Biden announced that the National Economic Council has asked the Federal Trade Commission to use “every available tool” to monitor the U.S. gasoline market and look for any illegal activity that might be causing gas prices to jump while the cost of a barrel of oil is going down.
“That’s not what you’d expect in a competitive market,” Biden said from the White House. “I want to make sure that nothing stands in the way of oil price declines leading to lower prices for consumers.”
The administration’s actions come as gas prices have jumped more than energy prices over the past year. The price of gas has jumped 42%, while energy has risen 24%, according to the Labor Department. The average gas price in January was $2.326, almost a dollar less than what the average gas price was last month.
According to AAA, the average price of gas as of Wednesday is $3.185. The national average is expected to remain above $3 for the rest of summer, AAA said last week.
Overall consumer prices have been rising over the past several months, which Biden and his administration has said is a temporary result due to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Consumer prices rose 4.3% in the 12 months ending in July, according to a Bureau of Labor Statics report published Wednesday.
“During this driving summer season, there have been divergences between oil prices and the cost of gasoline at the pump,” Brian Deese, director of the White House Economic Council, said Wednesday in a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Kahn.
With its suite of tools to monitor gas prices, review merger-and-acquisition activity, conduct market studies and investigate market manipulation and anti-competitive prices, the commission is well positioned to evaluate the U.S. gasoline market and take any necessary steps, Deese said.
He urged the commission to work with other federal agencies and state attorneys general on its investigation.
Earlier Wednesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan urged oil-producing countries that make up OPEC to increase production, citing the need for reliable and stable global energy markets amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While oil-producing countries recently agreed to production increases, that won’t fully offset production cuts imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022, Sullivan said.
“At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough,” he said.
Higher gasoline costs, if left unchecked, risk harming the ongoing global recovery, Sullivan said. “Competitive energy markets will ensure reliable and stable energy supplies, and OPEC+ must do more to support the recovery,” he said. USATODAY
If 2024 Election Is Stolen, Who Will Storm the Capitol?
We’re demonizing the wrong people.
This is not a call to “understand” or “have compassion” for Trump voters. Instead, it’s a call for a wholesale political and social indictment of Trump’s Big Lie, along with every elected Republican politician or media member who knows Trump lost but keeps perpetuating that Lie.
If we fail, history may repeat itself and — this time — the result will be far worse than Bush’s lying us into two wars and privatizing Medicare.
That, in part, is because numerous Republican-controlled states are passing laws and gaming out scenarios that could enable a repeat of a variation on the election of 1876: if GOP-controlled swing states submit multiple slates of electors denying either candidate 270 uniquely certified Electoral College votes, the election could again get thrown to the House of Representatives (as was the election of 1800, too), where Trump (or another neofascist Republican) would win.
Democrats tend to forget that Donald Trump received about 10 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. It’s why he’s still a potent political force in America and around the world.
Although Biden got around 7 million more votes than Trump and overwhelmingly won the popular (and Electoral College) votes, Trump’s raw-numbers electoral popularity actually went up at the end of the 4 years of his presidency.
Those Trump voters — from the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th to the folks who just quietly showed up at the polls and never mentioned anything political to neighbors, friends or relatives — believed he was the best guy for the presidency.
And today, about three-quarters of them (76%) also now believe that his presidency was stolen from him in 2020.
Consider, for a moment, if the tables were reversed:
It’s 2024 and President Biden and Donald Trump just faced off in the election. Biden wins the popular vote by over 10 million, but the Electoral College vote is up in the air because of a weird constitutional technicality.
Just like in the election of 1876, several swing states in the midst of political turmoil have submitted dueling slates of electors, one (based on the popular vote) for Biden and another (reflecting the will of the state legislature) for Trump. And, just like in 1876, when you exclude the “contested states” neither candidate hits the 50%-plus-one electoral votes needed (now 270) to win the White House.
Under the 12th Amendment, as John Eastman pointed out in his 2020 memo to Trump (and echoed by Jenna Ellis and Mark Meadows), that throws the election to the House of Representatives, where each state has one single vote, that vote being decided by each state’s legislature back home. Thirty states are Republican controlled and submit their 30 votes for Trump, with Biden receiving the remaining 20: the House declares the election goes to Trump.
