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Friday, August 27, 2021

Biden's Presidency Fails in the Tragedy of Afghanistan

 Hiding behind his tears — Sorry Biden’s decisions led to Kabul carnage: Goodwin

Most voters deem Biden unfit to be president, poll shows

The Memo: Horror in Kabul is political disaster for Biden


President Biden promised the United States would not suffer a “Saigon moment” as it withdrew from Afghanistan.

The reality has proven even bleaker. 

The attacks committed around Kabul’s airport on Thursday are a human tragedy. They are also a political catastrophe for the president.

At least 13 U.S. personnel have been killed and 15 wounded. The death toll among Afghans climbed to at least 60 according to some reports on Thursday, with more than 140 wounded. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

The American people broadly agreed with Biden’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan, which is nearing its 20-year anniversary and is the longest in the nation’s history. It had already cost more than 2,400 American lives and more than $2 trillion.

It is also true — as Biden noted once again in a White House news conference late Thursday afternoon — that it was then-President Trump who did the deal with the Taliban for a full American withdrawal, which had been scheduled to take place even earlier, in May.

But none of that absolves Biden of responsibility for a pullout that has been, by any reasonable measure, a debacle.

Events from the past few weeks will be seared into the public memory through a series of appalling images: Desperate Afghans clinging to a taxiing U.S. military plane on a runway, and some falling from it soon after takeoff; an infant being hoisted over razor wire toward a group of Marines; and the carnage of Thursday’s attacks.

The end, for America in Afghanistan, is in sight. Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline is just five days away and he has so far rebuffed allies who want him to extend it. But reaching the endpoint may involve navigating fresh horrors.

At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, warned of “very, very real threats” of more attacks that “could occur at any moment.”

Biden sought to steady the ship with his remarks from the White House, where he called for the nation to “remain steadfast.”

He also cited his own experience of losing his son Beau — an Army major — to brain cancer as he sought to empathize with the families of the “heroes” who were killed in Afghanistan on Thursday.

But it was also an address that never quite seemed to match the magnitude of the moment. Biden at times appeared tired. His pledge to exact retribution for the attacks seemed to ring hollow with his own deadline for U.S. withdrawal so close.

The White House had been seeking to wrestle some kind of political victory from the jaws of defeat in Afghanistan in recent days, emphasizing the numbers of people who had been evacuated.

Those numbers are, to be fair, impressive. Since Aug. 14, more than 100,000 people have been evacuated directly by the U.S. military or had their evacuations facilitated by the U.S., according to the White House. Even on Thursday, about 7,500 people were evacuated from Kabul in a 12-hour period.

Yet, the idea that the final U.S. operations were going to be seen as some kind of against-the-odds moral victory — the British evacuation of Dunkirk and the Berlin airlift were the two historical parallels most often cited by voices sympathetic to the White House — vanished in the dust of the airport attacks.

There is no clear historical analogue, though perhaps the closest is the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon. The death toll in that instance was much higher, at 241 American service members, but the shock and trauma bears some comparison to Thursday’s attacks.

Republicans are ramping up their already vigorous criticisms of the president.

The Republican National Committee’s communications director, Danielle Alvarez, blasted Biden’s White House remarks as “incoherent.”

Earlier, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who infamously offered a clenched fist salute to the crowds that would later riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, has called for Biden to resign. So too did Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants the president to be impeached.

The Republicans know there is no realistic chance of either one happening anytime soon. But their rhetoric speaks to their sense of Biden’s weakness as he is rocked by the first self-inflicted crisis of his presidency.

Up until a few weeks ago, Biden had held decent and stable approval ratings, having won widespread backing for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But politics changes with astonishing speed.

It’s possible that it will change again.

The Afghanistan withdrawal could fade from the headlines, and from voters’ minds, sooner than some might think. There are plenty of political observers who doubt that it will be a big issue six months from now, and certainly not in the midterm elections set for November 2022.

Maybe that will turn out to be true.

