Iran calls blackout at underground atomic facility ‘nuclear terrorism.’ Israeli outlets blame an Israeli cyberattack.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, centrifuge Natanz uranium enrichment facility
This file photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. The facility lost power Sunday, April 11, 2021, just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. Iran on Sunday described the blackout an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

  • Iran blames a Sunday blackout at a nuclear facility on “nuclear terrorism.”
  • The country hasn’t assigned blame, but Israeli media has reported an Israeli cyberattack is responsible.
  • The attack comes as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, described a Sunday morning blackout at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility as an act of “nuclear terrorism.” The country fell short of assigning blame for the blackout, which occurred while negotiations continue between Iran and US-aligned nations over reinstating the nuclear deal.

Multiple Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, claimed that the blackout was caused by an Israeli cyberattack on the eve of Israel’s independence day. On Sunday night, embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to security chiefs, such as Mossad head, Yossi Cohen, asking them to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands.”

If Israel is responsible, the act threatens to continue to heighten regional tensions between Iran and America’s ally. Netanyahu also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday along with his Dfeense Minister, Benny Gantz.

The blackout came hours after the facility began to operate new centrifuges that can enrich uranium more quickly.

Salehi did not expand on how the blackouts had affected the atomic facility but said that the country plans to “seriously improve” its nuclear technology while trying to also lift international sanctions. Nuclear spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television that “there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem”

Iran’s nuclear program has seen many previous acts of international sabotage. In July,the Natanz plant experienced a mysterious explosion, and in November, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun. Iran blames Israel for both and is now building a new facility underground, which was targeted in Sunday’s attack.

In 2010, the facility was attacked by the Stuxnet computer virus, destroying centrifuges at the Natanz plant. The virus is widely considered to be created by the US and Israel.

Israeli media reports, such as public broadcaster Kan, said that “experts” assume that Sunday’s attack shut down much of the facility. The reports did not cite their sources for the information.

After the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has stopped following formal limits on its uranium stockpile, now enriching up to 20% purity. This is still below the 90% purity needed to build weapons.

Iran has long maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Earlier this week, an Iranian cargo ship that was connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast, which occurred in a hot zone near the conflict between Saudi Arabian forces and the Iranian- aligned Houthis in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli cover operations are responsible for over a dozen oil tanker attacks in recent years.

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I sat through Chuck Lorre’s cringe new Afghan War sitcom in Kabul so you don’t have to

usofa cheers
Parker Young as Riley and Adhir Kalyan as Al on CBS’s “United States of Al”

  • “United States of Al” will premier on April 1 on CBS.
  • The odd-couple sitcom is about a U.S. Marine who helps his Afghan interpreter come to America.
  • The author of this review, Ali Latifi, is based in Kabul and got an advance look at two episodes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kabul – Last week a tweet appeared in my timeline criticizing the trailer of a new CBS sitcom about a US Marine who brings his Afghan interpreter to America.

“This is a real TV show. Actually made by human people. On Planet Earth. In 2021,” it read.

I watched the 30-second trailer and was horrified to see that the show — the first sitcom I knew of where a central character is from Afghanistan — seemed to rely on tired tropes about a hulking, heroic white man coming to the rescue of his bumbling brown sidekick. Reza Aslan, the Iranian-American author who serves an executive producer on the show, asked that we give the show a chance.

“United States of Al” premieres April 1 on CBS. But as an Afghan-American journalist based in Kabul, I was recently invited to a Zoom screening of the pilot and 5th episode.

I tried to hold out hope it would be good. It wasn’t. In fact, the original tweet from Saeed Taji Farouky, an Arab-British filmmaker, was spot-on. Rather than bringing nuance to an Afghan-American pairing, the Chuck Lorre production is a show from another era: it’s all flat characters, and cheap, uninspired jokes.

It’s also a missed opportunity. The show tries to win points for putting Afghanistan at the center of a heavily-promoted mainstream sitcom, but then puts in none of the work.

It’s as if Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat and Rami, all of which offer interesting, funny observations about the lives of non-white protagonists, never happened, and Hollywood (or at least CBS) has learned nothing since I first arrived in the United States in the late-1980s.

To be clear, this is a sitcom and not a prestige TV treatise on cultural imperialism and post-Cold War politics — and it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. But as someone who will happily spend hours cycling through clips of Amy Farrah Fowler and Sheldon Cooper from Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory, this show is cringe.

