He braved the 85-foot plunge on the Cyclone roller coaster to celebrate the reopening of Coney Island. He stood with the actor Lin-Manuel Miranda in the middle of Times Square to announce that Broadway was coming back. He savored a Krispy Kreme doughnut â free for people who get vaccinated â on camera as if it were a fresh croissant from Paris, or at least his favored patisserie in Brooklyn.
It only took seven years and change, but it appears that Bill de Blasio is finally having fun as mayor.
His spirits have been buoyed by a confluence of events: a feeling of hope as millions of New Yorkers get vaccinated after a devastating year; an influx of federal funding to shore up the cityâs finances.
But the biggest factor may well be the diminution of influence and interference from the mayorâs longtime nemesis, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has largely been sidelined by a series of scandals.
âThis is New York City coming back before your very eyes,â Mr. de Blasio said in Times Square this week after bopping his head to a performance of âNew York, New Yorkâ and touring a new vaccination site for Broadway workers with Mr. Miranda.
During his two terms as mayor, Mr. de Blasio has often appeared dour at public events, as though the job was more of a responsibility than a joy, and he has been indignant at times over harsh media coverage, especially after his failed presidential bid two years ago.
He is still not particularly popular: His approval rating in the city was only 38 percent in January, and the Democratic candidates running to succeed him in the June 22 primary are almost uniformly critical of him.
That was before âThe Spring of Bill,â as the mayorâs press secretary, Bill Neidhardt, is calling it â a reference to a âSeinfeldâ episode, âThe Summer of George,â in which the character played by Jason Alexander receives a windfall and decides to live life to the fullest.
But it is less of a windfall, and more of a downfall â of Mr. Cuomoâs political fortunes â that is driving Mr. de Blasioâs refreshed outlook.
âNow that Cuomoâs fully occupied with avoiding questions about multiple credible sexual assault allegations, heâs been interfering with the city less,â Mr. Neidhardt said, adding that there were âfewer strange ego trips,â like when Mr. Cuomo refused to welcome the hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort alongside Mr. de Blasio and did it on his own.
The mayorâs contentious relationship with the governor reached a turning point in 2015, when Mr. de Blasio publicly raised concerns about Mr. Cuomoâs bullying style. The feud worsened, with the governor embracing any opportunity to upstage the mayor.
But now facing multiple investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and his administrationâs handling of virus-related nursing home deaths, Mr. Cuomo has given the mayor an opportunity to reassert himself.
Mr. Cuomoâs daily televised virus briefings are no more; he now holds the briefings intermittently, and sometimes only by phone. But Mr. de Blasio has continued his own daily briefings, and has seemed more at ease with the attention.
He has also shown a renewed eagerness to publicly criticize or question the governorâs behavior, saying that reports of the governorâs bullying tactics were âclassic Andrew Cuomo.â
âHe doesnât say, how do we work together to solve the issues of homelessness?â the mayor said last month of the governor. âThatâs never the conversation. Itâs always something about what he needs.â
The city still faces enormous challenges as it recovers from the pandemic, but the mayor has received praise for reopening public schools safely before other big cities, and says that the city is on target to reach his goal of vaccinating five million New Yorkers by June.
Some New Yorkers are pleased to see Mr. de Blasioâs newfound enthusiasm for his job â however late it might be.
âIt is utterly refreshing to see the mayor actually being a cheerleader for our city,â said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a political strategist and former aide to Mr. de Blasio.
Even his critics have noticed a change in the mayorâs demeanor.
Joseph Borelli, a Republican city councilman from Staten Island, said when he visited City Hall in recent months, he always saw the mayor âpacing like a madmanâ in front of the building on the phone.
âItâs like a new de Blasio,â Mr. Borelli said.
Mr. de Blasio has been known to shun some of the rituals of the job that his predecessors embraced with varying degrees of humor and equanimity.
He has not appeared at an introductory event for a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in several years. He has not made frequent visits to the cityâs cultural institutions like past mayors. And, of course, he has not gone to the Staten Island Zoo for Groundhog Day since 2015, a year after the zooâs groundhog died after the mayor dropped it.
The mayor has also received criticism for arriving late to events, and for his adherence to his gym routine in Brooklyn, far from the mayoral residence in Manhattan, Gracie Mansion.
A Red Sox fan who grew up in the Boston area, Mr. de Blasio did not fit in as a sports fan in New York, either. But in a sign of his commitment to the cityâs comeback, Mr. de Blasio wore a Yankees hat in February as he visited a new vaccination site at Yankee Stadium.
âFor one day only, I will declare myself a Yankees fan,â he said.
Being mayor of New York City is about management and marketing, and Mr. de Blasio was wise to finally embrace the second role, said Stu Loeser, a former press secretary for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Mr. de Blasioâs predecessor.
âBill de Blasio riding the Cyclone doesnât just say Coney Island is back â it says to people who are thinking about where to build a business that New York deserves a look,â he said.
In an interview in Times Square, Mr. de Blasio said that the cityâs current situation reminded him of the World War II era, and he recalled how his mother, Maria de Blasio, who worked as an editor at the Office of War Information in New York during the war, described the camaraderie she felt during that time.
âI feel like this is our moment, our generationâs moment, where everyone has got a very deep desire to work together, find some common ground and get something done and bring the city back,â Mr. de Blasio said. âThatâs inspiring. Thatâs energizing.â
The mayorâs office said that Mr. de Blasio was also engaged behind the scenes. Since February, he has held a ârecovery war roomâ meeting every Friday afternoon that can last more than two hours. More than 20 staffers discuss each facet of the cityâs recovery effort.
And there are other problems to confront. Mr. Borelli, even while complimenting the mayor, called on him to bring on âmore policingâ to address a rise in violent crime â an issue that Fox News has seized on, suggesting that it was inappropriate for Mr. de Blasio to be having fun while the city was still in crisis.
In addition, 132,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 20,000 from the previous week.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 576,000.
“We’re gaining momentum here, which is just unquestionable,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton. But she cautioned that the jobless claims levels, while good news, were still extraordinarily high compared to what they were before the pandemic.
“You’re still not popping champagne corks,” she said. “I will breath again — and breath easy again — once we get these number back down in the 200,000 range.”
In another sign of the recovery underway, retail sales surged in March, the Commerce Department said Thursday, as Americans spent their latest round of government stimulus checks and the continued roll out of coronavirus vaccines lured more people back into stores.
With the pandemic’s end seemingly in sight, the economy is poised for a robust comeback. But weekly applications for unemployment claims have remained stubbornly high for months, frustrating the recovery even as businesses reopen and vaccination rates increase. They have also been a volatile economic indicator, temporarily dipping to their lowest level of the pandemic in mid-March before rising again in recent weeks.
“The job market conditions for job seekers have really improved extremely quickly between January and now,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter. “But there are still huge barriers to returning to work.”
Jobless claims for the next few months could remain significantly elevated as the labor market adjusts to a new normal.
Concerns about workplace safety persist, especially for workers on the younger end of the spectrum who have only just become eligible for vaccinations. Many children are still attending schools remotely, complicating the full-time work prospects for their caregivers.
But there is hope on the horizon as those barriers begin to fall. President Biden moved up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible for vaccination to April 19, and every state has complied. Students who have been learning remotely will begin to return to the classroom in earnest.
“This was the deepest, swiftest recession ever, but it’s also turning into the fastest recovery,” Ms. Pollak said. “And I don’t think we should lose sight of that just because some of the measures are a little stubborn.”
Retail sales surged in March, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, as Americans spent their latest round of government stimulus checks and the continued roll out of coronavirus vaccines lured more people back into stores.
The 9.8 percent increase last month was a strong comeback from the nearly 3 percent drop in February, when previous stimulus money had dissipated and a series of winter storms made travel difficult across much of the United States.
