Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Last Call For Af-Gone-Istan, Con't

Finally coming to his senses, President Biden won't be leaving thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and their families to be butchered by Taliban forces as the US finally slinks away from the mother of all Unfinished Bush Business.

The Biden administration is set to begin evacuations of Afghan interpreters and translators who aided the U.S. military effort in the nearly 20-year war, an administration official said.

The Operation Allies Refuge flights out of Afghanistan during the last week of July will be available first for special immigrant visa applicants already in the process of applying for U.S. residency, according to the senior administration official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden has faced pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come up with a plan to help evacuate Afghan military helpers ahead of next month’s U.S. military withdrawal. The White House began briefing lawmakers on the outlines of their plans last month.

The evacuation planning could potentially affect tens of thousands of Afghans. Several thousand Afghans who worked for the U.S. — plus their family members — are already in the application pipeline for special immigrant visas. 
The Biden administration has also been working on identifying a third country or U.S. territory that could host Afghans while their visa applications are processed.

The administration is weighing using State Department-chartered commercial aircraft, not military aircraft, according to a second administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. But if the State Department requests military aircraft, the U.S. military would be ready to assist, the official said.

Tracey Jacobson, a three-time chief of mission in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo, is leading the State Department coordination unit that will deliver on the president’s commitment under Operation Allies Refuge. That unit also includes representatives from the defense and homeland security departments.

Russ Travers, deputy homeland security adviser and former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, is coordinating the interagency policy process on Operation Allies Refuge, officials said.

Separately, the White House announced that Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House homeland security adviser, would lead a U.S. delegation to a security conference in Uzbekistan this week to discuss Afghanistan’s security issues with leaders from the Central 5 — Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia — and other regional players.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan reconciliation, are also expected to take part in the conference.

U.S. officials have said that one possibility under discussion is to relocate the Afghan visa applicants to neighboring countries in Central Asia, where they could be protected from possible retaliation by the Taliban or other groups.
Frankly, we should be giving these folks a tickertape parade and full US citizenship for their lives, not to mention 20 years of military back pay for risking their lives along with our troops in the Sandbox for two decades, but getting them out of Dodge is literally the least we could do for them and their families.

I'm glad Biden is doing this, but it's not like he had any choice.

Here's hoping they all get out safely.

Tennessee Goes Viral

As the number of new COVID-19 cases have doubled this month from last month due to the dangerous Delta Variant spreading among the unvaccinated in red states like Missouri and Louisiana, and 4th of July holiday celebrations turning into super-spreader events, the problem remains that red states are doing everything they can to downplay the pandemic's rise. In Tennessee, the state's top vaccine official was fired this week over outreach efforts to vaccinate kids against COVID.

Tennessee’s former top vaccinations official said Tuesday that she couldn’t stay silent after she was fired this week amid scrutiny from Republican state lawmakers over her department’s outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who was the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health, said the state’s elected leaders put politics over the health of children by firing her for her efforts to get more Tennesseans vaccinated.

She said the agency presented her with a letter of resignation and a letter of termination Monday, but no reason for why she was being let go.

After choosing the termination letter, Fiscus penned a blistering 1,200-word response in which she said she is ashamed of Tennessee’s leaders, afraid for her state, and “angry for the amazing people of the Tennessee Department of Health who have been mistreated by an uneducated public and leaders who have only their own interests in mind.”

She also revealed that the Tennessee Department of Health has halted all outreach efforts around any kind of vaccines for children, not just COVID-19 ones, which The Tennessean confirmed through department documents. All of it, she warned, comes as only 38% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, lagging behind much of the nation.

“I don’t think they realized how much of an advocate I am for public health and how intolerant of injustice I am,” Fiscus told The Associated Press on Tuesday in one of several interviews with numerous news outlets.

So far, Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has been silent on the firing. His office and the Health Department declined to comment, citing personnel matters. After an event Tuesday, Lee did not answer questions from reporters.

