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‘Incoherent’: Democrats, Advocates Baffled By Biden Argument On Refugees

‘Incoherent’: Democrats, Advocates Baffled By Biden Argument On Refugees
‘Incoherent’: Democrats, Advocates Baffled By Biden Argument On Refugees

President Joe Biden will make a final decision next month on how many refugees to admit into the country this year, the White House said late Friday, after hours of criticism from fellow Democrats and refugee resettlement groups who were furious with his decision to keep in place a historically low number set by his anti-refugee predecessor.

Their anger and surprise was matched only by their bafflement at the administration’s reasoning for the decisions, which linked refugee intake with an ongoing crisis on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, a connection many advocates and allies said made little sense and had more to do with politics than policy.

The Biden administration said Friday that the president walked back the decision because the damage former President Donald Trump did to the refugee system was far more extensive than they thought, and the wing of the Department of Health and Human Services charged with resettling refugees was overwhelmed with its responsibilities handling a surge of unaccompanied minors at the border. 

But on Friday afternoon, following heavy criticism from leading Democrats in both chambers of Congress, the administration suggested it would later increase the cap from Trump’s record low of 15,000. In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted there was “confusion” over the president’s decision and said the president would “set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.”

“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” Psaki said in a statement. “While finalizing that determination, the President was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that.”

It is immoral to pit vulnerable populations against one another, particularly in light of the fact that we have the capacity to do all of these things.
Meredith Own, the director of policy and advocacy at Church World Services

But the decision to leave Trump’s cap in place for the time being was disturbing to refugee resettlement groups, activists and Democrats. They quickly refuted White House reasoning for the decision, saying the refugee settlement agencies aren’t hindered by other backlogs, including the surge of asylum-seekers at the border. While the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services is partially responsible for both groups, migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.

“It is immoral to pit vulnerable populations against one another, particularly in light of the fact that we have the capacity to do all of these things,” said Meredith Own, the director of policy and advocacy at Church World Services, one of the nine major resettlement agencies.

In a statement, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called the decision to keep the refugee cap low “cruel” and “no more acceptable now than it was during the Trump Administration.”

“The asylum process at the southern border and the refugee process are completely separate immigration systems,” he continued. “Conflating the two constitutes caving to the politics of fear.”

Part of HHS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) works with a wide array of vulnerable populations including refugees, asylum-seekers and trafficking and torture victims. In fact, ORR exhausted its $1.3 billion budget allocated for this fiscal year and has dipped into a budget meant for resettlement agencies to continue paying for more beds for unaccompanied minors.

Historically, the U.S. has been able to work with the various political situations, backlogs and surges from each of those vulnerable populations without an issue, said Owens. 

“The United States certainly has the investments and the capacity, and our communities have the will to do all of these things,” she added.

Melanie Nezer, senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS, an international Jewish organization that resettles and provides services to refugees, agreed and noted her agency had prepared for the higher cap since Biden’s presidential campaign.

When Biden became president, refugee resettlement organizations and refugees across the world were optimistic, particularly when he pledged in February to raise the cap to 62,500 refugees for this fiscal year and 125,000 for the next year. Despite the severe cuts made by Trump, refugee resettlement agencies began to prepare for more refugees, anticipating increased resources promised by the new president. 

The situation on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has seen an unprecedented surge in families and unaccompanied minors, has become a clear political problem for the administration. Republicans have focused much of their rhetorical firepower on the administration’s handling of the situation, and public surveys indicate even many voters who approve of Biden’s overall job performance have a negative view of his handling of the border. 

That’s left refugee advocates wondering if the vague nexus between two largely unrelated immigration issues has made more refugees’ admittances a political sacrificial lamb. 

“I think it’s an excuse to take advantage of the political moment,” said David Bier, a research fellow on immigration studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “This idea that this wealthy nation does not have the private resources to resettle people is just ridiculous.”

A migrant boy from Central America waits with her mother for a bus after they are dropped off by the U.S. Customs and Border

A migrant boy from Central America waits with her mother for a bus after they are dropped off by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a bus station near the Gateway International Bridge, between the cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, on March 15 in Brownsville, Texas.

Even some Republicans have acknowledged the two issues have relatively little in common. 

“The refugee program is much more of an orderly and legal process that is entirely distinct,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman told The Washington Post earlier this week. “I would increase the refugee’s cap from where it was in the Trump years, and I would make the asylum system work as it should.”

