One-Liner Wednesday: Pakistan

A third of my country is under water right now – bridges, roads, schools, and other critical infrastructure sinks, and people run to evacuate their homes.

Anam Rathor, writing about Pakistan in this important post

Note: In the comments, there is a link to a post from Sadje with information on organizations that are helping Pakistan. Check it out here: http://lifeafter50forwomen.com/2022/09/07/my-country-needs-your-help/ and help if you are able.

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/07/one-liner-wednesday-alert-creature/

One-Liner Wednesday: This is scary.

A photo from Attachment F of the Justice Department’s court filing last night, showing a variety of secret government documents found in former President Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago, which was searched under warrant earlier this month.
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/08/31/one-liner-wednesday-youre-never-too-old/

One-Liner Wednesday: still COVID

Another of my occasional reminders that COVID-19 is still with us.

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays, which I occasionally use to shamelessly promote another blog post. 😉 Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/08/24/one-liner-wednesday-upon-the-throne/

One-Liner Wednesday: Liz Cheney

“Today, our highest duty is to bend the arc of history to preserve our nation and its blessings to ensure that freedom will not perish, to protect the very foundations of this constitutional republic.”
~~~ Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) in her concession speech after losing her primary race because she is standing up for the Constitution and election integrity in the face of Trump’s lies

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/08/17/one-liner-wednesday-sorry-2/

US environmental update

Trying to get the United States back to a better position regarding climate change and environmental issues in general has been a major task for the Biden administration. While some things were relatively straightforward, such as rejoining the Paris climate accords, others have been much more difficult.

Unwinding the changes that the prior administration had made to regulations was sometimes blocked by the courts. The biggest blow was the Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which a 6-3 majority found that the EPA can’t regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants unless they have been given specific direction by Congress. It was odd that the Supreme Court heard the case because it was brought against the Clean Power Plan, which was proposed by the Obama administration, but never enacted. The Biden administration had no intent to revive that plan, as circumstances have changed, so it appears that the conservative majority heard the case for the purpose of striking down the manner in which executive branch agencies and departments go about executing the laws that have been passed by Congress. This ruling could bog down not only EPA work but also the regulatory work of other Cabinet departments. [Please note that this is my layperson understanding of the case and its implications. There has been a lot of legal commentary which can be found in myriad places online, if you are interested.] An August 26 post with an update on the impact of this case can be found here.

Legislation to address the climate crisis was an important cornerstone of the Biden agenda. The House of Representatives passed a strong bill dealing with climate change and the care economy, including health care, universal education for three- and four-year-olds, provisions for child and elder care, permanent expansion of a fully refundable child tax credit, and other measures for social justice and equity. The bill was paid for by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. Unfortunately, the 50-50 split in the Senate combined with Senate rules gave a couple of Democratic senators power over what was in the bill and they opposed some of the financial and energy provisions, so it looked as though it would not pass.

This was extremely discouraging to millions of people in the US, as well as to millions in the rest of the world who are depending on US action to cut carbon in the atmosphere and provide leadership for other countries to do the same.

And then, a surprise announcement that Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who made his money from coal and had shot down prior versions of the bill, had reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a version of the bill that he could support. Additional changes wound up being made to get Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona on board. Senator Schumer kept the Senate in session in Washington into their August recess to pass the bill with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. House Speaker Pelosi called the House back into session to pass the bill last Friday and President Biden will sign the bill into law this week.

While the Inflation Reduction Act is not as strong as the original legislation, I’m very happy that it will become law. It should bring down energy costs over time. It is projected to lower US greenhouse gas emissions by about 40% of 2005 levels by 2030; the United States goal in the Paris accord is a 50-52% reduction, so we hope that additional measures will be enacted to reach that goal. However, before this bill, we were on track for only a 25% reduction, so this is a major improvement. This article is a good summary of some of the main environmental/energy provisions of the bill.

