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Daily Archives: August 8th, 2022


 

Analysis by Amber Phillips 

Staff writer 

August 26, 2021 at 7:27 p.m. EDT 

This has been updated with the latest. 

With the withdrawal from Afghanistan turning deadly for U.S. troops, President Biden faces new criticism for a situation that he argues presents him few options. 

The deal that President Donald Trump cut last year with the Taliban forced Biden to choose between a withdrawal now or an escalation of the war, Biden said Thursday, as he addressed the nation after at least 13 members of the U.S. military were killed in Kabul. 

He chose to withdraw. 

“I had only one alternative,” he said, “to send thousands more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won, relative to the reason why we went in the first place.” 

When the deal was cut in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020, it wasn’t treated as huge news, because the war itself wasn’t big news. So many people don’t actually know its contents. 

Here is what’s in it and how it has been perceived.: ‘These ISIS terrorists will not win’ 

0:5 

Why Trump cut the deal 

When Trump came into office, he was pretty transparent — he just wanted out of Afghanistan. “Trump had no real sense of what was at stake in the war or why to stay,” writes Georgetown professor Paul Miller in a digestible history of the 20-year war

So Trump took a swing at something his predecessors hadn’t: a full-bore effort to strike a deal with the Taliban. It took nine rounds of talks over 18 months. At one point, Trump secretly invited the Taliban to the presidential retreat at Camp David on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he shut that down — and on Twitter threatened to shut down all talks — after an American service member was killed and there was bipartisan backlash over the invitation. 

Talks continued in Doha, and in February 2020, Trump announced that there was a deal. The basic contours: The United States was to get out of Afghanistan in 14 months and, in exchange, the Taliban agreed not to let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists and to stop attacking U.S. service members. 

The Taliban also agreed to start peace talks with the Afghan government and consider a cease-fire with the government. (The Taliban had been killing Afghan forces throughout this, attempting to use the violence as leverage in negotiations, U.S. intelligence officials believed.) 

The deal laid out an explicit timetable for the United States and NATO to pull out their forces: In the first 100 days or so, they would reduce troops from 14,000 to 8,600 and leave five military bases. Over the next nine months, they would vacate all the rest. “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan within the remaining nine and a half (9.5) months,” the deal reads. “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will withdraw all their forces from remaining bases.” 

The United States would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners; the Taliban would release 1,000 of its prisoners. 

The Taliban’s end of the deal asked a lot from the group — too much to be realistic, critics said. In addition to making sure nowhere in the country harbored a terrorist cell, the Taliban agreed to be responsible for any individual who might want to attack the United States from Afghanistan, including new immigrants to the country. 

The Taliban “will send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan,” the deal read. And the Taliban agreed to “prevent any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments in this agreement.” 

This deal required taking the Taliban’s promises on faith. 

“I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show that we’re not all wasting time,” Trump said as he announced the agreement. He added as an aside: “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no one’s ever seen.” 

One gaping problem, say scholars (including some from the Trump administration): The peace agreement came with no enforcement mechanism for the Taliban to keep its word. 

The Taliban basically had to sign a pledge saying it wouldn’t harbor terrorists. Nowhere did the Taliban have to — nor did it choose to — denounce al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan, Miller writes. 

The biggest tangible commitment from the Taliban looked like this: For seven days before the deal was signed, its leaders significantly reduced their attacks on Afghan forces to show they were capable of controlling the group across the country. But the deal didn’t require that the Taliban stop its attacks against Afghan security forces. 

Overall, it was a pretty good deal for the Taliban, critics said. “Trump all but assured the future course of events would reflect the Taliban’s interests far more than the United States,” Miller writes. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, has recently called it “a surrender agreement with the Taliban.” Another member of Trump’s National Security Council said it was “a very weak agreement.” 

As The Fix’s Aaron Blake notes, former Trump officials are suddenly and conspicuously scrambling to distance themselves from that deal. 

Cracks in the deal emerge almost immediately 

A few months after the agreement was signed, there was plenty of evidence that the Taliban wasn’t as sincere as it appeared about peace. The United Nations said it had evidence that the Taliban and al-Qaeda still had ties. U.S. intelligence warned that al-Qaeda was “integrated” into the Taliban. The Taliban launched dozens of attacks in Afghanistan, ramping up its violence. 