Democrats immediately sue before the Supreme Court, but — for the second time in history — the Court awards the presidency to the Republican who lost the popular vote amid a contested Electoral College vote.
Trump, say the Republicans in Congress and on the Court, is to be sworn in as president a few weeks after the votes are certified on January 6th, 2024.
But President Biden calls a press conference to tell the nation that the states that submitted dual ballots were behaving with corrupt intent just to allow this very scenario to play out.
“Trump and his Republican allies used a technicality in our Constitution and law to claim they won an election they very clearly lost,” Biden says. “Americans shouldn’t stand for this!”
All across the country, people begin pouring into the streets. Pitched battles break out between Trump and Biden supporters, as cities are set afire and hundreds die from gunshots.
What do you do?
This would be, after all, the fourth time Republicans have tried to use this same strategy to bring a presidential election around to themselves on their own terms, and the first two out of three times they were successful.
How Republicans Pulled It Off In 1876
The first was the election of 1876, when the Republican who lost that election (both popular and Electoral College), Rutherford B. Hayes, was nonetheless installed as president by the House of Representatives in March, 1877.
Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote nationwide but, with 184 electoral votes, was one vote short of the then-necessary 185 electoral votes to become president.
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes not only lost the popular vote but had only 163 uncontested electoral votes. (He was sold to voters as an antidote to the Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens who’d worked so hard to bring formerly enslaved people into politics. White supremacists were rising again in both parties.)
Ohio’s Republican Congressman James Monroe (not related to the president of generations earlier of the same name) wrote the definitive summary of that election and how it played out in Congress, a narrative he published in the Atlantic in October 1893.
Pointing out that “the votes of Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina, with an aggregate of 22 electors” would turn the election to either Hayes or Tilden, Monroe (who was there) wrote, “From the States just named there were two sets of returns, one favorable to General Hayes, the other to Mr. Tilden.”
The dispute had to do with three of those four states then being occupied by the Union Army (this was just 11 years after the Civil War ended, and Reconstruction was in full swing). At the same time, the Klan was riding high in all four states and ran much of Oregon’s politics as a “utopian all-white frontier.”
Formerly enslaved African Americans were trying to turn out large numbers of voters for the Republican candidate, but there was also widespread Klan activity suppressing that Black vote. On the other side, Democrats in Congress charged that Union soldiers had intimidated Southern Democratic voters, suppressing their vote.
Monroe wrote the Democrats charged “that these returns [in those four states for Republican Hayes] were a product of fraud and dishonesty; that, in preparing them, the vote of whole precincts, parishes, and counties had been thrown out in order to secure Hayes electors… [and] they did not represent the people of those States, but were themselves the product of fraud and corruption, and were kept in place only by what was called the ‘moral influence’ of Federal bayonets.”
The nation nearly exploded, wrote Monroe:
“The feeling of mutual hostility had been greatly intensified by party leaders, orators, and presses. In some of our cities it took all the terrors of the police court to keep Democrats and Republicans from breaking the peace.”
The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, had a simple solution to the problem of neither candidate winning a majority of electoral votes. “[I]f no person have such majority,” the 12th Amendment says, “then… the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote…”
Because all the Southern states had now been re-admitted to the Union, a majority of the House of Representatives that year were controlled by Democrats, as were a majority of the states. With each state’s delegation having only one vote, the Democratic-controlled House representing a Democratic majority of states would end up making Democrat Tilden the president, something the Republicans wouldn’t go along with.
Republicans added that because the 12th Amendment also says that “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the [electoral] votes shall then be counted…” that the president of the Senate should be the one to make the call as to which state’s contested votes were legitimate.
The Constitution provides that the vice president shall be the president of the Senate, but President Ulysses Grant’s veep, Henry Wilson, had died the previous year and Grant hadn’t replaced him; the president of the Senate in 1876 was Senator Thomas Ferry of Michigan, a Republican.
“[I]t would have been as unsatisfactory to Republicans to have the vote declared by the House,” wrote Monroe, “as it would have been to Democrats to have it declared by the President of the Senate.”
“The situation was serious,” Monroe wrote. “Some thoughtful men felt that perhaps the greatest peril that the Republic had encountered was not that of the Civil War” but that “within a hundred days, people would be cutting each other’s throats.”
