Earth Day

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Photo courtesy of NASA.

By Terrance Turner

April 22, 2021

Today is Earth Day, an annual holiday that demonstrates support for environmental protection. Activist John McConnell first proposed the event in 1969. A year later, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson conceived the idea of a “teach-in” about the environment on college campuses to the national media. According to earthday.org, he persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair.  They recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins. Nelson chose the date of April 22.

He came from Wisconsin, which has cold winters, and he wanted to find a date late enough in the year that a teach-in wouldn’t be snowed in, but early enough that students wouldn’t be cramming fro final exams,” Hayes remembered in an interview with Time magazine. “And he wanted it to be in the middle of the week so people wouldn’t be away on weekend trips.” So Nelson chose April 22. “Earth Day was such a spectacular success, it started appearing on calendars,” Hayes said. In fact, the first Earth Day (on April 22, 1970) inspired 20 million demonstrators to the streets, participating in coast-to-coast rallies in cities and towns.Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against environmental destruction and the industrial pollution that had fueled it.

According to its website, “Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders.” Earth Day united millions in pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable planet. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency that year, followed by the passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The impact of Earth Day on America can be felt to this day.

Today, President Joe Biden pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. He made the announcement today — Earth Day — during a virtual summit with about 40 world leaders. The two-day summit is about the United States’ return to the Paris Climate Agreement, according to the New York Times.

As the summit got underway, Biden set an ambitious new goal: bring emissions down 50-52% from a record high in 2005. His administration also said it would double its climate-related financing for developing countries by 2024 and push the private sector to fund sustainable infrastructure, mitigation initiatives and other investments. 

“These steps will set America on a path of a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050,” Biden said. He portrayed these efforts as part of a economic and ethical obligation. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Mr. Biden said. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”

The pledge met with varying results. “In rapid succession, Japan, Canada, Britain and the European Union committed to steeper cuts. But China, India and Russia made no new emissions promises, and even Mr. Biden’s commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gases 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade will be extraordinarily difficult to meet, economically and politically,” the Times reported.

But Biden is undeterred. He insisted that now is the time to begin addressing the global issue of climate change. “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade, this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis,” Biden said, quoted by USA Today. Biden’s climate czar John Kerry acknowledged the loftiness of the goal, but was also bullish. He called the aim “ambitious but appropriate and achievable” and added, “Is it doable? Yes. Will we probably exceed it? I expect yes.”

That will be a steep climb. A new report from the University of Maryland outlined steps that would need to be taken for the Biden administration to meet its goal. A fact sheet from the study says that by 2030, half of the electricity in America would need to come from renewable sources like such as wind, solar or hydropower. Most, if not all, of the coal-powered plants in the country would need to be shut down. Generation from gas-fired power plants must be a third lower than today.

To meet Biden’s goal, according to the report, transportation must be overhauled, too. “In 2030, over 65% of new cars and SUV sales will be electric (pure EV or PHEV). and 10% of new truck sales will be electric,” the fact sheet says. It adds that cleaning up transportation contributes 1/4 of the needed reductions.

All new buildings need to be 100% electric. Almost all new appliance sales will need to be electric, as part of a longer-term transition away from natural gas. Cement emissions will be 20% lower than they were in 2018. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) emissions have to be reduced by almost half. Methane (CH4) leaks from oil and gas systems must be cut by 60%.

Already, the administration is getting to work. On Thursday, the C.I.A. announced it was adding a new category covering the environment to its World Factbook. The agency’s unclassified guide will now provide the latest country data on climate, air pollutants, infectious diseases, food security, waste and other environmental topics.

Today, the White House nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA, is a government agency that seeks to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. It houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation’s climate reserach, according to Axios. Spinrad is a professor of oceanography who served as the NOAA’s chief climate scientist under the Obama administration.

Biden Announces “American Jobs Plan”

Photo from the Tribune Review.

By Terrance Turner

March 31, 2021

Today, at a union training center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, President Joe Biden introudced the American Jobs Act. The sprawling, ambitious bill will invest about $2 trillion over the next eight years (amounting to about 1 percent of America’s GDP per year) to repair, rebuild, and reinvent infrastructure in the United States. Its goals are multifold, from roads and bridges to caregiving and climate change.

“It’s time to build our economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” Biden said, emphasizing the need for more good paying and union jobs. “Wall Street didn’t build this country; you, the middle class, built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

The White House fact sheet on the bill outlines the reasons for its creation: “The United States of America is the wealthiest country in the world, yet we rank 13th when it comes to the overall quality of our infrastructure. After decades of disinvestment, our roads, bridges, and water systems are crumbling. Our electric grid is vulnerable to catastrophic outages. Too many lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet and to quality housing […] The American Jobs Plan will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.”