I am grateful and still a bit shocked that this bill is about to become law. Yes, there is more to do, both on environmental and economic justice issues, but, at least, we have made a good start. This is important because people and the planet need this help and because it shows that the Democrats are actually serious about governing in a bipartisan way when it is possible, such as with the infrastructure law, and alone, if necessary. I hope that the progress in the last 18 months will encourage voters to keep the Democrats in the majority so more can get done in the next session. Perhaps, it will even give more Republican Congresspersons the impetus to support popular, commonsense measures that benefit the public. We have all witnessed past Republican majorities who were unable to pass much substantive legislation; for example, the Trump administration announced multiple “Infrastructure Weeks” but never got close to passing legislation. We have also, sadly, seen Republican minorities block action on legislation and appointments through the filibuster and other holds and delaying tactics. I think these need to be reformed so that the Congress is not bogged down and unable to do the work our country needs to function.

As the new programs ramp up, I encourage people in the US to be on the lookout for provisions that can help them make their lives greener, whether that is rebates on efficient electric appliances, incentives to buy used or new electric vehicles, or the opportunity to purchase renewable energy at lower than current rates. Support candidates who make the health and well-being of people and our environment their top priorities. We need representatives who are looking out for us, not just corporate profits and tax loopholes.

In my district, that means voting for the Democratic candidate. Make sure that you know the candidates’ positions in your area before casting your ballot.

SoCS: United States?

I live in the United States of America.

It doesn’t feel that way.

There is a huge amount of disunity both between states and within states and it’s very upsetting and disorienting.

As with any democratic country, there will always be differences of opinion of how to govern and how to prioritize our obligations to each other and to other countries but we have fallen into a situation where we can’t even agree on facts.

I’ve written before about the issue of abortion, which now has each state making their own laws about it, but some states are trying to forbid going to another state to receive care, which is not something that should even be considered in the United States. We are supposed to be able to travel freely between states and to engage in commerce there.

As it happens, I’ve lived most of my life on a state border, growing up on the Massachusetts side of the border with Vermont and living for the last several decades on the New York side of the border with Pennsylvania. The concept that there would be any restrictions on crossing the border or engaging in a legal activity there is just bizarre and un-American.

While this disunity began before the Trump presidency, he has thrown the problem into overdrive. As non-US folks may be aware, Trump’s home in Florida was searched under warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier this week. Yesterday, the warrant and receipt of what was removed by the agents was released by the court. The former president had kept documents that, under the Presidential Records Act, he should not have in his possession. (All presidential records belong to the people of the United States and are administered by the National Archives.)

This is part of an investigation at this point; there have been no charges that we know of. I suppose there could be charges that have been made but that are under seal but that seems unlikely at this point. At any rate, it seems clear that the former president had in his possession documents that he has no right to possess and that he did not turn them over when he was asked about them. When the archivists realized some documents were missing, they asked for them. Over the winter, fifteen boxes of material were sent back to Washington. When they analyzed them, the Archives realized there were still materials missing. There was a subpoena for them issued in June but they still were not returned, which led to the warrant and search this week. More materials were found and removed by the FBI agents, including some materials that are considered so sensitive that they are only supposed to be read in special rooms that are very secure with guards and prohibitions against having any electronic devices near them.

I’m not a lawyer, but the known evidence at this point looks bad for the former president.

The problem is that, in this time of disunity, even facts seem to be in dispute. Trump and his apologists are running through all kinds of excuses and obfuscations. There were claims that none of the president’s – well, ex-president’s – staff were there but his lawyers were present during the search. There were accusations that the FBI agents planted evidence, although, not only were Trump’s lawyers there but also DT and Melania watched the search unfold over the extensive surveillance system of Mar-a-Lago, the Trump golf resort which has become their primary residence. Trump was in New York at the time of the search to give a deposition in a civil case about his business practices pre-presidency; in hours of questioning, the only question he answered was his name, invoking his right against self-incrimination hundreds of times. (It’s true that that is his and every person’s right under the Constitution, but this is a civil, not criminal case, so jurors will be able to draw inferences from the refusal to answer in ways that are not possible in criminal cases where taking the Fifth is not able to be used against you in any way. Yeah, stream of consciousness can lead you off your path into what should probably be a separate post…)

So, yeah, back to other excuses. Some are saying that everything is okay because DT declassified everything he took, trying to obscure the fact that he should not have had any of these materials AT ALL because all presidential records belong to the people of the United States through the National Archives. Also, there is an extensive process by which a president can declassify materials which was not followed, as there were materials that still have stamps for classification at various levels, which would have to have been removed with documentation if they were truly declassified.