But it is just as plausible that the chaos of Kabul has left a taint of weakness and incompetence on the Biden White House that will not be erased soon, if at all.

For now, the only thing certain is that the toughest stretch of Biden’s presidency to date just got even worse.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Friday, August 20, 2021

U.S. Capitol Police Tell Federal Judge That January 6 Videos Are Not "Public Records"

Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch

 Judicial Watch: U.S. Capitol Police Tell Federal Court January 6 Disturbance Videos Are Not Public Records


Press Release

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today the U.S. Capitol Police seeks to shut down a public records lawsuit for January 6 disturbance video and emails by arguing to a federal court that the requested records are “not public records.”

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in February 2021 under the common law right of access to public records after the Capitol Police refused to provide any records in response to a January 21, 2021, request for:
Email communications between the U.S. Capitol Police Executive Team and the Capitol Police Board concerning the security of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The timeframe of this request is from January 1, 2021 through January 10, 2021.
Email communications of the Capitol Police Board with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concerning the security of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The timeframe of this request is from January 1, 2021through January 10, 2021.
All video footage from within the Capitol between 12 pm and 9 pm on January 6, 2021.

Regarding withholding the videos, the Capitol Police told the court:

The USCP’s camera security system, including footage recorded by it within the Capitol and sought by [Judicial Watch], is solely for national security and law enforcement purposes.

Access to video footage from the USCP’s camera security system is limited to narrow circumstances and strictly controlled by USCP policy.

The USCP has not made any public disclosures of video footage from January 6 from its camera security system.

There are currently pending criminal investigations and prosecutions of individuals involved in the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

There are currently pending congressional investigations into the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

In its motion, the Capitol Police also argues the case should be closed because, among other assertions, even if the records Judicial Watch asks for are “public records,” the USCP’s interests in confidentiality “outweigh any public interest in those materials.”

It also claims not to have access to many of the emails sought by Judicial Watch.

“To cut to the chase, the US Capitol Police is hiding a reported 14,000 hours of January 6 video from the American people to help Nancy Pelosi’s abusive targeting of Trump supporters and other political opponents,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Any other police department in America would be investigated and defunded for such abusive secrecy. The Pelosi Congress is in cover-up mode regarding January 6.”

Judicial Watch is conducting an extensive investigation into the January 6 events in Washington, DC.

Earlier this month, Judicial Watch uncovered documents from Washington, DC’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) related to Air Force veteran and San Diego native Ashli Babbitt. These documents reveal that OCME submitted a request for permission to cremate Babbitt only two days after taking custody of her body and that due to the “high profile nature” of Babbitt’s case, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Francisco Diaz requested that a secure electronic file with limited access be created for Babbitt’s records. Additionally, Babbitt’s fingerprints were emailed to a person supposedly working for the DC government, which resulted in Microsoft “undeliverable” messages written in Chinese characters being returned.

In July, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the DOJ for records of communication between the FBI and several financial institutions about the reported transfer of financial transactions made by people in DC, Maryland and Virginia on January 5 and January 6, 2021. The FBI refused to confirm or deny any such records exist. Also in July, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for information relating to the tracking and collecting of Americans’ social media posts through its Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP).

In May, Judicial Watch sued both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense for records regarding the deployment of armed forces around the Capitol complex in Washington, D.C., in January and February of 2021.

In March, Judicial Watch sued the District of Columbia for the autopsy of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and related records. Pressure from this lawsuit helped lead to the disclosure that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes. Also in March, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense for records about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s January 8, 2021, telephone call with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Biden Disaster: Dropping Afghanistan Support Without a Strategy To Protect Those Allied With US


People attempting to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to try to flee Afghanistan 
on August 16, 2021. [Str/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press]

A Fiasco in Full
By National Review, August 22, 2021

The U.S. military’s manner of leaving Afghanistan, and leaving itself, were both mistakes. We are paying for them already.