The rebound in March sales shows how, a year after the nation’s economy locked down to prevent the spread of the virus, consumer spending remains highly dependent on government support. It also reflects that many areas of consumption frozen by the pandemic have bounced back. Sales of clothing and accessories rose 18 percent, while restaurants and bars saw a 13 percent increase.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law last month, provides direct payments of $1,400 to lower-income Americans. Many of these checks began arriving in households toward the end of last month, when economists saw signs that spending was ramping up again, such as increased hotel occupancy and travel through airports.
Economists at Morgan Stanley had predicted that core retail sales would jump 6.5 percent in March, driven by the stimulus checks that started arriving in people’s bank accounts around March 17. The investment bank said 30 percent of consumers tend to spend their checks within the first 10 days, suggesting that many other consumers have yet to spend their checks, which could strengthen April sales.
More broadly, American consumers are also feeling increasingly optimistic as more people become vaccinated and venture out more frequently. One measure of consumer confidence, tabulated by the Conference Board, said confidence increased about 20 points in March from February, fueled by increased income and stronger business and employment expectations.
Heavy trading volume greeted the highly anticipated market debut of Coinbase on Wednesday, which ended the day worth some $86 billion. The cryptocurrency company’s coming-out party made some insiders very rich, opened up new possibilities for cementing its position in the blockchain economy and blazed a trail for other crypto companies to follow its lead onto the public markets, the DealBook newsletter writes.
The stake held by Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s co-founder and chief executive, is now worth roughly $13 billion. Shares held by its other co-founder, Fred Ehrsam, are worth about $6.7 billion. (Andreessen Horowitz’s stake is worth $11.2 billion, while Union Square Ventures’ holding is worth $5.3 billion.) Other investors who stand to collect big paper profits — if they held on to their shares — include the National Basketball Association star Kevin Durant, the rapper Nas and Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit.
The market listing makes it easier for Coinbase to negotiate mergers and acquisitions. “We want to be able to have a public mark on our stock price because it helps us do more and more M.&A.,” Emilie Choi, the company’s chief operating officer, told the technology site Protocol. “There’s so much innovation happening in the crypto ecosystem, and we can’t possibly do it all in-house.” But the listing also brings more scrutiny of the company’s internal culture, which has included accusations of unfairtreatment of Black and female employees and poor customer service.
Coinbase could lead the way for others. The tech investor Ron Conway called Coinbase “the Google for the crypto economy.” As crypto goes mainstream, others with similarly big ambitions may follow Coinbase onto the public markets, including rival markets like Binance, the biggest crypto exchange, and Gemini, the company founded by the Winklevoss twins. Exchange-traded funds that hold Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies directly also haven’t yet been approved by the S.E.C., but proponents believe that could happen soon.
Coinbase has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Here’s Mr. Armstrong’s original Hacker News post from March 2012 looking for a co-founder for his crypto venture, which drew dismissive comments like, “Because bitcoin worked out so well. Have fun with that, dude.” Bitcoin was worth about $5 then; it’s more than $60,000 now.
Profit at both Bank of America and Citigroup jumped for the first three months of this year, bouncing back from the lows of the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, as they reduced their loss cushions to reflect an improving economy.
Citigroup more than tripled its profit from a year ago, reporting earnings of $7.9 billion even as its sales fell 7 percent, to $19.3 billion. Bank of America doubled its profit to $8.1 billion from $4 billion. Its revenue of $22 billion was flat.
Like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, which reported first-quarter results on Wednesday, both banks were aided by the release of the cash cushions they had set aside during the economic downturn last year to absorb potential losses. Citi released $3.9 billion of the reserve it had built up to absorb loan losses, whereas Bank of America’s provision for losses decreased $6.6 billion.
“It’s been a better than expected start to the year, and we are optimistic about the macro environment,” said Jane Fraser, who became Citi’s chief executive last month. “This is the healthiest we have seen the consumer emerge from a crisis in recent history.” Similarly, Bank of America’s chief, Brian Moynihan, noted that “progress in the health crisis and the economy point to an accelerating recovery.”
During a call Thursday morning with analysts and investors, Mr. Moynihan noted that March had been a record month for consumer spending by Bank of America customers.
Low interest rates, which have been a central feature of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to shore up the economy, dogged both companies. At Citi, investment banking and stock trading were areas of strength, rising 46 percent and 26 percent from the prior year.
At Bank of America, investment-banking fees for advising corporations on deals hit a record $2.2 billion, a 62 percent rise, thanks partly to a doubling of activity in stock underwriting deals, including initial public offerings. Global markets revenue rose 17 percent, which was primarily attributable to gains in the sales and trading of bonds and related products.
As part of its earnings release, Citi announced that would exit the consumer market in 13 countries in Asia and Europe, including Australia, China, India, and Russia, reflecting a desire to focus on the bank’s more profitable geographies. In those areas, “we don’t have the scale we need to compete,” Ms. Fraser said.
By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet
Stocks on Wall Street climbed on Thursday, with shares lifted by a new round of earnings reports and as economic data from the United States added to signs of a budding economic recovery.
The S&P 500 climbed about 0.7 percent, putting it on track for a record, while the Nasdaq composite rose by more than 1 percent. European stock indexes also rose. The Stoxx Europe 600 index increased about 0.3 percent, for a third straight day of gains in record territory.
The gains came after the U.S. government reported that jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level of the pandemic, and the latest data on retail sales blew past expectations. About 613,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 153,000 from the previous week.
Separately, the Commerce Department said that retail sales surged 9.8 percent in March, a strong comeback from the nearly 3 percent drop in February, when previous stimulus money had dissipated and a series of winter storms made travel difficult across much of the United States.
Other signs of recovery came as companies reported earnings. Executives at Bank of America and Citigroup both joined their counterparts at other large financial firms in sounding an optimistic tone about the outlook for the economy. Shares of Citigroup rose more than 1.5 percent after its earnings report, while Bank of America’s stock fell slightly.
“It’s been a better-than-expected start to the year, and we are optimistic about the macro environment,” said Jane Fraser, who became Citi’s chief executive last month. “This is the healthiest we have seen the consumer emerge from a crisis in recent history.”
And Delta reported that it has stemmed daily operating losses, a sign that its planes are fuller and fares are returning to more normal levels. Its shares were lower, however, after the company said that in the first three months of the year, it lost $1.2 billion as revenue plunged from a year earlier.
After a bumper market debut, Coinbase shares rose 3 percent in early trading. On Wednesday, the cryptocurrency exchange ended its first day of trading at $328.28 a share, valuing the company at nearly $86 billion — more than 10 times its last valuation as a private company.
Despite the economic optimism, yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes dropped sharply to 1.58 percent. On Wednesday, Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, reiterated the central bank’s intention of keeping monetary policy accommodative for a long time. He said the bank would probably slow its bond-buying program “well before” it lifts its policy interest rate.
Airlines are still racking up big losses even as ticket sales begin to recover.
Delta Air Lines said on Thursday that it lost $1.2 billion in the first three months of the year and its revenue fell about 60 percent, to $4.2 billion, from the first quarter of 2019.
But the airline said it was optimistic that business would soon improve.
“A year after the onset of the pandemic, travelers are gaining confidence and beginning to reclaim their lives,” Ed Bastian, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Delta is accelerating into the recovery with our brand stronger and more trusted than ever before.”
The airline said it stemmed daily operating losses last month, a sign that its planes are fuller and fares are returning to more normal levels. Well over one million travelers have been screened at airport security checkpoints each day for more than a month, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
“If recovery trends hold, we expect positive cash generation for the June quarter and see a path to return to profitability in the September quarter as the demand recovery progresses,” Mr. Bastian said.
The airline said it expected revenue in the current quarter to be down about 50 to 55 percent compared with the same period in 2019. It expects to fly about 68 percent as many people in the quarter as it did in 2019.
