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Biden plans a return to normalcy — but he'll be tested, too

January 20, 2021 in Blogs

By The Conversation

by Thomas Klassen, York University, Canada

The end of Donald Trump’s dysfunctional tenure in the White House means the start of a relatively normal presidency under Joe Biden. But what does normal even mean after four years of a presidency and a president that have been anything but?

Biden emphasized unity in his inaugural address in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dangerous scourge of misinformation and bitter partisan divisions in modern-day America:

“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words and requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”

His success over his long political career, in fact, has come from seeking gradual reforms, building coalitions and aiming for bipartisan compromise rather than pursuing or leading a revolution.

That’s in stark contrast to political novice Trump, whose successes in his short-lived political career came from brazen actions that provoked intense reactions from both supporters and opponents.

Quieter politics

Partisan loyalties will continue to be rampant in Washington, but the flames of the divisions between Republicans and Democrats will not be fanned by Biden, who has signalled repeatedly that he’ll act with much more civility than his predecessor.

Executive orders will still be signed, but likely without the fanfare Trump courted and without partisan supporters surrounding the president in the Oval Office. Quieter politics are expected to be the hallmark of the early months.

Presidential tweets will probably emphasize unity rather than focus on airing petty presidential grievances. Biden will not use the presidency as a bully pulpit to foster division, but as a tool to nurture social cohesion. Vice-President Kamala Harris, cabinet members and White House officials will play a large role in communicating the Biden agenda, in contrast to the focus that Trump placed on himself.

Policy directions will likely be signalled well in advance of decisions being made, or at least ahead of decisions being announced. As a politician for more than half a century, Biden knows that preparing the groundwork is essential for successful policy implementation, while blindsiding stakeholders is a sure way to fire up the opposition. In practice, this entails slower and less centralized decision-making.

Working with Congress

Working closely with the Congress — the legislative branch of government comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives — is a major objective of the new administration. Biden invited Mitch McConnell, now …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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'We’re on the point of attack': Steve Bannon fanned the flames of insurrection — will he be stopped?

January 20, 2021 in Blogs

By Lydia DePillis

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Late at night on Jan. 5, the day before President Donald Trump was scheduled to deliver a defiant speech before thousands of his most dedicated supporters, his former adviser Steve Bannon was podcasting from his studio near Capitol Hill. He had been on the air several times a day for weeks, hyping the narrative that this was the moment that patriots could stand up and pull out a Trump win.

“It’s all converging, and now we’re on the point of attack tomorrow. It’s going to kick off, it’s going to be very dramatic,” Bannon said in his fluent patter, on a day that would see four of his “War Room” shows posted online, up from his usual two or three. “It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in. You have made this happen and tomorrow it’s game day.”

The next morning Bannon was back. “We’re right on the cusp of victory,” Bannon said, as protesters massed at the Ellipse to hear from Trump.

“This is not a day for fantasy, this is a day for maniacal focus. Focus, focus, focus,” Bannon went on. “It’s them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side.”

To the protesters massing in Washington, Bannon’s message was clear: They could force the outcome by pressuring Vice President Mike Pence and Congress not to certify the electoral vote.

Ultimately, the day resulted in a bloody brawl that took the lives of both police and protesters, in a security breach unlike any America has seen in decades. It was planned in explicit detail across websites that were taken offline, like Parler, or censored, as Twitter did with thousands of QAnon-affiliated accounts and even the president’s.

But Bannon, who himself was banned from YouTube and Twitter after saying in November that Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded, continues to reach an enormous audience via Apple’s podcast app, which is installed by default on every iPhone. Although the app doesn’t show the number of times the show has been streamed, Bannon gives updates every few days on its popularity. As of last week, he claimed total downloads of 29 million.

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s not just Bannon. Several podcasts …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Here are 10 ways Biden can immediately be a transformational president — even without Congress

January 20, 2021 in Blogs

By Robert Reich’s Blog

We did it. We took control of the Senate from Mitch McConnell. Even so, Republicans may still be able to block key parts of Joe Biden’s agenda. But there are plenty of critical policies he can and must enact without them.

Biden’s first task is to undo Trump’s litany of cruel and disastrous executive orders. He has already announced he’ll rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, re-enter the World Health Organization, and repeal Trump’s discriminatory Muslim travel ban. And there are at least 48 other Trump policies that he can reverse on day one.

In addition, here are 10 critical policies Biden can implement without Congress:

FIRST: He can lower drug prices through Section 1498 of the federal code, which gives the government the power to revoke a company’s exclusive right to a drug and license the patent to a generic manufacturer instead.

SECOND: He can forgive federal student loans – thereby helping to close the racial wealth gap, giving a financial boost to millions, and delivering a major stimulus to the economy.

THIRD: He can use existing antitrust laws to break up monopolies and prevent mergers — especially in Big Tech and the largest Wall Street banks.

FOURTH: He can institute pro-worker policies for federal contractors – who are responsible for a fifth of the economy – such as requiring a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, and refusing to contract with non-union companies.

FIFTH: He can empower the Labor Department to aggressively monitor and penalize companies that engage in wage theft and unpaid overtime, and who misclassify employees as independent contractors – as Uber and Lyft do.

SIXTH: He can make it easier for people to get health care by eliminating Medicaid work requirements, reinstating federal funding to Planned Parenthood, and expanding access to Affordable Care Act plans. Then it’ll be up to us to push him to enact Medicare for All.