Of Senator Banning of Ohio, “My colleague,” Monroe wrote, “declared in a speech, that, if the Republicans should attempt to carry out their theory of the election, and if a part of the army with eighty rounds of ammunition, and the navy, should be ordered to support them, then the people would put them all down.”
In response, Virginia’s Congressman Goode stood up and loudly asked his colleagues if they were willing to restart the Civil War.
“A shout of ‘Yes’ went up from the Republican side of the House,” wrote Monroe.
Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and both sides worked out a compromise that gave the GOP the White House but only on the condition that the newly minted President Hayes would remove Union troops from the Southern states, ending Reconstruction.
The republic was saved and the Republicans took the White House, but only by selling out Southern Black people for the next hundred years.
How Republicans Pulled It Off in 2000
In the 2000 election, Texas Governor George W. Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, appear to have worked together to rig the Florida outcome. Because it all came out after Bush was already sworn in a month earlier, the American media largely ignored the story when the BBC broke it on February 16, 2001.
Greg Palast did the report for the BBC, which has a transcript on their website. They note:
“Did Governor Jeb Bush, his Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and her Director of Elections, Clayton Roberts, know they had wrongly barred 22,000 Black, Democrat voters before the elections? After the elections did they use their powers to prevent the count of 20,000 votes for the Democrats? The Democrats say the answers to both questions are yes.”
Jeb Bush, Palast found, had paid an outside vendor $4 million to take a felon list supplied by Texas and compare its names against the entire Florida voter database, using loose matches that didn’t always involve middle names or dates of birth.
As a result, at least 22,000 Florida voters, most Black men with similar names to Black felons in Texas, were purged from the voting rolls just before the election. (His report for the BBC is at the bottom of this article.)
While the American public was largely unaware of this aspect of the 2000 election, the Florida Supreme Court approved an appeal from Florida Democrats and ordered a recount of that state’s vote.
Roger Stone claims he helped organize the so-called “Brooks Brothers Riot” in which staffers for multiple Republican lawmakers went to Florida and, along with local GOP activists, demanded that the State Supreme Court-ordered recount be stopped. It got nationwide news coverage, although it was presented merely as average Floridians expressing outrage.
Piggybacking on the apparent GOP outrage in Florida, five Republican appointees on the US Supreme Court stopped that then-already-ongoing recount of the Florida vote, something that had never before happened in US history.
In the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision in 2000 that stopped the Florida recount — and thus handed George W. Bush the presidency — Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his opinion:
“The counting of votes … does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [George W. Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.”
Apparently, denying the presidency to Al Gore, the guy who actually won the most votes in Florida and won the popular vote nationwide by over a half-million, did not constitute “irreparable harm” to Scalia or the media.
And apparently it wasn’t important that Scalia’s son worked for a law firm that was defending George W. Bush before the high court (with no Scalia recusal).
Just like it wasn’t important to mention that Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife worked on the Bush transition team — before the Supreme Court shut down the recount in Florida — and was busy accepting resumes from people who would serve in the Bush White House if her husband stopped the recount in Florida…which he did. (No Thomas recusal, either.)
More than a year after the election a consortium of newspapers including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today did their own recount of the vote in Florida — manually counting every vote in a process that took almost a year — and concluded that Al Gore did indeed win the presidency in 2000.
As the November 12th, 2001 article in The New York Times read:
“If all the ballots had been reviewed under any of seven single standards and combined with the results of an examination of overvotes, Mr. Gore would have won.”
That little bit of info was slipped into the seventeenth paragraph of the Times story so that it would attract as little attention as possible because the 9/11 attacks had happened just weeks earlier and journalists feared that burdening Americans with the plain truth that George W. Bush actually lost the election would further hurt a nation already in crisis.
How Republicans Tried To Pull It Off a Third Time in 2020
The third time wasn’t the charm.
Roger Stone and his friends pulled together another “stop the steal” event on January 6th to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president, using the same sort of rhetoric about “sore loser Democrats” that had worked so well for them in Florida 20 years earlier.
Blowing up his scheme, the Supreme Court refused to intervene this time and the election went to Biden. But Trump continued — as President of the United States — to insist the election had been stolen from him.