Afghanistan is a real place with complex problems, many of which have been exacerbated by nearly four decades of invasions and interference by foreign powers. Among the things Al never says to this nice family in Ohio is that last year more than 3,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan. After the credits, we get a glance of Awalmir and Riley working together, or rather fleeing enemy fire in a Humvee through nondescript desert meant to be Helmand. It’s played for laughs as a wild bonding experience. But the truth is that for Afghan interpreters who worked alongside
US and NATO forces were seen locally as collaborators and became targets for the Taliban. Dreams that they would become refugees in America often didn’t materialize.

But here we’re told it’s Riley who heroically spent three years filling out paperwork to get Awalmir to America.

In a recent Clubhouse chat, my friend Mariam Wardak, an Afghan-American who splits her time between DC and Kabul, put it well: “Rather than showing Afghan interpreters as brave men who are putting their lives on the line and are risking being ostracized in their community, we have a short, scrawny awkward brown man standing next to this GI Joe.”

USofA standing
Al (Adhir Kalyan), Riley’s sister Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alderfer), and Riley (Parker Young) on the set of “United States of Al.”

The first clue of what we were in for came with the pairing: Riley (Parker Young), the buff, tattooed, Marine, towers over Awalmir (Adhir Kalyan), the squat, skinny brown man with a funny accent. While Riley gets to flirty banter with an attractive female bartender, and show off his physique boxing in the garage, Awalmir plays the wide-eyed, non-threatening Asian man staring in wonder at the bounty of Cleveland’s grocery store aisles.

Then there’s the dialogue.

The pilot opens with Riley and his sister, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alderfer), at an airport awaiting the titular character’s arrival to the United States. Riley passes the time telling the story of the time Al greeted Riley at an airport in Afghanistan with a bowl of pacha. (American troops don’t arrive in Afghanistan in this manner, but that’s perhaps for another time.)

Elizabeth, badly butchering the word, asks what pacha is. When Riley describes it as sheep’s head soup, Elizabeth is clearly revolted and the studio audience erupts in laughter. Personally, pacha is not my cup of tea. But surely, the writer’s room could have done better than tired jokes about weird, foreign foods.

The inane jokes continue. At one point, when Al recalls a memory from Kabul, Elizabeth makes a seemingly nonsensical reference to spring break, leading to an eventual punchline about confusing Kabul with Cabo. At another, Awalmir compares his awkward attempt to reunite Riley and his estranged wife to negotiating with warlords, and something about enemy fire in Helmand.

Now granted, it could be worse. Al is not a terrorist, unlike the Arab and Muslim characters who populated shows like 24 (which, by the way, aired on Afghan TV for years). When he prays, it is to find solace from his loneliness, not because he’s about to blow himself up.

As a friend of mine, who also attended the advance screening, said: “It’s a hell of a lot better than him being another Afghan terrorist on TV.”

But if you’re going to go to the trouble of making this show, and airing it on a network that has faced years of criticism for its white, homogeneous presentation of the world, why not endow Al with at least a smattering of complexity? If the creators had allowed Afghanistan to be a real place (and not just the vague origin story for another odd couple buddy comedy), have some faith that American viewers just might be able to follow along.

But, the worst part is that I desperately wanted this terrible show to be great.

You see, I grew up on sitcoms.

My family fled the Soviet occupation and ended up in Fremont, California, a city that would come to be known as ‘Little Kabul.’

As a kid, I would often sit on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, a bowl of cumin and saffron-scented palow in front of me, and follow the ups and downs of the home lives of the Winslows, the Taylors, the Bundys, the Banks and the Conners. It was my first introduction to what I thought was American life.

Most of my social interactions in Fremont were with my large, extended Afghan family. Even in school, all of my friends were Afghan, Arab, Desi, Filipino, or Latino. I would watch American sitcoms, wondering why the children had so few cousins around, why their homes were never full of dozens of family members gathering for a meal and, most importantly, what exactly meatloaf, fruit cakes and French toast were. These shows educated me on the lives of the ‘Amrikaya,’ as we called them.

Still, I longed for a TV show about people who sounded, acted and looked like me.

Usofa interp
Village elders speak with a U.S. Marine through an interpreter as American and Afghan forces search for weapons in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan in 2008.

In college, I interned at the Center for Asian American Media, which ran the nation’s largest Asian-American film festival. Around the office, there was a lot of excitement about the coming Harold and Kumar sequel, and I was confused as to why a dumb stoner movie was receiving so much praise from the 20 and 30-something Filpino, Chinese, Korean and Japanese-Americans cinephiles I worked with.

