hearings

We arrived home from the UK just in time for the first primetime hearing of the findings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Since that hearing held on June 9th, there have been three more during the daytime with several more on the schedule.

Because I follow the news closely, I had thought that the hearings might not be very revelatory for me but I have found them to be very powerful. Part of the impact is that the testimony is all under oath. While some of the information had been revealed by investigative reporting or published in books by various participants, one was never quite sure of the veracity of claims. Knowing that witnesses are sworn to tell the truth makes it more likely that they are, given that committing perjury before Congress or a court can result in imprisonment. The vast majority of the 1000+ people who have been interviewed in the investigation came forward voluntarily without being compelled by subpoena, so they intended to tell what they had seen and heard for the good of the country. The committee also has access to hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, enabling it to stitch together a detailed timeline of the web of activities that led to the January 6th attack as well as what happened on that day and in the aftermath.

In the daytime hearings, a different member of the Committee has taken the lead in questioning, sometimes paired with a member of the staff. The staff includes experienced lawyers and investigators who have done the lion’s share of the work with witnesses and evidence.

At this point, the Committee is providing a preliminary review of its findings; a written report will be issued later in the year. They are doing a very comprehensive job of laying out evidence in an organized and cogent way. It probably helps that many of the committee members are themselves lawyers with courtroom experience. Their questioning of live witnesses is very straightforward so that each witness can tell their story without the distraction of political grandstanding. Most of the witnesses, whether appearing live or in recorded clips, are Republican officeholders, officials, or staff, so that it is clear that the Committee is not just interviewing critics of the Trump administration or engaging in hearsay. The Committee is putting forth actual evidence that you would expect to find in a court of law.

Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, presides and does opening and closing statements at each hearing; Vice-chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, also does opening and closing statements each time. She has been particularly vocal in calling out Trump and the Republicans who assisted him in the lies about the 2020 election that led to the Capitol attack.

The testimony has revealed some previously undisclosed details. For example, in the hearing that centered on threats to then Vice-president Mike Pence, we learned that attackers got within forty feet of him as he was being evacuated, that he refused to leave the Capitol grounds, and that he was acting as commander-in-chief in calling in the National Guard as Trump refused to act.

It’s sobering and terrifying to see through this evidence how close our country came to an actual collapse of our democracy. If Pence and Republican members of Congress had delayed certification in violation of the Constitution, there would likely have been widespread violence in all regions of the country; Trump would have declared martial law and it would have been very difficult to recover our democracy. It’s also chilling to see the continuing impacts on our electoral process. A number of states have enacted provisions that make it easier to disenfranchise voters or ignore their legally cast ballots. Supporters of the lies about the 2020 election are winning elected office in some states, enabling them to interfere with government from within.

It’s very tense to be in the middle of all this, gaining all this knowledge but not knowing if/when there will be consequences for those who engaged in wrongdoing. We know the Justice Department is investigating but we don’t know if they will charge Trump, members of his administration and staff, and members of Congress with crimes pertaining to attempts to stage a coup. The Committee will make recommendations for legal reforms to the Electoral Count Act and other measures to try to avert another attempt to interfere with the certification of the election. These should be widely endorsed and enacted with large majorities of both parties but it remains to be seen if they will.

It scares me that so many current Republicans still cling to lies about the 2020 election and refuse to take responsibility for their activities that supported it. Even after the attack, eight senators and 139 representatives voted against acceptance of some of Biden’s electors, even though there was no factual basis to do so. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican who led a group on a long tour of the House office buildings the day before the attack though the entire Capitol complex was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, is denying he did anything wrong, even with evidence that a member of the tour group was part of the January 6 mob. There are dozens of members of Congress who should resign over their shameful disregard for their oath to uphold the Constitution but there is not even the possibility of Republican votes in favor of censure, much less removal from Congress.

I’m trying to remain hopeful that these hearings will break through the denial bubble that surrounds many Republican voters. After being the only major broadcast/news outlet to not air the initial primetime hearing, Fox News has begun to provide some coverage. I think that the powers that be at Fox News knew that the hearings would be important because during the primetime hearing, they did not take their usual commercials breaks so that their viewers wouldn’t be tempted to check in on the hearings. It’s also important to remember that Fox News, despite its name, is not really a news channel. While there are actual journalists who work for Fox News, they only have a few hours of airtime per week. The vast majority of their programming is classified as “entertainment” with pundits/personalities who are not constrained by any standards of truthfulness or propriety. The breath-taking amount of fear-mongering that Fox News and other right-wing outlets echoes and engenders the civic divide that Trump and the Republicans created and which threatens our democracy.

