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.

One-Liner Wednesday: freedom over tyranny

Tonight, we meet…with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny. 

U.S. President Joe Biden, near the beginning of his State of the Union address to Congress last night

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out more here: http://lindaghill.com/2022/03/02/one-liner-wednesday-snacks/

the war in Ukraine

I noted in this post that I joined in fears that Russia was about to escalate its hostilities toward Ukraine around the time of the Olympics and now it is happening.

The war there has been going on since 2014 when Russia took over the Crimean peninsula. At that time, separatists in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, with the backing of Russian troops, took control of the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and some territory around them. Earlier this week, Russia recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as separate republics, including not only rebel-held territory but also land under the control of Ukraine. Putin also sent more troops into the area, calling them “peacekeepers” when they are actually invaders into Ukraine. Russia also has at least 150,000 troops with heavy weaponry just over the border on three sides of Ukraine.

I’m very afraid for the people of Ukraine. They have already lost about 14,000 people to this war but would lose many, many more if Russia launches a major offensive against them. The thirty countries of NATO are instituting economic sanctions against Russia and have increased military support to Ukraine, although they will not take part in the fighting directly. They are also preparing for possible refugees if Russia does undertake an invasion of the whole country.

It’s likely that people in Europe, and to a lesser extent in North America, will be impacted in terms of oil and gas supplies because Russia is a major producer and exporter and has used fossil fuels as a weapon before. It’s also likely that the Russian attack will include cyber warfare against Ukraine and possibly NATO countries.

President Biden has made clear that the US will keep its NATO commitments to defend member nations against attack and has moved additional troops into Europe. Because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, they only have their own armed forces to actively fight against Russia.

I hope it will be enough.

Putin has tried to claim that Ukraine was never really an independent entity, but he is mistaken. Even during the Soviet era, there were many people who proudly identified as Ukrainians, even when they were forced to flee to other countries, such as the US. Currently in Ukraine, there are even citizens who are Russian speakers who are ready to take up arms to defend Ukraine and its democracy.

Perhaps, Putin will realize that and back down before more blood is shed. I know there are diplomats still trying to avert a large-scale war but things look very grim now.

Putin does not inspire hope for peace.

seditious conspiracy and excess electors

As we have just passed the one-year anniversary of the attack on the US Capitol, we are getting more public insight into the investigations surrounding it.

In the United States, law enforcement and local, state, and federal judiciary officials do not publicly comment on ongoing investigations. They do this to avoid tipping their hand to those who might potentially be contacted to testify or who might eventually be indicted and also to not prejudice future jurors. This does, however, lead to lots of public speculation. Over 700 people had been charged in connection to the January 6th attack, many with misdemeanors but some with felonies, such as assaulting police officers.

This week, eleven members of the extremist group Oath Keepers, including their founder Stewart Rhodes, were charged with seditious conspiracy in conjunction with the attack on the Capitol. While there had been a few prior conspiracy charges, such as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, this is the first instance of charges of seditious conspiracy.

The indictment is quite detailed about the weeks of planning and the actions of the Oath Keepers before, during, and after the January 6th Capitol breach. It helps explain why it took a bit over a year to issue the indictment, as it takes time to amass the evidence needed for the grand jury to charge the defendants. Now that this indictment focused on the Oath Keepers has been handed down, it’s possible that we may see other, similar indictments of members of the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. Given the way that these big investigations tend to start with lesser crimes and work their way through to more serious charges among those who engaged in orchestrating events, we may eventually see indictments of some elected officials who helped or coordinated with these groups.

It is likely that we are seeing a similar dynamic with the House select committee investigation. Investigative reporters have recently obtained copies of forged electoral college certification documents for Donald Trump from five states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin) that Joe Biden won, which were sent to the Congress and the National Archives. This suggest an organized attempt by Republicans to commit election fraud. Note that these materials were obtained by journalists through Freedom of Information Act requests in the states. They were not leaked from any Congressional or judicial investigations but it seems that those investigations already have these documents as part of their evidence.

Patience is required to see if this evidence will eventually result in charges but it seems that more and more evidence of conspiracy to overturn a valid presidential election is coming to light. I find it unnerving to see how close the US came to a coup but I hope that these investigations will root out all those responsible and bring them to justice before they have another chance to try again. If they do get that chance and succeed in rigging an election or overturning the results of a fair election, the United States will cease to be the oldest functioning democracy in the modern world.

