"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Maybe the most resounding sentence of all American history, continues, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The Declaration of Independence is clear that "Safety and Happiness," "Life" and "Liberty," were the paramount values held by its writers and supporters. The necessity to exemplify these values was a direct response to the many oppressions repeatedly inflicted on the American colonists by the British Empire (the Declaration's majority content being over a thousand words to list these abuses).
With every passing year leading to July 4th, 1776, Britain was becoming more oppressive and militant, prohibiting colonies from manufacturing their own goods, then charging egregiously high taxes on imports and property, and imprisoning or executing colonists who defied the British Imperial rule. In 1773 a small group of early American Revolutionists would infiltrate British merchant ships to dump a small fortune of highly taxed tea into the Boston Harbor. This would become known infamously as the Boston Tea Party, and although only a small impact to Britain, the event would spark the early interest and support for American Independence.
Most American colonists shared disdain for the British crown, however few were eager to join the early efforts for Independence until April 1775. This is when the first battles of the Revolutionary War were fought at Concord and Lexington, by colonists who refused to surrender their firearms to British soldiers who raided their outposts. As the American resistance gained support, British rule grew increasingly volatile, yet it wouldn't be until January 1776, when a glaring political pamphlet titled "Common Sense" would inspire a multitude of Americans to join together and fight for Independence.
Authored by Thomas Paine, possibly the most impactful statement for the colonists from "Common Sense" was, "By the legal voice of the people in Congress; by a military power, or by a mob: It may not always happen that our soldiers are citizens, and the multitude a body of reasonable men; virtue, as I have already remarked, is not hereditary, neither is it perpetual. Should an independency be brought about by the first of those means, we have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again."
Although not every person agreed entirely with Mr. Paine, most agreed with his overall point that it was the opportune time for American Independence. Only how to form a free government of Independent States, how exactly that would work, was increasingly difficult to imagine in a world dominated by monarchs and tribalism. Because of the complex set of circumstances, the American colonists were well positioned to mutually understand the tyranny of British Imperial rule in a way they never could when living in England. The colonists could sense the common threat of oppression and see the path for Independence.
By the summer of 1776, the many hard fought works of the early American Revolutionists were finally coming to a point, and on July 4th 1776, the Second Continental Congress would finally agree to sign the Declaration. When examining the vast differences between the minds of these men, it is remarkable they were capable of agreeing on anything... Yet somehow this adverse group of individuals would agree to the Revolutionary statements within the Declaration of Independence, and established the basis for the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the greater momentum for the continued advancement of human rights.
Often the modern portrayal of the past is distorted with denigrations of people and events, however the statements agreed to within the Declaration of Independence motivated the legal foundations for the Constitution and its Amendments; the abolishment of slavery, the end of segregation, women's suffrage, women's positions in government and military, same-sex marriages, and the list goes on. The Declaration of Independence is the first formal document of the United States of America, and brought an otherwise disagreeable group of people together for a common love of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Copies of the Declaration were printed for each State to share with its citizens, and of course sent to the English King George III himself, who would hear the resounding words, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." Surely, old George III was pissed.
When drafting the Declaration of Independence, Congress commissioned Thomas Jefferson to be the lead writer, then with shared input from John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, who each were representatives of different States. The first draft was presented by this "committee of five" to all of Congress on June 28 1776, however agreement could not be made, and so the document was written again with over 80 revisions, then finally agreed upon July 4th. The Declaration was signed by 56 delegates representing districts from each of the 13 colonies. Each former British colony also drafted its own State Constitution, and combined with the Articles of Confederation, all together would found the first 13 United States of America.
The ideas presented in the Declaration of Independence not only represent the minds of its composers, but of all the people involved in the challenge for American Independence. Each idea would have to be agreed upon by thousands of people, consecutively for decades, centuries, and now 225 years later, these ideas have been adopted around the world. So the Declaration is more than the words of a few men, but the words which resonated with mankind.
However because of the vast differences between these minds, whether culturally, morally, much of the language required compromise which often left phrases open to interpretation. For example, because the abolishment of slavery was not in question by Congress, the only language slave owners would agree with could not have any direct relation to freedom for slaves. Yet fortunately, even in reduced form the ideas would provide the basis for the abolishment of slavery nearly 100 years later. The Declaration of Independence couldn't do everything, but it was enough to build the momentum necessary for change later on.
Because people continue to believe that "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" are ongoing, eternal, these values have withstood over two centuries of scrutiny and adversity. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," were the words of American Abolitionist Wendell Phillips in 1852, which echoed similarly to those of Jefferson and many others before him. Without the Declaration of Independence, and the bravery of those men and women who fought through the Revolutionary War, without later Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr. who stood again for these values, without the continued efforts and proclivity to protect these ideals, our United States would cease to exist. Is the United States perfect? No, far from it, and it will require a tremendous amount of careful work going forward to keep our trajectory focused on this mark of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." We may never be a perfect nation, yet we may get ever closer with each step.