If Republicans watch the hearings, they will hear a number of familiar people and themes. Retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the most revered conservative jurists, was featured in one hearing, speaking about the current dangers to our democracy. A number of the witnesses have spoken about the role of their faith in their actions. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was particularly eloquent in this regard.

I have been moved by the real-world consequences for those who protected the integrity of the election and of the Capitol. Speaker Bowers’ account of the threats against him and his family, including harassment at his home as he and his wife attended to their terminally ill daughter. US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards’ testimony on being injured on January 6th and still trying to aid her fellow officers in what amounted to hand-to-hand combat, not the policing work for which they had been trained. The appalling loss of any sense of safety or security for election workers Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, including even the ability to use their own names in public for fear of being attacked after being repeatedly vilified by Trump, Giuliani, and their followers.

I will continue to watch the hearings and the analysis and urge all the people of the United States to do the same. I hope that they will mark a turning point for the electorate so that we can root out all those who have failed in their oaths to uphold the Constitution before it is too late.

The hearings are showing us how close we came to disaster and how little time we have to strengthen our democratic institutions against attack.

One-Liner Wednesday: a warning

It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques—techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, June 1, 1950, speaking against McCarthyism

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/06/22/one-liner-wednesday-ive-got-the-power/

mass shootings and Broome County and beyond

On May 14, 2022, a shooter from Broome County in the Southern Tier of New York State where I live killed ten and injured three in a Tops Supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, a city about three and a half hours away.

This horrible crime evoked immediate grief and rage. In such circumstances, commentators in the media react quickly, which can result in oversimplification of a complex situation. I heard commentators say that mental health problems are just an excuse used when the shooter is white. That his parents must be monsters. That his town must be filled with racists.

I understand the passion and fury of their reaction but they had not had time to look into the realities on the ground here in Broome County. The shooter did have mental health issues. He had been evaluated at a hospital after making disturbing comments about murder/suicide in an online high school class last year, not long before he graduated. He managed to convince people that he had been joking but we now know that he was not. I don’t know if he was referred for any counseling but mental health services in our area, especially for youth, are not easy to access. Wait lists can be long as there aren’t enough providers to meet the needs of residents, especially with the increased mental strain brought about by the pandemic. New York State does have a red flag law which would have removed weapons from his home but it was not triggered because he wasn’t reported as a threat.

The shooter went to great lengths to hide his activities from his parents. He hid his newly acquired assault weapon in his room. Because ammunition clips of more than ten rounds are banned in New York State, he modified the Bushmaster himself. He told his parents he was going hiking when he was making a reconnaissance trip to Buffalo.

The students at the high school in Conklin mobilized to send messages of support to the victims in Buffalo and to raise money for their needs. While it’s true that less than 1% of residents in town are Black, the students wanted to show that their school is not racist. The “white replacement theory” that the shooter espoused was not something he learned there or in town but from mass media and the internet. This is not to say that there aren’t racists in Conklin, as I’m sure there are, but to show that many people there are anti-racist and working to show that in the wake of the shooting.

That mental illness is part of the story in mass shootings is not confined by race. The mentally ill shooter in the April 12, 2022 New York City subway shooting is a Black man. While the Broome County shooter in Buffalo is white, the shooter from the other Broome County mass shooting was not. On April 3, 2009, a Vietnamese-American man killed thirteen people and wounded four before killing himself inside the American Civic Association in Binghamton. He was known to be mentally ill; his father had begged the state not to allow his son a handgun license. This was before red flag laws in New York, which were not enacted until after the Newtown shooting.

The ACA shooting, though it was among the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US at the time, did not enter the national consciousness like other mass shootings. While there was a brief descent by national media, there was no presidential visit or long-standing news coverage of the aftermath of the families and community, except in limited local sources. I wrote this post on the fifth anniversary, positing that, because most of the victims were immigrants from various countries, the American public failed to relate to the victims as people like themselves. Because it was dismissed from public discourse so quickly, Broome County largely did “move on” from the shooting. As a young child at the time, the eventual shooter from Conklin may not even have heard about the ACA shooting, despite it happening in a bordering city to his town.