We must not risk that happening.

In the United States, no one is above the law.

At least, that is what we keep telling ourselves.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/14/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-14th-2022/

The American Jobs Plan

At the moment, the Biden administration is meeting with Republican officeholders, including members of Congress, to revise his American Jobs Plan to gain bipartisan support. While many local and state level Republicans support the measure, Republican Congressional leaders are opposing it.

The plan is often referred to as the infrastructure bill and much of the debate has revolved around the definition of infrastructure. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of infrastructure is “the system of public works of a country, state, or region also the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity.” The Congressional Republicans have been using the more narrow “public works” definition and complaining the bill goes far beyond “roads and bridges” which is true, but, while we certainly do need investment in car/truck transportation, the country needs much more than that.

In the transportation sector, we need to upgrade airports and railways, subways and bus systems, and charging systems for electric vehicles. Our electrical grid is antiquated and fragile, leading to horrible consequences such as the Texas blackout this part winter. It needs to be modernized to better incorporate distributed and utility-scale renewable energy and storage, which will make energy systems cheaper and more reliable. Water and sewer systems need massive overhauls to eliminate lead pipes, avert leaks, and bring clean drinking water to places that still do not have access. (One of the truly heart-breaking deficiencies in our water systems brought to public notice during the pandemic was that many people living on Tribal lands do not have access to clean running water needed for the recommended hand-washing protocols and daily life in general. The infection and death rates among indigenous peoples were higher than average, due to the ongoing lack of resources and medical care.)

The pandemic also pointed out the inequities in our communication systems. With so much learning and so many jobs going online, fast and reliable internet access became essential. Those with low income and rural folks suffered when they didn’t have those services available. This deficit has been obvious for a number of years and a few states, such as New York, have been working on it, but it is better to have the federal government involved to make sure that no one is left out.

The US also needs a lot of upgrades to buildings. Many of our schools, hospitals, and housing units are deficient in their heating/cooling/ventilation systems and need insulation and energy efficiency upgrades. Some also need structural work and renovation. Sadly, this impacts low-income areas more than high-income areas. Again, the federal government needs to step in to make sure that all people have safe, functional buildings.

The part of the plan that Congressional Republicans object to the most is support for our care system. There has long been a dearth of high-quality, affordable caregivers for children, elders, and people with debilitating illnesses or conditions, due in part to the low wages paid for this kind of work. During the pandemic, many child-care centers and schools closed, leaving parents with the tasks of 24/7 childcare plus tutoring, often combined with paid jobs. This impacted mothers more than fathers, with many more women leaving the workforce or cutting back hours of paid work to tend to caregiving duties. Now that more employers are wanting people to work on site, parents are faced with difficulties in trying to find child or elder care that they can afford. It’s also worth noting that the US is woefully behind other advanced economies in supporting social needs. The greater support for caregiving, health, and education in the UK versus the US was an important factor in my daughter and son-in-law deciding to settle their family in the UK.

The American Jobs Plan has provisions to support caregiving, such as paying good wages to people who provide care and good wages to other workers so that they can afford to pay for care if they need to. It also offers free access to pre-school for three- and four-year-olds and community college for high school grads. Somehow, Congressional Republicans have twisted this into a negative, arguing that the Plan is against family caregiving and would force more years of mandatory schooling. The pre-school and community college funding is available to all, but not compulsory. The option to choose family caregiving would expand if one salary can support the household, leaving a second adult free to engage in unpaid caregiving or to take an outside job without having all the money earned go to pay the cost of care. For households with only one adult, affordable, high-quality care availability makes it possible to work and support their family. One of the difficulties with the pandemic economic recovery is that many employers are not offering enough hours at a high enough wage for workers to be able to cover living expenses, often including caregiving costs. The answer to this problem is not to cut off unemployment payments as some have suggested; the answer is to pay living wages for all jobs. If a business cannot afford to pay its workers a living wage, it does not have a viable business plan and should not be operating.

What strikes me about the Congressional Republican position is that they favor jobs, like construction, that are predominantly filled by males, while discounting jobs, like caregiving and education, that are predominantly filled by females. In many areas, caregiving jobs are held predominantly by women of color. The Congressional Republican approach to the American Jobs Plan seems to be that physical objects like roads and bridges and the workers that make them are more important than people and the work to care for and educate them.