The airline said ticket sales for domestic flights had recovered to 85 percent of 2019 levels, though lucrative corporate and international travelers have yet to come back in meaningful numbers. Delta will officially lift its ban on the sales of middle seats next month, allowing it to earn more from each flight.
“In the June quarter, we expect significant sequential improvement in revenue as leisure demand accelerates into the peak summer period and we add capacity,” Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s president, said in the statement.
Delta is the first major U.S. airline to report first-quarter results. United Airlines and American Airlines are scheduled to do so next week.
An international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups called on Instagram on Thursday to scrap its plans to develop a version of the popular photo-sharing app for users under age 13.
Instagram’s push for a separate children’s app comes after years of complaints from legislators and parents that the platform has been slow to identify underage users and protect them from sexual predators and bullying.
But in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook — the company that owns the photo-sharing service — the nonprofit groups warned that a children’s version of Instagram would not mitigate such problems. While 10- to 12-year-olds with Instagram accounts would be unlikely to switch to a “babyish version” of the app, the groups said, it could hook even younger users on endless routines of photo-scrolling and body-image shame.
“While collecting valuable family data and cultivating a new generation of Instagram users may be good for Facebook’s bottom line,” the groups, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston, said in the letter to Mr. Zuckerberg, “it will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”
The coalition of nonprofit groups also includes the Africa Digital Rights’ Hub in Ghana; the Australian Council on Children and the Media; the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington; Common Sense Media in San Francisco; the Consumer Federation of America; and the 5Rights Foundation in Britain.
Stephanie Otway, a Facebook spokeswoman, said that Instagram was in the early stages of developing a service for children as part of an effort to keep those under 13 off its main platform. Although Instagram requires users to be at least 13, many younger children have lied about their age to set up accounts.
Ms. Otway said that company would not show ads in any Instagram product developed for children younger than 13, and that it planned to consult with experts on children’s health and safety on the project. Instagram is also working on new age-verification methods to catch younger users trying to lie about their age, she said.
“The reality is that kids are online,” Ms. Otway said. “They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”
Reuters will begin charging for access to its website as it tries to capture a slice of the digital subscription business.
The company, one of the largest news organizations in the world, announced the new paywall on Thursday, as well as a redesigned website aimed at a “professional” audience wanting business, financial and general news.
After registration and a free preview period, a subscription to Reuters.com will cost $34.99 a month, the same as Bloomberg’s digital subscription. The Wall Street Journal’s digital subscription costs $38.99 a month, while The New York Times costs $18.42 monthly.
Reuters.com attracts 41 million unique visitors a month. Months of audience research showed that those readers were divided in two separate groups: those wanting breaking news and professionals looking for context and analysis about how news affected their industry, Josh London, chief marketing officer at Reuters, said in an interview.
Reuters will roll out new sections on its website for subscribers in coming weeks that include coverage of legal news, sustainable business, energy, health care and the auto industry. It also plans to introduce industry-specific newsletters.
Mr. London described the new website as “the largest digital transformation at Reuters in a decade.” He declined to provide specifics on digital subscription goals but said that it represented “a major opportunity for us.”
Arlyn Gajilan, the digital news director at Reuters, said she expected to expand the digital team working on the revamped website.
On Monday, Reuters announced that Alessandra Galloni, a global managing editor, would become its next editor in chief. Ms. Galloni, who will be the first woman to helm the news agency in its history, starts her new role on Monday. She takes over from Stephen J. Adler, who retired after running Reuters for a decade.
Ms. Gajilan said that Ms. Galloni had been closely involved in the new direction of Reuters.com.
“She’s a very strong advocate for all things digital at Reuters,” Ms. Gajilan said.
Shortages of semiconductors, fueled by pandemic interruptions and production issues at multibillion-dollar chip factories, have sent shock waves through the economy. Questions about chips are reverberating among both businesses and policymakers trying to navigate the world’s dependence on the small components.
“Every aspect of human existence is going online, and every aspect of that is running on semiconductors,” said Pat Gelsinger, the new chief executive of the chip maker Intel who attended the meeting with the president on Monday. “People are begging us for more.”
The chip shortage potentially affects just about any company adding communications or computing features to products. Many examples were described in 90 comments filed by companies and trade groups to a supply chain review by President Biden, including a laundry list of needs from industry giants like Amazon and Boeing.
Dan Rozycki is the president of a small engineering firm, that sells small sensors used to monitor construction sites to ensure concrete is hardening properly. His firm is for now among the lucky chip users. It planned ahead and has enough chips to keep making the roughly 50,000 sensors it supplies each year to construction sites. But his distributor has warned him it might not be able to deliver more of them until late 2022, he said.
“Is that going to halt those projects?” Mr. Rozycki asked. He is scouring the market for other distributors that might have the two needed chips in stock. Other possibilities include redesigning the sensors to use different chips.
A former editor at Vanity Fair has been working to create a new digital publication, in which writers will share in subscription revenue — Vanity Fair meets Substack. The new company behind the publication, Heat Media, hopes to unveil it in the coming months, four people with knowledge of the matter said. The start-up is partly the brainchild of Jon Kelly, a former editor at Vanity Fair. One of the backers is the private equity firm TPG, which would take three seats on the Heat Media board, the people said. Another investor is 40 North, a related investment arm of Standard Industries, a global industrials company, the people said. Heat Media has raised around $7 million so far, according to the people.
Kimberly Godwin, a veteran CBS News executive, was named the next president of ABC News on Wednesday, making her the first Black woman to lead a major broadcast network’s news division. Ms. Godwin succeeds James Goldston, who announced his departure from ABC in January. She will begin in her job in early May. Ms. Godwin most recently served as CBS’s executive vice president of news.
The Biden administration on Thursday announced tough new sanctions on Russia in response to the Kremlinâs interference in American elections and its sprawling hacking operation that breached vital government agencies and private companies.
The United States government said it sanctioned 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and for carrying out the Russian governmentâs interference in the 2020 presidential election. The country also joined with European partners to sanction eight people and entities associated with Russiaâs occupation in Crimea.
In an executive order, President Biden directed the Treasury to prohibit U.S. financial institutions from participation in the primary market for âruble or non-ruble denominated bondsâ issued after June 14, 2021.
The order also designates six Russian companies for providing support to the cyberactivities of the Russian intelligence service.
Widely anticipated, the sanctions come amid a large Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014.
They comprise what United States officials described as âseen and unseenâ steps in response to the hacking, known as SolarWinds; to the C.I.A.âs assessment that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan; and to Russiaâs longstanding effort to interfere in U.S. elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump.
In the SolarWinds breach, Russian government hackers are believed to have infected network-management software used by thousands of government entities and private firms in what officials believe was an intelligence-gathering mission.
The United States on Thursday officially named the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and several connected entities as being responsible for the SolarWinds breach, saying that American intelligence agencies have âhigh confidence in its assessment of attributionâ of responsibility to Russia.
In an advisory, the United States detailed for private companies specific details about the software vulnerabilities that the Russian intelligence agencies used to hack into the systems of companies and governments.
The United States said Thursday it will expel 10 Russian diplomats, including members of the Russian intelligence service, from the countryâs mission in Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to inflict a noticeable impact on the Russian government, its finances and its president, Vladimir V. Putin.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, a day after President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all American troops from the country by Sept. 11.
Mr. Blinken had a difficult task: reassuring Afghan leaders and the public that the United States would continue to support the country as it faced dire threats from the Taliban and other armed factions.
Soon after his arrival, Mr. Blinken visited the U.S. Embassy and then met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, as well as Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the Afghan government council that has led peace negotiations with the Taliban.
âI wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,â Mr. Blinken said before his meeting with Mr. Ghani began. âThe partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.â
Mr. Ghani said the Afghan government respected the decision to withdraw and was âadjusting our priorities.â
The Pentagon, American spy agencies and Western allies are refining plans to deploy a less visible but still potent force in the region to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist base.
