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Biden Urged to Swiftly Evacuate Thousands of Washington’s ‘Afghan Allies’ Amid US Troop Pullout

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On Tuesday, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said that as of 1 June, the United States had completed up to 44 percent of its Afghan troop withdrawal process, with over six facilities handed over to Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry.

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers has called on President Joe Biden to “immediately evacuate” thousands of Washington’s Afghan “friends and allies” from Afghanistan amid the pullout of American troops from the South Asian country.

In a 4 June letter to Biden obtained by Politico, the lawmakers expressed concern that POTUS had not yet ordered the Department of Defence to help the White House implement a plan “to protect our Afghan partners”, in the wake of the first message sent to the US president on 21 April.

According to the authors of the 4 June letter, the State Department’s current blueprint to approve special immigrant visas (SIVs) allowing more than 18,000 of Afghans to enter the US is being fulfilled too slowly.


©
AFP 2021 / Romeo Gacad

In this photo taken on August 5, 2011, US troops from the Charlie Company, 2-87 Infantry, 3d Brigade Combat Team under Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force patrols Kandalay village following Taliban attacks on a joint US and Afghan National Army checkpoint protecting the western area of Kandalay village.

The lawmakers argued that the current SIV process may come to a standstill because “tt takes an average of 800+ days, and we plan to withdraw [US troops] in less than 100 days”.  

They predicted the process “will not be rectified in time to help the 18,000+ applicants who need visas before our withdrawal”.

“If we fail to protect our allies in Afghanistan, it will have a lasting impact on our future partnerships and global reputation, which will then be a great detriment to our troops and the future of our national security”, the letter underscored.

The call to Biden comes after State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that they had identified “process improvements” and directed additional resources to the SIV programme, including increasing staffing in Washington and Kabul to more efficiently process SIV applications.

“We understand and we recognise that we have a special commitment and a special responsibility to the many Afghans who, over the years, have at great risk to themselves and even to their families — have assisted the United States in our efforts in Afghanistan. We are always seeking ways to improve the SIV process while ensuring the integrity of the programme and safeguarding our national security and affording opportunities to these Afghans”, Price pointed out.

UK to Fast-Track Relocation of Its Afghan Partners

He spoke after the UK announced plans to rapidly resettle hundreds of Afghans who worked for the UK military and government, mostly as interpreters, amid concerns for their safety as international troops leave Afghanistan.

“As we withdraw our armed forces, it is only right we accelerate the relocation of those who may be at risk of reprisals. Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK government to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan. We are doing everything to make sure we recognise their services and bring them to safety. It is the right thing to do”, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace underlined.

On 1 May, the United States, along with NATO partners, began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of war that resulted in the deaths of over 2,300 US servicemen and hundreds of thousands of Afghan casualties.

President Joe Biden vowed to complete the pullout by the 20th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States that sparked the so-called War on Terror by then-POTUS George W. Bush.



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Alexei Navalny wins 2021 Sakharov Prize

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The European Parliament announced that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has won the Sakharov Prize for defending human rights. The parliament’s president David Sassoli wrote on Twitter: “Alexei Navalny is the winner of this year’s #SakharovPrize. He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life. Today’s prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release.”

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Build Back Better: Friendly fire aimed at Joe Biden | USA

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In early October, a group of activists kayaked to the houseboat belonging to US Senator Joe Manchin in Washington to protest his opposition to the Democratic Party’s €3.5-trillion Reconciliation bill, which is a star policy of the Joe Biden administration. This came just days after Senator Kyrsten Sinema was ambushed by protesters during her trip back to Washington.

But neither Manchin nor Sinema are part of the Republican Party’s offense against the bill: they are two moderates in the Democratic Party who are forcing the president to reconsider the reforms. In the meantime, Biden is facing both pressure and disillusionment as his popularity in the polls plummets.