This is unfortunate. The Plan’s comprehensiveness is one of the things that impresses me the most. It integrates employment with addressing social, environmental, and justice concerns. For example, it creates jobs for workers displaced by the winding down of fossil fuel extraction to cap abandoned wells and clean up mines. It creates a Civilian Climate Corps to help us conserve land and prepare for future conditions. There are provisions to support US research and development and manufacturing within the country to boost employment and make sure we have supplies of important products made here to avoid shortages, especially in crisis situations. We all saw what happened in the early months of the pandemic when masks, gloves, and other medical equipment were in short supply because they were almost all imported goods. The Plan also looks to increased membership in unions which traditionally facilitate good wages and worker protection measures.

While the American Jobs Plan has majority support among the public, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that no Republicans will vote for it. I don’t know if that will change after negotiations are complete. If the vote fails in the Senate after negotiations because Republicans still are not on board, then the Democrats should pass the original bill under budget reconciliation rules.

I should also point out that the Plan includes a way to pay for the costs over time, mostly through corporate tax reform and enforcement. The Republicans don’t like that. The public does. When pollsters ask about the American Jobs Plan and include the payment mechanism in the description, the approval rating rises even higher.

I do have a Republican representative in Congress and I ask her and her colleagues to think about whether they are there to serve their constituents or their corporate donors. We’ll be able to tell their answer by how they vote on this bill.

what?

After the January sixth insurrection and the inauguration of Joe Biden, I thought that most Republican members of Congress would decide to fulfill their Constitutional duty and cooperate in governing the nation.

I was spectacularly wrong.

Instead, the vast majority of the Republican members have decided to lie about the fact that the insurrectionists were supporters of Donald Trump who injured police officers and sought to intimidate and harm the vice president and Congresspeople. They are also lying about the integrity and outcome of the election, despite the fact that there were Republican observers and officeholders who oversaw the election and certified the results in every locality and state.

Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president of the United States under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Any member of Congress who does not give assent and support to that should resign immediately as they have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution.

For the House members, all of whom run for two-year terms and so were also in races in November 2020, how can they say with a straight face that the results in the presidential race were fraudulent but that their own elections were valid? They ran on the same ballot.

The few Republicans who are standing up for election integrity are being maligned by their colleagues and the state Republican apparatus. The most salient battle at the moment involves Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She is the current House Republican Conference Chair, the third highest leader of the caucus. She is also the daughter of Dick Cheney, who was vice president under George W. Bush. She is very conservative, which used to be a hallmark of the Republican party. Because of her principles, she weighed the evidence and voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection. She also acknowledges that Joe Biden won a free and fair election and is now legitimately serving as president.

Although she retained her leadership post in a secret ballot of the caucus in February, there is likely to be another vote in the coming week that will remove her from the House leadership.

Given that the Republican party has overwhelmingly turned into the Trump party, I think that Liz Cheney and the handful of other Republicans in Congress that have retained their Constitutional and conservative principles should create a new conservative Congressional caucus. This caucus could engage in good faith negotiations with the Democratic leadership to give input and amendments to legislation with the prospect for voting in favor of the legislation when it gets to the floor.

While there are currently some Republican members of Congress talking to the Democratic leadership and the White House on bills, the Republican leadership, especially in the Senate, have made clear that no Republicans will vote in favor of any legislation proposed by Biden and the Democrats. I don’t know what would happen if Cheney in the House and Senators Romney, Collins, and/or Murkowski in the Senate formed a conservative caucus. The Republican party might throw them out, saying they could no longer run as Republicans in their states. In that case, they could either run as independents or form their own conservative party. Indeed, Murkowski has previously won an independent write-in campaign in Alaska and Collins, who just won re-election and won’t be on the ballot again until 2026, serves the state of Maine whose other senator, Angus King, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Anyone who joined the conservative caucus might lost their next election because of it.

At least, they would lose knowing that as public servants they had stood up for their country and their principles at a time when our democracy is under grave threat.

It’s what patriots do.

New York voting

Georgia has already passed laws restricting voting access. Texas, Florida, and a raft of other states are considering similar bills.

When voting rights advocates complain, officials say that they aren’t really tightening access to the ballot. They are making their laws more like New York’s and New York is a liberal state, so the measures they are taking must be okay.

One major problem: New York, where I have lived most of my adult life, is way behind the vast majority of states when it comes to making registering and voting fair, accessible, and convenient.