“Because, Ali, it’s about them being dumb stoners, not a Korean and an Indian,” they said to me. I rewatched the first movie and saw their point. Yes, Harold and Kumar were Asian, but they were also American. And more importantly, John Cho went from just being “that Asian guy from American Pie” and Kal Penn from “that Indian guy in Van Wilder” to genuine stars.

Which brings me back to The United States of Al.

I’m back in Afghanistan, where I work as a journalist and spend a lot of my time trying to demonstrate to a global audience that people who come from here are just as compelling and layered as the Rileys and Elizabeths of Cleveland.

To be sure, I’m going to watch the rest of United States of Al.

And if it gets better, I’ll be the first to cheer it on.

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7 key takeaways from Biden’s first news conference as president

joe biden
President Joe Biden answers questions during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021.

  • Biden gave his first solo news conference as president on Thursday.
  • He fielded questions on issues ranging from voting rights, foreign policy, immigration, and his plans for 2024.
  • Scroll down for 7 key takeaways from the presser.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Reporters on Thursday grilled President Joe Biden on a slew of issues when he gave his first solo news conference since taking office. He fielded questions on issues ranging from immigration, foreign policy, voting rights, the filibuster, and his plans for 2024.

He also gave updates on his administration’s COVID-19 response, vaccine distribution, and the economy.

Until Thursday, Biden had mainly interacted with the media by doing cable news interviews and briefly answering questions after public appearances.

Here are 7 key takeaways from Biden’s first news conference on Thursday.

Biden plans to run again in 2024

The president announced that he expects to run again in 2024 with Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket.

“The answer is yes, my plan is to run for reelection. That’s my expectation,” Biden said, before adding that he cannot know for certain. “I’m a great respecter of fate.”

Biden also scoffed at the idea of facing Trump as his GOP challenger in 2024. “I have no idea if there will be a Republican Party,” he said.

Biden ups vaccine goal to 200 million vaccinations in first 100 days

At the top of the briefing, Biden set a new goal of the United States administering 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by his 100th day in office. Initially, the president planned to hit 100 million vaccine shots within that time frame, but the country surpassed that milestone last week.

The US has administered over 133 million vaccine doses as of Thursday, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 2.5 million doses are administered per day, The New York Times reported. At that pace, Biden is on track to fulfill his new objective by April 30, his 100th day in office.

More than 100 million stimulus checks have gone out and ‘millions more will be getting their money very soon’

Biden said that more than 100 million stimulus checks worth $1,400 have gone out so far. The checks were included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, known as the American Rescue Plan, that he signed into law earlier this month.

“Millions more will be getting their money very soon,” he added.

Biden reacts to surge of migrants at the US-Mexico border

The president faced several questionsabout the recent surge of unaccompanied children at the southern border. He claimed that the increase is not because he may be considered more welcoming to immigrants than former President Donald Trump, but due to the weather.

Biden also blamed the hardline immigration policies imposed by Trump and the dire living conditions of the home countries that people are fleeing from.

“I like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not, it’s happened every year,” Biden said. “The reason they’re coming is it’s the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying because of the heat in the desert.”

Biden skewers GOP-backed efforts to restrict voting registration as ‘sick’ and ‘un-American’

Biden called the dozens of Republican-led bills that would restrict voting currently circulating in state legislatures “despicable,” “sick” and “un-American.”

“This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” Biden said. “This is gigantic, what they’re trying to do. It cannot be sustained.”

The president said his aim is for Congress to approve the For the People Act, a Democratic-sponsored bill dedicated to voting rights reform, which passed the House on March 3.

Biden agrees the filibuster is a ‘relic of the Jim Crow era’

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins pointed out that former President Barack Obama said last year that the filibuster is a “relic of the Jim Crow era” and asked Biden if he agreed with the assessment.

“Yes,” Biden said.

“Why not abolish it, if it’s a relic of the Jim Crow era?” Collins pressed.

Biden replied, “Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible. Let’s figure out how we can get this done and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the filibuster rule first. It’s been abused from the time it came into being by an extreme way in the last 20 years. Let’s deal with the abuse first.”

“You’re moving closer to eliminating the filibuster. Is that correct?” Collins asked.

“I answered your question,” the president said.

Biden said he ‘can’t picture’ US troops being in Afghanistan next year

Reporters pressed the president on whether the administration would meet the May 1 deadline Biden had set as a candidate to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

“We will leave,” Biden said. “The question is when we will leave.” Asked if he expected US troops to be in Afghanistan next year, he said, “I can’t picture that being the case.”