Refugee organizations were already frustrated with the Biden administration’s slow-walking on implementing policy changes. Nearly two months after announcing his intention to Congress, the president still hasn’t formally signed the presidential determination that would raise the refugee cap, a delay that upended hundreds of lives. Refugee resettlement agencies were left dealing with the aftermath of canceled flights and expiring health and security clearances without any answers from the White House.

“It’s so disappointing because we thought we would have this partner … there was an expectation based on that announcement that there would be a change,” said Nezer. 

“There is a resettlement infrastructure in place. We have held on for four long years, as the prior administration really thought to break the program, but it did not. We are still here and we are ready,” she added. 

White House officials emphasized the possibility of working with Congress to lift the cap later in this fiscal year ― which ends on Sept. 30 ― and said the administration remained on track to admit 125,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2022. 

“This is just the beginning,” Psaki wrote on Twitter earlier on Friday. “This step lifts the restrictions put in place by prior Administration on where refugees can come from.  We need to rebuild the resettlement program and we are committed to continuing to increase refugee numbers.”

But advocates said such an increase would be difficult without increasing the program’s capacity now.

“There’s no way that’s going to happen unless they’re going to increase the cap this year,” Bier said. “It’s the most incoherent explanation they could give. If you’re not going to increase admissions, then you’re not rebuilding the program.” 

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Mayor Apologizes On Behalf Of City For Deadly Shooting On Historically Black Campus

Mayor Apologizes On Behalf Of City For Deadly Shooting On Historically Black Campus
Mayor Apologizes On Behalf Of City For Deadly Shooting On Historically Black Campus

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The mayor of Mississippi’s capital city and a state senator both apologized Saturday for shootings 51 years ago by city and state police officers that killed two people and injured 12 others on the campus of a historically Black college.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and state Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson spoke during a graduation ceremony for the Class of 1970 of what was then Jackson State College, now Jackson State University.

Lumumba apologized on behalf of the city to the families of the two men whose lives were cut short by the violent police response to the protest against racial injustice. Killed were 21-year-old Jackson State student Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and 17-year-old James Earl Green, a high school student who was on campus while walking home from work.

Jackson State’s 1970 commencement was canceled because of the bloodshed, and graduates that year received their diplomas in the mail, if at all. On Saturday, 74 of the 400-plus 1970 grads donned caps and gowns and stood in the sunshine to receive the recognition denied to them a lifetime ago.

“As James Baldwin once wrote: ‘When we cannot tell the truth about our past, we become trapped in it,’” Lumumba said. “I believe, as a city, we must publicly atone for the sins of our past and proclaim a new identity of dignity, equity and justice.”

The May 15, 1970, shootings at Jackson State had largely been overshadowed by violence from days earlier, when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four Kent State University students amid a Vietnam War protest.

Lumumba and Frazier are both Black, and both represent a city now more than 80% Black. Jackson was majority-white in 1970, and the Jackson Police Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers who went on campus were white.

Lumumba said the Jackson Police Department officers “unjustly gunned down two innocent young Black men, terrorized and traumatized a community of Black students and committed one of the gravest sins in our city’s history.”

Frazier was a Jackson State student in 1970. He said he had gone to dinner that night and was delayed in returning to campus. But he believes he might have been standing near his friend Gibbs during the gunfire, if not for that delay.

“The state of Mississippi never apologized for the tragedy that occurred on this campus that night — never apologized,” Frazier said. “So, since I’m here representing the state of Mississippi in my role as state senator, I’d like to issue an apology to the families, the Jackson State family, for the tragedy that occurred that night because they took very valuable lives.”

Officers marched onto Jackson State the night of May 14, 1970, to quell protests against racial injustice. According to a report by President Richard Nixon’s Commission on Campus Unrest, Jackson State students had been throwing rocks at white motorists. James “Lap” Baker, a member of the Class of 1970, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that students were fed up with white people driving through campus shouting racial slurs, throwing bottles and endangering Black pedestrians.

Students had gathered outside the Alexander Hall women’s dormitory and B.F. Roberts dining hall across the street — some protesting, others simply enjoying each other’s company as women returned to the dorm before curfew.

After midnight that May 15, a Highway Patrol officer used a bullhorn to address students, Baker said. Someone in the crowd threw a bottle, and officers started shooting indiscriminately, later falsely claiming they had seen a sniper in a dorm window.