While July 4th is mostly barbecues and fireworks for people nowadays (and for good reason... I'm eating barbecue immediately after publishing this), it's important we reflect on what this day of Independence really was for the countless people, minds, work, lovers, fighters, fathers, mothers, from whom the holiday originates. These men and women paid an immense price for the freedoms we are afforded today, and risked everything for Us to have this opportunity for Life, Liberty, Safety and Happiness. Millions have traveled far and wide to live here because of these ideals found in the Declaration of Independence. This day is certainly worth celebrating, for we are very Blessed to have these United States of America.
Today from the Supreme Court, the much anticipated and dreaded ruling to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is now confirmed by a 5-4 vote. This action also overturns the Court's 1992 ruling for Planned Parenthood v. Casey. After 49 years of precedent in the United States, abortion will no longer be legal federally and every State must now legislate their own laws.
The position held by the Court majority is as stated, "The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."
Each State is required to independently enact their own sensible responsible abortion laws. The Court's decision will now effectively delegalize abortion nationally, but this doesn't make abortion illegal. However States have authority now to completely ban abortion and criminalize abortion practitioners. This has many pro-abortion Americans concerned for their place in the country. While several major corporations have announced public support for their employees who may need an abortion outside of their state of residence, not every woman has that convenience or the fortune to afford traveling and time off work.
Abortion laws in many States are also entirely outdated, and the federal precedent only overrode those laws. Some pro-abortion States have astonishingly old laws that criminalize abortion, and now again take effect because of the Court's ruling. The only thing that kept abortion legal for decades was the Court's decision for Roe, and therefore these States and all their previous inactions have set the stage for worse effects that were avoidable.
The Court's reasoning for overturning are presented in a lengthy document published by conservative Justice Samuel Alito.
A portion reads, "The nature of the Court’s error. Like the infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, Roe was also egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided. Casey perpetuated its errors, calling both sides of the national controversy to resolve their debate, but in doing so, Casey necessarily declared a winning side. Those on the losing side, those who sought to advance the State’s interest in fetal life, could no longer seek to persuade their elected representatives to adopt policies consistent with their views. The Court short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who disagreed with Roe."
Since 1973, legal abortion precedent was set by the Court's ruling for Roe, and it has kept for nearly 5 decades, yet Congress could never pass any laws to finalize the ruling. The Court's decision for Roe then forced every State to adhere with abortion procedures, this all based on women's rights cryptically derived from the 14th Amendment (law passed for free slaves after the Civil War). Many States have since found their ways to litigate around this federal precedent, limiting abortion for particular circumstances.
This brings us to today's Court ruling. Mississippi legislated in 2008 to limit abortion procedures only to worst case circumstances such as severe medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities, and also prohibited abortions after 15-weeks of fetal development. An abortion clinic, Jackson's Women Health Organization, adamantly opposed to the state laws, filed challenge against the state in Federal District Court, and then was appealed to the Supreme Court. Now with the Court's decision against the abortion clinic, they are also overturning the Roe and Casey rulings as being unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court's ruling will not undermine other decisions such as the right to contraception, or the right to same sex intimacy and marriage. However each of the 5 conservative Justices who voted in favor of overturning Roe have clarified those are not relevant to this case. The matter most of importance as expressed by these Justices is "the protection of a human-being."
Currently in the United States, synthetic opioids are causing tens of thousands of overdose deaths. Nearly 3 in 4 opioid related overdoses are caused by illicit synthetic opioids. Overdose deaths each year in total has increased over 500% since 1999. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury related death in America.
According to the CDC, an estimated 107,622 people died from drug overdose in 2021. That's roughly 15% more than 2020, when 93,655 people died from drug overdose.
Opioids are incredibly effective when purposed medicinally, for moderate to severe pain treatment, however, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, are highly lethal in very small amounts. Only 2 milligrams can be lethal depending on body size and tolerance. Synthetic opioids are mixed into other drugs to increase potency, and can turn relatively small doses lethal. Investigations suggest that most people who have died from opioid overdoses, were unaware any synthetic opioids were mixed into the drug. Illicit drugs containing synthetic opioids are made to look like legitimate prescription opioids.
Regarding fentanyl the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated,
"Illicit fentanyl, primarily manufactured in foreign clandestine labs and smuggled into the United States through Mexico, is being distributed across the country and sold on the illegal drug market. Fentanyl is being mixed in with other illicit drugs to increase the potency of the drug, sold as powders and nasal sprays, and increasingly pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids. Because there is no official oversight or quality control, these counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl."
Alarmingly today, the DEA reported another synthetic opioid is now surfacing in the D.C. area. This is called isotonitazine, and is said to be more lethal than fentanyl. According to the DEA, isotonitazines were first identified in the Midwestern states back in 2019, and have since been traced periodically throughout the Southern and Eastern states. Nitazines are used like fentanyl, mixed into other drugs to increase potency, and are now the cause of many recent overdose deaths.
DEA Intelligence Analyst Maura Gaffney said, "People have to keep in mind, with all the synthetic drugs out there, and the way they’re being mixed together, you never know what you’re actually buying."
The DEA report clarifies, "These synthetic opioids currently can only be properly identified after a lab test."
Every year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes reports on synthetic opioids and overdoses. Opioids are the leading cause of overdose death in America, and it's been this way year after year. CDC's data shows, "overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021."