In 2000 the mainstream American media had largely turned against Al Gore, as the five rightwingers on the Supreme Court had given an aura of legitimacy to Bush’s selection as president.
In 2020, by contrast, the Court said “No,” so mainstream media clearly saw and reported that Biden had won the election.
Multiple rightwing media outlets, however, including 1,500 rightwing English-language radio stations, several hundred Spanish-language rightwing radio stations, and three rightwing television networks, picked up Trump’s claim of a stolen election and echoed and amplified it as if it were true. Facebook’s algorithm pushed Trump’s false claim into millions more American homes.
The result was the most massive polarization of the American electorate since the Civil War, and an open and armed assault on the US Capitol.
Which brings us back to 2024.
If the media chooses their 2020 course, Biden may prevail.
If they follow their 2000 script, though, ignoring election irregularities and outright fraud that benefits Republicans, Trump will probably be installed in the White House.
And the Supreme Court may again play an illegitimate role in it all.
So, what will Democrats do? Will we be in the streets? Will protest even be possible?
Will second-term President Trump succeed in mobilizing the military — as he unsuccessfully tried to do in 2020 — to violently put down protests like tinhorn dictators do, and again begin snatching people off the streets in unmarked vans like he did in Portland last year?
And, thinking of the scenario in these terms, consider what it teaches us about how we should deal with the “stolen election” dynamic Trump is now promoting.
It depends in large part on Republicans continuing to believe Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
The best way to stop this nightmare before it happens is for both elected Democrats (and the few semi-sane Republicans left, like Cheney and Christie) and the nation’s media to not only call out Trump’s lie, but also call out the media that keeps it alive.
And fixing our broken Electoral College by revising the 1877 Electoral Count Act that followed the election of 1876 couldn’t hurt (taking the Electoral College out of the Constitution altogether, the best solution, is an unrealistically big lift for today).
Otherwise, we may well be facing that terrible question that Trump true believers faced last year: what do we do?
It’s time to stop this before it goes any farther. Winter is coming.
By Thom Hartmann
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute to publish on Telegraf.
The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections
An oral history recounts the organizing that led to 2020’s historic presidential and senatorial victories in Georgia.
Corey Shackleford knew he could rely on Georgia’s Prince Hall Masons—named after the freed slave who created the civic-minded group’s first Black chapter in 1784. “We’re in those corners of the state, those rural areas, where others don’t normally go. But we are there.”
Shirley Sherrod, whose Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education has been active since the 1960s, trusted the young women on her staff to reach rural voters—even during a pandemic. “I really allowed them to take this program and just go, and it worked.”
And Keith Reddings, who leads Georgia’s Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and lives in Brunswick—where three white men killed Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, in February 2020—knew neither he nor his members could be idle in the 2020 election. “I’ve been in movements for quite a while. You get these waves where you’re involved; you can be involved.”
Their comments are from an oral history of the grassroots organizing across Georgia that led to the state’s historic voter turnout and election of Democratic candidates for president and the U.S. senate. The e-book, “The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections,” recounts the mindsets, values, tactics, challenges and solutions that coalesced in 2020 in a 21st-century voting rights triumph.
“What happened in 2020 in Georgia was the manifestation of coming together, setting ego to the side, and saying that we can be much more effective and efficient if we work together through coordination, collaboration and communication,” said Ray McClendon, the Atlanta NAACP political action chairman and a co-author of the e-book. “Once that happened, we became a much more effective group.”
The campaign’s organizers built on this model with some success in November 2021’s elections, and hope to deploy this model across the South in 2022’s federal midterm elections. Georgia’s GOP is trying to copy this template by opening community centers in Black neighborhoods.
“The Georgia Way,” which was co-authored by Voting Booth’s Steven Rosenfeld, features the voices of three dozen organizers from an array of civic and civil rights organizations serving Georgia’s communities of color. Together, they made a determined effort to reach out to their communities in a coordinated and unprecedented manner. They did not start by focusing on voting, but first listened, validated, and sought to meet local needs. Those efforts prompted thousands of people not on any political party’s radar—or contact lists—to vote in 2020’s elections.