A Jackson TV reporter recorded 28 seconds of gunfire. When it had ended, Gibbs and Green were dead and 12 other people were bleeding. Windows of Alexander Hall shattered and its walls were left with pockmarks still visible today.

John A. Peoples Jr., who was Jackson State president from 1967 to 1984, said during Saturday’s ceremony that he remembers “the sickening smell of blood” streaming down the stairway of Alexander Hall after the shootings.

“We sat on that lawn the rest of the night singing freedom songs,” Peoples said.

Baker crawled through grass after the shootings to return unharmed to his off-campus apartment after what he calls a planned “massacre.” No officer ever faced criminal charges, and an all-white jury awarded no money to the Black victims’ families in a civil lawsuit.

Jackson State on Saturday awarded posthumous honorary doctorate degrees to Gibbs and Green, and their sisters accepted those. The graduation took place on the site of the once-busy street that was closed years ago and turned into a pedestrian zone named the Gibbs-Green Memorial Plaza.

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Looking Back On 20 Years At War In Afghanistan

Looking Back On 20 Years At War In Afghanistan
Looking Back On 20 Years At War In Afghanistan

The United States’ mission in Afghanistan was supposed to be straightforward.

Osama bin Laden and his followers did the unthinkable on Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking passenger jets and killing thousands in attacks on buildings that symbolized American power. The public overwhelmingly supported invading Afghanistan, whose ruling Taliban movement had sheltered bin Laden.

The initial strike was quick. Yet American troops and their allies stayed in Afghanistan for another 20 years, even though president after president said it was time to leave ― and the Taliban regained ground while U.S.-backed forces remained shaky. 

On April 14, President Joe Biden finally announced that the U.S. would end its military presence in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021.

“I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” Biden said in a speech from the White House Treaty Room — the same place where President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war in 2001. “I will not pass this responsibility onto a fifth.”

The United States has now completed around 12% of the withdrawal, the Defense Department said in a statement this week. 

HuffPost spoke to veterans of the war, including non-Americans who supported the U.S. campaign. They shared their complicated feelings about the end of the war, their doubts about the value of the effort, the friends they made (and sometimes lost) and how it felt to risk their lives for a project that Americans largely seemed to forget. 

Peter Lucier

Peter Lucier

‘We learned how to fight a war that nobody cared about.’

Peter Lucier, 31, served as a Marine infantryman in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. He lives in St. Louis and is a law student at Saint Louis University School of Law. Since leaving the military in 2013, Lucier has written about his experiences and is active with the progressive veterans group Common Defense, which advocated for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. The news about withdrawal came two days after the nine-year anniversary of his friend’s death in Afghanistan. 

It’s supposedly over, and I wasn’t happy. I didn’t cry until later. I just was empty. And if anything, I felt almost angry. It seemed like the announcement was coming not as a result of a watershed moment. It’s cliche, but it was definitely not with a bang, but with a whimper. There wasn’t a moment of reckoning. …

I remember there was this colonel who had talked to us right when we got into country. And he said, “I want you to remember that not a single thing you do out here is worth the life of a single Marine.”

It felt like that’s the kind of thing that you hear at a safety brief before a training exercise. Like, “Hey, remember, this is just training. Nothing that we do is like worth someone dying over. So if something’s unsafe, just stop it.” But this is war. The thing that we’re doing is supposed to be worth the life of a Marine, because if it’s not, then what are we doing here? Are we just running out the clock? Are we just sitting here, waiting to go home and trying to not die? …

I feel like the business of government, whether that was Pentagon brass or senior-level calls, was a campaign of dishonesty and half-truths that was allowed to continue because no one cared. Because of public apathy, because of the “low cost” of the war ― an acceptable number of casualties, a relatively low footprint. 

We learned how to fight a war that nobody cared about. Maybe that’s the legacy. We learned how to keep a war going for 20 years without aggravating the average voter enough to do something about it. The legacy is America now can get away with long-term violence and military action in other places and put it on the shoulders of an incredibly small group of people.

Esti Lamonaca

Esti Lamonaca

‘There’s nothing that civilians can say that is comparable to war.’

Esti Lamonaca, 30, is a native New Yorker who vividly remembers the 9/11 attacks. Lamonaca served in Afghanistan, attached to Special Forces task forces as an intelligence analyst from 2015 to 2016 before leaving the military as a sergeant and pursuing a degree in anthropology with minors in community organizing and women and gender studies. They are the national lead organizer at Common Defense.