"The best ways to prevent opioid overdose are to improve opioid prescribing, reduce exposure to opioids, avoid use and misuse, treat opioid use disorder, and address stigma surrounding opioid use disorder and recovery," suggests the CDC.
Not every person will choose to risk their own life for another's, and many have given up their lives doing just that. Without the bravery of Americans who serve in military and law enforcement, our nation could not exist as it does today. Take the time today to honor those who died serving our nation, and to remember that our many liberties have been afforded to us at tremendous cost.
Today marks 154 years since Memorial Day was first nationally recognized. Originally known as Decoration Day, the date May 30th was designated in 1868 to honor the soldiers who died fighting in the American Civil War, which had ended 3 years earlier. After a century of more wars, Congress would then pass legislation in 1968 to move Memorial Day from the 30th of May, to the last Monday of May, and it's been that way since.
As this Memorial Day so happens to be on the 30th of May again this year, it would seem a brief history of its origin is due.
"The 30th of May, 1868," said then Union Army General John A. Logan when speaking at the Arlington National Cemetery, "Is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land."
Arlington Cemetery became a national cemetery during the Civil War out of necessity, and over 16,000 soldiers both Union and Confederate are buried there. Now over 400,000 military service men and women are buried with them at the Arlington National Cemetery.
The American Civil War was devastating, taking over 600,000 lives, and everybody knew someone lost to the war. A few days after the war's end, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Decoration Day carried great weight to many Americans for these reasons. Torn by their defeat to the Union Army, many former Confederates denied the national Memorial Day until after the First World War.
As decades would pass, with two World Wars, more wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and numerous other conflicts, the awful cost of war compounded, and Memorial Day's meaning compounded with it.
Over 7,000 American soldiers, and over 200,000 allied soldiers, have died since 2001.
Over 4,100 law enforcement officers have died in service since 2001.
Over 30,177 American veterans have committed suicide since 2001.
Over 4.9 million American veterans are living with service related disabilities.
These numbers cannot truly represent or express the magnitude of suffering experienced by those directly affected. Memorial Day is symbolic for everybody differently, and each person has their own way of observing.
For days such as these, words are rarely adequate, yet here's an attempt, a poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written in 1882, titled, "Decoration Day"
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry's shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
An elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was horrifically attacked by a shooter who murdered 19 children and 2 teachers on Tuesday, May 24, 2021. Law enforcement responded and killed the shooter at the elementary school.
Uvalde's Chief of Police Pete Arredondo confirmed yesterday, "the intruder is deceased and we are not actively looking for any other individual or any other suspects in this case. We definitely ask you all to keep the families involved in your prayers."
Texas Governor Greg Abbott called a press conference today to address the nation, he said, "To begin with, let me point out the obvious, evil swept across Uvalde yesterday. Anyone who shoots his grandmother in the face, has to have evil in his heart, but it is far more evil for someone to gun down little kids. It is intolerable and it is unacceptable for us to have in the State anybody who would kill little kids in our schools."
Uvalde Police now identifies the shooter to be an 18-year-old male who attended and dropped out of the local high-school. According to officials, the assailant shot his grandmother at home, and then fled the home in his grandma's truck. The grandmother is now reported to have survived and is in stable-condition.
TX DPS Official Victor Escalon confirmed,
At 11:28AM the shooter crashed his truck, then fled the crash and walked to the school, while shooting at bystanders. The shooter then climbed a short fence onto school grounds and fired at the school from outside. The shooter located an open door, entering the school with practically zero resistance.
At 11:40AM the shooter is now in the school shooting at nearly 50 people, killing 19 children and two teachers, wounding 17 others. There was never any armed security guard present, as opposed to early reports, and the shooter was never confronted when entering the building. During this time the shooter was actively posting on social media, that he was going to shoot his grandmother and an elementary school.
At 11:44AM law enforcement arrived and engaged the shooter who barricaded himself within a classroom. The shooter was unresponsive to communication with law enforcement. Officers who first arrived exchanged gunfire and several officers were wounded. Officers were then evacuating children and faculty for roughly 40 minutes before Tactical Police arrived and finally killed the shooter; over an hour after the shooter crashed the truck.
Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell spoke regarding the two teachers, "They are two beautiful souls. The had taught on that campus for many years, they have kids in our district, and they poured their heart and soul into what they did in educating our kids in Uvalde." Reports state one of the teachers had helped children out a window to safety before she was killed.
Mr. Harrell said, "I am born and raised here, I've worked for this district for 30 years, and I never thought I would be sitting in front of you doing this today, but please pray for our teachers, pray for our community, and we will move forward."
Gov. Abbott stated, "The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed incredible courage running towards gunfire trying to save lives."
TX Dep. of Public Safety Lieutenant Chris Olivarez confirmed the shooter was armed with an AR-15 rifle and wearing body armor. Police were already in pursuit after responding to 911 calls made before the school shooting, and multiple officers were wounded by gunfire when they first encountered the shooter inside the school. When Tactical Police forced entry multiple officers were also wounded before killing the shooter.
First responders were tasked with investigating a horrific crime scene, identifying the 19 dead children and 2 teachers, performing medical aid to critically wounded, and in the process managing their own emotions. The people of Uvalde effected by this murderous shooting are now at battle with immense suffering from the loss of their loved ones.
