The Forever War Ends (for Now)

Tues., Aug. 31: The last plane out of AFG + COVID rears its head + medical marijuana, like, totally passes the Senate’s health care committee, man + the million-dollar images you can get for free

Before we start, have any of you with AOL email addresses experienced delivery issues? A reader reported a problem yesterday that I can’t make heads or tails of. If anything’s been weird, please let me know.


1. The Forever War Ends (for Now)

At 3:29 p.m. EST, the last flight out of Afghanistan—carrying the last American troops in the country—left the Kabul airport Monday. After 19 years and 11 months, America’s war in Afghanistan is (more or less) over.

  • Over the last 16 days, the U.S. has evacuated more than 120,000 people. A few hundred Americans and many thousands of Afghan allies remain.

  • “The Taliban has agreed to allow foreign nationals and Afghans with relevant travel documents to leave the country safely after the international rescue mission ends Tuesday, the United States and dozens of other countries said Sunday.” (WaPo)

  • Biden will address the nation tonight on his decision not to extend operations passed Aug. 31. He says military commanders were unanimous that it was the right call.

The U.S. marked the war’s end by accidentally drone-bombing a family.

A U.S. drone strike targeting the Islamic State killed 10 civilians in Kabul, including several small children, family members told The Washington Post on Monday.

The dead were all from a single extended family who were exiting a car in their modest driveway when the strike hit a nearby vehicle, said Abdul Matin Azizi, a neighbor who saw the attack. Azizi, 20, said the explosion occurred as the family returned home Sunday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. …

U.S. Central Command said the strike Sunday destroyed an Islamic State car bomb that posed an “imminent” threat to Kabul’s airport. It acknowledged reports of civilian casualties but did not release specifics. The attack is the second U.S. drone strike on Afghanistan in response to a suicide bombing and gunfire attack outside Kabul’s airport on Thursday.

If the American version of the story is correct, the car bomb probably would have massacred many more civilians if its mission succeeded. But life can’t be reduced to such cost-benefit analyses, and that doesn’t make it better for victims’ families. Not to mention, this isn’t how you win hearts and minds, to use that long-ago phrase.

Of the 10 civilians killed, eight were age 18 and under, according to lists from family members obtained by The Washington Post. Zamarai Ahmadi, 45, a charity worker, and three of his sons were among those killed, according to one of his surviving sons, 22-year-old Samim Ahmadi.

The United States “always says they are killing [the Islamic State], al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but they always attack civilian people and children,” Fayaz said. “I don’t think they are good people.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations is urging the world not to stop thinking about Afghanistan once it leaves the headlines.

“The scenes at Kabul airport these past few days have sparked an outpouring of compassion around the world at the fear and desperation of thousands of Afghans,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “But when these images have faded from our screens, there will still be millions who need the international community to act. … When the airlift and the media frenzy are over, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, some 39 million, will remain inside Afghanistan. They need us—governments, humanitarians, ordinary citizens—to stay with them and stay the course.”

At a press conference in Durham yesterday, city and county officials said the community would welcome Afghan refugees.

The process of sorting through the 120,000-plus refugees will be complicated, particularly the ones who don’t have special immigrant visas. It’s not clear how many will come to the U.S., and from there, how many the Office of Refugee Resettlement will send to North Carolina.

  • But the region’s resettlement agencies expect about 100, probably beginning in earnest in the next month, though a few have already arrived. They won’t come at once but rather as a slow trickle.

On Aug. 18, Adam Clark, the director of World Relief Durham, told newsletter subscribers his agency had helped a family of seven, one of their first new arrivals, move into their new home. Another family of seven would arrive within days from Fort Lee, he wrote. (N&O)

  • Kakou Nayo, the refugee community organizer at Church World Service, told me afterward that he’d received 78 emails (I think; I need to check my interview transcript) from people offering their houses to refugees.

  • Not all of them will be practical—generally, you want to place incoming refugees close to an established refugee community. But Nayo told me he’s never seen this level of support

  • Through July, North Carolina had received 26 SIV holders and six Afghan refugees this year. August numbers will be released next week.

While Donald Trump asks, “How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America?,” House Speaker Tim Moore—as conservative as they come—is open to accepting refugees.

  • “These are folks who literally put their lives on the line for our folks there in harm’s way,” Moore told the N&O. “I think our nation owes it to these folks. You’ve got to keep your word on something like that or if not, when the next conflict happens, who is going to stand with us?”

