venture away from home.

“The casualness of travel is gone. I don’t think it’s coming back,” says Jay Sorensen, president of travel consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany.

He thinks 2019 will be viewed as the high-water mark for jumping on a plane spur-of-the-moment and taking a trip to another continent without care or concern.

Travel experts say the rapid reaction of various governments increases the risk of getting stuck in another country. It also appears to be the new standard procedure for any kind of new health risk.

Israel, Morocco and Japan closed borders before the severity or risk of the Omicron variant was clear. The U.S. banned entry for citizens of some African countries and on Monday changed testing requirements for all people entering the country. The new rule requires a negative test within one day of travel instead of three days before takeoff, throwing a curveball at travelers already abroad.

“Travelers will likely have to bake into their travel plans a possibility that a variant will all of a sudden be discovered and start spreading like wildfire,” says Sumedha Senanayake, director of global intelligence for Crisis24, a firm that advises big companies on risks for traveling employees.

The International Air Transport Association, an airline group, clearly sensed the change with a Nov. 26 statement blasting quick border-closing decisions as a threat to air-travel recovery.

“Governments are responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode, causing fear among the traveling public,” says Willie Walsh, the director general of IATA and former British Airways chief. “As quickly as possible we must use the experience of the last two years to move to a coordinated, data-driven approach that finds safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine. Travel restrictions are not a long-term solution to control Covid variants.”

Other travel groups quickly sensed a change. The American Society of Travel Advisors, which represents travel agents, called on the Biden administration to revisit the new, stricter travel rules as soon as possible. Existing testing and vaccination requirements should be enough to combat viral spread, ASTA says, “without destroying an entire sector of the U.S. economy in the process.”

Of course, most countries have made these tough calls that often end up giving priority to people’s health over the financial well-being of the travel industry. This pattern is likely to continue, travel-risk experts like Mr. Senanayake say, raising the risk of getting delayed or stranded.

There’s also widespread confusion and hassle over what you need to cross borders these days. There’s no uniformity in what countries require in terms of vaccination, documentation or specific Covid tests and how soon before-flight tests need to be performed.

“If there was uniformity, a lot of this would be a lot easier. But there is never going to be uniformity,” Mr. Senanayake says. The new restrictions haven’t prompted airline panic. OAG, which tracks airline schedules, says industry capacity world-wide, measured by the number of seats in schedules, is down only 0.5% this week compared with the previous week.

Mr. Sorensen issued a report last week to travel-industry clients suggesting that airlines, hotels and others are going to have to bear more risk of disruption if they want people to keep traveling. Change-fee penalties and nonrefundable reservations got temporary waivers during the pandemic, but they have already started creeping back in, making the consumer largely responsible for losses from unexpected disruptions.

Instead, he thinks travel companies are going to have to bear more risk to entice travelers, either by making 

eservations refundable or by providing insurance that will accommodate health risks and fears at airline expense. “If there’s a whole lot of pain and effort required to get there, why do I want to go there?” Mr. Sorensen says.

Travel insurance is one tool that can give travelers some protection against the costs of disruption. If you happen to test positive abroad and need to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, unexpected costs can be huge. When flights shut down, you may need to find a new way home that becomes a lot more expensive.

Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison and sales site, says sales rose 53% after news broke of the Omicron variant. That compares with a jump of 20% following news of the Delta variant. Travelers are learning to quickly seek protection...

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