I proudly wore my Afghanistan vet hat [the week of the withdrawal announcement] because I felt this sense of relief and this euphoria. … Wearing my hat around, I never expect anyone to say anything to me because I don’t assume that people know what it means, but I did get stopped by one much older African American person saying they were extremely happy the U.S. was withdrawing. This person teared up when they were thanking me.

It really does help a lot of us who are struggling with PTSD, knowing that no one is going to have to suffer there anymore. … We did not win the war by any means, but we won the fight for what truly needed to happen right now and was long overdue.

I did not stop crying all week. I walked around, went on runs and cried. I thought about every single person that I lost there and lost back at home and I prayed for them to hopefully be at peace now. I literally re-lived every single day, things that I have suppressed. I saw Afghan women looking at me with stoic faces that didn’t want us there. I saw kids throwing rocks at us but also hugging us, looking at us as if this was normal. I saw my friends crying out for help. …

There is a quote-unquote normal way to be in the world, and when veterans share our stories a lot of times people will gasp or feel so bad for us. They just don’t understand, and it makes us feel even more alienated just by sharing our stories. Don’t try to relate to us, either ― there’s nothing that civilians can say that is comparable to war unless they’ve been there themselves. 

I hope that every single troop member that comes home knows that they’re valid, and I really, really hope that the media considers taking on stories from people who actually bore witness. Just because the war is over doesn’t mean that any sort of Afghanistan vet is over the war.

Najeeb Aminyar

Najeeb Aminyar

‘It will be total chaos and a graveyard.’

Najeeb Aminyar, 30, worked with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in Kabul as an interpreter between 2010 and 2014. He moved to America on a Special Immigrant Visa, but nearly all his family remains in Afghanistan. He has earned associate and bachelor’s degrees and is now a law student at Texas A&M University. He also volunteers to help other Afghans on SIVs with the group No One Left Behind. 

Even though I am not there, I am not in danger, I was terrified by this news, because I feel for hundreds and thousands of others who are at great risk and are projected to be left behind once the U.S. leaves. The U.S. government still has time: If they want, they can do a lot to ameliorate the situation. They can increase personnel to work on [Special Immigrant Visas] at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. It’s in the thousands ― I would guess somewhere around 10,000 to 15,000 applicants. My parents and siblings are there. My little brother used to work as an interpreter. He was laid off, and his SIV is not even approved yet. He applied in April 2020, and his case is stuck in the bureaucracy. 

When I was in Kabul, I felt very afraid for myself and my family. … In the last 20 years, 300 interpreters [and their family members] were killed and I believe the number of people who got injured or their families got kidnapped must reach in the thousands. When I used to go out, I hid my face with a scarf. Close relatives did not know what I did; not even my neighbors or my friends because it was too risky. It was a very limiting and isolating life. The Taliban has their sympathizers everywhere. They could be your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker. So you are really stuck in your home.

I came to the U.S. in 2014. Today, the situation in Afghanistan is 10 times — or maybe more than that — worse. And once the U.S. troops leave, the situation will not even be comparable ― it will be total chaos and a graveyard for people who are known to be affiliated with the U.S. army and coalition forces. If the American people knew what’s going on in Afghanistan and what is being traded in the deal, they would not let Biden’s administration completely withdraw.

The ideal situation would be the U.S. reconsidering their withdrawal, giving at least a year or two to mitigate the situation in Afghanistan and bring both sides to the table, to create a comprehensive peace treaty between them and then have neighboring countries and the other influential countries of the world sign the treaty. They should take responsibility, saying we guarantee that we are not going to let Afghanistan go back to the ’90s, we guarantee that the Taliban will not go rogue again.

I am worried, not only for my family. For me, it’s the entire people.

Timothy Berry

Timothy Berry

‘I literally have soldiers in my formation who are … falling into conspiracy theories.’

Timothy Berry, 31, was a captain in the Army and served in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division in 2015. While attending West Point, his classmates elected him class president, just the third time that a Black student was chosen and graduated with that position in the more than 200 years of the school’s history. He now lives in Hudson, New York, and is a graduate student at the NYU Stern School of Business. 