“The Taliban views the negotiations as a necessary step to ensure the removal of U.S. and other foreign troops under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, but the Taliban likely does not perceive that it has any obligation to make substantive concessions or compromises,” a U.S. inspector general report read. 

It was all enough that when Biden came into office, U.S. officials questioned whether the Taliban was breaking its side of the deal. 

But Trump chose to continue taking U.S. troops home 

And he had bipartisan support for it. 

It’s important to remember that by the time Trump came into office, the public debate about whether to stay in Afghanistan was largely over. Most Americans were done with the war. Even the military realized it couldn’t effect much more change on the current course. “The only way forward was going to be a political agreement,” Mark T. Esper, Trump’s former defense secretary, said recently. “Not a military solution.” 

To a number of those who were paying attention, the whole deal felt like a naked attempt to just get out of Afghanistan. It was a campaign promise of Trump’s to be the president who finally ended America’s longest war. It would be something no other president had been able to accomplish. 

Before the peace talks really got going, Trump had already started withdrawing thousands of troops, and he fired his defense secretary, Esper, after he wrote a memo disagreeing. (Esper later said that Trump’s withdrawing too many troops too soon contributed to what we see now in Afghanistan.) 

Biden criticizes the deal but hews to it 

When Biden took over, there were just 3,500 U.S. troops left in the country (from a high of 100,000 during the Obama years). He pushed back the date of the planned withdrawal from May 1 to four months later, but he kept the deal intact. U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. 

“It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said. 

The Taliban didn’t even wait for the Americans to completely leave before it took over the country in a matter of days. As the world watched Kabul fall, Biden has defended his decision not to stay and fight by saying Trump’s deal required him to either maintain the withdrawal or escalate fighting. 

“When I became president, I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” he said in a statement. 

On Thursday, he credited the deal for the fact that the Taliban hadn’t attacked Americans during the withdrawal. “The commitment was made by President Trump: I will be out May 1st. In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans. That is the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.” 

Critics have contended that’s a false choice, noting how many other international agreements of Trump’s that Biden has eschewed or rewritten. But given that Biden shared the goal to withdraw, it left him little leverage to renegotiate with the Taliban. 

For both presidents, the peace deal with the Taliban presented a good opportunity to pursue their own agendas with regard to America’s longest war. And neither has seemed particularly regretful about doing so. 

“Leaving having proposed a peace effort and then blaming the Afghans for not reaching peace is as good a cover for leaving as any,” said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

By Amber Phillips 

Amber Phillips explains and analyzes politics and authors The 5-Minute Fix newsletter, a quick analysis of the day’s biggest political news.  Twitter 

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Heather Cox RichardsonAug 8

“The yeas are 50; the nays are 50. The Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative, and the bill, as amended, is passed.”

So spoke Vice President Kamala Harris this afternoon as, after an all-night session, her vote passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 through the Senate. It will now go to the House, where it is expected to pass.

The measure devotes more than $300 billion to addressing climate change and energy reform, the largest federal investment in climate change in U.S. history. It will make it easier and cheaper to get electric cars and to heat and cool homes without fossil fuels—Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan says families will save an average of $500 a year on energy costs—while also creating new jobs in these fields.

It extends for three years the subsidies for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act that Congress originally passed during the pandemic. 

It will invest about $300 billion toward reducing the deficit.

The money for these programs will come from several places. The bill will lower the cost of certain prescription drugs by enabling the government to negotiate the prices of expensive drugs for Medicare, a policy most nations already have. It also caps the cost of insulin at $35 a month for people on Medicare (Republicans stripped out of the bill a similar protection for those on private insurance). 

It makes corporations making $1 billion or more in income pay a 15% minimum tax, and it will tax stock buybacks at 1%.

And it will invest more than $100 billion in enforcing the existing tax laws on the books, laws that are increasingly ignored as the IRS has too few agents to conduct audits of large accounts. 

Senate Democrats passed the measure by using the process of budget reconciliation, which covers certain revenue measures and which cannot be filibustered. Although the pieces of the measure have bipartisan support in the country, every Republican voted against the bill; Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it an “economic disaster” that will exacerbate inflation (the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office disagrees). 