While we do have voter registration and address change available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait time between registering and actually being able to vote is long. This also applies to changes in party registration, which affects access to primaries, which are closed. (A closed primary means that only those who have previously registered with that party are allowed to vote. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, political independents could request a ballot for any party they wished on voting day, fill it out, hand it in, and then have their name removed from the party list, going back to their independent status.) I would love to have same-day registration as some states do. A voter can then cast a provisional ballot which will be counted as soon as eligibility is verified.

Many states have long had no-excuse absentee voting or extensive vote by mail options. New York has not. Absentee ballots were restricted to those who would be out of town on election day and those who were physically unable to get to the polls. In 2020, people were allowed to check the box for illness/disability for fear of contracting COVID, so the basic structure of absentee voting is still intact. One useful option we do have is that one can file as having a permanent illness/disability and an absentee ballot will automatically be mailed to you for every future election. This has been very helpful to my parents and my friends who are elders.

2020 was the first presidential election in New York State with early in-person voting at centralized locations. Previously, the only way to vote in person before election day was to go to the county Board of Elections office, request a ballot, fill it out, and turn it back in. The early voting period was October 24-November 1, with election day being November third. In our county, the lines were long. We waited about three hours in line to vote; our county lengthened the hours available after a few days to cut the waiting times. As it turned out, we could have waited to vote on election day as our planned trip to visit family in the UK was cancelled the day before we were to leave, so we were in town on Nov. 3rd. Many states have much more extensive early voting periods, beginning several weeks before election day.

One thing that New York had been good about was having long hours on election day. Polls were open from 6 AM through 9 PM. Anyone who was in line by 9 PM could remain to vote, no matter what time that actually occurred.

New York has also been very slow with counting votes. Absentee votes couldn’t be counted for at least a week after election day. In some cases, the waiting period was closer to two weeks. While the presidential outcome was clear, some races were not officially certified for weeks after the election. The most severe was our Congressional district, which resulted in our representative not being sworn in until February 11th.

New York is continuing to pass legislation to make voting more accessible. Meanwhile, these other states that are claiming to be “keeping up with liberal New York” are in reality making vote more burdensome for their citizens. They are also adding ridiculous things like making it a crime to give food or water to people waiting in line to vote.

So remember, the next time you hear some politician crow about making their voting system more like New York’s, it is probably not a good thing.

The various shenanigans that are going on with states restricting voting access points out the necessity for action at the federal level. I am hoping that the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will be passed by Congress for President Biden to sign into law. Taken together, these would ensure equal access to the ballot for all citizens, no matter where they live. It would be even better if the bill to make Washington DC a state is adopted so that the 700,000 people that live there finally have votes in Congress.

Every citizen deserves representation and an equal opportunity to vote!

Biden’s speech

Last night, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, although only a fraction of the members and a few guests and the press were present because of COVID limits on large indoor gatherings.

The real intended audience, though, is the American public among whom the president’s speech was well-received. A CBS/YouGov poll found 85% approval among Americans who watched the speech.

For me, it was easy to see why.

For over forty years, the federal government has been characterized as an obstacle rather than a solution to the problems everyday Americans face. We were told that tax cuts for wealthy corporations and individuals would “trickle down” to create more jobs, that spending on public projects was wasteful “pork barrel”, that our education and health systems were unparalleled, that hard work led to personal prosperity, that is was okay for Republican administrations to run huge deficits – in part to wage unfunded wars – but not for Democratic administrations.

Although many of us understood that the country was in trouble before the pandemic, 2020 revealed the weak state of our national government and the precariousness of most people’s lives. It showed the nation how dependent we are on what are now called essential workers, most of whom are poorly paid and who often don’t have even basic benefits like paid sick leave and health insurance. We saw the rates of illness and death, staggering in and of themselves, disproportionately higher among people of color and those in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances. We saw that most of our school buildings could not be made safe for staff and students and that many students and families did not have the proper resources available for remote learning. We saw our medical systems pushed beyond their limits. We saw vast inequality in outcomes among states because the Trump administration refused to lead in a time of national and international crisis.

I could go on but I think that this sets the stage for those who may not be familiar with life in the US.