“It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Mr. Biden said, quoted by the New York Times. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America. Unlike anything we have seen or done, since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.” In fact, Biden said today, it is “the largest American jobs investment since World War II.”

Vox has compiled a list of the bill’s highlights, which I have augmented by selections from the White House Fact Sheet. Here are the toplines of what’s in the American Jobs Plan:

  • “The $621 billion in infrastructure spending is the largest chunk of Biden’s plan, aiming to modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main streets, fix the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country, and repair 10,000 smaller bridges. Biden’s plan calls for $85 billion to modernize public transit and $80 billion to be put toward Amtrak for repairs and improving train corridors.” – Vox
    • The Department of Transportation states that there’s a “repair backlog” of over $105 billion, including 24,000 buses and 5,000 rail cars.
    • The American Rescue Plan will double federal spending for public transit and work to end the repair backlog.
  • “One in five miles, or 173,000 total miles, of our highways and major roads are in poor condition, as well as 45,000 bridges,” the White House says. Thus the President’s plan proposes $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, roads, and main streets that are in need of repair. As summarized below:
    • “The President’s plan will modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main-streets.”
    • “It will fix the ten most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction.”
    • “It also will repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, providing critical linkages to communities.”
  • Invests $174 billion in the electric vehicle market, building out a network of 500,000 EV chargers on roads by 2030.
    • Plan will support U.S. workers to make batteries and electric vehicles (EVs)
    • Establish grant/incentive programs for local government/private sector to build 500,000 EV chargers by 2030
  • The plan also calls for the electrification of 20 percent of the school bus fleet, and using federal procurement to electrify the entire federal fleet, including the US Postal Service,” Vox says.
    • “It also talks about giving consumers point of sale rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made electric vehicles, incorporating a plan from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).”

An estimated 6-10 million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines, according to the White House Fact Sheet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children. Lead exposure can slow learning and cause kidney/brain damage in children. Thus, Biden’s plan:

  • Eliminates all lead pipes and service lines in drinking water systems, and puts $56 billion in grants and flexible loans to states, tribes, and territories to upgrade drinking, wastewater, and stormwater systems.
  • Calls on the federal government to contribute $45 billion in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership to ensure safe drinking water.
  • Invests $100 billion to build out the nation’s high-speed broadband infrastructure to 100 percent coverage, including in remote and rural areas. Biden’s plan also commits to working with Congress to reduce the price of broadband, but doesn’t specify exactly how.
  • Invests $213 billion to build and retrofit over 2 million homes and commercial buildings, including community colleges, aging schools, child care facilities, veterans’ hospitals, and federal buildings.
    • Biden’s plan calls for 1 million affordable housing units to be produced or retrofitted, and over 500,000 homes for low- and middle-income homebuyers to be built or rehabilitated.
    • The plan also calls for the elimination of exclusionary zoning.

“As the recent Texas power outages demonstrated, our aging electric grid needs urgent modernization. A Department of Energy study found that power outages cost the U.S. economy up to $70 billion annually,” the White House said. “The President’s plan will create a more resilient grid, lower energy bills for middle class Americans, improve air quality and public health outcomes, and create good jobs, with a choice to join a union, on the path to achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.” President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $100 billion to build a more resilient electric transmission system.

  • Primary goal: creation of a “targeted investment tax credit” that incentivizes buildout of at least 20 gigawatts of high-voltage capacity power lines.
  • Puts $16 billion toward plugging “orphan” oil and gas wells (which have been abandoned by defunct companies that can’t afford to plug them) and abandoned coal and uranium mines
  • Plan also works towards funding environmental resiliency jobs including restoring forests, wetlands, and watersheds.
  • The plan calls for $10 billion to create a Civilian Climate Corps to conserve public lands and waters, one of Biden’s campaign promises. Conservation advocates argued that environmental restoration and resilience jobs like these can put people to work even more quickly than clean energy jobs.
    • “Some of the earliest job wins you’re going to see are going to be in the restoration space,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, told Vox. “They don’t require materials or construction, new fabrication of different goods and materials. The only thing that’s needed is money.”
  • Invests $100 billion to modernize the nation’s electrical grid, and extend and expand the production and investment tax credits to accelerate clean energy jobs and projects in wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy.