Republicans used reconciliation to pass their own signature measure in December 2017: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This law cut the corporate tax rate from about 35% to 21% with the now-traditional Republican expectation that such a cut would spur economic growth, although the Congressional Budget Office estimated the measure would add about $2 trillion to the national debt over ten years. The Tax and Jobs Act did not increase employment or wages as the Republicans expected; those actually dipped slightly as corporations used the tax cuts primarily to buy back their stock, making it more valuable. That measure was the signature piece of legislation during the Trump administration. 

In contrast, in the past 18 months, Democrats have rebuilt the economy after the pandemic shattered it, invested in technology and science, expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, pulled troops out of Afghanistan, passed the first gun safety law in almost 30 years, put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, addressed the needs of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, and invested in our roads, bridges, and manufacturing. And for much of this program, they have managed to attract Republican votes.

Now they are turning to lowering the cost of prescription drugs—long a priority—and tackling climate change, all while lowering the deficit. 

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted accurately today that what these measures do is far more than the sum of their parts. They show Americans that democracy is messy and slow but that it works, and it works for them. Since he took office, this has been President Joe Biden’s argument: he would head off the global drive toward authoritarianism by showing that democracy is still the best system of government out there.

At a time when authoritarians are trying to demonstrate that democracies cannot function nearly as effectively as the rule of an elite few, he is proving them wrong. 

This is a very big deal indeed.

Notes:

Acyn @AcynThe tie breaker from Kamala Harris makes it official. The bill is passed. August 7th 20224,037 Retweets29,080 Likes

Leader McConnell @LeaderMcConnellDemocrats have proven over and over they simply do not care about middle-class families’ priorities. Only 18% of Americans are happy with this Democrat-run economy.   And they just spent hundreds of billions of dollars more of your money to prove it yet again. My full statement: August 7th 2022249 Retweets816 Likes

https://www.npr.org/2022/08/07/1116190180/democrats-are-set-to-pass-a-major-climate-health-and-tax-bill-heres-whats-in-it

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/07/senate-democrats-pass-infrastructure-reduction-act-reconciliation-bill-strike-blow-against-cynicism/

Michael Regan, U.S. EPA @EPAMichaelReganThe Inflation Reduction Act just passed the Senate! This is a big deal for all people and our planet. 🧵 Here’s how this bill delivers for Americans across the country👇🏾August 7th 2022548 Retweets1,962 Likes

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/08/07/insulin-cap-budget-congress/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/senate-passes-inflation-reduction-act-vote/

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/01/18/trump-presidency-administration-biggest-impact-policy-analysis-451479

My Opinion based on Republican actions over the past 10 years. 

The GOP fought so called Obama care tooth and nail, yet they adopted the parts they liked to their own healthcare. The GOP used TOTUS aka the former guy to pass their own tax reform and install conservative judges in lifetime positions and install unqualified conservative judges to the high court, it is not a stretch that this directly led to overturning ROE V. Wade. The GOP over many years has never been pro U.S. citizen unless it benefitted them directly or indirectly. Pay careful attention to what is happening primarily GOP states. MA 



< The U.S. made a breakthrough battery discovery — then gave the technology to China

August 3, 20225:00 AM ET

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It’s a favorite promise of politicians – keep manufacturing jobs and technology in America. And yet the U.S. keeps losing both to other countries. NPR’s Laura Sullivan and Courtney Flatt from Public Radio’s Northwest News Network investigate one story about a cutting-edge battery and how the U.S. may have lost the next big thing to China, again.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Chris Howard is standing in the rain outside an empty warehouse in Mukilteo, Wash.

CHRIS HOWARD: We used to have 10 shipping containers here; there were empty containers back here; customers and clients coming for visits.

SULLIVAN: Howard used to work in this warehouse with more than a dozen other engineers and researchers for an American company called UniEnergy. Its name is still on the sign out front. What they were doing here was building a battery. Not just any battery – something called a vanadium redox flow battery. It was about the size of a refrigerator. And Howard and the rest of the employees thought it was going to change the world.