Drawing on the hard lessons from President Barack Obamaâs decision a decade ago to withdraw American troops from Iraq â allowing the rise of the Islamic State three years later â the Pentagon is discussing with allies where to reposition forces, possibly to neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to United States officials.
Attack planes aboard aircraft carriers and long-range bombers flying from land bases along the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and even in the United States could strike insurgent fighters spotted by armed surveillance drones.
But there are risks. Afghan commando units that have been providing the bulk of intelligence on insurgent threats could disintegrate after the United States withdraws, leaving a large hole to fill.
Turkey, which has long had a direct relationship with Afghanistan in addition to its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission there, is leaving troops behind who could help the C.I.A. collect intelligence on Qaeda cells, officials note.
Still, planners at the militaryâs Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and Joint Staff in Washington have been developing options to offset the loss of American combat boots on the ground, and President Biden said on Wednesday that the revised approach would keep Al Qaeda at bay.
âWe will not take our eye off the terrorist threat,â Mr. Biden said in a televised address from the White House. âWe will reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region.â
But some former top commanders, as well as lawmakers from both parties, warned that absent the unrelenting pressure from American Special Operations forces and intelligence operatives in the country, Al Qaeda could make a comeback in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.
âAs good as our intelligence and over-the-horizon capabilities are, there is no substitute for being there,â Joseph Maguire, a former top Navy SEAL commander who served as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, said in an interview. âOur effectiveness in protecting our homeland will be significantly diminished.â
The vote by the House Judiciary Committee was a major milestone for proponents of reparations, who have labored for decades to build mainstream support for redressing the lingering effects of slavery. Democrats on the panel advanced the legislation establishing the commission over Republican objections, 25 to 17.
The bill â labeled H.R. 40 after the unfulfilled Civil War-era promise to give former slaves â40 acres and a muleâ â still faces an uphill path. With opposition from some Democrats and unified Republicans, who argue that Black Americans do not need a government handout for long-ago crimes, neither chamber of Congress has committed to a floor vote.
But as the country grapples anew with systemic racism, the bill now counts support from the president of the United States and key congressional leaders.
âWeâre asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,â Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, said during a nighttime committee debate. âAnd of course, weâre asking for harmony, reconciliation, reason to come together as Americans.â
The renewed interest in reparations comes as Mr. Biden has positioned addressing racial inequities at the center of his domestic policy agenda, proposing billions of dollars in investments in Black farmers, business owners, neighborhoods, students and the poor. The White House has said Mr. Bidenâs $4 trillion jobs agenda aims, in part, to âtackle systemic racism and rebuild our economy and our social safety net so that every person in America can reach their full potential.â
Proponents of reparations differ on what form, precisely, they should take, though many agree that Mr. Bidenâs proposals encompass the kinds of compensation that might be considered the modern-day equivalent of 40 acres and a mule. But that does not mean they are a replacement, they say.
âIf this is about the full ramifications on Black wealth, about the destruction of entire businesses or neighborhoods, or the deprivation and loss of land, then we are talking about numbers that are far beyond the reach of what are relatively small programmatic initiatives,â said William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who has written a book on reparations.
Mr. Darityâs vision of reparations primarily focuses on closing the wealth gap between African-Americans and white people, something that he estimates would take $10 trillion or more in government funds.
The bill before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would establish a body to study the effects of slavery and the decades of economic and social discrimination that followed, often with government involvement, and propose possible ways to address the yawning gap in wealth and opportunity between Black and white Americans. It would also consider a ânational apologyâ for the harm caused by slavery.
Opponents of reparations often argue that the wrongs of slavery are simply too far past and too diffuse to be practically addressed now. They question why taxpayers, many of whom came to the United States long after slavery ended, should foot a potentially large bill for payments or other forms of compensation to Black Americans.
Roy L. Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego who has also written on the issue, argues that the purpose of reparations should not be viewed as primarily monetary nor something that can be dealt with in the course of normal policymaking, no matter how effective.
âThe purpose has to be bringing about racial reconciliation, and it canât get swallowed up in generic domestic legislation, or else the significance is lost,â he said.
The original sales were met with strong opposition last year from congressional Democrats, who are angry over the countriesâ involvement in the war in Yemen and wary of transferring advanced military technology to authoritarian Middle Eastern nations with ties to China.
The Biden administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesman, including F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones. Administration officials had signaled that those arms, sold to the Emirates soon after it signed a diplomatic agreement with Israel brokered by the Trump administration, were likely to be approved.
The fate of arms sales to Saudi Arabia had been less clear. Mr. Biden, who has said that he wants to reset Washingtonâs relationship with Riyadh, announced in February that he would end âall American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales,â but the White House did not provide further details.
Since then, U.S. officials have debated which weapons sold under the Trump administration might plausibly be used for Saudi Arabiaâs self-defense, including against missile and drone attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, whom the Saudis have been fighting in Yemen. Even as Biden administration officials have criticized Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, they have repeatedly pledged to help the Saudis defend themselves.
After its review, the administration plans to suspend the sale of air-to-ground offensive weapons used by fixed-wing aircraft â mainly fighter jets and drones â to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said. This includes systems that can turn regular bombs into precision-guided munitions.
The suspension is aimed at addressing one of the main concerns in the Yemen war: the killings of civilians, including many children, because of the Saudi-led coalitionâs use of such bombs.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland urged senators on Wednesday to confirm President Bidenâs nominees for top Justice Department posts, saying that he will be ill-equipped to enforce civil rights protections without them.
He said that the department was doing âeverything within our powerâ to get confirmed Vanita Gupta as the departmentâs No. 3 and Kristen Clarke as the head of its Civil Rights Division.
âI meant it when I told the Senate Judiciary Committee that they have skills that I do not have. They have experiences that I do not have,â Mr. Garland said in remarks to the National Action Network, the civil rights organizations founded by Rev. Al Sharpton.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee forced Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, to bring Ms. Guptaâs nomination to a floor vote without the panelâs support to advance her nomination to be associate attorney general, a role that oversees several key divisions, including civil rights, antitrust and civil, as well as grants to the nationâs police departments.
Republicans have expressed skepticism about her approach to policing issues and other policies, though Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the committee chairman, accused them of misrepresenting Ms. Guptaâs views.
During Ms. Clarkeâs confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Republicans on the panel criticized her past comments on policing, judicial nominees and religious groups that defied pandemic-era restrictions on gatherings, signaling that she was also unlikely to receive their support.
Mr. Biden has said that his administration will tackle civil rights issues, a promise that has taken on urgency amid an uptick in violence against Asian-Americans and the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer accused by prosecutors in Minnesota of murdering George Floyd, a Black man.
Mr. Garland told the civil rights leaders that he has requested a larger budget to support the Justice Departmentâs civil rights mission, ordered an expedited review to determine how to use the departmentâs resources to combat hate crimes and telegraphed his intent to scrutinize whether government agencies, including police departments, engaged in âpatterns or practices that deprive individuals of their federal or constitutional rights.â
But he said that âdedicated, experienced leadership is also neededâ to curb law enforcement misconduct, ensure the right to vote, and combat discrimination in housing, education and employment.
âI meant it when I said I needed both of them, and their experiences and skills, to be successful as attorney general,â Mr. Garland said of Ms. Gupta and Ms. Clarke, both veteran civil rights lawyers.
Daunting challenges face the American-backed Afghan security forces. Over the past year, they have lost territory from repeated assaults by the Taliban and have relied on U.S. air power to push back the insurgents.
With the Afghan government’s credibility waning, militias — once the main power holders during the days of the Afghan civil war in the 1990s — have rearmed and reappeared, even challenging Afghan security forces in some areas.
