The Big Story Taliban forces are advancing across Afghanistan, seizing key territories in a rapid offensive and testing both the country’s security forces and the U.S. response after most American troops departed the country last month. Some 600 American soldiers remain in Afghanistan as the remnants of a 20-year military campaign and are expected to leave by the end of the month. Encountering only sporadic resistance, the Taliban has captured six provincial capitals in the past four days, including the strategic northern city of Kunduz. The hard-line Islamist group made up mostly of Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan that makes up roughly half the population, now controls more than half the country. In some areas, such as Kunduz, Taliban fighters engaged in heavy battle with the Afghan military, but in the southwestern city of Zaranj, capital of the Nimruz province on the Iranian border, U.S.-trained Afghan forces fled their posts ahead of the Taliban’s advance. A police officer in the northern city of Abak, which fell to the Taliban on Monday, told The New York Times that “all officials and security forces retreated.” The United States spent at least $88 billion training Afghan forces over the course of the war—an effort that failed to stabilize Afghanistan or defeat the Taliban after two decades. Perhaps, without the massive commitment entailed by ground forces, the United States will now find a way to use strategic air strikes, political negotiations, and other means to limit the Taliban’s reach and protect American interests.\n\nRead it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/08/us/politics/taliban-afghanistan-united-states.html\n\nThe Back Pages: What the Media Gets Wrong About Cuomo\nby Michael Tracey\nThe Rest➥ It was the party of the season in Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone who’s anyone was there to celebrate Barack Obama’s 60th birthday. Were the partygoers wearing masks and social distancing to do their part and protect against the deadly Delta surge? Oh, of course not—and don’t be so petty and bitter to hold that against them just because they got invited to the former president’s soiree and you had to sit at home fitting masks on your children’s faces following the guidance from America’s doctor, Anthony Fauci. As a New York Times reporter told a CNN host, while some people on Martha’s Vineyard were alarmed by the influx of outsiders coming to press the flesh, other residents of the exclusive island were confident that there was nothing to fear from “a sophisticated, vaccinated crowd” made up of the kind of people who get invites to a presidential party. Thankfully, photos from the event show that the help (clearly unsophisticated) was wearing masks, so there was no risk to the several hundred partygoers such as Chrissy Teigen, Tom Hanks, and Stephen Colbert, who were free to dance and sweat and breathe like royalty.\n\n➥ The most “vaccine hesitant” group in the United States is people with PhDs, according to a study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. While “the largest decrease in hesitancy between January and May by education group was in those with a high school education,” the study finds hesitancy held steady over the same period among the holders of postdoctoral degrees. \nRead it here: https://www.upmc.com/media/news/072621-king-mejia-vaccine-hesitancy\n\n➥ The Chinese government’s aggressive crackdown on the tech industry—part of a larger pullback from the country’s experiment with market capitalism—has cost top business owners in China an estimated $87 billion in less that two months. “The combined net worth of the two dozen Chinese billionaires in tech and biotechnology whose holdings are tracked by Bloomberg has dropped 16%” since the end of June, according to the Financial Times.\n\n➥ In less than three years, the number of satellites orbiting the earth has more than tripled, from fewer than 2,000 in 2019 to more than 6,000 today. In fact, while nearly all of the press about the billionaire space race has focused on a space flight tourism industry, there is evidence that commercial travel is just a way of generating publicity for the real space race that will be over the control of next-generation satellite telecommunications infrastructure. If current trends hold, the number of satellites is expected to grow by 1,000% over the next decade.\nRead it here: https://thehustle.co/how-the-explosive-growth-in-satellites-could-impact-life-on-earth/\n\n➥ A dramatic new climate change report from the United Nations warns of dire consequences without “immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions” in emissions. The more than 3,000-page report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts “a significant jump in extreme weather over the next 20 or 30 years.”\n\n➥ Roberta Kaplan, a prominent attorney who co-founded the Time’s Up charity to support victims of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement, has resigned from the organization after it was revealed in the New York Attorney General’s report released last week that her firm represented Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa and that she had helped write an op-ed attacking the credibility of Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan.