Headlines: November 17, 2020
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President Donald Trump on Tuesday moved to cut troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq during his last days in office. The Washington Post reports, based on official sources, that Trump, “plans to roughly halve the number of U.S. troops, from around 5,000 to 2,500, by the time President-elect Joe Biden assumes office on Jan. 20.” Trump had promised to draw down troops but has waited until the end of his term to do so and only after it was apparent that he lost the election. Meanwhile he increased the pace and intensity of airstrikes in Afghanistan over the course of his tenure. Trump’s GOP allies are not on the same page on troop reductions however. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said, “A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm.” NATO leaders also balked with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying on Tuesday that U.S. troop drawdowns in an uncoordinated manner could threaten NATO troops.
Trump’s desire to bring troops home is not an antiwar impulse as recent news reports revealed that he sought military options to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities recently. Trump apparently asked senior military leaders last Thursday at a White House meeting if the U.S. could bomb Iran’s main nuclear processing site. Numerous leaders reportedly discouraged Trump including Vice President Mike Pence, State Secretary Mike Pompeo and newly installed Pentagon head Christopher Miller. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Trump might still be looking at ways to strike Iranian assets and allies, including militias in Iraq.” Reuters reports that Iran’s leaders warned of a “crushing” response in the event of a U.S. military strike.
Meanwhile President Trump continues to pretend as though he won the November 3rd election in spite of a decisive loss to Joe Biden, and in the face of growing skepticism from all sides. Trump’s own attorney Marc Scaringi has publicly said that lawsuits would not change the outcome and three attorneys have now withdrawn from representing the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania. Trump’s own national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Monday publicly acknowledged Biden’s win and more and more Republican Senators are now joining in. The Republican reluctance to acknowledge the democratic will of nearly 80 million Americans in order to remain loyal to Trump has been stunning and has offered Trump cover to refuse to cooperate in a transition process. In remarks to reporters on Monday Biden said, “I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started.” He also said that Trump’s refusal to cooperate on the transition will likely cost lives in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.
A central part of Biden’s plan to combat the pandemic is a national mask mandate. Many Republican Governors have resisted this but now, as the pandemic spreads far and wide, some are acknowledging their wrongdoing by issuing mask mandates. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota is among them. His state has the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the world. In neighboring South Dakota, which also has incredibly high rates of infections and deaths, a nurse’s tweets have gone viral after she explained that many of her patients deny the existence of the virus even in their last moments. Jodi Doering tweeted, “These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated.” She shared more in an interview on CNN, illustrating the effects of President Trump’s promotion of conspiracy theories.
Across the nation more than a million children have tested positive for the virus and in California, the state broke a single day record for the highest number of infections. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a pause on reopening the state saying, “We are seeing community spread broadly now throughout the state of California.” President elect Joe Biden explained that what his scientific advisers were telling him is, “There should be no group more than 10 people in one room inside the home.” In the halls of the U.S. Senate tensions over Covid-19 exposure broke out as well. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who was among those lawmakers called back to Washington DC to vote on Trump’s conservative judicial appointments, called out Republican Senator Dan Sullivan.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is bucking his own party in the interest of election integrity. Mr. Raffensperger said in an interview that his fellow Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham, have been pressuring him to look for ways to invalidate votes in order to change the outcome of the November 3rd election which resulted in President Trump’s losing and the two GOP Senate candidates heading to a January runoff. Georgia Representative Doug Collins has also apparently led the charge against voters being able to lawfully cast ballots. Raffensperger denounced Collins as a “liar,” and “charlatan.” Senator Graham denied that he pressured the Georgia Secretary of State but now there are calls to investigate his role.
Social media company CEOs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. They joined lawmakers remotely as they faced scrutiny over how their platforms handled election-related misinformation. AP explained that, “Dorsey testified that Twitter flagged some 300,000 tweets between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11 for content that was disputed and potentially misleading, representing 0.2% of all U.S. election-related tweets sent during the period.” The Washington Post summarized the divide in Congress: “Republicans leading the hearing have accused the companies of going too far in labeling or otherwise limiting the spread of falsehoods on their platforms, saying it amounts to censorship of their views. Democrats said the companies have not done enough, especially as Trump and his allies continue to use Twitter and Facebook to spread claims of election fraud without evidence.” In other words, Republicans are angry over lies being labeled as lies.
A new study based in Sweden has found that just one percent of the world’s population contributes to half of all carbon emissions linked to aviation. Researchers dubbed those who fly frequently as “super emitters.” According to The Guardian, “The researchers said the study showed that an elite group enjoying frequent flights had a big impact on the climate crisis that affected everyone,” and “US air passengers have by far the biggest carbon footprint among rich countries.”