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Biden Commits to Evacuating All Americans From Afghanistan, Even if Troops Have to Stay Past Deadline

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The president’s latest commitment came in response to concerns that his current withdrawal date of Aug. 31 is too unrealistic if the U.S. hopes to fly all hopeful refugees and Americans out of the country.


Biden Admits Aug. 31 Withdrawal May Be Pushed Back

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, President Joe Biden finally conceded that the U.S. may not be able to pull all of its troops out of Afghanistan by his quickly approaching Aug. 31 deadline.

Biden has been rigid regarding the current U.S. objective to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, and in this at time tense interview, he was no less adamant; however, for the first time, he has confirmed that the U.S. would stay beyond that date so long as there are Americans still seeking to flee the country. 

“We’ve got like 10 to 15,000 Americans in the country right now, right?” Stephanopoulos asked in the interview, which was published Wednesday. “Are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?” 

“Yes,” Biden said. 

“How about our Afghan allies?”  Stephanopoulos followed up. “Does the commitment hold for them as well?”

“The commitment holds to get everyone out that, in fact, we can get out and everyone that should come out,” Biden said. “And that’s the objective. That’s what we’re doing now, that’s the path we’re on, and I think we’ll get there.”

“So Americans should understand that troops might have to be there beyond Aug. 31st?” Stephanopoulos pressed in an attempt to have the president give a clear answer on whether he was willing to push back his current timeline.

No, Americans should understand that we’re gonna try to get it done before Aug. 31st,” Biden said.

“But if we don’t, the troops will stay—” Stephanopoulos said

“If we don’t, we’ll determine at the time who’s left,” Biden said.

“And?” Stephanopoulos continued to press.

“And if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out,” Biden admitted.

Biden Pressed on “Highly Unlikely” Takeover Comments

During another part of the interview, Stephanopoulos sought to hold Biden accountable for a comment he made last month when he said a Taliban takeover was “highly unlikely.” 

“Was the intelligence wrong, or did you downplay it?” Stephanopoulos asked. 

“I think — there was no consensus,” Biden responded. “If you go back and look at the intelligence reports, they said that it’s more likely to be sometime by the end of the year.” 

“You didn’t put a timeline on it when you said it was highly unlikely,” Stephanopoulos pushed back. “You just said flat out it’s highly unlikely the Taliban would take over.”

“Yeah, well, the question was whether or not it — the idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that somehow, the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was gonna just collapse, they were gonna give up,” Biden said. “I don’t think anybody anticipated that.” 

Stephanopoulos went on to ask if the last week has been “a failure of intelligence, planning, execution, or judgment” on the part of the U.S. government.

Biden said that he doesn’t consider it a failure. Rather, he said the rapid downfall of Afghanistan was a result of the country’s president quickly fleeing, as well as the sudden collapse of Afghan troops. 

“There is no good time to leave Afghanistan,” he later added. “Fifteen years ago would’ve been a problem, 15 years from now [would be a problem]. The basic choice is am I gonna send your sons and your daughters to war in Afghanistan in perpetuity?” 

“We spent over $1 trillion, George. 20 years. There was no good time to leave.” 

“But if there’s no good time, if you know you’re gonna have to leave eventually, why not have everything in place to make sure Americans could get out, to make sure our Afghan allies get out, so we don’t have these chaotic scenes in Kabul?” Stephanopoulos asked. 

“As you know, the intelligence community did not say back in June or July that, in fact, this was gonna collapse like it did,” Biden said. 

“They thought the Taliban would take over, but not this quickly?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“But not this quickly,” Biden reiterated. “Not even close.”

At a press briefing the same day, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also stressed that point, saying, “Nothing I saw indicated a collapse of this government in 11 days.”

What’s Happening in Kabul?

The U.S. has reportedly evacuated 7,000 since Saturday. Officials hope to increase that capacity to 5,000 to 9,000 a day before the U.S. pulls out.

In Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, the Taliban clashed with protesters Thursday. According to several reports, the protesters had been peacefully chanting while waving the flag of their now-overthrown government. That then led to Taliban fighters firing into the air, though some also appeared to take aim at the crowd, according to viral video. 

In a desperate attempt to find new lives for their children whatever the cost, another video shows Afghan mothers throwing their babies over barbed wire to UK troops at the airport in Kabul. 

See what others are saying: (ABC News) (New York Post) (NPR)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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