“Your work just didn’t revolve around voting, but around other issues that people cared about, that mattered to them, and impacted their lives,” said Dr. Gloria Bromell Tinubu in her interview with Sherrod in “The Georgia Way,” which Tinubu also co-authored. “That is really the crux of relational organizing—that you have a relationship with people outside of the formal voting process.”
Building Toward 2020
Inside the NAACP, Masons, Black fraternities and sororities (known as the Divine Nine), and civil rights groups, the leadership knew the 2020 election was going to be pivotal. Many leaders in these volunteer posts recalled their frustration after 2016’s presidential election, where voter turnout among communities of color was disappointing. The next big election, Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race where Democrat Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp, showed there was a deep vein of civic engagement to be tapped. But activists and voters had to be engaged.
“I started to understand what we needed to do going forward,” said Richard Rose, the Atlanta NAACP president, who noted that 77 percent of Georgia’s Black voters lived in 19 of the state’s 159 counties. “What I did know was that people were willing to help. Young people were willing to give up their time. Members of various fraternities, sororities and the Masons were willing to help. But it was fragmented.”
2020 brought a series of focusing events. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, the once-a-decade U.S. census got underway. Rose and many others were concerned their communities would be undercounted. One obstacle little noted by the media was food insecurity—hunger. People who were worried about their next meal had no patience for the census or voting. That reality led groups like the NAACP and others to step up food giveaways. Those settings led to relationships where people were later informed about vaccines and planning to vote.
“We used those food distributions and the long lines to try to get people to respond to the census,” recalled Bobby Fuse, a civil rights activist. “Out of that came this idea of feeding people at Thanksgiving and encouraging them to come back and vote in the runoff… See, all of this is about celebrating while we’re in the midst of this [challenging] thing.”
The pandemic, social distancing requirements, and a local legacy of poor health care among lower-income communities in the state forced the organizers to be innovative.
“Coming into the pandemic, we did have to be innovative because the old gathering, meeting, marching was not safe,” said Omega Psi Phi’s Reddings. “So different organizations, different groups, came up with different strategies to get the word out. There were billboards. There were buses that went around from city to city with voter information. There was phone banking where brothers and sisters would get on the phone, and they would make call after call. There were email blasts, caravans, motorcades.”
While Black voters are among the Democratic Party’s most reliable base—with 85 percent routinely voting for Democrats across the South, according to the Center for Common Ground’s Andrea Miller—this grassroots outreach had little logistical or financial support from the Georgia Democratic Party, several organizers emphasized.
“This was not necessarily a Georgia Democratic Party operation,” Fuse said. “Without being offensive, I’d like to say that the majority of our funding and resources came from outside any political party. And it came directly from these nonpartisan grassroots organizations with whom we interacted—and boy, did we interact.”
Many voters eyed by the coalition’s organizers have long been overlooked by the major political parties, and these voters don’t consider themselves members of any party, Miller said.
“The voters that we called, unfortunately, haven’t really been called by anybody,” she said. “They haven’t been called by candidates. They haven’t been called by political parties. So, they stopped voting, which means they’re not going to be called by candidates, political parties.”
There were several mindsets that emerged and shaped the outreach. The pandemic forced groups to innovate. Local organizing was prioritized. Hiring local campaign workers, including teenagers who knew where and when to find voters, was preferable to out-of-state volunteers. Teaching members of families and congregations to use online media was a necessity at first but evolved into an opportunity that expanded campaigning.
“COVID-19 really helped the younger generations to connect with the older generations,” said Tiffany Carr of the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education. “I know for myself and my family, my mom will always call on me and my brother and ask, ‘How do you work Zoom?’ ‘How do I join this virtual meeting?’ ‘How do I get on Facebook?’ ‘How do I do this and how do I do that?’ So, it really opened the door for the older generation to learn more about technology and to see how convenient it is and how quickly you can reach a lot of people at one time.”
The leaders from the various groups spoke of enlisting their members and reaching out to their communities—in rural areas, in cities, and in colleges and universities. They often let young people be the frontline. They created events that set a tone and were highly visible, but kept the messaging personal. They used different media that various age groups were familiar with.
