Aug 19, 2021 - Podcasts

Evacuating our Afghan allies

It’s been four days since the Taliban took over the capital city of Kabul and declared victory in Afghanistan. Since then, we’ve seen shocking images of people clinging to planes at the Kabul airport trying to get out of the country.

  • Plus, consumer spending isn’t deterred yet by the Delta variant.
  • And, Facebook claims vaccine hesitancy is on the decline.

Guests: Truman Center for National Policy's Camille Mackler, Axios' Sam Ro and Ina Fried.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, August 19th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: consumer spending isn’t deterred yet by the Delta variant. Plus, Facebook says vaccine hesitancy is on the decline. But first, today’s One Big Thing: evacuating our Afghan allies.

NIALA: It’s been four days since the Taliban took over the capital city of Kabul and declared victory in Afghanistan. Since then, we’ve been checking in regularly with Najib, a longtime translator and interpreter for the US special forces who we talked to a few weeks ago on Axios Today. He and his family are safe for now -

NAJIB: I’ve been hiding in my house with my family. No one is going outside. And I still don’t get any news from SIV about my visa. So I'm very frustrated right now. I’m just waiting for them to give me answers so I can get out of this situation and to get to the safety with my family.

NIALA:In the past few days, we’ve seen shocking images of people clinging to planes at the Kabul airport trying to get out of the country.

Camille Mackler is a senior immigration fellow at the Truman Center for National Policy. The Washington nonprofit has been working to evacuate the 20,000 individuals and families who have applied for these special visas. Hi, Camille.

CAMILLE MACKLER: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: Camille, I wanted to start by getting your reaction to what we just heard from Najib, is that what it's been like the past few days for people who were trying to get to safety?

CAMILLE: Yeah, I mean, it sounds like so many stories that we've been hearing and it is so heartbreaking to hear because at the end of the day, it didn't have to be this way. We've been warning about this and advocating for the evacuation of people like Najib since we knew that the withdrawal was going to start happening last April. And to hear about how somebody who fought with us and worked with us and believed in the promise that we made, hiding in his home, waiting for our government bureaucracy to grind its way through, there's just no words to describe that kind of heartbreak.

NIALA: What are you doing now?

CAMILLE: So for the last few days, it's just been obviously a mad scramble of trying to get information to individuals on the ground, trying to continue to push and work with the administration, with the Department of Defense, with the Department of State. In the past 48 hours, the real crisis has been sort of what's happening at the airport with people scrambling to get there and, you know, getting sort of stuck between these Taliban checkpoints and the airport itself and not being allowed in, even people who have flights, who are confirmed, not being able to make it into the airport.

As well as identifying everyone who should be evacuated and trying to put the list of names together and work with the State Department to hopefully get them to safety before this August 31st deadline that the Taliban has imposed.

NIALA: What's the toughest part of all of this? It sounds like there's so many things that are happening here.

CAMILLE: I think the toughest part is knowing that this never had to happen. Nobody is questioning the decision to withdraw. This is about how we withdrew, not whether it was the right decision or not. Those individuals should have been on planes with our troops, leaving Afghanistan. We made a promise and we didn't honor it. And I think for our veteran community, especially, and our military community, watching them react to that and feeling the sense of betrayal that they feel that they were forced to sort of give up on their ethos of no one left behind has been one of the hardest things about all of this.

NIALA: Camille Mackler is a senior immigration fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Truman Center for National Policy. Thank you, Camille.

CAMILLE: Thank you.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: Axios markets correspondent Sam Ro on consumer spending at this point in the pandemic.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. As cases of the Delta variant rise, consumer sentiment plummets. But Axios’ Sam Ro writes, consumer spending maybe a different story. Sam's here with more. Welcome to Axios Today, Sam.

SAM RO: Thanks. Glad to be here.

NIALA: Sam, is fear around the Delta variant actually affecting how people are spending their money?

SAM: So far, the early data suggests the answer is no. The evidence suggests that people are going about their business. Now, spending is still way above levels that we saw even before the pandemic. So while things like furniture and computers and sporting equipment and books, all these things, might be moderating, uh, somewhat, it's the case that consumers are just still spending a lot like things are pretty normal. Uh, sales at restaurants and bars actually grew during the month. And this was during a period when we were learning that COVID cases were spiking.

NIALA: We're seeing vaccination rates go up. Does that also get reflected in the spending? What does that mean for the economy?

SAM: Yeah, I think that's actually the key driver of what's going on right now in the economy. Um, there's actually another survey that tracks people who've been staying out of work because of concerns of spreading the virus. And that number continues to come down. That number came down as recently as early August. And what that tells us is that as more people get vaccinated, more people feel more comfortable about going out, doing things. And there's this gigantic offset going on with this population that's getting vaccinated because there are now people who were on some form of lockdown or were more cautious, are now new spenders in the economy. And they're new people who are reentering the workforce. They're getting new paychecks and they have to spend that somewhere.

NIALA: While we have you here, can you give us a quick update on the stock market's rise. Does it have anything to do with what we're seeing with these spending patterns?

SAM: So the stock market actually does a really great job of capturing exactly what's going on behind these numbers. So, you know, while we might see a lot of news headlines about concerns, uh, regarding the spread of the virus, the bottom line is people are shopping. People are spending, they're going out, they're buying clothes or buying furniture. They're buying, you know, home appliances, and all this translates to lots of sales activity for these big companies who are converting that into record profits.

NIALA: Axios’ markets correspondent and author of Axios Markets, Sam Ro. Thanks for being with us, Sam.

SAM: Glad to be here.

NIALA: We've talked a lot on Axios Today about how misinformation about COVID and the vaccine is linked to social media. Well yesterday, Facebook said that it's seeing signs of vaccine hesitancy waning in the U.S. and abroad, according to a new survey. Axios’s chief technology correspondent Ina Fried has taken off her Olympic credentials, is back to her regular beat, and here with more. Hey, Ina.

INA FRIED: Hi, Niala.

NIALA: Ina, so are the tides turning here? Is social media less of a breeding ground for vaccine misinformation and therefore hesitancy?

INA: We really don't know the answer to either of those two things. Facebook is saying its survey shows that vaccine hesitancy is declining, but a lot of surveys that we've done, that we've seen, show that there's pretty entrenched hesitancy, especially in the U.S. And then in terms of the role of social media, that's really separate from whether overall attitudes are changing, and Facebook didn't really provide the specific data we’d need to know whether vaccine hesitancy and misinformation is on the wane on social media.

NIALA: Is there more Facebook could be doing to remove misinformation from its site?

INA: Certainly its critics say that there really is. That the social media in general and Facebook in particular continue to be hotbeds of misinformation. The White House yesterday responded to Facebook statement saying that it still sees a great deal of misinformation on Facebook and more that the company needs to do. So this clearly isn't pleasing most people.

NIALA: So what's your takeaway from what Facebook put out yesterday?

INA: You know, I think a lot of what Facebook was doing is saying, Hey, you don't like these apples and pointing to specific things. Let us give you these oranges to compare things to. Facebook says the best way to measure misinformation on its platform is to look at how often people are seeing it, not how often it gets taken down. And it gives that metric where it's convenient. Things like hate speech, where it's made improvements. It's happy to tout that. With COVID misinformation, it's not giving us that. It's giving us other kinds of statistics. It's giving us survey results, but we don't know how often misinformation is reaching people.

NIALA: Axios’ chief technology correspondent, Ina Fried. Thanks, Ina.

INA: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: That’s all from us today. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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