Nel's New Day

February 27, 2021

Biden, Democratic Congress Moving Rapidly Forward

The year 2021 marks the 20th year of the U.S. preemptive war in the Middle East, starting with George W. Bush’s attack on Afghanistan. President Joe Biden delivered the latest bombings, seven against two Iran-backed militias smuggling weapons in Syria. The airstrikes hit buildings on a border crossing with Iraq. Iranian state television reported 17 fatalities, but Biden had no exact number. Biden said he intended to “send a message” about the militias’ aggressive actions in Iraq against the U.S. including last week’s rocket attack. Experts have differed on the appropriateness of Biden’s actions, but Biden hopes to keep the path open for renewing an anti-nuclear agreement in Iran.

Years after U.S. intelligence prepared a report on the 2018 torturing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and journalist, in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, the new Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has declassified and released the document. According to the report, available here:

“Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi… The Crown Prince has absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”

Although Congress mandated the information be made public, former Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) had covered up for MBS because of his friendship with Saudi Arabia and took no action about the vicious assault.

On the day before the report’s release, Biden called the 85-year-old Saudi king, instead of his son MBS, the crown prince and heir apparent, who has been giving orders. Biden may have had trouble reaching the king: sources say, “MBS has controlled his father’s switchboard.” The conversation skipped the report, but Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law” and discussed working on “mutual issues of concern.” Biden has eliminated U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The U.S. does not plan to charge MBS of any crimes, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the “Khashoggi Ban,” restricting visas for people acting on behalf of foreign governments directly engaged in “serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work.” The ban can also cover family members and will be applied immediately to 76 Saudis “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.” The Treasury Department also sanctioned a former Saudi intelligence official, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, and the crown prince’s personal protective detail, the Rapid Intervention Force (aka the “Tiger Squad”). Blinken echoed Biden’s earlier statement that the U.S. wishes to “recalibrate” the relationship with Saudi Arabia “to be more in line with our interests and our values.”

The Treasury Department also replaced sanctions on Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler for corruption in Africa after DDT rolled them with no explanation or announcement during his last few days in the White House. Gertler is a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden also plans sanctions and other punishments for Russia for the SolarWinds cyber-espionage campaign, interfering in elections, and the Kremlin’s use of a banned chemical weapon against anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny before jailing him.

On Thursday, three Republicans supported the Democratic representatives in a 224-206 vote to expand federal protections for LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Equality Act amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act to include specific protections for LGBTQ people. The Republicans voting for the bill are John Katko (NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), and Tom Reed (NY); the other Republican support discrimination in the name of religious freedom. The legislation passed the House almost two years ago, but then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ignored it. McConnell has become the minority leader, and the Democrats will likely address the House bill.

Early Saturday morning, the House passed Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan by 219-212 with opposition from all Republicans and two Democrats, Kurt Schrader (OR) and Jared Golden (ME).  Although the Senate parliamentarian refuses to allow the hourly $15 minimum wage in the reconciliation bill permitting a 50-50 vote in the chamber without a filibuster, the House included it in their bill.

As usual with a Democratic president, Republicans are arguing for austerity after driving up the national debt with massive tax cuts for the wealthy and big business. Another false argument is that only a small portion of the $1.9 trillion goes to combating the virus, “actually used to put shots in people’s arms,” according to Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO). He ignores the funding for stimulus checks, school openings, unemployment payments, assistance for small businesses, and other types of expenditures the GOP legislators willingly passed while DDT was in the White House.

Biden insisted on changes in the bill’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans after they went to big businesses in the first bill instead of the mandated small business. He wants to guarantee loans to businesses with under 20 employees and restricts applications from these businesses for 14 days so that lenders can prioritize those businesses. Other changes open up loans to people with non-fraud felony convictions and to non-citizen business owners. In the last round, a large number of loans were flagged for potential fraud. A new mandate tackling “waste, fraud, and abuse across all federal programs” requires approval of PPP loans “contingent on passing [Small Business Association] fraud checks, Treasury’s Do Not Pay database, and public records.”

