Sunday, August 22, 2021

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

Bloomberg News is reporting that in June, President Joe Biden assured NATO allies that the US would be able to stay in Kabul, to the point of London believing they would be able to keep their embassy there open.

President Joe Biden told key allies in June that he would maintain enough of a security presence in Afghanistan to ensure they could continue to operate in the capital following the main U.S. withdrawal, a vow made before the Taliban’s rapid final push across the country, according to a British diplomatic memo seen by Bloomberg.

Biden promised U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, that “critical U.S. enablers” would remain in place to keep Kabul safe following the drawdown of NATO forces, the note said. British officials determined the U.S. would provide enough personnel to ensure that the U.K. embassy in Kabul could continue operating.

But the withdrawal of U.S. forces saw the Afghan government collapse as Taliban fighters raced across the country seizing provincial capitals, culminating in scenes of chaos at Kabul’s airport this week as Western governments tried to pull out their diplomats. The British embassy has since been evacuated, Johnson’s office said, and the U.S. embassy is now shuttered.

The discussions between G7 leaders highlight how Western governments were caught off guard by the speed of the Taliban advance. Foreign ministers in both the U.K. and Germany have faced calls to quit over their initially sluggish efforts to extract officials on the ground, other nationals and the Afghans who worked with them.

Pressure is also growing on Biden to extend his Aug. 31 deadline to pull out troops from the country in order to get as many people as possible safely out of the country. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that some of the alliance’s members want to see the U.S. mission extended, a position pushed by many Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress.

The British document also showed that the U.S. was privately briefing allies that they should be prepared for a Taliban offensive before any settlement that might have allowed former President Ashraf Ghani to remain in power. U.S. diplomats said that the Taliban would “test the Afghan government militarily” before they started taking seriously peace talks that were taking place in Doha, the note said.

White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
This isn't UK PM Boris Johnson stabbing Biden in the back, this is stabbing him in the front, in broad daylight, on global television and spending a good 30 minutes on the slo-mo replays. Somebody at Downing Street wants all of this to fall on Biden's shoulders, and for Britain to do this to the US shows just how furious they are over there.

The Vax Of Life, Con't

At least one state university, UVA, is taking vaccine requirements seriously for COVID: no vaccine, no college for over 200 students sent packing for refusing the jab.

The University of Virginia disenrolled 238 students ahead of its fall semester for noncompliance with the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

Of that number, 49 were enrolled in fall courses — meaning that “a good number” of the remaining students “may not have been planning to return to the University this fall at all,” U.Va. spokesperson Brian Coy said in an email to The Virginian-Pilot.

The students were disenrolled after “receiving multiple reminders via email, text, phone calls, calls to parents that they were out of compliance and had until yesterday to update their status,” Coy said.

Disenrolled students can reenroll if they comply with U.Va.’s vaccine requirement or file an exemption by Aug. 25. They can also return during the spring semester, provided they are vaccinated or exempt by then.

Students had until Wednesday to either show proof of vaccination or file an exemption.

U.Va. granted 335 permanent vaccine waivers for students with religious or medical exemptions. The university also granted 184 temporary vaccine waivers for students who couldn’t get vaccinated due to their summer living situation but intend to get a vaccine once on campus.

Exempt students are required to take a weekly COVID-19 test and wear a mask in both indoor and outdoor common spaces.

The university is one of many across the state requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Several local universities — such as William & Mary, Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University and Christopher Newport University — are also requiring proof of vaccination.

About 96.6 percent of U.Va. students have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a news release.
So there are unvaccinated students, who have filed exemptions, and are facing weekly testing and masks. The school is accommodating them, for sure. The ones who didn't play ball at all however are gone.

Expect to see a lot more of this in the weeks and months ahead, both from universities and businesses, and I expect some sort of Supreme Court ruling (or punt) as soon as the October 1 term starts, if not an emergency ruling sooner. One way or another, mask mandates are going to be resolved nationally soon.