By , NPR, August 19, 2021 9:24 AM

On the menu today: The transcript of President Joe Biden’s interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos dropped, and the president’s incoherence, insistence that he was incorrectly briefed, denial that he was warned by his military advisers, and oddly low profile in the past week raise troubling questions about his ability to perform his duties.


When President Biden ­addressed the nation on Monday, he was admirably clear-eyed about the reason for leaving Afghanistan: US forces had killed Osama bin Laden long ago. America should have sought no more than to find and kill him and neutralize al Qaeda — not to will liberal democracy into existence in a country that has rarely enjoyed a stable central government at any point in the last 2,000 years.

As a rhetorical intervention, it was very successful. (One friend suggested to me that Biden might have given the exact same speech when he finally cut off his son Hunter’s American Express card.) But it was also painfully self-exculpatory.

Unlike his predecessor, Biden isn’t a political outsider. He supported our presence in ­Afghanistan during his time in the Senate and was responsible for the conduct of the war as vice president for eight years. Indeed, the Obama campaign relentlessly touted Biden’s supposed foreign-policy expertise in 2008. If Biden thought the whole enterprise was doomed from the start, why didn’t he say so publicly at any point in the previous 20 years?

Leaving Afghanistan was ­always going to be a mess. Anyone who has been paying attention knew the Afghan military was nonfunctional. The corrupt hacks in the Kabul government were always going to flee to the comfort of university speaking circuits and cushy NGO gigs at the first sign of trouble.

But did it have to look like this? Even late last week, administration officials were confident that the Taliban weren’t going to wind up in control of the capital, certainly not within a matter of days. Biden was on vacation. The most pressing question for the administration was foisting a nonscientific mask policy on the vaccinated adult population.

Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby said that reporters were “Monday-morning quarterbacking” with questions about the situation.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a news conference following Biden’s speech, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby dismissed concerns from reporters — who for once are as incredulous as the average American — as “Monday-morning quarterbacking.”

This is condescending gibberish. It is also an absurd analogy. A Monday-morning quarterback is a schlub in a Cheeto-stained jersey who thinks he knows better than his favorite team’s coaches. To be a Monday-morning QB, you have to be objecting to a game plan.

Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
fled the country, in Kabul

Forgive me for not seeing any evidence of a plan here. Was it part of anybody’s master plan to leave the Taliban billions of dollars in weapons, helicopters and bases as a host gift? Was it a masterpiece of strategy to publish an apparently old photo of Biden speaking to CIA agents to give the impression that the president was firmly in control? Whose idea was it to withdraw air support before we had gotten both our own civilian personnel and thousands of our Afghan allies out of the country?

Also: Did the administration’s direct line to Twitter not address the question of whether the Taliban should be able to spread propaganda via a platform from which Biden’s predecessor (and, briefly, this newspaper) have been banned?

Afghanistan has long been the graveyard of empires. It should now be the final resting place for one of our hoariest myths: the so-called “adults in the room,” ­alluded to over and over during the 2020 presidential election and throughout Donald Trump’s presidency. This is the absurd idea that the US elite — in the Pentagon, the intel services, the professions, the universities, the media, Big Business — are not only more virtuous and self-effacing than the people they lord over, they are also more competent.

The chaotic images of the last few days have put paid to this nonsense. The withdrawal wasn’t a sober exercise. It was a bunch of glorified Teen Vogue editorial ­interns realizing in the horror of an instant that woke tweets from the US embassy weren’t going to persuade a machine-gun-wielding militia to respect Western ideas about human rights. Confronted with their failures, they either ­deflect or, like the normally voluble White House press secretary Jen Psaki, announce that they are “out of the office.”

This shouldn’t be surprising. These are the same feckless elites who shrugged their shoulders as NAFTA destroyed American industry, as hundreds of thousands of Americans overdosed on drugs, as we lost ground to China and became a nation of obese screen addicts.

Over and over again our leaders refuse to accept blame. If Biden’s speech is any indication, they are not ready to do so this time, either.

Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine.

