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Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

by LORRAINE H. MARIE
| December 10, 2021 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

Scientists’ impressions of the omicron variant: “Weirdest creature … ,” The Washington Post relayed. “It had an unruly swarm of mutations,” many of which were known to be “problematic,” such as rendering antibodies’ unable to neutralize the virus. Other worrisome COVID-19 variants were made extinct by the delta variant. It’s yet to be determined if omicron can out-compete delta.

There were just 700 influenza deaths in the U.S. during the 2020-21 flu season, Scientific American reported. By comparison, there were 22,000 flu deaths the previous year and 34,000 deaths the flu season before that. Last year’s low rate is linked to masking, social distancing and hand washing.

COVID-19 cases are up at least 30 percent compared to five weeks ago, according to USA Today’s analysis of Johns Hopkins’ data. The increase is being blamed on lack of vaccinations and misinformation: Experts initially said at least 85 percent of the population must be immunized to reach herd immunity, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said only 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. Typically 1 to 2 percent of people oppose vaccinations, so there was no expectation that the topic would be politicized with a deliberate spread of misinformation.

With just 5 percent of low-income countries vaccinated, those nations offer a bigger playground for the virus to mutate as well as potentially create variants resistant to current vaccines.

The internal resistance movement to former President Donald Trump first reached public attention with a 2018 New York Times op-ed by “Anonymous,” who was later revealed to be Miles Taylor, chief of staff to Trump’s Homeland Security secretary. Speaking to Salon recently, Taylor said he was told by many fellow Republicans that they could not engage in resistance owing to fear of physical retaliation. Taylor said he frequently heard “Look, I’ve got kids and this is too crazy right now,” from conservatives.

The Justice Department is suing Texas for violating the Voting Rights Act with new gerrymandered districts. Ari Berman, a voting rights expert, says the new maps allow 40 percent of the population (whites) to control 60 percent of districts.

One reason more funds being requested for the Pentagon: While the Defense Department has been quietly working on the many challenges that climate change poses to the military (see “All Hell Breaking Loose: the Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change,” by Michael T. Klare), there have already been undeniable financial demands due to climate change. CNN reports that use of the National Guard to fight wildfires has increased 10-fold from five years ago while hurricane damages to military bases cost $8 billion from 2018 to 2020. There are 1,400 military facilities worldwide the Pentagon wants assessed to determine if they need reinforcement investments that would help them endure climate events.

An Alabama woman acquitted of shoplifting received $2.1 million in damages. She had done self-check-out, which was complicated by the scanner freezing. After acquittal, she received a letter from a law firm demanding a $200 settlement payment — more than the cost of the groceries she bought. WKRG reports that such letters are routinely sent. The corporate store the woman shopped at has collected millions of dollars over just two years.

The woman sued, stating that the defendants “have engaged in a pattern and practice of falsely accusing innocent Alabama citizens of shoplifting and … attempting to collect money from the innocently accused.” She won.

President Joe Biden’s 110-country Summit for Democracy has a goal of “preventing and countering corruption” to demonstrate democracy at its best. Agenda items include money laundering and tax evasion. The Washington Post suggested that Biden focus more on the U.S., where one political party is seeking to corrupt the election process, limit ballot access and winks at violence. The comment was on the heels of a Fox News interview with Trump, where he seemed to admit to obstruction of justice when acknowledging he dismissed former FBI Director James Comey to prevent his own removal from office.

Blast from the past: In 1987, President Ronald Reagan took to radio to talk about hazards of not raising the debt ceiling. He said: “Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinksmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar [if the debt ceiling were not lifted]. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations.”

During Reagan’s eight years in office he raised the debt ceiling 18 times. The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times between early 1962 and May of 2011.