President Biden addressed the nation last night, expressing sadness, saying "I had hoped when I became president I would not have to do this again." Biden said, "Parents will never see their child again, never have them jump in bed and cuddle with them. Parents that will never be the same." Biden then transitioned to partisan politics on gun laws, saying, "As a nation, we have to ask, when in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?" And taunted Republicans, saying they "lack the courage," to do something about gun violence.
"The idea that an 18-year-old kid could walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons, is just wrong," stated Pres. Biden.
It's now confirmed that the shooter did in fact buy two semi-auto rifles and 375 rounds of ammo this past week, arming himself days before his horrific attack. So Pres. Biden has a point here. An American's Second Amendment right to bear firearms is fundamental to the Constitution, yet firearms have changed exponentially since those days, and modern weaponry can be more lethal due to improved accuracy, efficiency, and capacity. This combined with easy access to firearms, specifically assault rifles, does arguably increase the potential for violent people to do more damage.
Regulating the availability and accessibility of firearms is mostly what's in question by lawmakers, but some are calling for prohibiting all guns. Simply banning assault weapons only covers part of the problem, and many non-assault weapons can be modified to become assault weapons. Last week's shooter in New York was armed with a non-assault rifle that was legally purchased, and then that rifle was illegally modified with high-capacity magazines, making it an assault rifle.
Also problematic is the terminology, as any weapon used in an assault is technically an assault weapon. The same assault weapon being used in a defense is not a defense weapon? It's clearly oxymoronic. So unless there's a ban on all weapons, the broad legalistic titling of "assault weapons" needs to be more specific.
When listening to both political parties, effective legislation to prevent gun violence is clearly a non-partisan issue, yet it's how to implement prevention that's become so polarizing. These arguments become increasingly charged after horrible events like these, but then lose traction as time progresses, and effective legislation is rarely agreed upon or realized.
Yesterday's school shooting was one of many in the United States; in 2012, 26 people were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut; and in 2018, 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida. Last week, 10 people were murdered at a grocery store in New York. The FBI reports 61 active shooter incidents already this year.
Training videos are provided by the FBI for an active shooter situation.
Recent world events have caused a dangerous domino effect of price spikes now leading to potentially disastrous outcomes for global supply if not resolved. Farmers are now challenged by ridiculous prices for fertilizer and global supply chain failures. For fertilizer that's available, the price has more than doubled on average, according to the U.S. Fertilizer Price Index.
Fertilizer prices were already inflating for years, but spiked drastically after a complicated mix of world events that include Russia's war against Ukraine, previous COVID lockdowns, and China's ban on fertilizer exports that began last October. Russia's invasion of Ukraine forcibly disrupted both nation's everyday global trade; both nation's being major exporters of food and fertilizer. Russia is a leading global supplier of nitrogen-based fertilizer and combined with Ukraine, the two produce roughly 28% of all nitrogen-based fertilizer used worldwide.
Because Russian fertilizer is now taxed heavily by other nations, average prices have doubled, even tripled. In East-Africa, farmers who were challenged by drought, are now struck by these record high fertilizer prices. Fertilizer is becoming inaccessible to many African farmers due to low supply and high prices, with fertilizers such as calcium-ammonium-nitrate now triple price from last year. At least 15 African countries are supplied by Russia and Ukraine for food and fertilizer. Ukraine exports roughly 40% of its wheat and corn to Africa.
African Development Bank President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has called on the United States for financial support for food and fertilizer. Adesina said, "Our analysis is that Africa faces a fertilizer shortage of 2 million metric tons this year," and "a 30-million metric ton loss of wheat and corn that won’t be coming from Russia." Adesina specified, "If we don’t mitigate this shortage rapidly, food production will decline by at least 20%," then warned, "Without urgent and immediate global action, we may witness social and political unrest, as we have seen only too often in the past."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in March it will finance $250 million for additional fertilizer production to support American farmers. "Recent supply chain disruptions from the global pandemic to Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine have shown just how important it is to invest in this crucial link in the agricultural supply chain here at home,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The USDA's new program is set to provide funding for new domestic fertilizer production, however a modern fertilizer plant "producing commercially meaningful volumes will take three to five years to construct," on average according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Michigan farmer Seth Cords, who manages 1,200 acres of corn, told reporters, "We’re trying to feed more and more people in the whole world. You’ve got to have more and more yield,” expressing the importance of fertilizers to produce the most crop. Mr. Cords explained that he and other farmers will be required to adjust how they use fertilizers, "We’ve cut back on the amount of fertilizer we normally would use. To try and mitigate the cost of everything,”
Today, another generous support package for Ukraine valued at over $40 billion was approved by the Senate, and awaits Pres. Biden's signature. The package directs funding to Ukraine for military, economic, and humanitarian support.
Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Zelenskyy then praised the Senate's approval stating,
"$40 billion is a significant contribution to the restoration of peace and security in Ukraine, Europe and the world."