Democrats blasted the firing, with Sen. Raumesh Akbari saying Fiscus was “sacrificed in favor of anti-vaccine ideology.” House Speaker Cameron Sexton was one of few Republicans to weigh in, saying through a spokesperson that health officials made the decision internally.

“While members have expressed concerns about the department’s recent vaccine marketing strategy, Speaker Sexton will not speculate on the factors that went into this decision,” said Sexton’s spokesperson, Doug Kufner. “However, Speaker Sexton does believe that those who have voiced their dissent agree with yesterday’s outcome.”

Republican Sen. Richard Briggs, a physician, said he’s also unsure why Fiscus got fired, but said “it would be wrong if the reason for her firing was because she had a campaign to try to get our children vaccinated.” He said he doesn’t want to second-guess the department, but “because of the way it at least looks superficially without the details being known, there probably needs to be some clarification.”

During a June committee meeting, angry Republican lawmakers invoked Fiscus’ name over a letter she sent to medical providers who administer vaccines explaining the state’s legal mechanism letting them vaccinate minors as young as 14 without parental consent, called the “Mature Minor Doctrine.” The letter was in response to providers’ questions and didn’t contain new information.

Fiscus said the health department’s attorney provided the letter. The attorney, she said, had said the letter had been “blessed by the governor’s office.” She said the doctrine was based on a 1987 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling and her job was to explain what is allowable.

Republican lawmakers also admonished the agency for its communications about the vaccine, including online posts. One graphic, featuring a photo of a smiling child with a Band-Aid on his arm, said, “Tennesseans 12+ are eligible for vaccines. Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.”

During the hearing, Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky held a printout of a Facebook ad saying teens were eligible, calling the agency’s advocacy “reprehensible” and likening it to peer pressure.

Asked about the hearing, the governor last month said generally that the state will “continue to encourage folks to seek access – adults for their children, and adults for themselves to make the personal choice for vaccine.”
Again, many of us live in states where a majority of our neighbors are not vaccinated and never will be. The disinformation campaign against the vaccine might be the single greatest evil act perpetrated against the US in my lifetime, one that will end up killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions in the months and years ahead.

We're going to have to deal with the fallout of unvaccinated states, and it's going to be clear by Labor Day I think that the pandemic is far from over. The real test is how states respond to the coming Delta surge in cases, and in most of the states where this will happen, the answer will be, by law, absolutely nothing.

This fall and winter will be a nightmare.

Texas Two-Steppin' Out, Con't

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that Democratic lawmakers who have left the state can and "will be arrested" upon their return as he pushes ahead with changes in voting laws.

Abbott, a Republican, gave an interview to KVUE on Monday about the Democrats' decision to leave the state and whether the special session of the Texas legislature the governor called can go ahead.

The Democratic legislators flew out of Texas to Washington, D.C. on Monday in order to deny the legislature the two-thirds quorum needed in order to conduct business and to pass legislation.

KVUE asked Abbott if the Democratic walkout meant the voting bills - Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 - could not be passed and if he could do anything as governor to compel the lawmakers to return to the state.

Abbott said there "still remains plenty of time to pass not just the bills you mentioned but there's a lot of other bills on there."

He highlighted some of the measures other than voting reforms. He then addressed the issue of the quorum.

"Answering your second question, yes, there is something the governor can do," Abbott said.

"First of all, I'll tell you what the House of Representatives can do. What the speaker can do is issue a call to have these members arrested.

"In addition to that, however, I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they're hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they're going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year," the governor said
I fully expect this situation to get far worse. Don't be surprised if nutjobs decide to make citizens' arrests of these lawmakers, too. Abbott wants blood, he wants to see Democrats in chains, and thrown in jail. So do his voters, and my guess is they're going to get it.

It will be a bloody spectacle, and it won't be the last we see involving the arrest of Democratic party politicians, I think.
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