Twitter: @MatthewWalther

Friday, August 13, 2021

First Department Appellate Division Rules That NYC Mayor de Blasio Doesn't Have To Give Scott Stringer Pandemic Communications For Stringer's Investigation


Scott Stringer
From the Editor:

This is where this all started:

NYC comptroller sues de Blasio over coronavirus emergency purchasing powers


Appeals Court: De Blasio Doesn't Have to Hand Over Pandemic-Planning Communications in Comptroller Stringer's Investigation, Jason Grant, Aug. 13, 2021

“The public disclosure of the requested documents involving confidential, deliberative communications among an inner circle of decisionmakers concerning an emergency response to a pandemic could chill future deliberations about pressing matters," wrote an Appellate Division, First Department panel.

A state appeals court Thursday ruled New York City Mayor de Blasio does not have to turn over information subpoenaed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer detailing nonpublic communications de Blasio and others had about the city’s planning and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pointing to the common law’s public interest privilege, which attaches to certain confidential communications involving public officers, the Appellate Division, First Department court wrote that “in this particular circumstance, the interest in protecting the Mayor’s and the First Deputy Mayor’s pre-decisional and deliberative communications is stronger than the interest in allowing the Comptroller to review, and possibly publish, the communications as part of his investigation” into the city’s pandemic preparations and response.

“The public disclosure of the requested documents involving confidential, deliberative communications among an inner circle of decisionmakers concerning an emergency response to a pandemic could chill future deliberations about pressing matters, potentially to the public’s harm,” a unanimous First Department panel of four justices also wrote in a lengthy, detailed opinion.

As part of Stringer’s ongoing investigation, launched in May 2020, the comptroller is examining the financial impact on residents and businesses of the city’s March 22, 2020, stay-at-home order, as well as the impact of other city-government decisions made before and after the pandemic gripped New York, according to the comptroller’s legal petition lodged last November in Manhattan Supreme Court. Using the special-proceeding petition, Stringer has sought to force the mayor’s office to produce far more subpoenaed documents, testimony and information than it has so far, according to court documents and news reports about the comptroller office’s investigation.

Stringer, who ran unsuccessfully in the recent Democratic primary for mayor and who has been a vocal critical of de Blasio on various fronts, serves as the city’s financial watchdog. His office works to find and prevent financial fraud and waste in the city. It also watches over and records all contracts paid for by taxpayers.

The First Department panel, which on Thursday affirmed in all respects an underlying decision by Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank’s on multiple subpoena-related issues, ruled against de Blasio and the city on their cross-petition to quash, in their entirety, all document and testimonial subpoenas served by the comptroller’s office since its May 2020 investigation began.

Frank, in his December 2020 mixed decision on the subpoena issues, had directed the mayor’s office to produce certain requested documents on a rolling basis. In addition, he had ruled that the testimonial depositions of two city witnesses should go forward, “without limits on the scope of questioning,” according to the First Department’s opinion.

The panel, composed of Justices Diane Renwick, Cynthia Kern, Anil Singh and Peter Moulton, wrote that “as an initial matter, [Frank] properly found that the Comptroller’s investigation did not exceed his authority under the [New York City] Charter” to conduct an investigation into the city’s pandemic planning and response. Charter Section 93(b) gives Stringer power to “audit and investigate all matters relating to or affecting the finances of the city, including without limitation the performance of contracts and the receipt and expenditure of city funds,” the justices added, quoting from 93(b).

The justices noted, though, that it appeared Stringer’s investigation ranged, at least partially, beyond financial issues and contract expenditures and into policy issues. But his office had that wide-ranging investigatory power under Section 93(b), as well, they said.

“The investigation appears to be a broad policy-based review of the City’s initial public health and emergency response efforts to COVID-19,” the justices wrote. “However, Section 93(b) provides the Comptroller with broad investigative authority of matters that affect City finances and does not strictly limit an investigation to only fiscal matters.”

Moreover, the justices ruled that Stringer’s “request for a privilege log and in camera review of the documents over which the City claims privilege should be made to” Frank in the ongoing Supreme Court special proceeding.