\n GET THE SCROLL DELIVERED DAILY \n➥ Ella French, a 29-year-old mother of a two-month-old and police officer in Chicago, was killed after being shot during a routine traffic stop Saturday night. Local news reports that she was just back from maternity leave. Her partner remains hospitalized in the ICU.\n\n➥ The United States led the winner’s circle with 39 gold medals as the 2020 Olympic games officially came to an end in Tokyo.\n\n➥ After operating for just over a year, the compensation fund set up for the victims of Jeffrey Epstein paid almost $121 million to some 150 women. Victims who accepted the money were required to sign an agreement saying they would not bring further legal action against Epstein estate. A powerful and mysterious sexual abuser with ties to billionaires such as Bill Gates and world leaders such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Ehud Barak, Epstein killed himself in 2019 while he was in jail awaiting trial.\n#backpage\nThe Back Pages: What Exactly is Andrew Cuomo Guilty Of?Michael Tracey on what the media is missing about the Cuomo report.\nIn the 165-page Report issued last week by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, there is a curious incongruity that few seem to have noticed in their furor to denounce Governor Andrew Cuomo. (How many journalists bothered to read the Report before commenting, one wonders?) While press accounts have near-uniformly declared the allegations set forth to be supremely “damning,” a closer examination of the Report itself, as well as the peculiar surrounding details, leaves room for a bit more ambiguity.\n\nThe Report concludes that “under the totality of the circumstances,” Cuomo’s conduct “created a hostile work environment” and therefore constituted a violation—or multiple violations—of the law. “Even the Governor’s less overtly sexual comments that were nonetheless gender-based” contributed to this allegedly unlawful dynamic, the Report opines.\n\n'Opines' is an operative word here. Despite accusations leveled by James at her TV press conference that Cuomo “violated federal and state law,” no charges of any kind were brought against the governor, which makes this episode an extreme rarity in the annals of American due process. “For a prosecutor to say the things she did ... would be a violation of the code of ethics,” Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University, told me. “In New York State, I can’t think of another situation where an Attorney General went so far,” he added. “A lot of her statements were quite inflammatory and highly prejudicial.”\n\nAmong the “less overtly sexual” behavior cited in the Report as being unlawfully “gender-based” was Cuomo’s apparent habit of “allowing senior staff members to sit on his lap at official functions” and “lying down with his head on the lap of staff members who are women.” This, the Report alleges on page 148, was a key component of the overall “hostile work environment.”\n\nBut parsed out elsewhere in the Report—evidently causing it to be missed by frenetic pundits—is the revelation that “none” of the staff involved in the lap-sitting activity “reported feeling uncomfortable with this behavior.”\n\nIn fact, the Report’s authors concede, “a number of witnesses we spoke to informed us that all of this behavior led to a sense among staff members in the Executive Chamber that personal attention from the Governor, even if flirtatious … was not only normal but to be valued.” This would seem to be exculpatory information of a kind—but a search across Google and Twitter suggests it’s been omitted almost entirely from the ensuing press coverage. Instead, these exculpatory testaments were somehow reconfigured by the Report’s authors as evidence of Cuomo’s guilt. In the rush to axe Cuomo, media accounts appear to have wholly glossed over this discrepancy.\n\nAt her press conference, James proclaimed that one purpose of the investigation was to demonstrate that “we should believe women.” But it’s unclear whether the women who reportedly attested that they “valued” Cuomo’s conduct also merit such “belief”—and if so, why their testimonies were twisted to signify the opposite of what they apparently said. Either way, the Attorney General’s standard of “belief” seems to involve explicitly accusing public officials of lawbreaking while forsaking any obligation to actually prove those accusations in Court.\n\nAs a three-term governor and product of a family dynasty—which includes a brother who functions as his personal PR flack on CNN prime time—Cuomo has a well-established record of megalomania and brute-force political maneuvering. So the hostility he’s now engulfed by has been building for years.