Unfortunately, there has already been a life lost due to the lies about the search. A man, responding to false reports that the FBI had done something illegal, attacked an FBI office, fled, had a standoff with agents, and was killed when he raised his weapon against them.

I’m very afraid of violence becoming more widespread. Unlike our Civil War which was between the Union and a group of states which broke away, this violence would likely take place within communities. There are homes that are flying the United States flag upside-down, which is a signal of distress, and displaying Trump banners and Second Amendment flags with guns on them and flags with vulgar messages toward President Biden. There are lots of people with multiple firearms and lots of ammunition. There are various s0-called militias that are anti-government and/or white supremacist, anti-Semitic, Christian nationalist, etc. And, of course, because of the January 6th insurrection, we know that they are capable of organizing and attacking at Trump’s behest.

It’s terrifying and bewildering and disorienting. I never thought I would have to fear that the United States might fall apart, or worse, fall into authoritarianism. I never thought one entire political party would so flagrantly violate their oath of office and still manage to get elected through riling up fears and manipulating the election system. I never thought the courts would take away rights that had been recognized.

It’s discouraging that, with facts as clear as they have been from the Select Committee taking testimony about January 6th and from the search warrant and results from this week, that so many, especially Republican members of Congress, are continuing to lie and lead people astray.

I try to do my little part to keep facts out there, even in stream of consciousness, but sometimes the disunity seems insurmountable. Millions of us will keep trying, though, to make our country the United States again.

I hope we can.
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Linda’s prompt this week was to build our post around something that begins with the letter U. Join us! (You can stream of consciousness write about something much more fun than this post, I promise!) Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/08/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-13-2022/.

(A reminder: Comments are open. I will respond to respectful comments but will delete anything that is vulgar or abusive.)

the aftermath of Dobbs

When I wrote this post after the leak of US Supreme Court Justice Alito’s draft opinion on an abortion law in Mississippi, we weren’t sure if there would be changes before the decision was announced.

When the decision was announced on June 24, it was little changed from the draft. The majority signed on to the opinion that Roe v. Wade had been “wrongly decided” and threw the matter of the legality of abortion to each state’s legislature.

It’s not that long-standing Supreme Court precedents have never been overturned or declared “wrongly decided” – the Dred Scott decision springs to mind – but the Dobbs case was the first time that such a reversal came at the expense of a recognized right.

Many lawyers and Constitutional scholars have faulted the majority’s decision on historical and legal grounds, as Alito seems to cherry-pick sources in support of his view while ignoring the mainstream history and scholarship to the contrary. For example, while it is true that the Constitution does not specify a right to an abortion, it also never uses the word “woman” or “family.” There are many rights that have been recognized by the courts over the centuries that are not specifically cited in the Constitution under the Ninth Amendment which states “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The right to privacy and to bodily autonomy belong to each person and should not be under the jurisdiction of the government at any level. The Alito opinion also seems to violate the Thirteenth Amendment against involuntary servitude and the Fourteenth Amendment which promises “equal protection of the laws.”

While Alito said that abortion was a unique situation in terms of privacy protections, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurrence that openly questions other rulings, such as those allowing contraception and marriage equality in all states. Somehow, he didn’t suggest that the Loving case, which forced all states to allow interracial marriage, had been wrongly decided, one assumes because he is a partner in one.

It’s now a little less than a month since the decision was handed down and there is upheaval. There have been many protests and public demonstrations. Some states moved to ban all abortions or all after six weeks of pregnancy. Some states are even trying to prevent people from crossing state lines to receive care, as though being a resident of a state gave them ownership over you. While the House has passed legislation to codify abortion rights similarly to Roe and to allow interstate travel for medical care, the Senate Republicans have blocked both measures from coming to a vote.

Some states are protecting and codifying the Roe framework. My home state, New York, had done this previously and is now beginning the years-long process to amend the equal rights protections of the state constitution to include “sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy”. Bonus: this will protect marriage rights and stand against all gender-related discrimination, as well as returning reproductive health rights to each individual.