But when it came to the central issue of whether de Blasio and others he is connected to must hand over information about their communications when preparing for and responding to the pandemic, the panel was firm in knocking down the comptroller’s subpoena request.

“Given the ongoing threat of the pandemic, the Mayor and his leadership team needed access to information and unvarnished advice from all sources,” the justices said. “This required that the sources have some assurance that their advice would remain confidential and free from fear of reprisal,” they added while ruling that Justice Frank had “properly applied the public interest privilege to quash the document requests” served on de Blasio.

New York City and the mayor’s office has been represented throughout Stringer’s investigation and his office’s special proceeding commenced last November by the city’s Law Department.

In an email Thursday, Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said, “We are pleased the court recognized that public disclosure of certain confidential communications concerning the city’s response to the pandemic could chill future deliberations during emergencies and is not in the city’s best interest.”

Stringer’s office has been primarily represented by its general counsel’s office, headed by Neysa Alsina.

In an emailed comment on Friday, office Press Secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays said, “We are pleased the Appellate Court affirmed the Comptroller’s authority to conduct this investigation.”

“While we are disappointed with the Court’s ruling on the privilege matter,” she added, “overall the Court confirmed what we knew all along, that the Comptroller’s role as a watchdog to investigate matters involving the City’s finances is Charter-mandated, necessary, and legally protected.”

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Facebook Disables Accounts of NYU Researchers


We believe that Facebook has too much power. 

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

NYU researchers speak out after Facebook disables their accounts

Facebook disabled the accounts of researchers behind tools that collect information on political ads running on Facebook.

By ,,  

On Tuesday, Facebook suspended the accounts, apps and pages of several New York University researchers who have been using scraping tools to better understand political ads and disinformation on Facebook.

The tools were the subject of a long-running standoff between the social network, which claimed scraping violates its terms of service, and the researchers, who argued that more digital advertising transparency is essential to understanding and protecting elections. Bloomberg first reported on the suspensions.

"The work our team does to make data about disinformation on Facebook transparent is vital to a healthy internet and a healthy democracy," Laura Edelson, a Ph.D. candidate and the lead researcher on the Cybersecurity for Democracy project, wrote in a statement. "Facebook is silencing us because our work often calls attention to problems on its platform."

Mike Clark, Facebook's product management director, explained the company's stance in a blog post, saying the company took these actions in fulfillment of its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, which requires stricter monitoring of third-party apps. "We made it clear in a series of posts earlier this year," he wrote, "that we take unauthorized data scraping seriously, and when we find instances of scraping we investigate and take action to protect our platform. While the Ad Observatory project may be well-intentioned, the ongoing and continued violations of protections against scraping cannot be ignored and should be remediated."

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which Facebook users can download if they want to send information about the Facebook ads they see to the researchers. Ad Observer scrapes the information those users see when they click "Why am I seeing this ad?" — a workaround that's necessary because Facebook does not share information on who advertisers targeted in its public-facing ad archive. In the blog post, Clark accused the team of using the extension to collect data "about Facebook users who did not install it or consent to the collection."

It's an accusation that evokes the worst of the Cambridge Analytica scraping scandal, but one that leaves out key details that Protocol revealed earlier this year in a story about Facebook's dispute with the NYU researchers and the fraught relationship between platforms and researchers generally. The users who had data collected without their consent aren't private users: They're advertisers, whose ads are by definition already public, and whose information Facebook stores itself in an ad archive.

That, the NYU researchers argue, makes Facebook's privacy rationale suspect. "Allowing Facebook to dictate who can investigate what is occurring on its platform is not in the public interest," said Damon McCoy, associate professor of computer science and engineering at NYU and one of the affected researchers. "Facebook should not be able to cynically invoke user privacy to shut down research that puts them in an unflattering light, particularly when the 'users' Facebook is talking about are advertisers who have consented to making their ads public."

This story has been updated with additional details from Facebook's blog post.