“If the president authorizes it, we will still be able to provide some level of military support to the Afghan national security forces after we depart the country,” William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, said in an interview on Wednesday.
For the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, a key issue now is how readily counterterrorism operations can be carried out from beyond Afghanistan. The history of such operations has a decidedly mixed record. Cruise missile strikes launched from distant ships against terrorist targets in Afghanistan have had a low rate of success.
The United States maintains a string of air bases in the Persian Gulf region, as well as in Jordan, and the Pentagon operates a major regional air headquarters in Qatar. But the farther that Special Operations forces have to travel to strike a target, the more likely the operations are to fail, either by missing their mark or resulting in a catastrophic failure that could kill American service members or civilians on the ground, according to officials who have studied the record.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, meeting with allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels on Wednesday, cited the military’s ability to strike terrorist targets in far-flung hot spots “in Africa and other places” where few, if any, troops are stationed, apparently referring to drone strikes and commando raids in Somalia, Yemen and Libya in recent years.
“There’s probably not a space on the globe that the United States and its allies can’t reach,” Mr. Austin told reporters.
ROME — The European Union was stumbling through a Covid-19 vaccine rollout marred by shortages and logistical bungling in late March when Mario Draghi took matters into his own hands. The new Italian prime minister seized a shipment of vaccines destined for Australia — and along with them, an opportunity to show that a new, aggressive and potent force had arrived in the European bloc.
The move shook up a Brussels leadership that had seemed to be asleep at the switch. Within weeks, in part from his pressing and engineering behind the scenes, the European Union had authorized even broader and harsher measures to curb exports of Covid-19 vaccines badly needed in Europe. The Australia experiment, as officials in Brussels and Italy call it, was a turning point, both for Europe and Italy.
It also demonstrated that Mr. Draghi, renowned as the former European Central Bank president who helped save the euro, was prepared to lead Europe from behind, where Italy has found itself for years, lagging its European partners in economic dynamism and much-needed reforms.
In his short time in office — he took power in February after a political crisis — Mr. Draghi has quickly leveraged his European relationships, his skill in navigating E.U. institutions and his nearly messianic reputation to make Italy a player on the continent in a way it has not been in decades.
With his friend Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany leaving office in September, President Emmanuel Macron of France facing tough elections next year and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, struggling to demonstrate competence, Mr. Draghi is poised to fill a leadership vacuum in Europe.
Increasingly, he seems to be speaking for all of Europe.
“The difference is that everybody, when Mario Draghi speaks, knows that he is not just pushing, boosting the Italian interest” but rather the European Union’s, Italy’s minister for European affairs, Vincenzo Amendola, said in an interview.
Knowing full well that Mr. Draghi derived his influence from his international reputation, Mr. Amendola said that given the potential void of leadership in Europe, “you need stable leaders who bring confidence.”
At home, Mr. Draghi’s vaccine gambit in March provided political red meat to an Italian population starved for vaccines and a sense of agency, but it was calculated to improve Europe’s leverage as a whole.
Abroad, his first stop, to Libya, sought to restore waning Italian influence in the troubled former Italian colony that is critical to Italy’s energy needs and to efforts to stem illegal migration from Africa. He has also not shied away from picking a fight with Turkey’s autocratic leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “With these dictators — let us call them what they are — one must be frank in expressing one’s diversity of views and visions of society,” Mr. Draghi said.
But it is within European Union that Mr. Draghi has shown that Italy is now punching above its weight.
Last week, Mr. Draghi, who is by turns droll and wonky but always direct, kept the pressure on Brussels when it came to vaccine exports. He referred to “lightweight” efforts in the original contract negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies, and noted that despite its new tough rules on export bans, the European Union had yet to act.
In his debut in a European meeting as Italy’s prime minister in February, Mr. Draghi, 73, made it clear that he was not there to cheerlead. He told an economic summit including heavy hitters like his European Central Bank successor, Christine Lagarde, to “curb your enthusiasm” when it came to talk about a closer fiscal union.
That sort of union is Mr. Draghi’s long-term ambition. But before he can get anywhere near that, or tackle deep economic problems at home, those around him say Mr. Draghi is keenly aware that his priority needs to be solving Europe’s response to the pandemic.
Italian officials say his distance from the contract negotiations, which were completed before he took office, gave him a freedom to act. He suggested that AstraZeneca had misled the bloc about its supply of vaccine, selling Europe the same doses two or three times, and he immediately zeroed in on an export ban.
“He understood straightaway that the issue was vaccinations and the problem was supplies,” said Lia Quartapelle, a member of Parliament in charge of foreign affairs for Italy’s Democratic Party.
On Feb. 25, he joined a European Council videoconference with Ms. von der Leyen and other European Union leaders. The heads of state warmly welcomed him. “We owe you so much,” Bulgaria’s prime minister told him.
Then Ms. von der Leyen gave an optimistic slide presentation about Europe’s vaccine rollout. But the new member of the club bluntly told Ms. von der Leyen that he found her vaccine forecast “hardly reassuring” and that he didn’t know whether the numbers promised by AstraZeneca could be trusted, according to an official present at the meeting.
He implored Brussels to get tougher and go faster.
Ms. Merkel joined him in scrutinizing Ms. von der Leyen’s numbers, which put the Commission president, a former German defense minister, on the back foot. Mr. Macron, who had championed Ms. von der Leyen’s nomination but quickly formed a strategic alliance with Mr. Draghi, piled on. He urged Brussels, which had negotiated the vaccine contracts on behalf of its members, to “put pressure on corporations not complying.”
At the time, Ms. von der Leyen was coming under withering criticism in Germany for her perceived weakness on the vaccine issue, even as her own commissioners argued that responding too aggressively with a vaccine export ban could hurt the bloc down the road.
Mr. Draghi, with his direct talk during the February meeting, tightened the screws. So did Mr. Macron, who has emerged as his partner — the two are dubbed “Dracon” by the Germans — pushing for a more muscular Europe.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Draghi complemented his more public hard line with a courting campaign. The Italian, who is known to privately call European leaders and pharmaceutical chief executives on their cellphones, reached out to Ms. von der Leyen.
Of all the players in Europe, he knew her the least well, according to European Commission and Italian officials, and he wanted to remedy that and make sure she did not feel isolated.
Then, in early March, as shortages of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine continued to disrupt Europe’s rollout and increase public frustration and political pressure, Mr. Draghi found the perfect gift for Ms. von der Leyen: 250,000 doses of seized AstraZeneca vaccine earmarked for Australia.
Ms. Quartapelle, who spoke with Mr. Draghi’s diplomatic adviser the day after the shipment freeze, said he told her Mr. Draghi “was on the phone a lot with von der Leyen” and that “he worked a lot with von der Leyen to convince her.”
The move was appreciated in Brussels, according to officials in the Commission, because it took the onus off Ms. von der Leyen and gave her political cover while simultaneously allowing her to seem tough for signing off on it.
The episode has become a clear example of how Mr. Draghi builds relationships with the potential to yield big payoffs not only for himself and Italy, but all of Europe.
On March 25, when the Commission became suspicious over 29 million AstraZeneca doses in a warehouse outside Rome, Ms. von der Leyen called Mr. Draghi for help, officials with knowledge of the calls said. He obliged, and the police were quickly dispatched.
In the meantime, Mr. Draghi and Mr. Macron, joined by Spain and others, continued to support a harder line from the Commission on vaccine exports. The Netherlands was against it, and Germany, with a vibrant pharmaceutical market, was queasy.
When the European leaders met again in a video conference on March 25, Ms. von der Leyen seemed more confident in the political and pragmatic advantages of halting exports of Covid vaccines made in the European Union. She again presented slides, this time authorizing a broader six-week curb on exports from the bloc, and Mr. Draghi stepped back into a supportive role.
“Let me thank you for all the work that has been done,” he said.