Sunday Long Read: The Dresden White Diamond Affair

Our Sunday Long Read is another true crime story, this time from GQ's Joshua Hammer, about the brazen billion-dollar theft of Germany's most famous diamond in November 2019 and the Lebanese crime family thought to be behind a decade of heists in Berlin.
Dirk Syndram stared out the car window from the passenger seat as the blackened streets of Dresden, Germany, zipped by. As a museum director, Syndram doesn't get many phone calls in the middle of the night; he isn't often roused from his bed and driven into work in the predawn darkness. That sort of thing can only mean the worst has happened.

As his car slowed to a stop outside the Residenzschloss—the city's iconic Baroque palace—Syndram could see that the cops had the whole area sealed off. It was now a little before six o'clock on the morning of November 25, 2019, and from the street that ran past the palace, a keen observer might have noticed the damage in a nook on the ground floor. A section of an iron gate had been pried apart. Behind it, where there had once been a window, there was now a gaping hole.

Police wouldn't allow him through to survey the damage, but Syndram didn't need to go inside to understand what had happened. He knew—better than anybody—what the thieves had been after. The window led to the so-called Green Vault, a glittering repository of 3,000 of the most precious royal treasures in Europe: gemstone-studded sculptures, ornate ivory cabinets, miniature dioramas, massive diamonds, and hundreds of other rare objects of enormous cultural significance—much of the trove commissioned or acquired by the early-18th-century monarch Augustus II, nicknamed Augustus the Strong, who socked it all away in his sprawling Residenzschloss, or Royal Palace, on the Elbe River.

Syndram, who'd been the Green Vault's director since 1993, was horrified and mystified: The museum, Syndram would later tell a reporter, had in recent years conducted tests of its security system and determined that all was working perfectly. What could have possibly gone wrong?

When news of the heist hit the press, the robbery was described as one of the most costly art heists in history. Reports valued the looted treasure at as much as $1.2 billion. That figure was debatable, but the scale of the loss was staggering, and Syndram knew a detail that made the problem much, much worse: None of the art was insured. The premiums on a collection that valuable would be too taxing for the museum to handle.

Eventually authorities let Syndram inside to inspect the crime scene. He walked through vaulted and mirrored antechambers into the Hall of Precious Objects, where he could see the thieves' point of entry. Much of the room was intact, the idiosyncratic treasures—gilded ostrich eggs, nautiluses and sea snails set in silver, crystal bowls—appeared untouched. Aside from the missing window, the only sign of the intruders was on the floor, where Syndram noticed an exquisite jewelry box that had been knocked off a display table. It remained undamaged.

Syndram passed through another room and into the burglars' ultimate destination: the Chamber of Jewels. In a far corner, a display case had been hacked to pieces, the safety glass reduced to thousands of tiny shards. Syndram could see that the thieves had made off with a slew of very particular treasures: a diamond-laden breast star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle; a sword hilt containing nine large and 770 smaller diamonds; an epaulet adorned with the Dresden White Diamond, a 49-carat cushion-cut stone of unusual radiance and purity believed to have been unearthed from the fabled Golconda mines of India. Gone as well were many diamond-studded buttons and shoe buckles worn by Augustus the Strong at wild-boar hunts and weddings.

Syndram stared at the shattered showcase. He felt as if someone had injured a person he loved. He had been the individual responsible for returning the collection to the Green Vault, after decades of displacement and near destruction during World War II and its convulsive aftermath. “The theft was brutal, shameless,” the director would later say. It was also astonishingly fast. Apparently aware that they had a narrow window of time between triggering the alarm and the arrival of the police, the thieves had used less than five minutes to get in and out of the museum. They seemed to know exactly what they had come for. Or did they? Syndram couldn't decide for sure.
This is another one of those stories that would make an excellent movie, but it's not fiction. The crime was bold and brazen, but there's always the problem of finding a buyer for an internationally famous piece of art or having to break it up into pieces in order to sell it. The police need to find the crooks before that happens, and this race is a good one.
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