I had been mulling all this, preparing to write this post, when the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas happened. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman, who also injured others, including his grandmother before he went to the school. He was later shot and killed by police.

The United States suffers mass shootings like this on a regular basis. Political leaders offer thoughts and prayers. Democrats typically call for legislation to reduce gun violence and Republicans typically say it isn’t the right time or that nothing should be done to restrict access to guns or that a proposed legal change would not have helped the situation. The Republicans even say that we need more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens so that they can stop the bad guys with guns, despite the fact that even trained security officers have trouble stopping a gunman with an assault weapon and body armor. So nothing gets done and the cycle repeats.

Will the juxtaposition of these two horrific shootings, each by an 18-year-old wearing body armor and armed with a military-style assault weapon, change any national policies in order to reduce future mass shootings?

I’m trying to have hope but it’s difficult to maintain.

I believe that national level laws are needed. New York has enacted a number of laws that have reduced gun violence and mass shootings, including red flag laws and limiting the size of gun magazines. Sadly, the shooter in Buffalo evaded those. If the size of magazines was limited throughout the US, though, he would not have been able to modify his gun to shoot more than ten rounds, which would have afforded a better opportunity to stop him when he had to pause to reload.

Besides national red flag laws and limiting the size of magazines, other measures for consideration could be universal background checks for all gun sales, requiring safety courses and licensing to own a gun, increasing the age to buy a gun to 21, and banning the sale of military-style weapons. From 1994-2004, the United States did have a ban on these weapons. The number of mass shootings fell in those years and skyrocketed after the ban expired.

The main reason that opponents of gun safety measures give is the Second Amendment to our Constitution. This is due to a misinterpretation; regulation of arms is permitted as has been shown in the courts many times. In his retirement, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, “The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.” Still, most Congressional Republicans and many Republican governors maintain that gun ownership is an absolute right, which keeps them from taking action to reign in gun deaths and injuries.

While mass shootings generate the most public outrage, the sad fact is that the majority of gun deaths occur in smaller incidents. The greatest number of gun deaths are self-inflicted. This fact again shows the intersection of mental health and gun violence. In a country with more guns than people, easy accessibility to guns makes suicide attempts more likely to be lethal.

One of the excuses politicians use is that reform X would not have prevented this specific incident. This misses the point. We need to enact a broad swath of reforms which will still not prevent every death but will prevent many of them.

The sickening thing is that the long delay has enabled more and more deaths and injuries to occur. It was discouraging to look back on my posts on this topic, for example, here and here and here. In 2016, I even had a guest viewpoint printed in our local newspaper. I make the same arguments that many others have made in the media and in the political arena.

And here we are again, in national mourning, waiting for action to address the carnage, this time with the spectacle of the National Rifle Association, the most powerful anti-reform group, holding its convention in Texas just days after the shooting in Uvalde.

Will we finally see national action this time, however slight? Will the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, added to Newtown, Charleston, Las Vegas, El Paso, etc., etc., and, yes, even Binghamton, finally tip the scales in favor of action by the Republican officeholders who have been preventing protective laws? Or perhaps the belated recognition that they are continually losing constituents to violent crime, domestic violence, shooting accidents, and suicide? Maybe they will begin to suffer the cognitive dissonance of laws that withhold alcohol and tobacco sales until age 21, while allowing 18-year-olds to vote, serve in the military, and buy guns – and that charge even young teens as adults for violent crimes.

Congress is currently in recess. When you come back to Washington, please, do something, however incremental, to make a difference. A first step will lead to others so that the United States can make progress toward the rates that nearly every other Western country has regarding gun violence. We elected you to lead us to “domestic tranquility.”

Our current state of sorrow and rage is its opposite.

a fraught and complicated topic

Anyone in the US can probably guess from the title that this post is about abortion, which is all over the news right now, due to the publication of a first draft of an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito which would overturn the Supreme Court rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, ending the right to obtain a pre-viability abortion throughout the US after 49 years. If the final ruling follows this draft, each state would be free to adopt its own laws regarding abortion. While some states have already codified abortion laws in line with the Roe framework, other states have laws that would greatly restrict or totally ban abortion if Roe is struck down.