A proposed bill for a special commission probing the January 6 attack on the Capitol, such as the one which investigated the 9/11 attacks, is struggling because of GOP opposition. Objections started when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wanted a majority of Democrats on the commission. If Republicans approached the situation with a lack of bias, the equality might have worked. Yet Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) believes not only that DDT had nothing to do with the insurrection but also that it was a friendly group of people who were coming into the Capitol until the Capitol Police provoked them. Earlier, he had falsely asserted the seditionists were all on the left side, that all of them were not DDT’s supporters. Some GOP legislators, such as Steve Scalise (LA), second in House minority command, still maintain Biden is in the White House illegally and should be removed.

In addition, almost 150 GOP legislators of the 261 Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the legal votes from the electoral college after the far-right attack on the Capitol to stop the vote—almost 40 percent of the number of Republicans in Congress. All those Republicans have a conflict of interest to be on a commission to investigate the insurrection and would likely sabotage its investigation and reporting.

On the Senate side, Republican Mitch McConnell insists the commission also investigate all Black Lives Matter protests. If not that, then it should concentrate only on Capitol security failures, avoiding any white supremacy terrorism issues. The approaches would be like telling the 9/11 Commission to focus only on planes hitting the World Trade towers without reviewing radical Islamist terrorism or focus on all international violence. The mandate of the 9/11 Commission was to examine “the facts and circumstances relating to the 9/11 terrorist attack . . . including those relating to intelligence agencies; law enforcement agencies; diplomacy; immigration, nonimmigrant visas, and border control; the flow of assets to terrorist organizations; commercial aviation; the role of congressional oversight and resource allocation; and other areas determined relevant by the Commission for its inquiry.”

After DDT’s administration ignored reunification of families who they separated at the southern border, Biden appointed a task force to find the parents of 611 children. In less than a month, 105 children have been returned to their families, and the group is working to reunify the others.

Biden revoked the following presidential orders and memoranda signed by DDT:

  • Cutting funding from cities DDT declared as “anarchist” havens.
  • Mandating all new federal buildings be designed in classical aesthetic.
  • Limiting the ability of federal agency employees to make regulatory decisions.
  • Calling for agency heads to review welfare programs and strengthen work requirements for some recipients.

After a month in the White House, Biden has an overall job approval rating of 56 percent with 54 percent for his handling the economy and 56 percent for foreign affairs. His best rating is 67 percent approval in handling the coronavirus. That rating might go up with the FDA approval of a third vaccine, the one-shot vaccination from Johnson & Johnson. In DDT’s last six weeks, people received 12 million vaccinations. Biden promised 100 million in the first 100 days: in his first five weeks, people have gotten 58 million, 1.6 million a day and rising.

On February 26, 2021, the number of daily U.S. infections is down (80,625), but the daily number of deaths is averaging above 2,000—the most recent number 2,216. Total U.S. infections – 29,136,912; deaths – 523,082.      

July 29, 2020

Reopening Schools? Think Twice

Every week, my local newspaper publishes News on the Views, responses to a concern regarding an issue in the community. Today, the topic was reopening schools. Although some of the responses expressed general problems with reopening schools during the pandemic, others wrote that children would not be in danger because of the myth that children have complete immunity—a myth communicated to millions in the United States by conservative media.

One indication children are at risk from COVID-19 infection comes from the plethora of closing summer camps, both sleep-away and day-only, because both youth and their counselors test positive for the coronavirus. Children may not commonly suffer from the more serious symptoms, but no one knows the long-term effects and the extent of infecting others. And as more children contact the virus, the more children have severe symptoms. Lara Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas children’s Hospital in Houston, reports that “in the last three or four weeks our numbers have gone up significantly. The vast majority do really well. There is a proportion who do become sicker than that. Some require life support in the ICU, so there is a whole spectrum.” She also said asymptomatic children have “the biggest danger [because] we don’t know the transmission rate.”

Florida, a state with surging COVID-19 infections, is requiring schools to reopen. The number of children ages 17 and under who test positive for the virus rose from 23,170 on July 16 to 31,150 on July 24—an increase of 34 percent in eight days. At the same time, hospitalizations for children jumped from 246 to 303, a 23 percent increase. Yet children are ordered to return to school in two weeks.