Before the decision was handed down, those of us warning of the dangers to the health and well-being of pregnant people were scolded for being alarmist, but we were being realistic. Every day, there are stories in the news of delayed care for miscarriages that threatens the health and life of the mother. There are stories of rape victims having to go to another state for an abortion. The most heart-breaking of these is the case of a ten-year-old rape victim who had to travel from Ohio to Indiana to receive an abortion at six and a half weeks pregnancy. This child has had to endure not only rape and the severe threat to her health that pregnancy at such a young age entails but also the trauma of some politicians and commentators questioning the veracity of her story.

These cases show the dangers of trying to legislate what should be private medical decisions. While some are contending that it’s not really an abortion if a child is pregnant and her life is endangered or if there is an ectopic pregnancy or if there is an incomplete miscarriage, medically speaking, all pregnancies end either in live birth or an abortion. Miscarriage is not a medical term; on medical records, it is termed a spontaneous abortion. Health care providers are being put in the impossible situation to provide the best care to their patients or to be forced by lawyers to wait until their patients are clearly dying themselves before intervening to remove a doomed fetus. When the federal government reminded hospital emergency rooms that they are required to treat any endangered pregnant person to save their life, the state of Texas filed suit, saying that their state law against abortion should take precedence.

Some states are making moves not only against abortion but also against contraceptives, even though these are not abortifacient. They are trying to prevent people from crossing state lines to receive care. As I mentioned previously, while the US House of Representatives has passed legislation to codify abortion rights and to affirm the right to interstate travel, the Senate is not taking these up because of obstruction by Republicans. Chillingly, there is talk of the Republicans passing a national abortion ban if they regain the Congressional majority. Meanwhile, Republicans fail to pass legislation that would uphold the health and dignity of each person, such as universal health care, living wages, social welfare support, etc.

As a Catholic woman, I knew this was coming. Alito was parroting the arguments that Catholic bishops have made against abortion and Thomas went even further down that road in his calls against contraception. I have struggled for years against a church that denies my full personhood as a woman, despite their lip service to the concept of human dignity. I did not expect my country to follow suit.

Like most women my age, I didn’t think we would still be fighting these kinds of equality battles, but we will. I can’t predict the manner or timing of victory, but we will not be demoted to second class citizenship by a skewed Supreme Court.

finally, but…

Broome County, New York, where I live, finally managed to get into the low community risk category on the CDC’s COVID map late last week, after many months in the high category with a few weeks of medium thrown in.

This is long hoped for news, but it is likely only a very temporary lull.

We had been high for so long due to our lower level of up-to-date vaccination and the fact that an Omicron subvariant that became dominant originated in central New York.

Unfortunately, another Omicron subvariant BA.5, is making its way into our area. BA.5 is already the most dominant strain in the US and carries the dubious distinction of being more contagious than other forms of Omicron. It may also have a tendency to more often affect the lower part of the respiratory tract, although this is still being researched; Omicron in general has been more likely to remain in the upper respiratory tract. It also appear to more easily infect people who are up-to-date on vaccination and those who have already had Omicron, even if the prior infection was only a few weeks ago. It’s difficult, though, to tease out which effects in the population are from the variant itself and which are from decreasing immunity that occurs over time.

It is also unfortunate that repeat infections increase the post-infection risk of stroke, heart attack, and other serious illnesses and bring the risk of long COVID.

Even with BA.5, though, being vaccinated and boosted is helpful. It lowers rates of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. Pfizer and Moderna are each developing vaccines/boosters that are more effective against Omicron that will be available in the fall. Of course, masking, avoiding crowds, and other public health measures are also helpful if transmission is high in your area.

Remember: the pandemic is still with us. Another new variant is spreading in India and several other countries and could cause another global wave of infections if it can out-compete BA.5. Stay alert and do what you can to take care of yourself, your family, and your community.

I’ll be doing that here. Even though our current infection rate is low, it has begun to creep up. I’ll be watchful.

It’s different in Japan

When I wrote this post about gun violence in the US yesterday, I intended to move on to another topic, but news of the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe of Japan broke here this morning and I was struck by the stark contrast in the level of gun violence in the two countries.

Part of the terrible shock to the Japanese public is that shootings are incredibly rare there. Firearm possession in Japan is highly regulated. Apparently, the gunman had built his own weapon, evading the strict process in place.

Last year in Japan, there were only ten shootings, eight of which were connected to the yakuza, an organized crime network. There was one death and four injuries from gun violence.

That’s 10 shootings in a country of 125 million people.

In a year.

The United States has 332 million people. I can’t even find the statistic for the number of shootings, but the statistics from Gun Violence Archive record 45,034 deaths and 40,585 injuries from guns in 2021.

Yes, America. Guns are the problem.

The US and guns – update