It’s been a political earthquake. It’s also being cast as yet another liberal versus conservative, blue versus red, pro-choice versus pro-life issue, but it is much more complicated than that.

Years ago, I started to draft a post called “shades of gray in a black-and-white world” that would have dealt with abortion as an example. I don’t tend to be an either/or person; everything to me is a complex web of concerns with many different aspects and perspectives to take into account. (You can blame my INFJ-ness or just Joanne being Joanne.) I’ll try to make myself as clear as I can in this post but my greater goal is to explore the varied factors that come into play.

At its root, I don’t think any branch of government should be dictating what a person who is pregnant does before the baby can survive on its own. I think that is a private medical and moral decision that belongs to the mother, her partner if they are available in a supportive way, her medical practitioner, and any advisors who can help.

I am Catholic and know that the Church currently teaches that life begins at conception but I think that is a problematic definition. Most fertilized eggs don’t implant in the uterus and it seems foolish to define all those as miscarriages. It’s tragic when an embryo implants elsewhere; if you have defined life as beginning at conception and prohibit all abortion, then an ectopic pregnancy couldn’t be treated until the embryo has died, by which point there will probably be life-threatening internal bleeding in the mother’s abdomen. Defining fertilized eggs as persons also gets problematic with frozen embryos used for assisted fertility treatment. I would certainly not be considered alive if I were placed in liquid nitrogen! (The Catholic Church opposes most fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization, but it is germane because, of course, frozen embryos exist.) Other faiths believe personhood begins at different junctures, with many Muslims believing in ensoulment at 120 days after conception and many Jews marking birth as the beginning of full personhood. Because there is no consensus on when life begins among people, the government is overstepping its bounds to impose one.

The vast majority, about 92%, of abortions in the US are performed within the first 13 weeks gestation, or 15 weeks of pregnancy because weeks of pregnancy are, for some stupid reason, still counted from the date of the late menstrual period meaning you are considered two weeks pregnant at the time of conception. One of the very confusing things with laws in various states is referring to abortion bans at six weeks or fifteen weeks. It’s often referring to weeks of pregnancy, so we need to bear in mind that the gestational age is two weeks younger. 44% of abortion in 2019 were medical, using pills to cause a miscarriage early in the pregnancy, rather than surgical. Medical abortion can be used up to the tenth week of gestation.

Only 4% occur after 16 weeks gestation. These are most often done because of grave medical problems with either the mother or fetus. Sometimes, second trimester abortions are performed because of barriers of distance and/or cost to reach a provider. Rural women and people with low income/wealth often have this barrier, as do people without medical insurance or who have Medicaid because federal funds cannot be used for abortions.

The largest factor in choosing to have an abortion appears to be economic. 49% of people seeking abortion are living below the poverty level, with an additional 26% up to twice the poverty level. 60% already have at least one child. Unlike most modern democracies, the United States is not very supportive of families and children. I wonder how many would choose to raise the child rather than have an abortion if the US offered free or low-cost medical care, paid parental leave, guarantees of a living wage and/or subsidies for food, housing, day care/preschool, etc. that people in much of Europe have available to them.

Even the favorite alternative of those who oppose abortion, carrying the child to term and placing it for adoption, is expensive. If the mother is struggling financially and has other children to care for, she is literally faced with a choice between impending medical bills for delivering the new baby and feeding, clothing, and housing her present family. Abortion may be her most practical route to keeping her family afloat.

This brings me to one of the most troubling aspects of prohibiting abortion – forced childbearing. Carrying a child against one’s will is, to my mind, a form of involuntary servitude. I know from my own experiences with pregnancy that bearing a child is work which is physically, emotionally, and spiritually taxing. With my first pregnancy, which was planned and hoped for, I still experienced a lot of emotional upheaval, especially in the first trimester. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had been without a partner, uninsured, living in poverty, unhealthy, in an abusive relationship, or a victim of sexual violence. Yet, some of the state laws restricting abortion carry no exceptions for rape and incest. Forcing a woman to bear a child that results from sexual violence or coercion magnifies the trauma. It’s especially dangerous if a tween or teen is involved.