“We invited our undergraduates, and we pushed that information out to them,” said Sigma Gamma Rho’s Celestine Levanne. “We didn’t leave anyone of voting age out of this conversation, from our 18-year-olds to our 100-year-olds. Everyone got that information and if, for some reason, they couldn’t vote, they had that information to give to a relative or a church member. So, again, it was about making sure they understood their rights.”
“We had to be intentional about setting the atmosphere,” said the Masons’ Marvin Nunnally. “We built momentum, we kept building and building the audience, but more importantly, what we kept doing was working on their minds. And that was the beauty of all this moving around: the food, the music, the motorcycles [and motorcades]… It all played a role.”
As November’s U.S. Senate election headed to January’s runoffs, the Center for Common Ground—which by that fall had 40,000 volunteers across the country writing postcards to Black voters in Southern states, and also sent hundreds of thousands of text messages and made tens of thousands of phone calls—turned its full attention to the runoff.
By then, the numerous frontline efforts were well positioned to use the center’s various data-driven tools—for identifying eligible voters, reaching them by postcard (if their phone numbers weren’t correct in political data lists), or by text or phone, as well as by going door to door.
“What was most impressive was the organizations working together rather than in competition, and each of us really using our strengths,” the Center for Common Ground’s Miller said. “Our strength is building out the digital tools and platforms and that is what really made the difference, and making sure we weren’t duplicating efforts—that we were covering the entire state instead of 40 groups working in the city of Atlanta.”
“That’s what worked in 2020 and 2021,” the NAACP’s McClendon said, referring to the Senate runoff’s results and unexpectedly high turnout in Black communities in Georgia and Virginia that were targeted in November 2021’s general election. “That result was the result of several years of deciding that it was the time for us to coalesce, and manifest through the efficiency and effectiveness of collaboration. Now we are ready to ramp this up across several battleground states to get ready for 2022.”
By Steven Rosenfeld
Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.
News Of Donald Trump’s MAGA Picture Book Gets Shredded On Twitter
But the ex-president’s first book project after being voted out of office last November is actually going to be a much more image-led affair.
The twice impeached president reportedly handpicked and captioned every picture in “Our Journey Together,” according to the 45books.com website.
Some captions are even “in his own handwriting,” per the blurb.
The book claims to capture “the greatness of the last four years unlike anything else that has been published,” says the publicity.
“Relive the unforgettable moments of President Trump’s time in the White House: building the southern border wall; cutting America’s taxes; confirming almost 300 federal judges and 3 Supreme Court justices; rebuilding our military; creating Space Force; dealing with Kim Jong-Un, President Xi, President Putin, and many other world leaders; and battling liberals on two impeachment witch hunts!” it brags.
Signed copies are available to preorder for $229.99. Unsigned copies are priced at $74.99. It is slated to ship in December.
With Trump still banned from Twitter following his incitement of the deadly U.S. Capitol riot, it fell to his acolytes and son to promote the book on social media.
Here’s how it went down:
Biden scrambles to limit damage to credibility from Afghanistan
When President Joe Biden appeared in the White House East Room on Jul 8 to stress that the US pullout from Afghanistan was proceeding apace, he declared that a Taliban takeover of the country was not inevitable.
Five weeks later, the Taliban is in charge, scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport from the evacuation of Americans and US-aligned Afghan citizens has transfixed the world, and Biden is scrambling to defend himself from a series of miscalculations that have damaged US credibility.
While insisting that “the buck stops with me”, Biden has doled out blame to others over America’s humiliating end to the 20-year involvement in Afghanistan that included missteps by four administrations – two Republican and two Democratic.
He has assailed the Afghan military for refusing to fight, denounced the now-ousted Afghan government and declared he inherited a bad withdrawal agreement from his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.
“I made a commitment to the American people when I ran for President that I would bring America’s military involvement in Afghanistan to an end. And while it’s been hard and messy – and yes, far from perfect – I’ve honoured that commitment,” Biden said in a speech on Monday (Aug 16).
Biden came to office promoting himself as an international statesman with a steady hand on the tiller after Trump’s four storm-tossed years in office.
He quickly rejoined international agreements abandoned by Trump and sought to rejuvenate traditional alliances that Trump had spurned.
But his first big international challenge is generating an intense political backlash as Democrats and Republicans alike raise questions about his strategy.