\n\nStill, prior grudges should in theory have no bearing on whether it’s sound public policy to idly “believe,” for instance, accuser Charlotte Bennett—a former Cuomo aide and recent Hamilton College grad who currently identifies as a “womxn’s health, safety & justice advocate.” Bennett disclosed having communicated via DM with the first accuser, Lindsey Boylan, shortly after the latter wrote a vaguely condemnatory December 2020 Twitter thread complaining that Cuomo had “grilled” her about her work and “harassed” her about her looks. Bennett proffered her own allegations shortly thereafter. \n\nIn another unusual aspect of the saga, Boylan was an active candidate for elective office at the time—running in the Democratic Primary for Manhattan Borough President. (She’d go on to lose handily.) Eventually pressed for specifics by the AG investigative team, Boylan cited an instance when “the Governor showed her around his office and pointed out a cigar box, which he said was from Bill Clinton.” Boylan said she “felt” this was “an allusion to President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.” Cuomo retorts that he routinely points out this box to innumerable visitors, male and female.\n\nBennett’s flagship allegation—which, again, requires unquestioning “belief,” according to the Attorney General, 99% of the media, President Joe Biden, Republicans demanding Cuomo’s “swift” arrest, etc.—is that she was “groomed” by Cuomo as a 25-year-old professional political operative. That’s what Bennett said in a March interview, and that’s what is repeated in the Report. This repurposing of “grooming” from a concept that typically refers to illicit predation by adults on children and to adult-on-adult interaction is now apparently a compulsory mainstream “belief.” One example of Cuomo’s purported “grooming” is when he referred to Bennett as “Daisy Duke” on a day she wore shorts to the office.\n\nCuomo’s repeated use of the words honey, darling, and sweetheart also feature prominently in the Report as examples of his alleged lawbreaking. \n\nAnother frequent topic of discussion is Cuomo’s tendency to put his hand on the waist of women while posing for photos. Ana Liss, an aide who in March came forward to the Wall Street Journal as the “third accuser” after Boylan and Bennett—with the implication being that a snowball of accusers had accumulated—produced one such 2014 photo to investigators as evidence, having first provided it to the Journal. Indeed, the photo does show Cuomo’s hand placed around the waist of a smiling and laughing Liss, in what previously might have been considered an unremarkable pose in which to take a joint photo. Per her own comments to the newspaper, Liss continued to display the incriminating photo in her office until at least March 6, 2021. She later told AG investigators she had once been “proud” of this photo, given that it indicated she “was around [Cuomo] and adjacent to him.” But in her mind it had subsequently “[taken] on a different meaning” after the “broader dialogue started percolating from other women.”\n\nSome of Cuomo’s commentary does resemble the sort of rhetoric that one might associate with a forgotten 1970s sitcom. The term “mingle mamas” appears eleven separate times in the Report, deriving from a seemingly jocular conversation in which Cuomo’s lawyer contends that two women staffers had told him they were soon leaving for a vacation together to Florida, without their spouses—and hence that they were “single and ready to mingle.” Further suggesting a possible jocular connotation, one woman submitted a contemporaneous text message in which she made reference to the term, writing “lol mingle mama [emoji].” The authors of the Report later deem this to have been “an offensive interaction.”\n\nAnother purported instance of unlawful conduct took place in full public view at one of Cuomo’s signature COVID-19 press conferences. The Report erroneously says the press conference in question occurred on March 17, 2020; it was actually May 17, 2020. Perhaps the AG’s office should’ve invested in some additional fact-checkers. Either way, Cuomo had volunteered himself to take a nasal swab test on camera. The female doctor administering the test was clad in full “PPE” gear, and Cuomo, in accordance with the joshing demeanor he’d exhibited throughout most of the session, said, “Nice to see you doctor. You make that gown look good.” The doctor is anonymized in the Report but easily identifiable (by watching the video) as Elizabeth Dufort, a former Brown University fellow who later left the state Health Department under unspecified circumstances. Dufort ultimately told investigators that “she found the Governor’s comments offensive” in that “they would not have been made to an accomplished physician who was a man.”\n\nOne incident that most fair-minded observers would likely agree constitutes indisputable misconduct—if true—is when Cuomo is charged to have “slid his hand up” an unidentified woman’s blouse and “grabbed her breast.” Cuomo adamantly denies this anonymous accusation; the woman, Brittany Commisso, eventually revealed her identity to CBS. Surely the truth of the matter could be ascertained in an appropriately adversarial legal setting. However, by Letitia James’ own admission, ascertaining truth seems not to have been the purpose of this particular investigation.\n\nMichael Tracey is a journalist in Jersey City, NJ. Follow him on Substack and Twitter.