Despite some progress, mothers in the United States bear a disproportionate amount of the labor and consequences of raising children. This is especially true if they are single parents. The poverty rate for single mothers is high. Often, the father doesn’t contribute substantially to the household finances. Many women who are unexpectedly pregnant face the loss of schooling, employment, and family support. It’s not just whether or not to have a baby or an abortion; it’s looking at 18+ years of raising a child without adequate support from the father, family, and community. While the stigma of single parenthood has lessened somewhat in my lifetime, it is still there, especially within certain religious communities. There is also still significant employment discrimination against women, in particular during pregnancy. Rolling back reproductive rights will likely worsen this.

While the leaked draft tries to say that the overturning of Roe v. Wade does not have legal implications beyond abortion, it’s unlikely that other private matters won’t be affected. The most obvious is access to contraception. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Supreme Court ruled that married couples must be allowed access to contraceptives and 1972 that any person could access them. I feel the right to use contraceptives is under particular threat because of the way the Catholic Church teaches about them and the fact that six of the current justices are Catholic, with an additional one who was raised Catholic. Only one of those seven is not in the conservative camp.

As a Catholic woman, I have been told that taking birth control pills is like having an abortion every month, ditto for morning after pills and IUDs. The fact that this is total garbage from a medical standpoint is apparently irrelevant to the Church. The Church also opposes surgical sterilization for males and females and privileges the life of the unborn over the mother. I, like millions of other Catholics, reject this teaching and follow my own conscience on these matters personally. I am fortunate that I never had to face a personal decision on abortion during my child-bearing years, but I do know that if I had had an ectopic pregnancy, I would not have hesitated to have surgery to save my life. I also probably would have had an abortion if we discovered that I was carrying a child who had problems that were “incompatible with life” as it is euphemistically termed. I don’t think I could have chosen to put myself and my child through the pain and trauma of birth, knowing that they would die soon after.

Other people might make other choices but that is the whole point. Each individual chooses what is right for them, within the realm of medical science and individual conscience. The government is not the entity doing the choosing.

Besides birth control, there are other issues that are considered privacy issues. Many people are concerned about the impact on marriage. The 2015 Obergefell case that established marriage equality throughout the US could be in danger. Some worry that even the 1967 Loving case that prohibited states from racial discrimination in granting marriage licenses could be at risk. Another ruling that could be in jeopardy is 2003 Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the remaining state laws that prohibited same-sex relations.

By chance, I had had an opportunity to discuss a possible overturn of Roe v. Wade not too long before the leaked opinion draft. I sometimes do online surveys and had been invited by one of these polling organizations to participate in an online focus group about abortion. I admit that I was a bit of leery about it beforehand, but it was very interesting. Most of the group thought that Roe v. Wade was likely to be overturned soon, while I and a few others thought it would be a longer process. I had thought that the present case would uphold Mississippi’s 15-week ban, changing the timeframe of Roe without going so far as to say it was wrongly decided. I suppose this is still possible if Alito’s draft opinion didn’t draw the support of four other justices, though I feel that is unlikely at this point. In the focus group, we did view some short promotional videos that a client organization might use in the event of tightened abortion restrictions. I expect to see some of them debut after the Court formally announces its decision in June or early July.

There are already lots of marches and demonstrations going on and I expect more. There might be repercussions for the midterm elections in November but with the level of gerrymandering and voter suppression in the country already, it’s difficult to predict the outcome.

I also don’t know what reforms are possible. One of the reasons this ruling is possible is that the Republicans have interfered with the seating of federal judges and justices. Two of the justices likely voting in favor of this overturning of Roe were appointed by Donald Trump but those seats would have been made by Democratic presidents if the Senate confirmation process had not been co-opted by Senator Mitch McConnell. A few weeks before the 2020 election, I wrote a post about one possible approach to addressing this. And all of this is complicated by the structure of the US government that gives disproportionate power to less populous states through the Senate and the electoral college.

Thank you to any of you who have made it this far in a longer-than-usual post. I do not know what the coming weeks will bring with this latest addition to political tensions in the US. It’s hard to keep my fears in check.

Please, stay safe.

Evacuation Day

I’ve written in other years about March 17th being celebrated in my family as both St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day, a commemoration of the evacuation of the British military from Boston in 1776, ending an eleven month siege and marking the first major victory for General Washington.

My father-in-law always brought flowers to my mother-in-law on March 17th, a tradition we took up after his death. Since her death in in 2016, we’ve kept up the tradition. Daughter T even sends flowers to her sister E in London, which, given the origin of the commemoration, adds an extra twist to the observance.