Israel opened schools in May with classes up to 40 as well as no masking or social distancing rules. COVID-19 outbreaks infected 1,335 students and 691 staff in two months; since May, these outbreaks caused Israel to close 125 schools and 258 kindergartens.

Doubting people who talk about reopening schools cite a low death rate among children as a reason for sending them back to school. They ignore potential long-term effects: neurological problems, heart damage, muscle problems, kidney injury, limited lung capacity, blood clots—the list seems endless. No one knows how long these health issues will last or if hey will ever go away.

Teachers are also at risk from returning to school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in 4 teachers in the U.S.—almost 1.5 million people—are at increased risk for serious illness by becoming infected. They might be able to protect themselves with social distancing, but working in crowded schools with children crowding around will make this procedure difficult. Because of staff at schools, even more people will be at risk, and 3.3 million adults 65 or older live with school-age children.

From Leana S. Wen comes this perspective of how reopening schools could look:  

“The novel coronavirus is spreading uncontrolled in more than 20 states. https://www.covidexitstrategy.org/  Let’s say that the prevalence of the virus in a community is 1 in 100. A school with 1,000 students could have 10 people walk in on day one who are unknowingly infecting others.

“Many who favor on-time reopening cite a recent large study from South Korea that found that children younger than 10 are half as likely to spread the coronavirus as adults. But half of a lot of transmission is still a lot. And the same study found that kids older than 10 transmit the virus at the same rate as adults. If one person spreads it to two or three others who then spread it to contacts at school and at home, there will almost certainly be outbreaks within a matter of weeks.

“How would these outbreaks be detected? Asymptomatic cases wouldn’t be — a concern because https://www.sciencealert.com/40-of-people-with-covid-19-don-t-have-symptoms-latest-cdc-estimate-says   40 percent of people with covid-19 don’t have symptoms. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asymptomatic people are 75 percent as infectious as those with symptoms.

“Let’s say that a student does show symptoms — perhaps he develops a fever while at school. The right protocol is to promptly isolate and test him. If he tests positive, everyone he has recently had close contact with should quarantine and get tested, too.

“The problem is multifaceted: Given the backlog of testing, results could take 14 days. Should his entire class stay home for two weeks while awaiting this one student’s test result? Symptoms for covid-19 include cough, diarrhea, headaches, runny nose and sore throat. If any of these symptoms prompts testing and quarantining, multiple classes could be out simultaneously while awaiting test results.

“This prompts additional questions: Will kids truly quarantine at home, especially if this scenario were to recur again and again? Would their siblings also need to stay home? What about their parents — how can they return to work with this much uncertainty? If parents are also asked to quarantine, will some break protocol because they need to earn a living?

“At some point, school administrators may decide that there isn’t enough testing to go around. Children don’t get that sick even if they’re infected, the reasoning would go, so we can’t close down for every sniffle. This thinking, combined with limited contact-tracing capabilities, could mean that outbreaks aren’t detected until numerous adults — teachers, cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, and parents and other relatives of pupils — fall ill.

“I’m worried about schools taking shortcuts in an effort to reopen quickly. Reducing classroom capacity, limiting student mobility and wearing masks can substantially reduce risk. Yet President Trump has bemoaned how the CDC guidelines are “very tough,” and Vice President Pence has said that the guidelines should not prevent schools from reopening. Never mind the backward logic here (the problem is not the guidelines themselves but the inability to meet them). The issue is whether school administrators will buckle to political pressure and neglect critical safety measures, just as many governors did in cutting corners to reopen their states.

“Steps can be taken now to avoid this dystopian scenario. States where infections are escalating need to revert to an earlier phase and close bars, restaurants and other indoor gathering spots. As for schools, they should begin instruction virtually and hold off on in-person plans until October; it will take at least three to four weeks for the new restrictions to have an effect and a few more weeks to ensure that the trend holds.