The bill provides funding to 8 different federal departments, which will be immediately available for various needs related to "the situation in Ukraine," as stated. $4 billion is specified for "International Disaster Assistance," for the "provision of emergency food and shelter, and for assistance for other vulnerable populations and communities, including through local and international non-governmental organizations." Another $900 million is directed to the Administration for Children and Families, "For carrying out refugee and entrant assistance activities in support of citizens or nationals of Ukraine, or a person who last habitually resided in Ukraine."
The bulk of the funding, roughly $20 billion in total is directed to the U.S. Department of Defense, with over $15 billion stated broadly for "Operation and Maintenance." The Army will receive nearly $2 billion, for weapons and ammunition resupply. $350+ million is specifically ordered for "Missile Procurement." $400 million roughly goes to the Air Force, and even the Space Force gets in on the funding for at least $800 thousand. Listed in the bill are various orders of "Ammunition," "Vehicles," "Aircraft," or "Other Procurement." $600 million is allocated for Defense Production Act purchases related to Ukraine, as stated, "to remain available until expended." Additionally, $300 million is provided for "Research, Development, Test and Evaluation."
The Senate passed the $40 billion for Ukraine today with little opposition, voting 86-11. Last week the House voted 368-57 to pass the bill. It was quickly stalled by Senator Rand Paul (R.-KY), who requested oversight be provided in the bill. The bill was delayed one week, then passed today without changes. In both the House and Senate, opposition came only from Republicans, who argued Congressional focus needs to be on urgent national problems, such as 40-year high inflation rates, an opioid epidemic, and an ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Earlier in March, $14 billion had been passed for Ukraine and is now spent, thus the demand for this new bill. In total these two bills combine for roughly $54 billion in total relief funding from the United States to Ukraine since Russia first invaded.
Orders are also included to repair the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, allocating $110 million directly to the Department of State Foreign Affairs Administration, specifically for "Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance." Another $200 million is provided to the State Department for "Diplomatic Programs." Yesterday, the Senate voted to confirm the new Ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink.
After 3 months of devastating war, there are at least 3,788 civilian deaths verified and thousands of casualties since Russia invade Ukraine in February. At least 251 children have died during this war.
It's reported that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers are now prisoners of war, after surrendering to Russian forces in Mariupol.
After months of baby formula shortages across the country, Pres. Biden now invokes the Defense Production Act. From the White House, "The President is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good. Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains."
As directed, "the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use Department of Defense (DOD) commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster. DOD will use its contracts with commercial air cargo lines, as it did to move materials during the early months of the COVID pandemic, to transport products from manufacturing facilities abroad that have met Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards."
Primary to the baby formula shortage was the shutdown of Abbott Nutrition's production facility in Sturgis, Michigan, after four infants contracted rare bacterial infections and reports alleged contamination at the facility. Two of the infants died from what was determined to be Cronobacter sakazakii, however the root cause of each infection is still undetermined. Abbott and the FDA then initiated a voluntary recall of powdered formulas, Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare, even though no products tested positive for either bacteria.
Abbott stated, "Importantly, no distributed product has tested positive for the presence of either of these bacteria, and we continue to test." "Additionally, retained samples related to the three complaints for Cronobacter sakazakii tested negative for Cronobacter. And the retained sample related to the complaint for Salmonella Newport tested negative for Salmonella."
However Abbott did clarify there was "evidence of Cronobacter sakazakii in the plant in non-product contact areas," but "no evidence of Salmonella."
When tested against the samples of Cronobacter from the infants, they didn't match those found "in non-product contact areas" at the Sturgis facility. Nevertheless, the FDA conducted a six-week investigation, halting operations at Abbott's plant, which remains shutdown since February. Before being permitted to restart production, the FDA now requires Abbott to meet new health safety protocols. Upon approval from the FDA, Abbott estimates 8-10 weeks for their facility to return to full-scale production and for baby formula to be available in stores.
Abbott's shutdown facility is the leading producer of baby formula domestically, and their massive recall, combined with a multitude of supply-chain failures, has coalesced into what is now a national emergency for parents who need baby formula. To make matters worse, stockpiles of baby formula are being hoarded from the American public. Roughly 40-50% of all brands of baby formula are sold out.
Invoking the Defense Production Act can only achieve so much, and with Abbott's facility returning to production, more baby formula is on the horizon. Preventing another shortage in the future will be the greater problem. Congress is working to approve two bills for baby formula, both of which passed the House yesterday, but neither do much for the immediate shortage. For more information, the American Academy of Pediatrics published these articles.
From the Pentagon, American soldiers will be redeployed to Somalia on the order of President Biden. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, less than 500 Americans will be sent into non-combat zones in Somalia, to train Somali forces against the ongoing threat from al-Shabaab militants. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said, "Our forces are not now, nor will they be, directly engaged in combat operations. The purpose here is to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabaab by local forces."
This year in March, Somalia's Mogadishu International Airport was attacked by two Islamic militants armed with pistols and grenades. Police engaged and killed both gunmen before any civilians were attacked, but three policemen were wounded. Reports state the gunmen were posing as airport employees before initiating the attack. The Islamic militant group al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attack.
American military have been active in Somalia for over two decades, tasked with the same counterterrorism missions. Operations in Somalia changed dramatically after the tragic Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 which took the lives of 19 American soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. In 2008 the U.S. designated the group al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization, and has since been conducting counterterrorism operations in Somalia, albeit gingerly.