This year, the Evacuation Day bouquet at our house has a special message. The sunflowers represent Ukraine and our sincere wish that they will soon be celebrating their own version of Evacuation Day with the Russians, who are currently besieging so many cities and towns, evacuating back to Russia and leaving Ukraine as an intact, sovereign democracy.

May it be so very soon and may the vast majority of countries around the globe continue to support Ukraine as they fight for their nation and then face the daunting task of rebuilding after such horrific damage.

the definition of energy

I wish that US politicians and the media would stop using the word energy as shorthand for fossil fuels. The United States is banning the import of Russian oil, gas, and coal, which, while they can be burned to release energy, are not themselves energy.

Equating the word energy with fossil fuels only distorts our perception of the problems and possible solutions. Politicians and pundits panic and look for more oil and gas to replace the Russian supply, even though drilling for additional petroleum and building LNG facilities are time-consuming processes which we must not expand but scale back quickly and dramatically if we are to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the recent IPCC report alarmingly illustrates.

Rather, if we consider energy more broadly, we can see other ways forward that are cheaper, quicker, and better for the environment. A couple of weeks ago, Bill McKibben published a piece outlining how President Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act to churn out heat pumps to send to Europe so that they can break away from dependency on Russian methane for heating. Bonus: this would create jobs in the US and help our country in its own transition away from fossil fuels after the immediate crisis in Europe has passed. Amazingly, McKibben’s eminently practical and sustainable idea is gaining traction and is being studied by the Biden administration.

It’s also wise and practical to take energy efficiency seriously. It’s been said that the cheapest kilowatt/therm is the one that you don’t have to use. It’s helpful to weatherize and retrofit existing buildings so that their heating, cooling, and lighting needs are lessened, making it easier to run them with available and developing renewable energy resources.

At this point, some of the electricity needed will be generated from fossil fuels and nuclear plants but it is shortsighted to expand these rather than phase them out. Developing new drilling and mining sites is a long, expensive process, as is building new plants, which come with decades of environmental and public health consequences. It is quicker, cheaper, and healthier to move to renewable energy.

The same argument goes for the electrification of transportation. Many countries are already moving toward this goal, which helps in both the environmental and political realms.

While Russia is uppermost in everyone’s minds right now, the truth is that fossil fuels have been used as a political weapon by autocrats and oligarchs around the world. (Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout tells this history in fascinating detail.) Their power will be greatly reduced by a rapid phaseout of these fuel sources in favor of wind, sun, water, and geothermal sources.

These gifts of the earth are a common inheritance.

No one owns the sun or wind.

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/

SoCS: Ukraine and the rest of the world

Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been watching coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’m horrified at the destruction and loss of life and at the brazenness of the attack against a neighboring sovereign democracy.

I’m in awe of the courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland. There are many ordinary citizens who have been given guns to defend their cities and villages. Apparently, some are making homemade bombs from instructions given on television. I don’t know that I would be able to do that myself and pray that I am never in such a terrible position that I would have to find out.

I’m also amazed at the courage of some Russian citizens who are protesting Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. There have been protests in 54 cities and many arrests. Some prominent people have spoken out publicly, including sports heroes. They are risking their careers and their freedom to speak out against the war.

I wish there was more that I could do to help the Ukrainians but I know I have no power to do so. I understand that the US as part of NATO has taken many actions to try to punish Putin and his oligarchy for this attack but they won’t directly intervene to protect the Ukrainian population. I’m worried that Russia will assassinate Ukrainian President Zelenskyy with the rest of the world looking on and unable to stop it. That they will put in place a Kremlin-backed dictator. That millions of Ukrainians will suffer from violence and deprivation for years as they try to reestablish themselves as an independent democracy.

And the rest of the world will be powerless to stop it.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “rest.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/02/25/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-26-2022/

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.

over COVID?

Over the last few weeks, many people here in the United States have said publicly that they are “over COVID” or “through with the pandemic” and are going to “go back to normal” which means living like they did before SARS-CoV-2 appeared.

