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Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

by LORRAINE H. MARIE
| February 4, 2022 7:00 AM

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

The response to Russian aggression against Ukraine has included the threat of economic sanctions, CNBC reported. Russian stocks have since fallen and the ruble is at a 14-month low.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, announced he will step down this year. When campaigning for president, Joe Biden said if a position on the high court opened, he intended to nominate a highly qualified black woman. Biden is poised to be the first president who won the popular vote to appoint a Supreme Court justice in over a decade.

Popular Information columnist Judd Legum says 76 percent of Americans support banning members of Congress from trading individual stocks. He notes that politicians who invest appear to have an edge. Studies “consistently show” their investments outperform the market, indicating access to insider information. Legislation to address the issue has been introduced.

Congress is not alone in grappling with ethics and stocks: After a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed 131 federal judges oversaw cases where they or their families owned stock, Chief Justice John Roberts commented that the federal judiciary must get serious about the matter, according to NPR.

A new Omicron variant, BA.2, so far does not appear to evade vaccinations. But it could drag out the world’s omicron surge since it spreads more readily, The New York Times reported.

The need for organ transplants is expected to rise due to COVID-19, according to Kaiser Health News. The virus can damage or destroy the heart, lungs and kidneys, as well as other organs.

A federal stash of 400 million N95 masks will be distributed for free at community health centers, pharmacies and grocery stores. NPR reported that up to three masks per person would be provided.

With President Biden’s agenda ground down, both a political consultant and a Senate Democratic obstructionist recently said Biden should pivot to the political center. Columnist Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor, examined the idea. He noted that Richard Nixon did not find support for recognizing China in the center nor did Ronald Reagan find support of smaller government in the center. Both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt forged ahead without the center.

“Visionary leaders of America have always understood that the ‘center’ is a fictitious place lying somewhere south of thoughtless adherence to the status quo,” Reich stated.

It can also be a safe spot for cruising as a lawmaker, all the while collecting annual salaries of $174,000 ($14,500/mo) while serving in Congress.

The Postal Service Reform Act in Congress would boost the agency’s finances by eliminating the requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. Critics regard the pre-funding (passed in 2006) as an effort to privatize the postal service. No other federal agency or private corporation faces that kind of financial burden; ending it would open the way for the post office to show a profit.

Biden’s scheduled visit to Pittsburgh to urge support for Build Back Better coincided with the collapse of a bridge (it left 10 injured). During his visit, CBS reported, Biden noted that since he took office 367,000 manufacturing jobs have been added, the highest increase in 30 years.

The House Jan. 6 Committee sent subpoenas to 14 people involved with the false Electoral College documents submitted Dec. 14, 2020 from six states. Committee member Jamie Raskin told CNN, “We have filled in a lot more evidence that [former President Donald Trump] wasn’t just inciting an insurrection, he was working to organize a coup against democracy.”

At a Texas rally, Trump said if he were reelected, he could pardon the Jan. 6 insurrectionists (761 have been arrested). The Philadelphia Inquirer stated that the comment was “a form of obstruction of justice in full public view.” Richard Painter, White House ethics counsel under George W. Bush, said Trump’s pardon comment should, constitutionally, prevent him from running again.

The Department of Homeland Security said domestic violent extremists have been plotting to disrupt the U.S. power grid since at least 2019, CBS News reported. Plans included the northwest corner of the country, where four white supremacists planned to damage transformers in Idaho and surrounding states.

Blast from the past: Early in the Biden administration, the House passed popular legislation such as strengthening voting rights, boosting labor unions and increasing childcare opportunities. The legislation has been blocked in the Senate, where politicians represent a minority of voters. The Guardian pointed out that unequal representation is reflected in the fact that Senate Democrats represent 40 million more voters than their Republican counterparts.

It goes back to the Founders trying to draw small less-populated states into the Union: No matter what a state’s size, each received two senators. Today a state with 70 times as many people as Wyoming (think California) has far less representation in the Senate per person.