At the time, I was noticing ― particularly as someone who’s a Black American ― that there was an erosion of trust in democracy at home. Ferguson was happening, the Black Lives Matter movement was coming to fruition in 2015. … 

Something that was always glaring to me too, even when I got to Afghanistan, is that we were trying to help build this country and then I turned on the television, and you have the police violence at home. You have Donald Trump rising to power and eventually becoming the Republican nominee for president, completely trashing all the institutions that Americans previously trusted. There was a great irony. 

I’ll never forget this. I had a conversation with a soldier from Ohio. Somehow we were talking about the Newtown massacre with those children that were killed [at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012]. And he said to me with a straight face, “Sir, that didn’t really happen. That was all fake.” My first reaction was I wanted to get a counseling statement. I kept talking to him and was just realizing, wow ― I literally have soldiers in my formation who are being manipulated or are falling into conspiracy theories and denialism. …

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at home. So the withdrawal, even if it is just a symbolic one, is important because it signifies that the United States is doing some work internally to prove that its own democracy is worth it.

Jessica St. John 

Jessica St. John 

‘The country is beautiful. I loved it, basically.’

Jessica St. John, 35, joined the Iowa Army National Guard right out of high school and served in Iraq (2007-2008) and Afghanistan (2010-2011). In Afghanistan, she provided security for an agriculture team in Kunar Province. Her experience working with the local population inspired her to get her degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages, and she now teaches English-language learners at Iowa City West High School. She is a member of the progressive group VoteVets. In 2019, she had the opportunity to ask then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden a question about veterans issues at a CNN town hall. She has a service dog, Victor, that helps mitigate symptoms of PTSD.

After my service, I went to the University of Northern Iowa. I went to school for TESOL, which is teaching English to speakers of other languages. Actually, what inspired that was my work in Afghanistan, working with the local population. … 

In Iraq, I was on a super base and you didn’t get to see anything but sand and fences. When I was in Afghanistan, I was in a remote place on [Forward Operating Base Camp Wright]. The country is beautiful. I loved it, basically. I don’t even know how to put it into words. 

I kind of become obsessed with the culture. I liked to read a lot of books and find out more about why Afghanistan was the way it was. Working with the local population was also really intriguing. …

I was reading the news online [when I heard about the withdrawal decision], and I just sort of thought, “Thank god.” To me, both wars were kind of a waste of resources ― people’s lives, money and time. Because we were there so long, we did so to speak, win the hearts and minds. But I think as far as what we were actually doing over there, it could’ve been done covertly, with special forces and different groups. I don’t think we needed to deploy as many people as we did. …

I do feel for those interpreters and people that worked with us. They’re not safe there. They do need a pathway to be able to go anywhere, whether it’s the United States or Canada or wherever they would feel comfortable. 

Sam Rogers

Sam Rogers

‘My oldest daughter is 11. Another 10 years of this, she’d have enough time to go there twice.’

Sam Rogers, 34, enlisted in 2004 and deployed to Afghanistan three times ― twice in uniform and once as a civilian. He now lives in Milwaukee and works with Concerned Veterans for America, an organization opposed to extensive U.S. military entanglements abroad and supported by the well-funded conservative Koch network.

My first tour was the 2009-10 Kandahar surge under President Obama. It was probably some of the worst conflict sustained there. My unit lost 42 soldiers and had over 300 amputees.

It was disbelief [when the news broke]. I truly did not think that we would be able to leave… I expected we would leave a large Special Forces contingent or something. I’m someone who’s probably more right of center. I shared the video of [Biden’s] speech; I pulled over on the freeway to listen to it. I was thrilled that he was so explicit in his commitment to withdraw all troops and to end this conflict. I’m excited that we could see an end to the funerals. I’m tired of the funerals.

Connecting the futility of a campaign to the sacrifice and valor of individuals is one of the reasons we got trapped in this for so long. I’m glad that the younger generations of Americans don’t have to endure that. My oldest daughter is 11. Another 10 years of this, she’d have enough time to go there twice. Both myself and my wife are military, so there’s a very strong chance that our kids will follow in our footsteps. If they’re going to be at risk, I want it to be for something that’s demonstrably worth it.

My third deployment was as a civilian intelligence officer. It really solidified that there was no grand strategy, there was no master plan ― these things that I just assumed or hoped existed above me, as an enlisted guy, didn’t. 