Guess what? Pandemics don’t disappear just because we are tired or frustrated or in denial. There were 3,622 COVID deaths reported in the US yesterday, adding to the almost 900,000 deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic and 5.7 million deaths worldwide. These staggering totals are almost certainly undercounted, as some regions don’t have the will or capacity to track and report. Also, some deaths result from lasting heart, lung, or neurological damage from COVID rather than from the active infection itself and so may not be identified as COVID related.

Some people are saying we just have to live with COVID, as we do with flu and other viruses. Thus, they are saying that it is now endemic, but here is the problem. There is a specific definition of pandemic, “(of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world” (Oxford Languages). Looking at case numbers in the US and around the world, it’s obvious this is still a pandemic. We will get to a point where it is endemic, someday, through a mix of vaccination and immunity from having been infected, although no one yet knows how long immunity acquired through either route will last. Dictionary.com has a handy non-epidemiologist explainer of pandemic, epidemic, and endemic.

The subtext of being “over COVID” seems to be more along the lines of I’m tired of masking and distancing and avoiding crowds, so I’m just going to get back out there because a) I’m vaccinated/boosted so I don’t think I’ll get sick or at least not seriously so; b) I am young/strong/take vitamins/exercise so I’m not going to get sick; c) I don’t believe there is such a thing as this virus; d) you can’t tell me what to do; or e) we have to ease up on restrictions now so that we can re-institute them when the next variant or spike in cases occurs.

The thing is that a virus doesn’t care about your age or status or location. It’s only mission is to live and replicate and it will adapt to make that happen as easily and widely as possible. Exhibit A: the Omicron variant, which is wildly contagious and somewhat able to cause breakthrough infections in the vaccinated.

As regular readers here may recall, spouse B, daughter T, and I are all part of the Pfizer/BioNTech phase three vaccine trial. We are all vaccinated and boosted, although we were boosted on the early side of the curve, B and T as part of the trial that is contributing efficacy data that we see reported out in the news, and I who received a booster through the trial as soon as it was authorized for public use but before most people in my age range were eligible. I am also contributing data for the study, but I’m not on the leading edge like B and T. Therefore, while many of the boosted can get comfort from knowing that their immunity is likely still strong because the data from the trials is showing that, I don’t know if B and T might be showing a decline because there hasn’t been enough time to collect and analyze that data. I’m sure we would all love to know that booster immunity lasts a year or longer but it’s only been about seven months so far, so we can’t know. Likewise, we don’t know how long immunity lasts after infection.

I know that I am unlikely to become seriously ill, to be hospitalized, or to die if I contract COVID, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to be cavalier about it. I don’t want to be sick if I can prevent it by continuing with masking, distancing, and avoiding crowds. Even mild cases of COVID can result in months of symptoms, which is termed “long COVID.” As someone who has lived with a person suffering from FM/ME, which causes similar symptoms, I find the prospect of long COVID frightening.

What frightens me even more is the danger of spreading COVID to someone else. I have many friends who are older than I and at higher risk, as well as friends who are immunocompromised. Young children still are not eligible for immunization, although Pfizer/BioNTech has just applied for emergency use authorization for children 6 months-4 years of age, so perhaps that will begin in the coming weeks. I’m sure I also happen upon unvaccinated people because the fully vaccinated rate in my county is 62% and the boosted rate is only 33%. Some of the fully vaccinated are not yet booster eligible but we know that boosted people have the best chance against Omicron, so, if I am out in public, chances are that only 1 in 3 people I encounter will be a similar status to me.

Those are not great odds, especially with a variant as contagious as Omicron accounting for 99% of US cases. I have recently upped my mask protection to N95s, as I wrote about here. I’m learning how to deal with them as someone who needs progressive lenses in her glasses. The tighter fit of the N95 masks makes it difficult for my glasses to be in the correct position, so I can get a headache from eyestrain if I try to do close work for any length of time. Still, I’m trying to wear the N95s when I have to go out with a surgical mask/good quality cloth mask combo if I have to take the N95 off.

I used this site, https://covidactnow.org/us/new_york-ny/county/broome_county/?s=28791756, to find today’s Broome County statistics. (You can use it to find statistics in your area in the US. International data may be found here: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/.) It rates our risk level as “Extremely High.” While other may be “over COVID,” I am not ready to take that much risk for myself, my family, and my community.

As conditions change, I will re-evaluate and adjust my behavior as I see fit. Until then, I hope that those I meet will respect my viewpoint.

I’m not “over COVID” yet.

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