In 2020 former Pres. Trump ordered a withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon stated at that time, “The U.S. will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland.” Now Americans are ordered back to Somalia, despite the Pentagon seeming confident in its capabilities without troops on the ground.
Pentagon Press Sec. Kirby concluded, "We're working now to evaluate local conditions, including those following the Somali presidential election yesterday. And we're engaging partners in the region, including the Somali government to determine the best way forward."
Yesterday in Buffalo, New York, a heinous crime was committed by a gunman at a local grocery store. 10 people were killed and 3 wounded during the horrific shooting. The assailant was confronted and arrested immediately by police outside the grocery. Now in police custody, the shooter was arraigned last night in State Court on 10 first-degree murder charges.
Police are investigating whether the gunman was racially motivated, as the grocery he selected is in a majority black neighborhood. The assailant is white male, age 18 years, and traveled for two hours to the location of the shooting. Of 13 people shot by the gunman, 11 are black and 2 are white, further supporting claims of racial motivation. The U.S. Justice Department and FBI will be jointly investigating the mass shooting. It's currently reported the gunman acted alone.
Attorney General Garland stated yesterday, "The FBI and ATF are working closely with the Buffalo Police Department and federal, state, and local law enforcement partners. The Justice Department is investigating this matter as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism. The Justice Department is committed to conducting a thorough and expeditious investigation into this shooting and to seeking justice for these innocent victims.”
According to authorities the gunman was fully suited in tactical body armor and armed with an assault-style rifle, modified with high-capacity magazines. So far it's reported that none of the weapons or equipment obtained by the assailant were done so illegally. The grocery store's security guard fired several shots hitting the assailant, but could not penetrate the body armor. The security guard, a retired Buffalo police officer, was fatally shot.
When police arrived on the scene, 10 people were dead and 3 wounded. Police responded within minutes after the shooting began. Police then confronted the shooter outside the store's main entrance, and then negotiated his surrender. An arraignment hearing was called last night to charge the gunman with 10 counts of first-degree murder, each carrying life-sentences, and to be held indefinitely without bail.
It's reported the gunman live-broadcasted his attack via a social media program called Twitch. It's not yet reported how many people were exposed to the horrific presentation on Twitch. According to a statement from Twitch, the broadcast lasted for nearly 2 minutes after the shooting began before it was removed by their moderators.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul called a press briefing to express her anger and sadness, criticizing the responsibility of social media directly, saying "These outlets must be more vigilant in monitoring social media content. And certainly the fact that this act of barbarism, this execution of innocent human beings could be live streamed on social media platforms and not taken down within a second, says to me that there is a responsibility out there."
Wednesday, the Senate voted (49-51) against legislation codifying abortion rights into federal law. Democrats proposed the bill as an attempt to counter a potential overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court.
The Democrat's proposed bill, the Women's Health Protection Act, would effectively codify the Roe v. Wade ruling into federal law, also prohibiting abortion restrictions already made law in some conservative States. President Biden condemned Republicans declaring, "Republicans in Congress, not one of whom voted for this bill, have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives."
The bill would have required at least 60 Senators to move forward, as it was filed via cloture by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday. Democrats persuaded zero Republicans to vote for their abortion rights bill, and one Democrat voted against. After the legislative defeat, Sen. Schumer claimed "Today’s vote is one of the most consequential we will take in decades because for the first time in 50 years, a conservative majority, an extreme majority on the Supreme Court, is on the brink of declaring that women do not have freedom over their own bodies."
The move in the Senate was instigated by last week's surprise Supreme Court draft decision for overturning Roe v. Wade, which was leaked anonymously to Politico. The draft revealed the Court's majority ruling in favor of reversing the decision.
The draft was penned by Justice Samuel Alito, who reasons the historical context of the 1868 14th Amendment does not support abortion rights as determined by the Court's 1973 Roe decision. Justice Alito argues it's historically clear the 14th Amendment was specifically enacted to protect the rights of former slaves, as it was passed immediately after the American Civil War ending slavery. Justice Alito also clarified that in 1868, abortion was outlawed in 28 of 37 states, and accordingly shows that abortion had no part in the the 14th Amendment.
With abortion rights being incredibly polarizing in the U.S., the press leak effectively sparked outrage nationwide. Intense protests rallied outside the private residences of Supreme Court Justices who would vote for overturning Roe. Democrats have repeatedly praised the actions of protestors despite growing hostilities. Yesterday, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the U.S. Marshals Service "to help ensure the Justices’ safety."
According to the draft decision, the overturning of Roe v. Wade will not broadly outlaw abortion in the U.S., however it will return governance on this matter to the States. This requires each State to pass their own legislation on abortion. Because some States never established laws protecting abortion rights, aside from the precedent set by the Court's ruling, some outdated laws may temporarily come into effect, such as with Michigan's near 100 year old 1931 abortion ban. Each respective State must now move to legislate their own laws on abortion before the Court officially votes on overturning Roe in June.
According to Congress, incandescent lightbulbs, and other inefficient lighting, will be phased out and banned from all sales and manufacturing in the United States.
Formerly halted by Pres. Trump, the legislation is now reinstated by Pres. Biden, with a recent announcement coming from the U.S. Department of Energy. The ban is set to begin July 2023.
