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Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

by LORRAINE H. MARIE
| November 19, 2021 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling: The New Orleansbased 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently granted an emergency stay over the OSHA requirement that workers at businesses of 100 or more employees be vaccinated or mask-up and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, the Huffington Post said.

Ten states filed a lawsuit last week to block the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, claiming it would cause an “alarming shortage” of health workers, particularly in rural communities, which are currently most vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Unlike the mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees, health care workers cannot continue working if they remain unvaccinated, The Guardian reported. The mandate only applies to health care facilities that accept federal funds.

Quitting rather than being vaccinated may not be all that threatening: The police union in New York predicted 10,000 officers would quit due to the mandate, but only 34 declined vaccination. Five times as many police officers have died from COVID19 than those who died from gunfire, according to CNN.

On Monday, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act was signed into law. Eighteen Senate Republicans voted for the bill. Some economists fault the bill for spending too little, and want more money for the care and green economies, which could occur under the Build Back Better Act currently under consideration.

For now, the pareddown infrastructure bill invests in power grids that will help carry renewable energy, new rail lines and upgrades to existing ones, high speed internet for hardto- reach populations, new funding for “climate resiliency” (battling wildfires and for protection against hurricanes and flooding), removing lead water service lines, electric vehicle charging stations and grants for rural transportation.

President Joe Biden said, “This law is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America.”

The infrastructure bill, according to White House projections, will add two million jobs a year over the next decade. If the Build Back Better Act also becomes law, the independent economic groups Oxford Economics and Moody’s Analytics predict economic growth will be even higher due to greater productivity and more women in the workforce.

They claim that boost will offset any “drag” from tax increases, whatever funding sources those increases are finally determined to be.

A congressional committee investigating the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, using new emails and documents along with interviews, is revealing the extent of efforts to interfere with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s warnings about the volatility of the virus, Politico reported. There were efforts to block media access to CDC officials and attempts to alter public safety guidance while downplaying the severity of the virus. Of particular concern to the former administration’s COVID19 task force coordinator, Deborah Birx, was the decision to ease up on testing for the asymptomatic. Birx said she felt that was a “primary reason for the early community spread.”

There have been over 760,000 confirmed U.S. deaths from COVID-19.

Worldwide, the number exceeds 5 million. Deaths may actually be significantly higher due to under-reporting in most countries, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Over the last 10 months the U.S. and China, the planet’s two biggest carbon dioxide emitters, have had some 30 meetings about climate change. The two nations announced at the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland that they will closely cooperate in efforts to achieve the 1.5 Celsius temperature goal set at the 2015 Paris Agreement, NPR reported. The 1.5-Celsius figure avoids the worst climate impacts. With COVID-19 infections rapidly rising in Europe, several countries are preparing for restrictions for the unvaccinated. In Austria, the unvaccinated (about 35 percent) would only be allowed to engage with essential activities. According to The Guardian, Germany is planning similar restrictions. In the Netherlands, where cases also have risen, plans were reported for a three-week set of restrictions, such as earlier closing times for restaurants and closure of non-essential stores.

Norway will test unvaccinated health workers twice weekly and insist they mask up, CNN reported.

Austria’s unvaccinated appear to be driven by leadership in the far right Freedom Party.

That nation’s chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, said, “I don’t see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering …” Axios says the economy grew by 5.7 percent this year and checking accounts grew 50 percent over pre-pandemic numbers. Meanwhile, six million jobs were created and earnings were up 5 percent this year. But polling shows that 57 percent of people believe the economy is weak, and that appears due to inflation, with consumer prices up by 6.2 percent in October. In the U.S., adjusting for inflation, wages fell 1.2 percent in the last year. The Nation reported that workers’ paychecks rose 1.8 percent in 2020 while CEO’s rose 16 percent. A TV ad portraying the Biden Administration as generating chaos actually uses several images that occurred under the Trump Administration, CNN discovered. As well, Fox News recently edited the president’s Veterans Day speech to indicate use of a racial slur, which The Guardian said did not occur.