As a conservative … I’ve started traveling around and meeting with conservative groups and saying, “I’m sure you all are extremely unhappy with President Biden for a variety of reasons, but this should not be one of them. This is the place where we should be bigger, we should be supporting something meaningful, something that explicitly supports the troops.” And that’s been received very positively so far. 

Dunja Neukam

Dunja Neukam

‘To say it wasn’t worth it is a slap in the face.’

After the 9/11 attacks, the NATO alliance invoked its mutual defense clause for the first time ever ― calling on the United States’ global partners to support the mission against al Qaeda, including in Afghanistan. Countries like Germany sent thousands of troops to join the American effort. They are now withdrawing forces along with the U.S. Starting in 2002, Dunja Neukam served four tours in Afghanistan as part of the German deployment. She now volunteers with the veterans group Bund Deutscher EinsatzVeteranen and lives in Koblenz, Germany.

The withdrawal is a logical answer because … they missed the point to create a better way for this country. I think the date is the wrong way: to pick 9/11 to withdraw from Afghanistan is a horrible date and a slap in the face of every killed and injured soldier, because the meaning is it started with 9/11, with the attack on the twin towers, and it ended in a war that we lose.

The first time I was in Afghanistan, I thought, “OK, we will bring freedom to this country, we will bring education, we will bring wealth.” We saw a lot of poor people with no medicine, nothing. We saw a lot of beaten females. We saw depression. I thought it will be better … but after an attack on our bus [when a suicide bomber killed four German soldiers in 2003], everything goes wrong. On my fourth mission, in 2010, I thought, this will be a long, long mission. We need more international help, we need to build the economy and education, but I don’t know where all the money has gone. 

I cried a lot about my fallen comrades but to say it wasn’t worth it is a slap in the face. In my heart are two sides: I see comrades and I see the injured and I see the veterans who struggle with PTSD but it’s worth it because I have little examples. We saved a lot of children’s lives with little surgeries, we helped women escape from abusive men because we built a women’s shelter. We built a water pipe. It’s not the whole world, but for these people it’s the whole world and I think that’s the worth of it … I think a lot of soldiers have these little examples.

We do not have a veterans’ culture like in the U.S. Everything with a touch of war is very difficult in German society. … They know we were in the war but they close their eyes, so we struggle with a lot of bureaucracy and with the past. We have no veterans homes or centers ― it’s very difficult in Germany. But it will be better.

Blake Feldman

Blake Feldman

‘If you’re going to send folks there, you have to commit to supporting them.’

Blake Feldman, 41, grew up in New York City and was there on Sept. 11, 2001. He attended Valley Forge Military Academy ― military service runs in his family ― and joined the Army JAG Corps after receiving his law degree. He served in the military for more than nine years ― the majority overseas in Central Europe and Asia ― and was in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. During the last month of his tour, U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He now resides in Kansas City, Missouri, and works in cybersecurity.

I was in Afghanistan when the first government shutdown happened, and soldiers and their families weren’t getting paid during that several-week period. I’m there with junior soldiers, and I’m worried about how their wives and kids are getting groceries back at home. 

That’s unconscionable, that’s the kind of thing that informed my view ― if you’re going to send folks there, you have to commit to supporting them. And that also means making sure they can accomplish the mission and achieve the goals that you’ve asked them to do. You can’t just send them there and then just forget about them or not give them clear objectives. That’s putting people in harm’s way without good reason. …

Leaving [the military] was a pretty significant decision. In 2014, two important things happened. One, I got notice from the Office of Personnel Management that the identity of everyone who had ever held a security clearance has been compromised. … That was a pretty significant moment in my life. 

At the same time, I got a letter from the federal student loan office that my federal service didn’t qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. … When I was in Afghanistan in 2010, they didn’t send [the loan letter] to Afghanistan. They sent it to my old address in Tennessee. And because I didn’t get the letter ― because I was deployed ― they just assumed I wasn’t interested in checking some box that my federal service should apply.

So when I realized: One, my identity and the identity of all my friends and family were not secure, even though I was serving, and two, I wasn’t going to be able to use my federal service to pay off my student loans, I just felt like I was in the wrong place. I wasn’t relevant anymore.

Kyle Bibby

Kyle Bibby

‘There’s no amount of Special Forces raids that’s going to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan.’