Moore said that the House budget, which the Senate has rejected and is currently being discussed in committees, earmarked $500,000 to the Interpreting Freedom Foundation which provides a grant to help military interpreters and their families.

But he said he understood that federal money would be allocated to help house refugees. He added that if he learns that the state government needs to step in to help he will make it happen.

And to answer Trump’s question: None.

  • SIV holders, having worked with Americans, have been thoroughly vetted. And getting approved as a refugee is crazy intense.

  • First, they must prove their identity to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and pass a background check.

  • Most don’t know their destination country until about 48 hours before their plane leaves. If they are chosen to come to the U.S., there’s an entirely different background check that the USCIS performs.

  • So the chances of terrorists a) passing a UNHCR background check, b) getting selected at random to go to the U.S. by the UNHCR refugee lottery, then c) passing another USCIS background check are essentially nil.

  • Can we please not fearmonger this stuff?

2. Wake Adds 8,300 COVID Cases in 2 Weeks

Remember those two weeks, in early July, I think, when life felt normal again? That was fun.

Over the past month, Wake County has seen its number of new COVID-19 cases more than double, rising to more than 8,000 new cases in two weeks.

In early August, that figure was just over 4,000, The News & Observer reported.

New cases in Durham, which saw nearly 700 new cases over two weeks in early August, have also more than doubled to nearly 1,700 over the most recent 14-day period. (N&O)

Know what’s extra cool?

Among the three [pediatric] ICUs in the Triangle … WakeMed and UNC were full on Friday, and Duke had just one of 32 beds available. UNC has 20 beds and WakeMed has 10. …

Dr. Benny Joyner, division chief of pediatric critical care medicine at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, told The News & Observer that they are no longer taking transfers from outside UNC into the PICU.

“It is exhausting to have seen what potential we would have had with the introduction of the vaccine, with careful masking,” Joyner said. “And this, to be put in a position again where we’re having to say to outside referring hospitals, ‘We cannot take your child with a new cancer diagnosis, a new trauma’—that’s a hard thing.” (N&O)

At Duke, 345 undergrads, 45 grad students, and 15 employees have tested positive during the first week of classes, though all but eight were vaccinated. None has been hospitalized.

  • Duke—unlike UNC—has told all students and employees to get vaccinated or GTFO.

  • Duke is also requiring masks indoors and out (except when exercising alone, eating or drinking, or when not around others); has suspended indoor group seating at dining facilities; is allowing professors to teach undergrad classes remotely for the next two weeks; and is limiting student activities.

Also, the European Union has recommended that the EU’s 27 members reinstate restrictions barring most unvaccinated travelers from the U.S.

  • Joining us on the bad list: Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia.

  • Meanwhile, the EU recommended gradually lifting restrictions on 18 countries, two special administrative regions, and one disputed territory, including Azerbaijan, Brunei Darussalam, China, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Taiwan, and Macao.

A very special thanks to you anti-vaxxers out there for making all of this possible.

3. Senate Health Care Committee Kinda-Sorta Approves Medical Marijuana

Here’s a practice that absolutely should end: Votes in General Assembly committees aren’t recorded. They’re “voice votes.”

The chair puts forward the question, the ayes say “aye,” the nays “nay,” and the chair decides who wins. Usually, the outcome isn’t in question—votes are unanimous or break down along party lines or the victors are obvious.

But every so often, something like this happens:

On Thursday, almost all of the Senate Health Care committee’s 15 members seemed to stay silent when asked to vote. One could be heard voting for the bill, and two could be heard voting against it.

But there might have been others who mumbled their support, because the bill passed anyway. (N&O)

“Might have been others.” That, or the committee co-chair, Sen. Jim Perry, decided the bill was going to pass either because he supported it or on orders from party leadership.

Still, this was the medical marijuana bill’s last real hurdle before reaching the Senate floor. And it was where Sen. Ralph Hise, who I assume is auditioning to play John Lithgow’s character in a dinner-theater production of Footloose, made his stand.

Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine contrasted the push for medical marijuana—which has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—with other recent headlines about COVID-19 vaccines possibly being more widely mandated after receiving full FDA approval.