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If Biden wants to actually respect and protect American troops, he must put a stop to stupid, endless wars

US troops in Germany
US troops in Germany

  • President Biden can truly honor America’s troops and remake our civil-military culture by putting a stop to endless wars.
  • The human consequences of perpetual warfare — unprecedented rates of PTSD, homelessness, and suicide — have become an absurd norm.
  • Those in positions of power continue to reap enormous profits from never-ending wars while the larger citizenry suffers.
  • Lawrence Wilkerson spent 31 years in the US Army, four years at the US State Department, and 21 years teaching.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

These days everybody adores the troops – at least rhetorically. In fact, the over-adulation of America’s service members has become a sort of civic profession of faith – an obligatory “patriot’s” creed transcending tribal partisan divides. The nation’s newest “war president,” Joe Biden, even ends his speeches with that verbal tick of exaltation: “May God protect our troops.”

The commander-in-chief certainly talks the talk. What’s less clear is whether anyone in Washington will walk the walk, or give those fetishized troops – and what it really means to “support” them – much thought at all. Because if we truly want to  honor and protect America’s soldiers and veterans, that means we must end absurdly hopeless wars and retool our entire civil-military culture.

I got to thinking about this, once again, when last Memorial Day-as has become his custom – my old boss General Colin Powell made an appearance at the National Memorial Day Concert on the Mall. As he made what is now an almost pro forma plea for us all to remember our military veterans, I couldn’t help but address my television to my loving wife’s displeasure.

“If you want to honor our military veterans, General, make a strong plea to the President to bring them home from our stupid, endless wars!”

This is such a no-contest, best-practice, undeniably needed, overwhelmingly necessary action for America to take, that one puzzles over why it even needs suggesting.

But it never does get done. A few folks talk about it a bit, newspapers and magazines intermittently entertain the idea, occasionally presidents ponder it, but they don’t do it. Why, for heaven’s sake? Why are we becoming so heavily mired in the fringes of our empire?  Consider just the broad strokes of such salaciousness:

Eight hundred-plus overseas bases and counting; billions spent maintaining them, special operations forces in dozens of countries to combat a threat – international terrorism – that a CATO Institute study demonstrates, conclusively, has about the same chance of harming one of us as an errant lightning strike. Then there are America’s armed drones flying over at least nine countries – none with which we are constitutionally at war; covert operations ongoing on at least three continents; cruel sanctions on so many people and states that we can barely keep up with them – a sanctions web it will take a century to unravel, if ever. All of which contributes to half the world’s population now believing America-the self-styled “city on a hill” – is the greatest threat to their futures.

So amidst a supposedly transformational presidential administration, why not start the ameliorative process by stopping the endless, stupid wars, and all the other incredible idiocy induced, and then start unwinding America’s demonstrably counterproductive imperium?

The answer is simple, actually: there’s no money in it. Oh so much cash changes oh so few hands funding and waging wars inside a far-flung structure that both supports and engenders them. There are just too many too powerful people pocketing that blood money – from formidable defense contractors, to revolving-door generals and admirals, to members of Congress, to the executives of the big banks and financial firms. All profiting mightily from the empire’s treasury. Crony capitalism and the awful conflicts it spawns and supports-it all craves endlessness.  Such obscenities are a democratic disease, the bane of the proverbial “city on a hill.”

Yet we, the common citizenry, are all complicit – victims of a very old and terrible lie, an almost impressive imperial scam. It’s a long con and the ruse requires a carefully crafted culture of pageantry patriotism. For the most part it’s worked like a charm.

Contributing equally to this militarist corruption is the pernicious and obscene enlisting of just 1% of the youth of America, mainly less-advantaged youth hailing from places like West Virginia, Alabama, the interior of Maine, the backcountry of Oklahoma, and other rural or Rust Belt towns of America, to do the dirty business of state killing on behalf of a checked-out 99%. That’s one of the most tragic aspects of all of these endless, stupid wars. Trump’s “Bone spurs,” or Dick Cheney’s “I had better things to do,” paltry bow outs on the one hand, and the underprivileged devil’s bargain-takers – for whom $40,000 signing bonuses are more money than they’ve ever seen – on the other, combine to craft this horrible reality. It’s a key component of a forever war formula.   

As has become the custom with America’s wars, conditionally-selected young people are dying, suffering devastating wounds, or living with life-long post-traumatic stress, homelessness or worse – committing suicide at unprecedented rates– whilst the self-selected huge majority carry on as usual.

Now that the over-the-top inaugural celebration comes to a close, if we don’t all of us take a holy oath to stop this desecration of all that’s sacred about our country, we ought hereafter hang our collective heads in shame.

“Thank you for your service” just ain’t enough anymore, if it ever was. 

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