“States with fewer infections may be able to proceed with in-person instruction if they implement proper safeguards. Many districts have thoughtful plans to bring back younger students and children with special needs first, while providing full online instruction. What about those unable to take online classes from home or who depend on schools for food and other social needs? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/20/opinion/coronavirus-reopen-schools-economy.html   Setting up “safe centers for online learning” in schools and other empty community spaces, as some have proposed, could be useful.

“Nationally, it is beyond time to have a testing strategy that ensures that rapid tests are widespread and accessible. The CDC must also provide far more explicit guidance, including exact criteria that communities need to meet to be considered low-risk: such as test positivity of less than 5 percent, 80 percent of tests returned within 48 hours and a 14-day decline in number of cases. And Congress needs to pass an emergency education package that gives local jurisdictions funding to upgrade buildings, buy personal protective equipment and make other necessary changes.

“All of these steps are hard. They require strong leadership and substantial resources. But if we don’t take these actions and schools reopen prematurely, we will effectively have an uncontrolled experiment with students and teachers as the guinea pigs. Banks and airlines have been bailed out. Surely, we can dedicate the necessary resources to help our schools, too.”

David Von Drehle wrote:

“The United States had a chance to get covid-19 under control. Other countries are doing it. But with transmission unfettered and the traditional start of school drawing near, it looks as if we’ve blown the opportunity and failed our kids. Their anger and depression will be justified if their classrooms are empty again this fall. I only hope they learn a lesson from our failure.”

The U.S. now has a total of 4,568,037 cases, 66,921 in the past 24 hours. Adding to the 153,840 deaths from COVID-19 are the 1,485 from the past 24 hours, almost double that of several days ago. While Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is declaring martial law and pushing fake fixes for COVID-19, his lack of leadership is killing people.

 

May 6, 2013

NRA Polarizes U.S.

“Stand and Fight”: that was the theme of the annual NRA convention when approximately 70,000 NRA members descended on Houston (TX) this past week to explain why the United States needs guns to kill each other. One excuse is that people in the nation need weapons to protect themselves against a tyrannical government: 44 percent of the Republicans believe this. These people say that they believe “an armed revolution might be necessary to protect our liberties.”

Where should the guns be stored? The NRA has an answer for this: in the kids’ room. In the “Home Defense Concepts” seminar taught by Rob Pincus, who also teaches an intruder defense course in schools, parents would run to their kids’ room in case of a home invasion, so they should just leave their guns there. However, children are wounded and killed by accidental gunshots with horrifying frequency; 900 kids were killed in gun suicides or accidents in 2010. Also children ages birth through age 4 were 17 times more likely to be killed in a gun accident in states with the highest levels of gun ownership than in the states with the lowest gun ownership. 

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, one-third of all households with children younger than 18 have a gun, and more than 40 percent of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked.The fund also reported that 22 percent of children with gun-owning parents handled guns in their homes without their parents’ knowledge. 

Although the deaths of these children may sadden adults, they seem to view these as isolated accidents that couldn’t have been prevented. In Kentucky, 5-year-old Kristian Sparks got a child’s size gun called “My First Rifle” for a present; he killed his 2-year-old old sister. Nobody thought about a bullet being in the .22-caliber single-shot child’s Crickett rifle sold in pink and blue. Keystone Sporting Arms, a company that specializes in guns for children, ranks as the country’s 10th-largest manufacturer of long guns.

crickett.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeMother Jones caught some images from Keystone’s website before they took it down. Fortunately for those people who want to buy guns for their children, the Chipmunk website is still up. Spokesman John Renzulli said, “We need to respect the privacy of these people, this family is going through a lot.” This is a commons statement that translates as “we’ll guilt you into being quiet.” Renzulli means that people should let the gun manufactures continue to market an object that was invented to kill something or someone.

 Another person captured testimonials before the Cricket website sent down for “maintenance.”  One person wrote:

“We bought a pink Crickett from my six year old daughter and wanted to say thanks for making quality affordable firearms for new shooters. The “girls” option is especially appreciated because as scary as it sounds the color really helped get her excitet about it. Bethany says thanks too! She’ll be quite fashionalble at the Sportsman Club tomorrow.”