A prediction by US intelligence that the Taliban could be held off for three months following US withdrawal proved to be wrong. US military commanders who sought a more deliberate approach to the withdrawal were dismissed.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan took the White House podium on Tuesday to offer a broad defence of Biden’s actions. He said that signalling support for the Afghan government “was a considered judgment” that did not save it, however.
“When you conclude 20 years of military action in a civil war in another country, with the impacts of 20 years of decisions that have piled up, you have to make a lot of hard calls. None with clean outcomes,” Sullivan said.
CALLS FOR INVESTIGATIONS
Members of the US Congress, increasingly frustrated with events in Afghanistan, want to investigate what went wrong.
Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic Intelligence Committee chairman, had said on Monday he intended to work with other committees “to ask tough but necessary questions” about why the United States was not better prepared for the collapse of the Afghan government.
Republicans continued their harsh criticism of Biden’s policies.
“The security and humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Afghanistan could have been avoided if you had done any planning,” Republicans on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.
The crisis appears to have taken a toll. Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points and hit its lowest level – 46 per cent – since he took office in January, a Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted on Monday found.
Biden, managing the crisis from the presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin mountains, went several days without talking to any foreign leaders about Afghanistan. He spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday.
“The prime minister stressed the importance of not losing the gains made in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, or protecting ourselves against any emerging threat from terrorism and of continuing to support the people of Afghanistan,” said a Downing Street spokesman.
Former President George W Bush, who began the “war on terror” in Afghanistan in response to the Sep 11, 2001, attacks and started a second war in Iraq in 2003, sounded a note of regret in a statement issued late on Monday with his wife, Laura Bush.
“Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much,” they said. “The Afghans now at greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation.”
Sullivan, however, argued on Tuesday that while the images from the airport were “heartbreaking”, Biden “had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of a civil conflict in Afghanistan”. REUTERS
Biden Team Surprised By Rapid Taliban Takeover In Afghanistan
The Taliban executed a nearly complete takeover of Afghanistan, taking President Joe Biden and top officials by surprise.
President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials were stunned on Sunday by the pace of the Taliban’s nearly complete takeover of Afghanistan, as the planned withdrawal of American forces urgently became a mission to ensure a safe evacuation.
The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Biden as commander in chief, and he was the subject of withering criticism from Republicans who said that he had failed.
Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations and has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban while arguing that Americans of all political persuasions have tired of a 20-year war, a conflict that demonstrated the limits of money and military might to force a Western-style democracy on a society not ready or willing to embrace it.
By Sunday, though, leading figures in the administration acknowledged they were caught off guard with the utter speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces. The challenge of that effort became clear after reports of sporadic gunfire at the Kabul airport prompted Americans to shelter as they awaited flights to safety.
“We’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country, and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN, referring to the Afghan military.
The turmoil in Afghanistan resets the focus in an unwelcome way for a president who has largely focused on a domestic agenda that includes emerging from the pandemic, winning congressional approval for trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending and protecting voting rights.
Biden remained at Camp David on Sunday, receiving regular briefings on Afghanistan and holding secure video conference calls with members of his national security team, according to senior White House officials. The next several days could be critical in determining whether the U.S. is able to regain some level of control over the situation.
Discussions were underway for Biden to speak publicly, according to two senior administration officials who requested anonymity to discuss internal conversations. Biden, who is scheduled to remain at Camp David through Wednesday, is expected to return to the White House if he decides to deliver an address.
Biden is the fourth U.S. president to confront challenges in Afghanistan and has insisted he wouldn’t hand America’s longest war to his successor. But the president will likely have to explain how security in Afghanistan unraveled so quickly, especially since he and others in the administration have insisted it wouldn’t happen.
“The jury is still out, but the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” Biden said on July 8.
As recently as last week, Biden publicly expressed hope that Afghan forces could develop the will to defend their country. But privately, administration officials warned that the military was crumbling, prompting Biden on Thursday to order thousands of American troops into the region to speed up evacuation plans.
One official said Biden was more sanguine on projections for the Afghan fighters to hold off the Taliban in part to prevent a further erosion in morale among their force. It was ultimately for naught.
Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also yearned to leave Afghanistan, but ultimately stood down in the face of resistance from military leaders and other political concerns. Biden, on the other hand, has been steadfast in his refusal to change the Aug. 31 deadline, in part because of his belief that the American public is on his side.
A late July ABC News/Ipsos poll, for instance, showed 55% of Americans approving of Biden’s handling of the troop withdrawal.
Most Republicans have not pushed Biden to keep troops in Afghanistan over the long term and they also supported Trump’s own push to exit the country. Still, some in the GOP are stepping up their critique of Biden’s withdrawal strategy and said images from Sunday of American helicopters circling the U.S. Embassy in Kabul evoked the humiliating departure of U.S. personnel from Vietnam.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell deemed the scenes of withdrawal as “the embarrassment of a superpower laid low.”
Meanwhile, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about the potential for the rise in terrorist threats against the U.S. as the situation in Afghanistan devolves, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators on a briefing call Sunday that U.S. officials are expected to alter their earlier assessments about the pace of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan, the person said. Based on the evolving situation, officials believe terror groups like al-Qaida may be able to grow much faster than expected.
The officials on the call told senators that the U.S. intelligence community is currently working on forming a new timeline based on the evolving threats.
Still, there were no additional steps planned beyond the troop deployment Biden ordered to assist in the evacuations. Senior administration officials believe the U.S. will be able to maintain security at the Kabul airport long enough to extricate Americans and their allies, but the fate of those unable to get to the airport was far from certain.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has backed the Biden administration’s strategy, said in an interview that “the speed is a surprise” but would not characterize the situation as an intelligence failure. He said it has long been known that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban if the United States pulled out.
“Given how much we have invested in the Afghan army, it’s not ridiculous for analysts to believe that they’d be able to put up a fight for more than a few days,” Murphy said. “You want to believe that trillions of dollars and 20 years of investment adds up to something, even if it doesn’t add up for the ability to defend the country in the long run.”
In the upper ranks of Biden’s staff, the rapid collapse in Afghanistan only confirmed the decision to leave: If the meltdown of the Afghan forces would come so quickly after nearly two decades of American presence, another six months or a year or two or more would not have changed anything.
Biden has argued for more than a decade that Afghanistan was a kind of purgatory for the United States. He found it to be corrupt, addicted to America’s largesse and an unreliable partner that should be made to fend for itself. His goal was to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, not building a country.
As vice president, he argued privately against Obama’s surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in a bid to stabilize the country so that the United States and its allies could then pull back their forces.
As president, Biden said in July that he made the decision to withdraw with “clear eyes” after receiving daily battlefield updates. His judgment was that Afghanistan would be divided in a peace agreement with the Taliban, rather than falling all at once.
While Biden has prided himself on delivering plain truths to the American public, his bullish assessment of the situation just a month ago could come back to haunt him.
“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan,” he said in July. “The likelihood there’s going to be one unified government in Afghanistan controlling the whole country is highly unlikely.” AP
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
‘Gaslighting’ Kevin McCarthy Raked Over The Coals In GOP Group’s Damning New Ad
The Republican Accountability Project explains why the top House Republican and 1950s Sen. Joseph McCarthy “aren’t so different.”
A conservative group draws damning comparisons between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the late Joseph McCarthy, the GOP senator who fueled anti-communist fears in the 1950s, in its new ad.
Joseph McCarthy “deceived America, pushing a lie that our government was being taken over by communist spies,” says the voiceover of the 60-second video — titled “The New McCarthyism” — that was released by the Republican Accountability Project on Friday.
“He gaslit America to advance his own political career,” it continues. “Now McCarthyism is back, with a new McCarthy: Kevin McCarthy. Just like Joe, Kevin McCarthy is gaslighting Americans.”
The narrator then calls out current top House Republican Kevin McCarthy, a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump, for protecting “white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists while he whitewashes Jan. 6 all to advance his political power.”
“Joe McCarthy and Kevin aren’t so different,” the group, which is part of the anti-Trump Defending Democracy Together organization, wrote on YouTube.
Over the last eight months, the group has run multiple ads against Trump’s enablers and other Republicans who have downplayed the deadly Capitol riot — and continues to maintain an online “Hall of Shame” of the Trump-adoring Republicans in Congress who “cannot be trusted with power.” HuffPost
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