Kyle Bibby, 35, is a former Marine Corps infantry officer who served in Afghanistan from 2011 to 12 and later served as a Presidential Management Fellow in the Obama administration. He co-founded the Black Veterans Project after leaving the military and is the national campaigns manager at Common Defense, which advocated for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

I never once felt that what I was doing in Afghanistan made my community in New Jersey safer. They found Osama bin Laden while I was in Afghanistan, and he was not in Afghanistan, he was in Pakistan. I had a Marine ask me sarcastically, “So, what, are we going home now?” That was 10 years ago.

Folks in Afghanistan are not interested in having a big, predominantly white army from the other side of the world come in and tell them what to do. I had another platoon commander tell me once toward the end of the deployment, “The Taliban do a lot of messed up stuff, but the fact is they can recruit guys that want to fight against invaders.” He could not discount how powerful that is and said if he grew up in Afghanistan, he’s not certain it wouldn’t appeal to him. And that’s what it is about: The U.S. ― we come into situations in such a condescending and arrogant way, thinking if we talk about values that somehow changes the fact that we are invading.

It’s something to be there and see a largely white military force in a very poor, predominantly brown country and not feel some sort of parity with the policing we see in the United States. My time in Afghanistan got me interested in criminal justice and working in low-income African American communities.

We need to have a good-faith effort of actually switching our strategy from one that is incredibly military-based. There’s no amount of Special Forces raids that’s going to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan. People are saying the situation is going to degrade for women. Are a bunch of SF guys kicking in the door and shooting people going to solve that?

People need to be more critical of these generals. … I am tired of hearing them come forward with another batch of excuses of why they couldn’t get the job done in 20 years. Ultimately, the generals either win or lose a war, and they didn’t win this one.

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Dust Devil Takes 70-Pound Dog For A Terrifying Spin

Dust Devil Takes 70-Pound Dog For A Terrifying Spin
Dust Devil Takes 70-Pound Dog For A Terrifying Spin

Duke the 70-pound Labrador took an impromptu flight this week when a dust devil whipped him up into the air in Weyers Cave, Virginia.

The pooch was lifted up, spun around, and then dumped back down on the ground. Luckily, he was unhurt.

“It’s still very tough to imagine that you know a 70-pound dog or close to it and how you know, you don’t see that every day,” Duke’s owner, Brittany Wampler, told WHSV. “How would that have happened? He just kind of looked around and was shaken for a minute but you know he went right back to playing with the kids after that.”

Wampler was at work when the dust devil struck.

She sought out surveillance footage after her three children insisted the freak occurrence had really happened. Incredibly, it was captured on a neighbor’s doorbell camera.

“I just couldn’t quit watching,” Wampler said of the video.

“(To say I was) shocked would probably be an understatement,” she told The Dodo. “He’s been coined Duke the Flying Dog at our house. The kids joke about buying him a cape. But I’m OK if he never takes flight again.”

The National Weather Service confirmed it was most likely a dust devil that had lifted Duke into the air.

A small, rapidly rotating wind that is made visible by the dust, dirt or debris it picks up. Also called a whirlwind, it develops best on clear, dry, hot afternoons.

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California Tree-Trimmer Charged Over Deadly Throat Slashings That Left 3 Dead

California Tree-Trimmer Charged Over Deadly Throat Slashings That Left 3 Dead
California Tree-Trimmer Charged Over Deadly Throat Slashings That Left 3 Dead

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A tree trimmer in rural Northern California has been charged in throat-slashing serial killings that left three people dead, prosecutors announced Thursday.

Ryan Scott Blinston, 37, of the small city of Oroville, was charged on Wednesday with murder, attempted murder and arson. The charges included special sentencing allegations that Blinston used a deadly weapon, attacked an elderly victim and committed multiple killings.

Blinston didn’t enter a plea during his arraignment Thursday. He was appointed a public defender and ordered held without bail pending a May 19 court hearing. Some relatives of the victims were in court for the hearing, Butte County District Attorney Michael L. Ramsey said.

Blinston could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Blinston had been in jail since he was arrested last year and charged in another neck-cutting, authorities said.

Blinston was working for a tree-trimming service in Butte and Tehama counties, north of Sacramento, last May and June when he returned to the clients’ homes after the work was completed and slashed the throats of the residents, according to prosecutors.

Loreen Severs, 88, of Los Molinos died and her husband, Homer Severs, 91, survived but died that December of an unrelated illness, authorities said.

Blinston also is accused of killing Sandra George, 82, and an acquaintance, Vicky Cline, 57, both of Oroville. He also is charged with torching Cline’s car.