 Last week in Arizona, 3-year-old Darrien Nex shot himself after finding a 9mm pistol in his 35-year-old grandmother’s backpack. This is the state where Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill preventing municipalities from destroying guns that they buy back, requiring them to distribute them into the public arena.  She also signed another anti-gun bill last week barring counties from collecting or maintaining any identifying information about a person who owns or sells a firearm. Her excuse was that most of the people who wrote her liked the law. If you disagree, here’s where you can email her. 

Brummett gun

 

On April 17, 7-year-old Gavin Brummett shot himself in the head while firing his father’s semi-automatic handgun. He was on a family shooting trip in Kansas. The family now needs money to bury the child. 

 

 

On April 13, 9-year-old Shayla May Shonneker was shot in the face by her mother’s boyfriend in Oregon City (OR). She was in the backyard while 32-year-old Joseph Wolters was in the house practicing holstering and unholstering a handgun for his new job with an armored transport company. A week later in Donald (OR), 4-year-old Cody R. Hall died of a gunshot wound in his home; nobody is saying who shot the boy.  

 These are some of the children who died within the last few weeks. Still alive but in critical condition is 6-year-old Angela Divin after her 13-year-old brother shot her at their Oakland Park (FL) home last Saturday.

In addition to suggesting that guns should be stored in children’s bedrooms at the conference, the NRA conference included a vendor who featured a bleeding target that looks like President Obama, one of Zombie Industries’ life-sized targets that “bleed when you shoot them.” When asked if the Obama likeness was intentional, the booth worker said, “Let’s just say I gave my Republican father one for Christmas.”

bloombergGlenn Beck made a popular speech at NRA to 10,000 people that used a huge photo-shopped image of Mayor Michael Bloomberg giving a Nazi salute. He said, “When somebody argues for gun control, they are either living in self-imposed ignorance or they are just living an argument of control.” In addition, he urged the crowd “to make sure that we give no more power to those in government at any level.” 

In gun manufacturers’ attempt to appeal to the “ladies,” some vendors featured pink guns that could be strapped to a bra—with manikins demonstrating their “holsters.”

porter betterThe most long-lasting effect of the NRA conference, however, will  be its new president. Jim Porter, son of the NRA president from 1959 to 1961, is replacing past president David Keene. Porter is known for transforming the NRA into the militant organization it is known for when he helped the hardliners transition the NRA in 1977 into its current no-compromise lobbying powerhouse.   

In a June 2012 speech, Porter described Attorney General Eric Holder as “rabidly un-American” when he tried “to kill the Second Amendment at the United Nations” with the help of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He claimed the proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty would “make it illegal for individuals all over the world to own firearms.”

Porter expressed his perspective on the Civil War when he called it the “War Of Northern Aggression.” Porter traces NRA’s roots to 1871 when “some Yankee generals who didn’t like the way my Southern boys had the ability to shoot in what we call the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’” Porter, 64, is part of a small Birmingham (AL) law firm of Porter, Porter & Hassinger. The firm’s website notes its expertise in defending gun manufacturers in lawsuits.

In telling his audience that they are on the front line of a “culture war” that goes beyond gun rights, he throws fuel on the flames of the gun debate. In telling his audience that he wants every U.S. citizen to be trained in the use of standard military firearms to defend themselves against tyranny, he is declaring war on the U.S. government.

Having called President Obama a “fake president,” he accused him of revenge because of his “unrelenting attacks on gun owners today.” Porter’s sole goal is to further polarize the people of the United States to increase profits for the gun manufacturers.

A protest in Washington, D.C. on July 4th is going to exacerbate this as people are encouraged to march with loaded rifles in an act of “civil disobedience.” Despite the fact that openly carrying guns in D.C. is illegal, over 1000 people have said they will attend. Libertarian radio host Adam Kokesh describes  the march as nonviolent, “unless the government chooses to make it violent.” He recently tweeted: 

“When the government comes to take your guns, you can shoot government agents, or submit to slavery.”

We need to stop the NRA and gun manufacturers from running our country.

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