The Department of Energy provides some explanation for why banning lightbulbs is important to Americans... these efficiency standards will reduce average household energy costs by at least $100 annually.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm proudly claimed, "By raising energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, we’re putting $3 billion back in the pockets of American consumers every year and substantially reducing domestic carbon emissions."
According to the DOE, inefficient lightbulbs are causing harmful carbon emissions, however the reality is that global dependence on fossil fuels is the primary cause of all carbon emissions. Because incandescents consume more energy, the overall inefficiency spends more fossil fuels as compared to modern alternatives.
The typical incandescent 100 watt lightbulb demands roughly 70-80% more energy than equal wattage LEDs (light emitting diodes) and CFLs (compact fluorescent lights). When factored across the entire population, the energy expenditure from incandescents arguably makes them a bigger piece of the fossil fuel pollution pie. Yet to determine how big that piece is exactly, the whole pie must be accounted for.
The Energy Information Agency reports "about 5% of total U.S. electricity consumption by all sectors" comes from all lighting sources. Incandescents then fall within that 5% piece, and this means the lightbulb phaseout doesn't account for roughly 95% of the whole pie. Also, eliminating incandescents won't make that percent disappear, it can only decrease proportionally to the number of incandescents in circulation. So with about one third of lightbulb sales being incandescents, that 5% can only decrease by some portion of 1.67%, (one third of 5%). Still while over 60% of the total national energy budget comes from fossil fuels, no matter what lightbulb you choose, the total energy demand is mostly from fossil fuels.
For many millions of Americans and people worldwide, switching to LEDs is old news. The EIA reported in 2020 that 47% of all Americans were using LEDs in their homes, an outstanding increase from only 4% in 2015. LEDs are free of toxic substances, are more easily disposable, and can last at least 20 times, even up to 100 times longer than incandescents, providing incredible environmental sustainability. LEDs also expend less heat energy to produce light, whereas incandescents and CFLs waste roughly 80-90% of their energy consumption as heat. With more people switching to LEDs, the usage of incandescents, CFLs, and halogens are all effectively down as reported by the Energy Information Administration.
Regarding CFLs, compact fluorescents do contain small amounts of mercury. How small? Well old-school thermometers contained roughly over a gram of mercury, while modern CFL bulbs contain only 5 milligrams. However, because mercury is toxic to life, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does precaution those handling broken CFL bulbs, advising to wear gloves and avoid all skin contact. The EPA also advises people and pets leave the room and then to ventilate the room for at least 5-10 minutes. The EPA specifies against vacuuming broken glass from CFLs, because it can spread mercury vapor into the air. Even further, some Americans may be required by local law to properly dispose of CFL bulbs. The EPA states, "Check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash."
With all this considered, it's obvious that CFLs are not exact replacements for incandescents. When factoring potential mercury exposure over the long term, and large-scale disposal, CFLs become less and less ideal candidates for the future of efficient lighting. Mercury thermometers are already phased out and rarely used today. The EPA states "Mercury is well documented as a toxic, environmentally-persistent substance. Several states prohibit the sale of mercury-containing thermometers." The toxicity of CFLs arguably makes them significantly worse for the environment than incandescents, which are non-toxic and easily disposed of. Whenever renewables become our primary source of electricity, the energy inefficiency of lightbulbs will be less problematic, while the toxicity of CFLs will remain such a problem.
The lightbulb phaseout will undoubtably cause some financial stress to consumers and industries who still depend on incandescents. When former Pres. Trump halted the phaseout in 2019, he said it was to protect consumer choice, yet manufacturers were probably the most celebratory. Manufacturers who were adamant to delay the phaseout alleged it was happening too soon and too fast for the global market to adjust. Now that Pres. Biden has reinitiated the phaseout, manufacturers and storehouses must hurry to move their expiring inventory. With the current national trend being predominantly toward LEDs, next year's lightbulb ban may be mostly unnecessary. Nevertheless, the global lighting industry is now pressured to sell its product before the July 2023 deadline. Expect some crazy discounts.
Today for Earth Day 2022, here are a few recent environmental achievements and current challenges worthy of our attention.
Without the Earth's atmospheric shield, we're frozen, or fried, or both. The thickness of the atmosphere is often compared to the skin of an apple, however it isn't so fragile. The atmosphere is awesomely resilient and given time it can even be repaired.
In 1985 a hole was confirmed in the ozone layer over the Antarctic. Scientists identified specific ozone-depleting substances, often found in common products, such as aerosols, and halon (one of the worst chemicals for the ozone) was ironically found in fire extinguishers. These substances were directly damaging the ozone, and in 1989, the United Nations adopted the Montreal Protocol, to phase out chemicals which deplete the ozone. By 2008, this became the first and only U.N. environmental agreement to be ratified by every country in the world. Now in 2022, around 99% of all ozone-depleting substances are phased out, and the damage is being reversed. Scientists estimate the ozone will be fully healed by the year 2060.