SEVENTH: He can ban the sale of public lands and waters for oil and gas drilling. He can further tackle the climate crisis by reinstating the 125 environmental regulations rolled back by Trump and directing federal agencies to deny permits for new fossil …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How Tuskegee Airmen Fought Military Segregation With Nonviolent Action

January 20, 2021 in History

By Farrell Evans

Their coordinated efforts to integrate a white officers’ club set an example that wasn’t lost on leaders of the burgeoning civil rights movement.

The Tuskegee Airmen are best known for proving during World War II that Black men could be elite fighter pilots. Less widely known is the instrumental role these pilots, navigators and bombardiers played during the war in fighting segregation through nonviolent direct action. Their tactics would become a cornerstone of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

The Tuskegee Airmen’s most influential moment of collective civil disobedience came in the spring of 1945, in what became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny. After enduring years of inadequate training facilities, discriminatory policies and hostile commanders in the Army Air Force, 101 officers of the all-Black 477th Bombardment Group—who had initially trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama—were arrested at Indiana’s Freeman Field base when they refused to sign a base regulation requiring separate officers’ clubs for Black and white soldiers. The order came after 61 Black officers were arrested trying to enter the white officers’ club.

They weren’t alone. After the War Department ordered military bases to integrate all recreational facilities in 1944, Black officers across the country were eager to test the new policy. Most cases—including an earlier incident with the 447th—involved Black servicemen “entering post exchanges and asking to be served, or entering the theater and seating themselves in the white section,” said Alan M. Osur, a former history professor at the Air Force Academy and the author of Blacks in the Army Air Forces During World War II: The Problems of Race Relations. Nothing had yet occurred on the scale of the Freeman Field Mutiny.

Separate, but Not Equal, Facilities

Their actions sprang out of a long-simmering debate over the unequal treatment of Black and white officers and the integration of officers’ clubs. “The country is not ready to accept white officers and colored officers at the same social level,” said Major General Frank Hunter, the commanding general of the 477th Bombardment Group. “I base that opinion on the history of this country for the past 125 years.”

A Tuskegee Airman of the 477th Bombardment Group inspects the engine of an E-25 airplane, at Fort Knox’s Godman Field in Louisville, Kentucky, c. 1944.

At Freeman Field, Hunter’s subordinate, Colonel Robert Selway, established two allegedly equal officers’ clubs—one for …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Here's why experts are increasingly worried about new coronavirus mutations

January 20, 2021 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson

With the COVID-19 coronavirus having killed more than 2 million people worldwide and over 402,000 in the United States (according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore), the distribution of new vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and others is very good news. Health experts, however, are worried about new COVID-19 variants that have emerged in different parts of the world, and science reporter Sarah Zhang examines some of the most troubling things about those variants in an article published by The Atlantic this week.

“For most of 2020,” Zhang explains, “the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 jumped from human to human, accumulating mutations at a steady rate of two per month — not especially impressive for a virus. These mutations have largely had little effect. But recently, three distinct versions of the virus seem to have independently converged on some of the same mutations, despite being thousands of miles apart in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.”

Zhang adds, “All three variants seem to be becoming more common. And all three are potentially more transmissible.”

The U.K. variant is known as B.1.1.7., while the South Africa variant is sometimes called B.1.351 or 20C/501Y.V2 — and scientists are calling the Brazil variant P.1 and 20J/501Y.V3.

The South Africa and Brazil variants, according to Zhang, might have an “advantage” in that they could be “better at evading antibodies from the blood plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients.” Those variants have what it called the “E484K mutation” — and Zhang notes that “viruses with this mutation could become a little better at reinfecting people or even infecting vaccinated people.”

Scientists, Zhang observes, “now wonder whether the variants in South Africa and Brazil are spreading precisely because they have” a “slight advantage in overcoming previous immunity.”

“Both variants were originally found in parts of the countries that have had high levels of COVID-19 infection — especially in Manaus, Brazil, where an especially large proportion of people have already had the virus,” Zhang observes, noting that “there are already two documented cases of reinfection” in Brazil “with the new variant.”

The United States has had the highest COVID-19 death count in the world. And Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins, comes in at …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Republican says 'classified briefings' revealed that the Capitol riot was 'much worse than people realized'

January 20, 2021 in Blogs

By Meaghan Ellis

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the first Republican lawmaker to publicly support efforts to impeach former President Donald Trump, is speaking out about the deadly Capitol riots that erupted on Jan. 6 as lawmakers worked to complete the Electoral College certification.

Although the American public watched in shock and dismay as the disturbing series of events unfolded, Katko insists the riots were far worse than reported on television. During an interview with Syracuse.com, Katko shared details about the day of the deadly U.S. Capitol riots.

While he could not offer specific details about the classified briefings he has received, he did reveal that the incident was far worse than reported.

“I’ve had a lot of classified briefings on it, and it’s deeply troubling,” Katko told Syracuse.com. “I was left with a profound sense that it was much worse than people realized.”

He went on to stress the importance of taking a full objective look at the situation, how the series of events unfolded, and who else should be held accountable.

“We need to have a full stem-to-stern look back on this to see what happened, how it happened, the sequence of events, who contributed to it, and how we make sure it never happens again,” he said.

Katko’s latest remarks come just weeks after he spoke out against Trump’s rhetoric and antics. He noted the president’s misinformation campaigns on social media and his speech during the “Save America” rally that provoked the Capitol siege as he stressed the importance of holding the president accountable for his actions, according to Newsweek.

He insisted that the former president “deliberately promoted baseless theories that created a combustible environment of misinformation and division.”

Katko added, “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy and to our security.”

While the former president has departed from Washington, D.C., he still has a number of legal investigations to contend with in the coming weeks.

…read more

Source: ALTERNET