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.      

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