“Blood and DNA evidence on and in Blinston’s car was forensically matched back to Cline. Her body was later discovered by a fisherman in the Feather River near Belden,” said a joint statement from the Butte County and Tehama County district attorney’s offices, which filed the charges in Butte County Superior Court.

Blinston was arrested before dawn on June 14 — about a week after Cline vanished — by a Butte County sheriff’s SWAT team that had tracked him to a motorhome in heavily wooded and isolated Brush Creek, where authorities planned to arrest him on suspicion of burning Cline’s car, prosecutors said.

“As the team approached the motorhome, they heard the muffled screams of a man inside and loud banging on the outside of the motorhome. The banging turned out to be Blinston attempting to get into the motorhome with a hatchet,” the district attorneys’ statement said.

Blinston ran into the woods, refused to drop the hatchet and was captured after a short struggle and the use of a stun gun and pepper spray, authorities said.

Blinston had met the 50-year-old owner of the motorhome earlier then stayed over because he told the man he was afraid to leave after dark because of bears, the resident told authorities.

The man said he was sleeping when he awoke to find Blinston attacking him with a knife, Butte County District Attorney Michael L. Ramsey said.

Blinston slashed his neck but the man said he was able to kick him out of the motorhome and lock the door, Ramsey said.

A medic treated the seriously injured man and he was airlifted to a hospital.

The SWAT team may have saved the man’s life, Ramsey said, because the isolated area had no cell phone service and it was unlikely anyone would have heard the man’s cries for help.

Blinston pleaded not guilty to attempted murder in that case last year.

There was no immediate word on a motive. Blinston had previous arrests, including in 2013 for allegedly driving a stolen Lexus and being in possession of three guns taken in burglaries.

However, none of his previous arrests involved the level of violence seen in the attacks, Ramsey said.

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GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger Predicts How Republican Purge Of Liz Cheney Will Backfire

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger Predicts How Republican Purge Of Liz Cheney Will Backfire
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger Predicts How Republican Purge Of Liz Cheney Will Backfire

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) warned Friday how the ousting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from House GOP leadership for refusing to back ex-President Donald Trump’s election lies could end up backfiring on the party.

“I believe that by basically deplatforming Liz they’ve actually given her a massive platform,” Kinzinger told “The View.”

Kinzinger said Cheney, before being purged Wednesday from her role as House Republican Conference chair, “would tell the truth obviously” but also “took into account the needs of the whole conference.”

But now “she’s basically out there independently saying what needs to be said, finding whatever media outlet she wants to go on, and I think telling the truth.”

“I think they actually created their worst enemy in … deplatforming her,” added Kinzinger, who crossed party lines to vote for the impeachment of Trump over his incitement of the deadly U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

The Illinois Republican said the GOP’s return to “loser” Trump was “not providing people any kind of a path to the future.”

“And standing up and being sane in the Republican party, that’s not anything heroic,” he added. “That’s just what people expect of us and unfortunately there’s not many of us doing that at the moment.”

Trump loyalist Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) was on Friday elected to take over from Cheney in the House GOP leadership role, despite having voted in line with Trump’s policies significantly less than her predecessor.

Watch Kinzinger’s comments on “The View” here:

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Supercut Shows The Phrase Republicans Just Can’t Bring Themselves To Say

Supercut Shows The Phrase Republicans Just Can’t Bring Themselves To Say
Supercut Shows The Phrase Republicans Just Can’t Bring Themselves To Say

Republicans will say “all kinds of nonsense” but there’s one phrase “mysteriously absent from their vocabulary,” comedian Roy Wood Jr. notes in his latest spoof segment for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

In the parody “Unsolved Mysteries: MAGA edition” bit, the correspondent examines why Republicans can’t bring themselves to say that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square.

“Republican mouths are unable to formulate these words,” Wood Jr. says, airing a montage of conservatives swerving questions about the legitimacy of the vote.

Instead, they simply acknowledge Biden is the president in apparent deference to ex-President Donald Trump’s election conspiracies.

“Republicans seem to know that Joe Biden is the president but not how that happened,” said Wood Jr. “Do they think a stork delivered Joe Biden to the White House? Do they think he tunneled into the White House, like some sort of reverse ‘Shawshank?’ Do Republicans believe in an immaculate inauguration where Biden became president without achieving an election?”

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