The Democratic Party’s ambitious spending plan, called Build Back Better, involves the largest extension of social-welfare coverage in the United States since the 1970s when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was in power. The bill includes a tax credit for children and other dependent family members, extends aid to the elderly and disadvantaged people, and in its current form, funds a raft of sweeping measures aimed at fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy. But it is the environmental side of the plan that Biden is now considering changing due to the complete opposition from Senator Manchin, whose state – the conservative West Virginia – relies heavily on coal mining for employment. The plan is estimated to cost $3.5 trillion (around €3 trillion), but it is likely that it will be cut back to less than $2.5 million.

This is because, unlike former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Biden only has a narrow majority in Congress. In 1965, when Johnson signed the Medicare bill – which established a health-insurance program for the elderly – the Democratic Party had an overwhelming majority in Congress and held control of two-thirds of the Senate. But even then it was difficult to convince the moderate sector to approve the bill. Fifty years later, in 2011, when former president Barack Obama put forward his healthcare reforms, he also had a stronger position than Biden in both legislative chambers: 57 democrats and two independents in the Senate.

Senator Manchin’s opposition to the social-welfare plan is based on fears over rising inflation in the US, an increase of public debt and – something more abstract – concern that it will turn the country “into an entitlement society,” as he stated at the beginning of October. The statement came after he published an opinion poll in The Wall Street Journal called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” In the article, he argues: “Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.”

Since becoming a senator after the 2020 election, Kyrsten Sinema has defended a bipartisan approach to legislating – a position she has also taken with the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, which is still awaiting ratification. “The American people are asking for us to take action. What they don’t want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want,” she said in a radio interview with NPR in August. “That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing,” added Sinema, who is the first Democratic senator in the state of Arizona in 30 years.

Both senators raised record sums of money in the third quarter of the year, thanks to large contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, according to filings recorded and published by the Financial Times. Manchin raised $1.6 million (€1.38 million), up from $1.5 million ( €1.29 million) in the second quarter and just $175,000 (€150,000) in the first. Meanwhile, Sinema received €1.1 million (€950,000) in donations in the third quarter, a figure narrowly outstripping the second and far from the $375,000 (€322,000) in the first. This is despite the fact that neither of the politicians face reelection until 2024.

Two Senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want

Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders

In the meantime, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is starting to lose patience and is also pressuring the White House. “Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want,” Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation,” he added in a separate tweet. In a similar vein, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “Four percent of Democrats are opposing passing the president’s agenda.”

Democrat veteran Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has begun to try to solve the conflict and is preparing lawmakers to accept cuts to the reconciliation bill. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion,” she admitted on October 12. “But whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative.”

The greater debate with respect to the spending plan is over the size of public spending and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. Biden came to the White House with the message that a monumental crisis required a strong and broad government. The Biden administration has been able to pass new legislation on voting rights at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for restrictions, which in practice, hinder access to minority groups and the disadvantaged. But there are more projects in limbo. The reason is that it is not enough to have a simple majority in the Senate; the Democratic Party needs 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, but only has 50, plus the casting vote of Deputy President Kamala Harris.

Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity has taken a nosedive. He entered the White House on January 20 with a 57% approval rating, according to respected pollster Gallup. But in August, after six months in power, the figure had fallen below 50%, and in September, the last month for which there is available data, it was down to 43%. This is higher than the approval rating of former US president Donald Trump, which came in at 37% after the same period of time, but is nine points lower than the same figure for Obama. The fall is largely due to the drop in support among independent voters: before the election, 61% of them approved of Biden, compared to 37% now.

Economic uncertainty, an uptick of the coronavirus pandemic over summer and stalled reforms are among the reasons Biden’s popularity is waning. Other factors include the administration’s migration policy, which has maintained some of the most restrictive elements of the Trump era, and the upheaval following the US army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the anniversary of the November 2020 election fast approaching, Biden is hoping that he will be able to pass his star legislation, despite the internal opposition.



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Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?

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Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal

The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.

That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”

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