HOWARD: It was more than a job. It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears into developing a product that we were really excited about and really proud of.

SULLIVAN: Unlike batteries in cellphones or even cars, these batteries could charge and discharge energy for as long as 30 years. And this particular design seemed to hold enough energy to power a house. Researchers pictured people plunking them down next to their air conditioners, attaching solar panels to them and everyone living happily ever after off the grid.

HOWARD: It was beyond promise. We were seeing it functioning as designed, as expected.

SULLIVAN: They thought the batteries would be the next great American success story. But that’s not what happened. Today, this warehouse is shuttered and empty. All the employees who worked here were laid off. And across the world, a Chinese company is making the batteries in Dalian, China. The Chinese company didn’t steal this technology. It was given to them by the U.S. Department of Energy. An NPR investigation found the department allowed the technology and jobs to move overseas, violating its own licensing rules while failing to intervene on behalf of U.S. workers in multiple instances, according to internal department emails. Now China is forging ahead, investing millions into this cutting-edge green technology that was supposed to help keep the U.S. and its economy out front.

JOANNE SKIEVASKI: It just is mind-boggling.

SULLIVAN: Joanne Skievaski is the vice president of finance for a U.S. company called Forever Energy that has been trying to get a license from the department to make the batteries here for more than a year.

SKIEVASKI: This is technology made from taxpayer dollars. It was invented by a national lab, and it’s deployed in China, and it’s held in China. To say it’s frustrating is an understatement.

SULLIVAN: Department of Energy officials declined NPR’s request for an interview and wouldn’t explain how technology that costs U.S. taxpayers $15 million ended up in China. But after NPR sent department officials detailed questions laying out the timeline of events, officials terminated the license it gave to the Chinese company. In a statement, officials said the department, quote, “takes American manufacturing obligations extremely seriously” and is now, quote, “undertaking an internal review of the licensing of vanadium battery technology.” The story of how this happened begins where the battery was born, three hours southwest of Seattle, in the basement of a government lab called the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory where Courtney went to visit.

VINCE SPRENKLE: Yep.

FLATT: Vince Sprenkle works with energy storage here at the lab.

SPRENKLE: We’re going to go down into the redox flow battery lab.

FLATT: It was down here in 2006 that more than two dozen scientists began to suspect that a special mix of acid and electrolyte could hold unusual amounts of energy without degrading. It turned out to be right.

Do you feel kind of, like, on the cutting edge of learning about these batteries?

SPRENKLE: Yeah, we are. I mean, I think we’ve got one of the leading research groups in the country and probably the world in this technology.

FLATT: It’s because of this leading edge that when a success happens, the lab encourages scientists to go out and see if they can make and sell the inventions in the real world. The lab and the U.S. government still hold the patents because American taxpayers paid for the research, but the Department of Energy licenses the patents to scientists and companies willing to take a shot. In this case, it took six years and millions of taxpayer dollars to discover the perfect battery recipe.

Gary Yang was the lead scientist, and he was excited to see if he could make them. In 2012, he left the lab with the license in hand and started UniEnergy Technologies at the warehouse in Mukilteo, Wash.

GARY YANG: I left the lab, full legal process and start UniEnergy Technology in Washington state.

FLATT: He hired engineers and researchers, but then he ran into trouble. He says he couldn’t find any U.S. investors.

YANG: I talked to almost all major investment bank. None of them invest in battery.

FLATT: So he turned to a Chinese businessman and a company called Dalian Rongke Power and its parent company, which agreed to invest and even help manufacture the batteries. And so began a slow shift. First, Chris Howard said, it was just some parts; ultimately, it was the whole process.

HOWARD: Manufacturing was subsequently shifted to our sister company in China, and they would take on that role.

FLATT: In 2017, Yang and UniEnergy formalized the situation and gave Rongke Power an official sublicense, allowing the company to make the batteries.

SULLIVAN: So here’s the thing – companies can choose to manufacture in China, but in this case, Yang’s original license clearly says on Page 6 he has to sell batteries in the United States, and those batteries have to be, quote, “substantially manufactured” here. Yang acknowledges he didn’t do that. He was mostly selling batteries in China. And the batteries he did sell here were largely made in China. But he says in all those years, the department never raised any concerns or intervened. Then in 2019, Chris Howard said he and the other engineers were called to a conference room. Supervisors told them they, too, would have to go to China to work there for four months at a time at Rongke Power.