The global usage of renewable energy sources, such as hydro, solar, and wind, is greatly improving and has been for decades. Now in 2022, over 29% of total electricity around the world is generated from renewables. Nearly 17% is from hydro power, which still leads the pack after thousands of years (even our ancient ancestors made good use of hydro for agricultural and other purposes). Most modern methods of hydro power are incredibly efficient and its process doesn't directly produce atmospheric pollution such as carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.
On the horizon, solar power technology is constantly improving, and more homes and industrial facilities have solar panel systems than ever before. Solar has a bright future, but with only 4% of all electricity generated globally coming from solar, it still has a long way to go. Wind power is also improving with many of its shortcomings now things of the past. New wind turbines are more efficient and more repairable, producing greater energy returns and reducing production costs. In the U.S., around 10% of all utility-scale electricity is from wind power, and globally it stands around 7%, increasing roughly a percent every year.
First observed in our oceans in 1960, plastic waste is now a monstrous problem around the world. Most plastics don't decompose, but breakdown into tiny fragments, until they're microscopic. Over time these plastic particles are absorbed into plants, ingested by fish and birds, until eventually all life is contaminated. Humans are no exception, and this year scientists sadly discovered plastic micro particles in human blood and tissue for the first time. Plastic particles were found in almost 80% of the people tested.
Currently teams of brilliant humans are working rigorously to combat the growing monster that is plastic pollution. One example is The Ocean Cleanup project led by CEO Boyan Slat. Now operational, The Ocean Cleanup's 2nd gen. plastic-collecting tech, System 002, is tasked with cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; a massive collection of trash, estimated over 80,000 tons, and roughly three times the size of France. While System 002 is busy in the Pacific, the team at Ocean Cleanup is already developing System 003. Ocean Cleanup's goal is to remove 90% of plastic in the oceans by the year 2040.
Plastic pollution has become undeniably a global problem, threatening humans and immense ecosystems we rely on. Last month, the United Nations announced their agreement to combat against global plastic pollution. Espen Barth Eide, President of the U.N. Environment Assembly, declared, "Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic!" The U.N. accordance now establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which will set forth to draft a legally binding treaty for 2024. In effect, this agreement will strictly regulate global production of plastics.
These are only a few examples, and we still have many challenges ahead. Environmental damage and climate change have many human causes, and the effects of this can be catastrophic. As these conditions worsen, so will natural phenomena. We have already seen wildfires occurring with greater frequency and intensity, and in irregular places. While some natural phenomena is beyond our control, some are directly within our grasp, and without our responsible action, the conditions within our grasp may become worse, and so will the world around us. So I encourage us all to find ways to do less harm to our environment and to be a part of the Earth's thriving process.
Since March of last year, over 2.1 million total migrants were encountered crossing the southwest border by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). That's on average over 180,000 every month, and over double the yearly totals for 2019 and 2020.
CBP agents and local law enforcement continue to sound the alarm for a worsening crisis, which is overwhelming their facilities and critically backlogging the immigration court system. According to Time magazine in January 2022, a record breaking 1.6 million people are backlogged in the immigration court system. This is a drastic increase since 2009 when only 200,000 people were backlogged. Time's article states, "One reason is an ever-increasing number of new immigration cases swamping the system, as both the Obama and Trump Administrations issued millions of deportation orders. The number of people claiming asylum has increased by nearly 2,000% between 2008 and 2018."
Pres. Biden ordered an additional $177.5 million and 600 positions for the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Biden's 2022 FY budget shows clearly that the growing backlog is pushing the immigration court system to its breaking point.
As stated in the budget, "The historic backlog is not sustainable and requires additional resources so that justice may be done. The President’s Budget proposes two key initiatives. First, to continue to improve the expediency and efficiency of immigration adjudications, the Department requests $106.8 million for 100 new Immigration Judges (IJs) and associated support staff, including an additional 200 attorneys."
Border crossings have more than doubled since Pres. Biden's inauguration. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott blames Biden directly saying, "President Joe Biden has caused a humanitarian crisis and chaos on our border." Abbott drew support from 9 other Governors from Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
Texas passed spending for over $3 billion through 2023 to strengthen State border security. Gov. Abbott says this will include 700+ miles of new border wall construction.
CBP and local law enforcement have claimed that new border wall, where it's built, is proving effective. However the wall is only complete in segments ranging 50-225 miles in length, and only approx. 100 miles are built in Texas along its 1,250+ mile border with Mexico. New walls are outfitted with cameras and sensors allowing border patrol to survey more ground while limiting ports of entry. However, CBP also reports the walls have been breached by at least 3,272 people since their construction.
Democrats flippantly opposed Trump's new border wall, declaring it a colossal failure and abruptly ending all construction last summer. Roughly 450+ miles of new wall were completed during Trump's presidency. Prior to Trump, 650+ miles of barriers already existed, and the newly built wall mostly updated those. Only 80 miles were built where no barriers existed before.
Whether or not more wall is built, something must be done because more migrants attempt crossing the border illegally every day. Although not all migrants are dangerous, enough are to require action. CBP constantly reports dangerous encounters with previously convicted killers, rapists, etc. who are fleeing another country. Also human traffickers, drugs and weapons smugglers, enabling greater criminal activities within the United States.
The word redux means to "bring back"
In Latin the word most literally breaks down to
Again re Lead dux or Lead Again
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