After a major presidential address to Congress, the opposition party gives a response. Last night, this task fell to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. He claimed that, as Biden was inaugurated on January 20th, the nation was on the upswing. If the Republican leadership truly believes that, they are delusional. January 20th was only two weeks after the insurrection that breached the Capitol building where they meet for the first time in over 200 years. The country suffered 4,380 COVID deaths on January 20th, on its way to what would become the deadliest month of the pandemic in the US to date.

The country was in a fragile, precarious state.

One hundred days of competent and compassionate national leadership makes a huge difference.

Experiencing that change is what made Biden’s speech so popular and, more importantly, what makes his policy proposals and how to pay for them popular, as well. The American people want good transportation systems, water/sewer systems, electrical grid, communication systems, and fast internet service. They want high-quality affordable health care. They want a strong education system available to everyone regardless of where they live. They want high-quality care for children, elders, and anyone who is sick or vulnerable. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to live in safety. They want to be paid wages that can support themselves and their families in the present and that enable them to save for the future.

They see other advanced democracies manage to do those things, while the United States has been falling behind. Instead, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top 1% of individuals and corporations, some of whom pay their executives huge sums while some of their employees need public assistance programs to have enough to eat and to pay rent. Many of the wealthiest people make most of their income from investments rather than from salaries, so they pay tax at a much lower rate.

This is why the Biden proposals to raise revenue from the highest income earners are popular with the public. All of the revenue for the programs would be raised from those with income over $400,000. The changes in the capital gains rates would only impact those over $1,000,000 in income. There is also a proposal to increase audits for high-income earners and to make it harder to avoid income taxes by using off-shore tax shelters. The corporate tax rate which was slashed by the Republicans in the 2017 tax bill would rise, although not to the level it was before that bill was passed.

This all strikes most Americans as fair.

We are in a bizarre situation where many Republican voters and local/state officeholders are in favor of Biden’s proposals but Republican members of Congress are opposed. The national Republican party is beholden to rich donors and is going to need to decide if they want to get on board and seriously negotiate with Democrats on these bills and then support the final product to benefit the people of their districts or if they are going to obstruct everything the Democrats try to do.

Now is the time that each member of Congress needs to remember that they are sworn to uphold the Constitution and are there to serve the people, not their party leadership.

It’s time to fulfill their promise in the Preamble to “promote the general welfare.”

Russia, Russia, Russia

I’ve written a number of posts over the years decrying the malign behavior of Russia. They have interfered in elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries, poisoned and killed Russian dissidents at home and abroad, jailed people on trumped up charges, invaded and taken land from Ukraine, used fossil fuels as a weapon, corruptly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while their population as a whole suffers, hacked into computer systems, and spread disinformation and dissension across the globe.

The US has placed sanctions against Russia in the past. There have also been charges filed against Russian operatives, including over a dozen resulting from the Mueller investigation. Russian personnel have been expelled.

The former administration was not very robust in carrying out sanctions against Russia that had passed through Congress, but the Biden administration did take action in the past week, sanctioning Russian individuals and companies, prohibiting US banks from trading in Russian bonds, expelling personnel, and strengthening cybersecurity. It’s also possible that other measures were taken that are not being announced publicly. This sometimes happen, especially in cyberspace.

Interestingly, the administration acknowledged something that had been suspected but never so clearly stated by the government. A Treasury Department statement on the sanctions states:

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who was one of Donald Trump’s campaign managers in 2016. He gave internal campaign polling data to Kilimnik. This is the first time that there has been official acknowledgement from the government that that information was given to the Russian Intelligence Services. It’s already known that the Russians targeted certain groups and localities in their 2016 election interference operations. This data would increased their effectiveness, especially in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin but won the electoral college by winning in a few key districts in three states.

This is what most people would call “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Although I wish Russia and Kilimnick had been held to account more vigorously and much sooner, I’m grateful that more is now being done. I also hope that the American people will be more attentive to the veracity of what they see on social media and even what they hear from some politicians who have spouted some of the lies that Russia planted.

The Russians want to divide the people of the United States. We must not let them do that. President Biden is trying to help all Americans to come together after the upheaval of the pandemic, its economic impacts, centuries-old racial/ethnic/religious divides, and environmental degradation. He is the duly elected president. There was not widespread fraud in the election. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat that has killed over half a million Americans, but we can fight it with masks, distancing, vaccines, therapeutics, and other public health measures. Climate change is real and needs to be addressed quickly and decisively to contain the worst impacts.