After the meeting, Mr. Draghi, however modestly, gave Italy — and by extension himself — credit for the steps allowing export bans. “This is more or less the discussion that took place,” he told reporters, “because this was the issue originally raised by us.”
South Africa immediately copied the American pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, infuriating doctors who are still clamoring for shots, especially in remote parts of the country. In February, health officials dropped the AstraZeneca vaccine over its limited efficacy against a dangerous variant there.
To date, only half of 1 percent of the population is vaccinated, and a mere 10,000 shots are being given each day. At that rate, it could take weeks, if not longer, for a single rare blood clotting case to emerge, said Jeremy Nel, an infectious disease doctor in Johannesburg. He was dismayed by the decision to pause shots, given the risk to vaccine confidence in a country where two-fifths of the people say they have no intention of being vaccinated.
âThe slower you go, that failure is measured in death,â Dr. Nel said. âEven if you delay for a week, there is a non-trivial chance that will cost lives.â
The solution in many European countries â to stop using seemingly riskier vaccines in younger people, who are at lower risk from Covid-19 â would be unworkable in Africa, where the median age in many countries is below 20.
And any further restrictions would compound the hurdles facing Covax, among them a paucity of funding for every part of inoculation programs beyond the touchdown of doses at airports.
Mali, in western Africa, has administered 7 percent of the AstraZeneca doses that Covax has delivered. Sudan, in eastern Africa, has given 8 percent of the doses it has received.
Skittishness over the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, analysts fear, could stoke demand for Russian- and Chinese-made shots about which far less is known. As it is, some global health officials have turned their attention to the Novavax vaccine, which is not yet authorized but makes up a third of Covaxâs portfolio.
Weather: There will be rain today with temperatures in the mid-50s. Expect rain tonight, too.
Alternate-side parking: In effect until April 29 (Holy Thursday, Orthodox).
With less than 10 weeks before the June 22 Democratic primary that is likely to determine the next mayor, each day becomes more consequential for the top four contenders: Andrew Yang, the 2020 presidential candidate; Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president; Scott Stringer, the city comptroller; and Maya D. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio and a former MSNBC analyst.
As the mayoral candidates ramp up in-person events and key endorsements are announced, the contenders’ strengths and weaknesses are becoming more visible.
Here are three things to know:
Working Families Party endorses three mayoral candidates.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Party’s progressive wing announced that Mr. Stringer was its first choice for mayor in the primary, when ranked-choice voting will be used. The party picked Dianne Morales as its second choice and Ms. Wiley as its third.
Over the past year, progressive activists have had rising influence in New York, from successfully knocking off an incumbent congressman to fueling upsets in several state legislative races. Yet the mayor’s race may prove to be different, with the most moderate candidates appearing to be among the strongest. It remains unclear how the party’s endorsement will affect the race.
Scott Stringer has struggled to generate enthusiasm.
Mr. Stringer, 60, began the mayoral race as a top candidate. He acquired the resources, the résumé and the name recognition that was only made possible by decades of experience in politics. Still, my colleague Katie Glueck wrote that in a crowded field, Mr. Stringer has yet to break through.
Ms. Glueck found that Mr. Stringer is competing against other candidates who are also branding themselves as progressives and against veteran government officials. He is scrambling to win over major endorsements and garner widespread support.
Andrew Yang is accused of protesting for publicity.
On Monday evening, Andrew Yang was booed out of a protest in Battery Park. The event was organized to denounce the recent fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
In a video shared on Twitter, protesters are seen shouting, “We do not want you here and you are not welcome here,” and “Do not use our protest for your publicity,” at Mr. Yang before he leaves on his bike.
From June to September, Bryant Park will present a series of 25 programs from some of the city’s most prominent institutions and performance groups, including the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe’s Pub, the Classical Theater of Harlem, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Town Hall.
City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage also announced this week that it would be returning to Central Park and other locations with in-person concerts, including a benefit show on Sept. 17 by the band Dawes.
Among the other organizations participating in Bryant Park’s series this summer are Elisa Monte Dance, Harlem Stage, National Sawdust, New York Chinese Cultural Center, Limón Dance Company and Greenwich House Music School. Singers from the New York City Opera will perform a Pride concert on June 18.
Bryant Park will limit attendance to 200 people for each performance, although producers say it is possible that state regulations could allow bigger crowds as the season progresses. The events are free, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Most events will also be livestreamed.
Once arriving at the park, patrons will have their temperatures checked and be shown to their seats, which will be arranged with room for social distancing. The park does not plan to require vaccinations or proof of negative virus tests, but it is considering those as options, according to Dan Fishman, the park’s director of public events.
It’s Thursday — plan for summer.
Metropolitan Diary: This is my block
This is my block, 17th Street between Second and Third. I own it.
I’m not a real estate tycoon. I was born here. While the doctor and the cabdriver argued about whose car to take, out I came, on a snowy sidewalk, under the shadow of the Third Avenue El.
Back then, New York was a series of small towns strung together. On our block, my friends and I knew every neighbor, and they knew us.
We played in the street all day until dark. I recognize every crack in the sidewalk, every stoop where we gossiped, every pole we climbed and every fire hydrant we jumped over. (It does seem as if the fire hydrants have shrunk over the years.)
Now, when I come back to this block, something happens.
I suppose on the outside, I look like an older woman. On the inside, while I’m here, it’s magic. I become that young kid again. The aches and pains disappear. I can run and I can skip. When I walk home, the feeling stays with me the whole way. It happens every time.
Yessiree, I own this block.
Or perhaps it owns me.
— Talara Ruth
New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.
After two decades of midnight watches and gut-twisting patrols down bomb-riddled roads, after all the deaths and bloodshed and lost years, that was the one inescapable question on Wednesday among many of the 800,000 Americans who have served in Afghanistan since 2001.
âThereâs no easy answer, no victory dance, no âwe were right and they were wrong,ââ said Jason Dempsey, 49, who deployed twice to Afghanistan as an Army officer to train the Afghan forces who are now fighting a losing battle against the Taliban. For military leaders, Mr. Dempsey said, âthe end of the war should only bring a collective feeling of guilt and introspection.â
Across the country, when the news broke that President Biden planned to withdraw virtually all United States troops from the country by Sept. 11 and end the longest war in American history, messages flashed on phones and veterans called old squadmates, some relieved and some on the edge of tears.
Few wanted the war to continue. But finally ending it posed questions that some have pondered for years without easy answers: How is it possible for the United States to win almost every battle and still lose the war? How could the countless sacrifices and small victories leave Afghanistan with no better promise of peace than it had a generation ago? What does leaving say about the value of the nearly 2,400 Americans who were killed? And what does it say about the nation as a whole?
âItâs confusing, itâs complicated,â said Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine and intelligence officer who deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Ackerman arrived in Afghanistan for his first tour there in 2008, believing he had missed the war. He would soon be involved in a surge that sent more than 100,000 troops to the country.
Now a writer, Mr. Ackerman said he and many others had been forced to make their own individual peace with the war a long time ago. âA lot of us have tried to move on, and when we saw the news, it wasnât a huge surprise,â he said. âThe people who have served on the ground are the last people you need to tell that the war is going to end in tears.â
But that acceptance did not take the sting out of the news, he said. âFor years I sat across from Afghans in shuras and looked them in the eye, and told them to ally themselves with America,â he recalled. âThat was the first thing I thought about when I heard the news. What about these people who trusted us? Will this be seen as a great betrayal? How will the world now see us a nation and a people?â
Even veterans who see the end as a relief say that pulling troops from Afghanistan does not mean the United States should take its focus off counterterrorism.
Tony Mayne was there at the beginning. As a 25-year-old Ranger, he parachuted into the night over Kandahar Province five weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many saw the routing of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the months that followed as a decisive victory, but military leaders found it necessary to continue sending soldiers like Mr. Mayne, who deployed three more times for counterterror missions as the Taliban returned in force.