In late May, when I wrote this post, I knew there would need to be an update in the continuing saga of gun violence in the United States. A lot has happened since then, so here goes.

In the wake of the national furor over the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, a bipartisan group of senators managed to hammer out a bill that could pass. It is much weaker than the bill that had originally passed in the House but does have some important provisions. It increases funding for mental health services, which is much needed. The impact on mass shootings is unclear but the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides, so there is hope that these funds will avert some share of these deaths. There are incentives for states to implement red flag laws, which prevent firearm sales and/or remove guns from homes where someone is deemed threatening to themselves or others. The laws preventing those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining guns were strengthened. There will be enhanced background checks for those ages 18-20. Penalties for those who purchase guns for someone who is not eligible to own one have been increased. Funding for security in schools will increase.

Unfortunately, stronger prevention measures were not included, most of which have broad public support. Among these are strengthened and universal background checks, banning military-style assault weapons and large ammunition clips, and raising the age to buy semiautomatic weapons to 21. It’s unlikely that Republicans will agree to any further national legislation in the immediate future, so it is up to states to do what they can to protect people, although it is easy for anyone intent on getting a weapon to do so by visiting a state with looser regulations.

Ironically, just as this legislation was passed, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion that struck down the process to carry a concealed weapon in my home state, New York. This law, which had been on the books for over a century, was somehow not deemed to be part of our history and tradition by the conservatives on the Court, while ignoring the clear text of the Second Amendment that places gun rights in the context of “a well-regulated militia.”

Governor Hochul called the state legislature, which usually is in session only in the winter and spring, back from recess to pass new laws that would seem to be acceptable to the Court which had objected to a gun owner proving that they needed to carry a concealed weapon for protection. The new laws include mandatory standardized training and tests to obtain a concealed carry permit, a blanket prohibition on carrying firearms on private property and businesses unless they expressly give permission, and a list of “sensitive places” where concealed weapons are not permitted, including public transportation, medical facilities, schools and day care facilities, libraries, government buildings, houses of worship, public demonstrations, entertainment venues, and establishments that serve alcohol.

There are also provisions that strengthen New York’s already relatively strict gun laws, including background checks for all ammunition purchases, enhancements of the safe storage requirements including in vehicles, and extending the sales ban on body armor to include hard body armor which was used by the shooter in Buffalo.

These new laws will take effect on September first. They may be challenged in court but the legislature and governor tried to design them in such a way that they will be upheld. At least, we will have greater protections while the cases wind their way through the courts.

Meanwhile, of course, gun violence continues unabated. The Fourth of July weekend was especially brutal, with over 500 shootings, at least 11 of which were categorized as mass shootings (four or more injured or killed, not counting the shooter), resulting in over 220 deaths and nearly 570 injuries. The information source for this reporting is the Gun Violence Archive, an organization that collects and compiles data on shootings in the US. That our country has need of such an organization is sobering in and of itself. As I write this on July 7, 2022, they have verified 22,733 gun deaths so far this year, of which 12,408 were suicides.

The most prominent of the mass shootings this weekend was at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. A 21-year-old man, shooting with a military-style weapon from a rooftop overlooking the parade route, killed seven with several dozen wounded. He was later arrested and has confessed to the crime. Our news reports are filled with the tragic losses of family members, including the parents of a 2-year-old who was found beneath his father’s body.

This father died protecting his only child from a young man who should not have had a weapon of war. All of us need the protection of law to keep these weapons out of civilian hands. Congress, do your job and pass more laws so that our rates of gun violence are more in line with those of other advanced democracies. Other countries have similar rates of mental illness, violent video games, and social problems, but have nowhere near our rates of gun violence. Republicans, it’s time to wake up and admit the truth that the heart of the problem is too-easy access to guns, especially military-style weapons. And remember that your beloved Second Amendment is about a “well-regulated militia” – now akin to the National Guard – not your mentally unstable 18-year-old neighbor who has fallen into some dark conspiracy-laden corner of the internet and thinks he should kill some folks to show he has power over them.

Congressional Republicans, you have the power to join with your Democratic and Independent colleagues to protect us. If you need help mustering courage, look to the example of that dad in Highland Park. Your possibly sacrificing a few votes in your next election or some campaign contributions is nothing compared to his sacrificing his life and his chance to see his child grow into adulthood.

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