Don’t let Russia tell you otherwise.

vaccine update

Here in the United States, we are continuing to roll out coronavirus vaccines as quickly as possible, although there are a few snags.

The biggest is that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on temporary pause, due to six cases of a rare blood clotting problem that have been reported among women aged 18-48 within two weeks after vaccination. Given that over six million doses have been administered, the percentage affected is tiny, but the two agencies in charge are being cautious, especially as a small number of similar cases have been reported in Europe in connection with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which, like the J&J, is an adenovirus-based vaccine. The pause is allowing them to gather and assess data. Additional cases may surface because of the attention this is receiving in the media. It also lets physicians know to ask about vaccine status when a patient presents with blood clot symptoms. This is important because vaccine-related blood clots call for a different treatment regimen. The hope is that the J&J vaccine will again be cleared for distribution within the next two weeks.

The public reaction has been mixed. Some people say that this pause shows how closely public health officials are tracking the various vaccines and their effects, which raises their confidence level. Others are worried that this means the vaccines weren’t sufficiently tested. A few who have received the J&J vaccine are panicking.

As someone who has been involved in vaccine trials, currently the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine but previously trials for flu, adult RSV, and pneumonia vaccines, I can attest that researchers are very careful in how they conduct trials. However, when you have a side effect that seems to appear in such a small number of people, you are unlikely to find it in a trial of thirty thousand people. If it turns out that the blood clot complication does occur, a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to develop a blood clot after J&J vaccination. I hope this would calm anyone who is panicking, although people often fear rare events while ignoring those that are much more likely to impact them.

I admit that it boggles my mind that, with over thirty-one million known COVID cases in the US and over 565,000 deaths, people would fear an extremely rare side effect more than the virus itself. There are still about 25% of adults who say they will not get vaccinated, which raises the prospect that we won’t be able to stop community spread and end the pandemic because the pool of susceptible people will remain too large. Also, remember that some people who have been vaccinated may still be infected, but their chances of being severely ill are greatly diminished. Still, the way to end the pandemic is to have 85-90% of people vaccinated so that cases of the virus can be contained rather than spreading throughout the community.

It will help when those younger than 16 can be vaccinated. Pfizer has currently asked for permission to add 12-15-year-olds to those eligible after conducting a trial with that age group. Pfizer, Moderna, and others are also conducting research on the best dosages for younger children.

Meanwhile, research is continuing into how long immunity from the vaccine will remain strong. Spouse B and daughter T who received the Pfizer vaccine last August as part of the phase III trial are part of the effort to answer that question. The six month figures showed that immunity remained strong but they will be followed for at least two years to see how that may change with time. The Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has said that he thinks a yearly booster is a possibility; they have begun studying this with phase I trial participants. We’ll see when B and T have their one-year follow-up in August whether or not they will have extended the booster dose study to phase III participants.

It is my sincere hope that by then we will have been able to fly to the UK to visit our family there and to meet granddaughter JG in person. While we are doing all we can to make that safely possible, it is frustrating to still see so many people not willing to cooperate with public health measures to keep themselves, their loved ones, and their communities safe using masks, distancing, limits on gatherings, vaccines, etc. to end the pandemic.

Yesterday, there was a Congressional hearing at which Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the leading health officials in the country, was testifying. Rep. Jim Jordan illustrates the dynamic that has resulted in the unfortunate and dangerous politicization of the pandemic. This is a public health issue, not a “freedom” issue. Living in a free society does not mean that everyone is free to do or say whatever they want; we each have a corresponding responsibility not to cause harm to others or damage their rights and human dignity.

This brings me to my last point. The pandemic affects the whole world. Under the prior administration, the United States suffered terrible losses and did not contain the spread of the virus. Under the Biden administration, the US is making progress and has taken some steps to help the rest of the world in the fight against COVID. The US is now part of the COVAX initiative to help distribute vaccines to lower-wealth countries, although this is just getting underway. It has also sent some of its stockpile of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been approved for emergency use in the US, to Canada and Mexico where it has been. While I expect the US to retain doses of approved vaccines as boosters, I’m hoping that once everyone who will accept the vaccine in the US has been vaccinated that we will distribute all the other doses to countries that need them, along with whatever other logistical and medical help is needed.

We can never end the pandemic until the virus has nowhere on the globe where it can run rampant. To me, this is a moral imperative. Others may be motivated by economic self-interest. Whatever the reason, it needs to happen.

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