“We’re all supposed to say, ‘Look, they’re the scientists,’” Hise said. “Well, where are the FDA recommendations on medical marijuana?” …

Conservative opponents of medical marijuana have pointed to its lack of FDA approval ever since the bill was introduced, although previously it had been leaders of Christian groups making those comments, not lawmakers. On Thursday, Hise also brought up their concern that once North Carolina legalizes medical marijuana, full legalization won’t be far behind — something he said he agrees with. (N&O)

Sen. Jim Burgin, who reps Harnett, Lee, and Johnston Counties, says sheriffs are upset that they won’t be able to pull over and search people’s cars because police claim to smell weed.

  • This is a feature, not a bug! The “I smelled dope, Your Honor, honest!” method of establishing probable cause has led to the disproportionate arrests of Black and brown people.

Civil rights advocates say anything that hinders motor vehicle searches is cause for celebration, as they were used disproportionately on Black and Brown motorists. Black residents, for instance, make up about 50 percent of Newark’s population but in 2019 were involved in almost 80 percent of the police department’s searches, according to the most recent data on its website.

“Police believe that if they stop more Black people, they’re going to pick up more drugs, because that’s what they’ve been taught,” said Meghan Matt, who works for a criminal defense and civil rights litigation attorney in Baton Rouge. “But it is statistically evident that Black and White people use marijuana at the same rate.” (WaPo)

The sheriffs’ concern might not even be real. While New York State’s legalization law prohibited pot-scenting as probable cause, in other states, it exists in a kind of legal limbo.

4. Read This: Who Should Profit from Public Domain Art?

In The Assembly, Brenna Casey stumbled—completely by accident—into a fascinating story about two prominent artists and scholars at Duke who stood to bank a million bucks off the sale of public domain images.

Two young women are pictured side by side.

On the left, a white-presenting girl wears a polka-dot suit, a banded boater hat, and a hyacinth bloom pinned to her lapel. On the right, a Black-presenting girl with a middle part and a cool look wears a plaid cravat that looks almost windswept, tucked under the roll line of her dark coat. Though they are separated by the pale boundary of a photographic frame, they share a certain intensity.

The black and white portraits were taken at the turn of the twentieth century by the white Durham-born itinerant photographer Hugh Mangum. The young women sat in a makeshift studio at the height of the Jim Crow era, perhaps in a tent or a bright unused storefront, probably in Virginia or North Carolina. Their names were likely never recorded, their photographs probably paid for with coins.

Now their likenesses are being sold for thousands of dollars on the high-end art market.

In January 2020, 12 limited-edition Mangum prints appeared in Madrid’s Camara Oscura Art Gallery. Another 32 went up for sale in June of this year, represented by the Los Angeles-based art dealer MB Abram in concert with New York’s ACA Galleries, which will exhibit the images this fall.

Prints range in cost from $3,000 to $12,000 each. Between U.S. and European sales, the potential revenue is roughly $2 million.

When I first pitched an essay on Hugh Mangum last December, I imagined it as a breezy feature. Maybe I would road-trip, my editor suggested, and reconstruct some of Mangum’s travels. 

Instead, it has been a very different kind of journey.

The story that unfolded as I explored Mangum’s archive raised questions about appropriate use of public-domain images, power imbalances within academia, and a university’s vexed role as a gatekeeper of resources and information.

At the story’s center:

A powerful institution—Duke University—wealthy in assets and prestige, but poor on clear policies that help protect the university’s public research mission and vulnerable early-career scholars;

Two prominent artists and scholars connected with Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, who stood to gain—thanks in part to the university’s endorsements of their work—roughly a million dollars on the sale of images from the public domain;

A former graduate student whose research is consigned to a small press while her thesis advisor—one of those prominent scholars—publishes a book on the same little-known subject through well-connected and well-resourced university channels;

And a grassroots community whose fight for the public preservation of a local artist’s legacy ran up against a university bureaucracy that appears to have allowed its senior faculty exclusive access while denying other scholars access to newly discovered public domain images.

“It’s like a Law & Order episode!” said Carla Williams, a prominent photographer and photo historian.

And like a Law & Order episode, the plot shifted along the way. When The Assembly approached Duke for comment, the university made several significant changes to its policies, including rejecting an offer they previously had accepted for a portion of the proceeds from these sales, and banning the future use of the authorizing document at the sales’ center.

And just before press time, the scholars behind the sales also made significant changes to their plans, redirecting their share of the profits.

“The richness of the Mangum collection is much greater than its monetizing,” remarked Maurice Wallace, a scholar of African-American literature and visual culture, as well as a former Duke professor, and longtime resident of Durham.

And though the Hugh Mangum images may have journeyed near and far, all roads lead back to Durham, North Carolina.