Mr. Mayne, now 44, said the effort in Afghanistan was worthwhile. The world is full of violent extremists, he said: Better to fight them in places like Iraq and Afghanistan than let them attack the United States.
Some veterans who lost brothers and sisters in arms want the United States to stay until âall the terrorists are wiped out,â Mr. Mayne said, while others see a need for a different approach to the conflict. âEveryone has such a personal experience in Afghanistan that it cannot necessarily predict how a person will react to news of the withdrawal,â he said, âbecause of the scars that a lot of folks have left over there.â
Many veterans feel betrayed that a war they poured so much effort into had still been lost. One commanding general after another told the nation that progress was being made, and that the effort was turning a corner. Cynical troops noted that so many corners were turned that they were either going in circles or had wandered into a maze.
âIt seemed like a lost cause when I got there â the leaders were talking about winning hearts and minds, but thatâs not what we were doing,â said James Alexander, who was an Army private serving at a tiny infantry outpost in Kandahar near the height of the troop surge in 2012.
A few months into the tour, his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, massacred 16 villagers. âAfter that, I knew it was done â that we could never make progress, and this war would just keep chewing up people for as long as we fed it.â
Still, he said, the news of the end came as a disappointment. âWe really did try to make a difference,â he said, âand now Iâm afraid we are damning a generation of Afghans to nothing.â
Many veterans say they have to weigh feelings of guilt at abandoning allies against the prospect of more bloodshed.
âI didnât even know how to feel â I had to text other vets I know for a gut check because itâs so confusing,â Ashleigh Byrnes, 37, said. She served as a field journalist for the Marine Corps in Afghanistan in 2009. Even during those more optimistic days, she said, it was clear that the training of Afghan troops was faltering and the U.S. effort was âa dark endless tunnel that wouldnât end well.â
Ms. Byrnes now works for Disabled American Veterans, and sees people every day who were wounded in war. She said she thought pulling out was a hard choice, but the right choice.
âItâs tough to not get a little bit emotional when I think about it,â she said, apologizing as she held back tears. âWe made a promise to the Afghan people. But this canât be our perpetual reality. We have to stop. I have children now, and I canât imagine this war still going on when they are old enough to join.â
Several veterans noted that Afghanistan was already engulfed in war before American forces invaded, and will probably still be after they are gone.
Brian Castner, 43, was an Air Force explosive ordnance disposal expert who defused roadside bombs, and has since written several books about the war. He said ordering the pullout by Sept. 11, 2021, means little in practical terms.
âBut in terms of story, itâs genius,â he said. âThe Biden administration figured out a way to give the withdrawal meaning: Do it on the anniversary of 9/11, remind people why we were there â say we stayed for 20 years, then chose to leave. Tell them we did our part, put your chin up.
âItâs a myth,â he said, âbut at least itâs something.â
An end, even if long overdue and perhaps contrived, can still have real power, said Thomas Burke, who was 20 and a lance corporal at a firebase in a small Afghan village in 2009. He later went to Yale Divinity School and is now an assistant pastor in Connecticut.
During the war, generals often brought visiting dignitaries to his village to show the progress being made, he said, but small victories there were often followed by bloody losses. Friends were killed, Mr. Burke said, and he once had to pick up the pieces of village children who were dismembered by a rocket-propelled grenade. Eventually the American troops pulled out. The village is in Taliban hands now.
âWas it worth it? I could answer both ways,â he said. âGood people devoted their lives to this project, and a lot of them were destroyed. There has been so much suffering by the Afghan people. In that sense, itâs not worth it.
âBut for individuals, there are experiences and realizations from Afghanistan that will always shape their lives,â he continued. âWe think about them every day. They are who we are. And I canât say that doesnât have real value. There are experiences I treasure, people I love who I met there.â
If nothing else, he said, it is worth it to have an end. âIt is important to have ceremony and rituals, times when we mark and remember things,â Mr. Burke said. âThatâs what this is: We need an end. An end is how you grieve. We havenât had a chance to do that yet.â
A House committee voted on Wednesday to recommend for the first time the creation of a commission to consider providing Black Americans with reparations for slavery in the United States and a ânational apologyâ for centuries of discrimination.
The vote by the House Judiciary Committee was a major milestone for proponents of reparations, who have labored for decades to build mainstream support for redressing the lingering effects of slavery. Democrats on the panel advanced the legislation establishing the commission over Republican objections, 25 to 17.
The bill â labeled H.R. 40 after the unfulfilled Civil War-era promise to give former slaves â40 acres and a muleâ â still faces steep odds of becoming law. With opposition from some Democrats and unified Republicans, who argue that Black Americans do not need a government handout for long-ago crimes, neither chamber of Congress has committed to a floor vote.
But as the country grapples anew with systemic racism laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd and other Black men in confrontations with the police, the measure has drawn support from the nationâs most powerful Democrats, including President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader. Polling suggests that public support is growing, too, though it remains far from widespread.
âWeâre asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,â Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, said during a committee debate late Wednesday. âAnd of course, weâre asking for harmony, reconciliation, reason to come together as Americans.â
The renewed interest in reparations comes as Mr. Biden has positioned addressing racial inequities at the center of his domestic policy agenda, proposing billions of dollars in investments in Black farmers, business owners, neighborhoods, students and the poor. The White House has said Mr. Bidenâs $4 trillion jobs agenda is intended, in part, to âtackle systemic racism and rebuild our economy and our social safety net so that every person in America can reach their full potential.â
The question of reparations to former slaves and their descendants has vexed and divided policymakers for generations, caught up in larger questions about the legacy of racism in America and white denial of the crippling effects of the slave economy. It presents thorny practical questions as well, like who should benefit, what form reparations might take and how to pay for them.
William T. Sherman, the Union general, made the first widespread attempt in 1865 with a special battlefield order to seize 400,000 acres of costal land and award it in parcels to former slaves. But after President Abraham Lincoln died later that year, his successor, Andrew Johnson, quickly rescinded it. No subsequent plan has come close to enactment.
Black representatives in Congress began rekindling the issue three decades ago when they first proposed a commission to explore it. The bill before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would establish a body to study the effects of slavery and the decades of economic and social discrimination that followed, often with government involvement, and propose possible ways to address the yawning gap in wealth and opportunity between Black and white Americans. It would also consider a ânational apologyâ for the harm caused by slavery.
Proponents of reparations from the federal government differ on what form, precisely, they should take. Some favor direct cash payments of varying sizes, others no-interest loans for prospective Black homeowners and free college tuition.
Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, pledged $10 million this year in reparations in the form of housing grants to Black residents who can prove they or their ancestors were victims of redlining or other housing discrimination. But any national program would be much larger, with costs projected to range from the billions to trillions of dollars.
Though his administration does not use the reparations label, Mr. Biden has embraced versions of many of those proposals in his far-reaching attempts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and restart the sputtering American economy.
Mr. Bidenâs coronavirus stimulus law, the American Rescue Plan, for example, invested tens of billions of dollars in food assistance programs, direct payments to Americans and monthly support for children â programs that applied regardless of race, but would provide significant aid to Black Americans. It also earmarked $5 billion in aid and debt relief to help Black farmers mitigate years of discriminatory agricultural subsidy and lending policies.
The New Washington
âWe understand that we donât need a study to take action right now on systemic racism,â Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in February. âSo he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.â
Mr. Bidenâs jobs and infrastructure proposals, now at the top of Congressâs agenda, would go further, earmarking hundreds of billions of dollars for Black, brown and other âunderserved communitiesâ for job training, school investments, mortgage support, business loans, replacing lead pipes and cleaning up toxic waste. One proposed provision pledges $20 billion to reconnect neighborhoods, many of them historically Black, destroyed by interstate highways; another would set aside $20 billion for improving research capabilities at historically Black colleges and universities.