HOWARD: And that was set to be increased on the premise that there were certain government programs, Chinese government programs, that would support funding efforts. So it was unclear, certainly to myself and some of the other engineers, what the plan was.

SULLIVAN: In a statement, the department said that license monitoring is a priority and that a review of this case is underway. All of which brings us to Yang. Yang was born in China, but he is a U.S. citizen and got his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. He says he wanted to manufacture here, but at the time, China was doing more to encourage battery production. And he told us China could do it better.

YANG: In this field – manufacturing, engineering – China ahead of U.S.

SULLIVAN: China is ahead of the U.S.

YANG: Ahead of U.S. Many wouldn’t believe – engineering wise, ahead

SULLIVAN: He says far from helping China, the Chinese engineers were helping his U.S. employees. But you can see in several news reports at the time, it was helping China. The Chinese government launched several large demonstration projects and announced millions in funding.

FLATT: As things began to take off in China, here in the states, Yang was once again in financial trouble. So he made a decision that would again keep the technology from staying in the U.S. He transferred the license from UniEnergy to a company called Vanadis.

ROELOF PLATENKAMP: Vanadis is based in the Netherlands, and we will set up a holding company in Switzerland.

FLATT: Roelof Platenkamp is Vanadis’ founding partner. Platenkamp told NPR the company’s plan was to continue making the batteries in China and then set up a factory in Germany and eventually maybe the U.S. He says he has to manufacture in Europe because the European Union has strict rules about these things.

PLATENKAMP: I have to be a European company, or certainly a non-Chinese company, in Europe.

FLATT: But the United States has these rules, too. And any transfer of a U.S. government license needs U.S. government approval.

SULLIVAN: Which Yang apparently had no trouble getting. We looked at department emails and found that last summer, on July 7, one of the top officials at UniEnergy wrote to a government manager at the Department of Energy Lab in Washington saying they were going to make a deal with Vanadis. We believe they have the right blend of technical expertise, the official wrote. The manager wrote back that he would need confirmation. A second employee sent confirmation an hour and a half later, and the license was transferred.

Now, if anyone from the lab or the Department of Energy during that hour and a half thought to check whether Vanadis was an American company or whether it intended to manufacture in the United States is unclear. Even Vanadis’ website says it plans to make the batteries in China. Department of Energy officials told us they take all license transfers seriously and have recently closed significant loopholes. But they acknowledge their efforts rely to some extent on, quote, “good faith disclosures” by the companies, which means if companies like UniEnergy don’t say anything, the U.S. government may never know. It’s a problem government investigators found has been going on for years. In 2018, the Government Accountability Office found the department lacked resources to properly monitor its licenses, was relying on antiquated computer systems and didn’t have consistent policies across its labs.

FLATT: It was an American company, Forever Energy, that actually read the vanadium battery license and raised a red flag more than a year ago. Joanne Skievaski and others there say they repeatedly warned department officials that the UniEnergy license was not in compliance. Officials repeatedly told them it was.

SKIEVASKI: How is it that the national lab did not require U.S. manufacturing? Not only is it a violation of the license, it’s a violation to our country.

FLATT: Skievaski hopes that now that the department has revoked the license, Forever Energy will get a chance. They’re hoping to open a factory in Louisiana.

SKIEVASKI: We are ready to go with this technology.

SULLIVAN: Skievaski told us it will be hard at this point for any American company to catch up. Industry trade reports lists Dalian Rongke Power as the No. 1 manufacturer of vanadium flow batteries worldwide. And the bigger question looming over all of this is whether China will stop making the batteries once an American company is granted the right to start making them.

FLATT: That may be unlikely. Chinese news reports announced this summer that China is about to bring online one of the largest battery farms in the world, hoping to set new records for energy output. The reports say the entire battery farm is built out of vanadium redux flow batteries.

I’m Courtney Flatt.

SULLIVAN: And I’m Laura Sullivan, NPR News.

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