Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

| February 26, 2021 7:00 AM

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

Last week marked the point when millionaires stop paying into Social Security, since the cap is at $142,800 of earnings. Lifting that cap could extend the lifespan of the Social Security Trust Fund, Americans for Tax Fairness points out. There are two plans for doing so: President Joe Biden proposed a payroll tax on earnings above $400,000, impacting the top 0.4 percent of wage earners. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) plan would apply Social Security payroll taxes on earnings above $250,000, raising $1.4 trillion for the trust fund.

Extreme weather in Texas (as low as minus 18) and in adjacent states last week caused electricity outages for millions and left dozens dead from vehicle accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the BBC, many homes in Texas are not insulated. Some faulted renewable energy for grid problems, but The Guardian reported that frozen instruments at natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems caused twice as many outages. The state gets 25 percent of its power from wind.

Texas is the only state with its own power grid, which allows it to dodge federal regulations, but also renders it unable to accept help from outside the state.

Hardcore fans of the QAnon conspiracy believe former President Donald Trump will be inaugurated for his second term on March 4, Forbes reports. Until 1933, March 4 marked the day when power would peacefully transfer between presidential administrations.

Data analysis of almost 800 U.S. counties showed COVID-19 deaths are likely 44 percent higher than reported. According to, undercounting has been prevalent in Trump-supporting counties. Many COVID-19 deaths were either not diagnosed or not reported as being from COVID-19.

A civil rights firm, the NAACP and a Mississippi U.S. Representative have sued Trump, Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers regarding the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. The suit says conspiring to incite riots to block certification of the 2020 election results was a violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act, Politico reported. The Act was designed to protect formerly enslaved black people, as well as congressional lawmakers, from white supremacist violence.

There would have been 40 percent fewer deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 if the U.S. had a health system as strong as that of Canada or Japan, according to a new report in The Lancet. Recorded COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have now exceeded a half million, NPR reported. Federal flags will fly at half staff to remember the pandemic dead.

While Congress debates the next stimulus package, Thea Lee from the Economic Policy Institute, challenged opponents who argue the stimulus would be wasteful.

“I wish I heard the same kind of righteous indignation … when the Republican tax bill in 2017 gave $2 trillion to folks who didn’t need it, 85 percent of it going to the richest folks,” Lee said on C-SPAN. “Across the country people are in tremendous difficulty. Kids are going hungry. People are being thrown out in the street.”

Pew Research shows 64 percent of people favor COVID-19 relief. The perspective from Republican Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia: “We need to go big … we’ve got to get ourselves out of this mess.”

Republicans in Congress are resisting federal aid for state and local governments, but Republicans that manage those levels of government are anxious for help, due to cuts to tax revenues created by the pandemic. The Washington Post cited Fresno, Calif., as an example, which faces a $31 million budget shortfall and may have to lay off 250 people, including police and firefighters. Surveys show a majority supports the relief bill, which also covers stimulus checks and vaccine funding.

Merrick Garland, in his recent attorney general nomination comments, recalled the early days of the Justice Department 150 years ago, when it was founded to protect the rule of law in response to the Klan murdering former slaves to stop them from using their new rights. He pledged to continue its mission of protecting citizens from criminal activities, and to battle extremist attacks on democracy.

One of the Senate’s first considerations for 2021 will be the For the People Act. It would increase election security and voter participation; end congressional gerrymandering; strengthen ethics and financial conflict of interest laws for the president, Congress and Supreme Court; rein in super PACS; end secret political donations; and close lobbyist loopholes, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. It passed the House in 2019 but was not acted on by the Republican-led Senate.

Blast from the past: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” said Frederick Douglas, 1818?-1895, a former slave who became a noted reformer, author and orator.

And another blast: With former President Ronald Reagan’s dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, anti-New Deal politicians no longer had to compete side-by-side with ideas from moderate Republicans and Democrats. This opened the door for radio personalities, like the recently deceased Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh’s radio career resulted in an estimated net worth of $600 million. He is credited with laying the groundwork for Trump’s presidency.