Republicans have dismissed many of the programs as unnecessary, unpopular or too expensive, and appear to be lining up to oppose the plans outright in Congress unless Democrats agree to scale them back significantly.
Even if they do become law, though, academics who have shaped the debate over reparations insist Mr. Bidenâs plans are not a substitute. William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who has written a book on reparations, said such proposals âare kind of shadow boxing at the issue.â
âIf this is about the full ramifications on Black wealth, about the destruction of entire businesses or neighborhoods, or the deprivation and loss of land, then we are talking about numbers that are far beyond the reach of what are relatively small programmatic initiatives,â Mr. Darity said.
Mr. Darityâs vision of reparations primarily focuses on closing the wealth gap between African-Americans and white people, something that he estimates would take $10 trillion or more in government funds, an enormous figure that alienates lawmakers in both parties.
Roy L. Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego who has also written on the issue, argued that the purpose of reparations should be viewed neither as primarily monetary nor as something that could be dealt with in the course of normal policymaking.
âYou miss an opportunity to really bring home to the American people the enormity of the atrocity that was visited upon African-Americans for 250 years of slavery and then another 100 years of Jim Crow,â he said.
Opponents argue that the wrongs of slavery are simply too far past and too diffuse to be practically addressed now. They question why taxpayers, many of whom came to the United States long after slavery ended, should foot a potentially large bill for payments to Black Americans â and whether such payments would be a benefit at all.
âReparation is divisive. It speaks to the fact that we are a hapless, hopeless race that never did anything but wait for white people to show up and help us â and itâs a falsehood,â Representative Burgess Owens, Republican of Utah and a descendant of slaves, said during the debate on Wednesday. âItâs demeaning to my parentsâ generation.â
Mr. Owens has compared the idea of reparations to a âredistribution of wealth or socialism,â arguing that what Black Americans need is for government to get out of the way as they sought to pull themselves up like generations before them.
Some Democrats share those views, and others are skittish about embracing a bill they fear Republicans would weaponize against them by portraying it as a radical effort to use government to enforce a politically correct agenda.
But even as relations between the two countries are calming, Japan faces a perilous moment, with the United States prodding it to more squarely address the most glaring threat to stability in Asia: China.
It is the latest step in an age-old dance between the two countries. Ever since the United States forged an alliance with Japan during its postwar occupation, Tokyo has sought reassurance of protection by Washington, while Washington has nudged Tokyo to do more to secure its own defense.
For decades during the Cold War, the pre-eminent threats seemed to come from Europe. Now, as Mr. Suga goes to Washington, Japan confronts encroaching dangers in its own backyard.
âWeâre in a completely new era where the threat is focused on Asia, and Japan is on the front line of that threat,â said Jennifer Lind, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College and a specialist in East Asian international security.
âThe U.S.-Japan alliance is at a crossroads,â Ms. Lind said. âThe alliance has to decide how do we want to respond to the growing threat from China and to the Chinese agenda for international order.â
Analysts and former officials said it was time for Japan to expand its thinking about what a summit with its most important ally could accomplish.
Typically, a Japanese prime minister has a slate of agenda items to tick off. This visit is no different. The two leaders are expected to talk about the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the importance of securing supply chains for components like semiconductors, the North Korean nuclear threat and shared goals on climate change.
âUsually when a Japanese prime minister goes to the U.S., there is a sort of shopping list: âWould you say this, would you reassure us about that,ââ said Ichiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States.
This time, he said, âthatâs not what we should do. I think we should talk big about the world and Asia-Pacific.â
Such bold statements would run counter to Japanese officialsâ deep-seated instincts. They have tended to avoid mentioning China or its most sensitive interests, preferring vague and sweeping language about the need to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
But as China has repeatedly ignored diplomatic or legal efforts to contain its aggressive actions in both the South China and East China Seas, some say Japan needs to be more specific about what it might do in the event of a military conflict.
âWho doesnât want freedom and openness?â said Jeffrey Hornung, an analyst at the RAND Corporation. âBy signing up for those things, you subtly take a jab at China. But what are you going to do when those things you say youâre going to defend come under attack?â
Japanese leaders usually use summits with American presidents to seek assurances that the United States, which has about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, would defend the countryâs right to control the uninhabited Senkaku Islands. Over the past year, China, which also claims the islands, has sent boats into or near Japanâs territorial waters around the islands with increasing frequency.
Perhaps the biggest risk of conflict, though, is in the Taiwan Strait, where China has been dispatching warplanes to menace the democratic island, which Beijing considers a rogue territory. When Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Tokyo last month, they and their Japanese counterparts issued a statement stressing âthe importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.â
If Mr. Biden and Mr. Suga include similar language in a joint statement this week, it would be the first time that the leaders of the United States and Japan have mentioned Taiwan explicitly since 1969. At that time, President Richard M. Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato issued a statement in which the Japanese leader said that âthe maintenance of peace and security in the Taiwan area was also important for peace and security of Japan.â
The gritty details of how Japan might support the United States and Taiwan in the case of an invasion by Beijing are probably beyond the scope of this weekâs talks. While Mr. Biden is unlikely to make any blunt demands that Japan pay more for its defense, as President Donald J. Trump did, the current president could amplify recent signals from his administration about efforts to deter China. One possibility is that Japan could be asked to host long-range missiles, a proposal that would probably face significant domestic opposition.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Suga are expected to discuss not just Chinaâs military actions, but also its human rights record, as well as the coup in Myanmar â likely areas of difference between the leaders.
The Biden administration has called Chinaâs repression of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region a genocide and imposed sanctions on Chinese officials. It has also placed sanctions on military generals in Myanmar. But Japan tends to be more circumspect in addressing human rights or taking direct actions such as economic sanctions.
Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at Teneo Intelligence in Washington, said the Suga administration addressed human rights only ârhetorically.â
âWhen you actually look at what they are doing,â he said, âthey are trying to somewhat keep their options open.â
For Japan, which conducts vast trade with China and has investments in Myanmar, there is a clear fear of backlash, and an understanding that Beijing can turn off the spigot at any time.
Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo, noted that at the outset of the pandemic, China designated certain medicines and surgical masks as âstrategic goodsâ and stopped shipping them to Japan. âWe can no longer rely on the free flow of goods from China,â Mr. Watanabe said.
Some Japanese officials say Mr. Suga should not rush to follow Mr. Bidenâs harder line on China and Myanmar. Kunihiko Miyake, a former Japanese diplomat who advises Mr. Suga, said Japanâs approach to such countries is âmore dialogue than punishment.â
A person familiar with the thinking of Mr. Suga and his cabinet who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that despite the rising tensions, Japan did not want to upset its relationship with China. The person said that Japan had to send a clear message to China on issues like the rule of law, but that the two sides should also maintain high-level communication.
Mr. Biden may also try to pull Japan along on climate change. Both Washington and Tokyo are working toward drastic reductions in carbon emissions, and Mr. Biden is hosting a climate summit next week. One goal is to persuade Japan to stop its financial support of coal projects abroad, which it has already started to reduce.
Mr. Suga may hope that a fruitful trip to Washington will bolster his standing at home, where he is politically vulnerable. The Japanese public is unhappy with his administrationâs management of the pandemic and a slow vaccine rollout (although Mr. Suga has been cleared to travel after being vaccinated himself), and a majority oppose the decision to host the Olympic Games this summer.
The tripâs success may depend in part on whether Mr. Suga develops a rapport with Mr. Biden. Seasoned watchers of Japan will be closely tracking Mr. Suga, who is not known for his charisma, especially after his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, spent considerable time and effort wooing Mr. Bidenâs predecessor.
âWe have two older and very traditional politicians in a lot of ways,â said Kristin Vekasi, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine. âI will be curious to see what they do.â