Per Vox, “The bill also includes some ideas that might stretch the traditional definition of infrastructure:

  • Bolsters unions by calling on Congress to pass the pro-union Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Biden’s plan similarly asks Congress to tie federal investments in clean energy and infrastructure to prevailing wage laws, and requires that investments in transportation meet existing transit labor protections.
  • Bans “exclusionary zoning” and harmful land-use policies, including minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing.
  • Expands long-term care under Medicaid,increasing access to home and community-based services and giving more people the chance to receive care at home. The Biden administration’s plan aims to increase the quality of care-giving jobs and offer home health workers more chances to unionize and increase their wages.
  • As part of a plan to target workforce development in underserved communities, Biden’s plan would put$5 billion over eight years to support evidence-based community violence prevention programs, and invest in job training for formerly incarcerated individuals.
  •  $400 billion toward expanding access to quality, affordable home- or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities.

“It’s worth repeating that this wide-ranging plan is Biden’s opening bid, not a final product,” Vox noted. “The next few months of negotiations with Congress will ultimately determine how many of these provisions will make it into a final bill — and it will take even more negotiations to get that bill passed.”

Biden said his proposal would be paid for in 15 years by raising taxes on corporations, NPR reports. The corporate tax rate would be raised from 21% to 28%, and Biden’s “Made in America” tax plan would close loopholes that allow businesses to store money in offshore accounts. The president said he’s open to other ideas, but Biden vowed Wednesday that no one making less than $400,000 a year would see their taxes increased — “period.”

Senate Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill

Photo courtesy of Senate Television (via AP).

By Terrance Turner

March 6, 2021

By a 50-49 vote, the Senate has passed President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill.

The legislation, known as the American Rescue Act, passed around 11:30 am — without any Republican support. (Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was absent for the vote because of a family emergency, according to NBC News.) Democrats advanced the package through the budget reconciliation process, meaning it did not require any Republican support to pass. However, that process prevented Democrats from including a provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour in the legislation. The Senate parliamentarian ruled last month that the wage increase could not be a part of the bill.

There was high drama on Capitol Hill as the legislation was prepared. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) sparked a minor panic yesterday when he expressed reservation about the unemployment checks. In the end, Democrats — with virtually no room for error — compromised to get his support. Instead of $400 a week through the end of September, the checks will be $300 a week through Sept. 6. After uniting against the bill, Senate Republicans forced dozens of votes overnight into Saturday on amendments in an effort to stall the process.

The bill’s passage came after a marathon session by lawmakers. According to the Associated Press, the Senate had been in session since 9 a.m. EST Friday. But after hours and hours of debate and negotiations, the $1.9 trillion bill passed. It next heads to the House for final approval. If that occurs, the bill will be signed into law by President Joe Biden, marking his first major legislative victory as president.

“This bill will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government has done in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said just before final passage. “This is the most progressive [legislation] in a generation,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The massive relief package provides $1,400 checks to Americans making up to $75,000 a year. For married couples who file their taxes jointly, both would qualify for the full amount if they make up to $150,000 jointly, per NBC News. (Couples would therefore get $2,800.) MSNBC’s Kyle Griffin adds that the package also includes an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit. Additionally, there’s a permanent increase of $130 million/year for child care assistance.

According to Axios, the bill’s highlights include:

  • Expanded federal funding for COVID programs, including $46 billion for testing and tracing; $7.6 billion for pandemic response at community health centers; $5.2 billion to support research, development and manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics and other medical products; and $7.7 billion to expand the public health care workforce.
  • $1,400 stimulus payments for most Americans.
  • $128.6 billion to help K-12 schools reopen.
  • $350 billion in state and local aid.
  • $25 billion in aid to restaurants and other food and drinking establishments.
  • $19 billion in emergency rental assistance.
  • $7.25 billion in funds for Paycheck Protection Program loans.

In the wake of the successful passage of this legislation, many observers are thanking Stacey Abrams. After a narrow loss in Georgia’s governor race, Abrams launched Fair Fight 2018, a voting rights organization to promote fair elections around the country. Fair Fight encourages voter participation and educates voters about their rights. The organization raised $34.5 million in just 39 days from late October to the last week of November, funneling a large chunk of the money into helping Democratic candidates, per the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

It was Abrams’ efforts that helped re-enfranchise Georgia voters. Vox credited her with helping a record surge of Georgia voters to the polls in November. “Abrams’s group Fair Fight and other voting rights groups like the New Georgia Project have been putting a ton of effort into registering and turning out Black voters at high rates this year. And those efforts have been successful. The state has already hit record registration levels, with about 7.6 million voters registered. And since early voting started, more than 2.7 million voters have cast ballots — at least 1 million of whom were Black.”

That increase in Black voter turnout helped power the Democrats’ success in Georgia’s Senate elections in January. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won their races, defeating incumbent Republicans. Those two wins put the Senate at a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. This legislation would not have passed if not for those two seats in Georgia (and Abrams’ efforts).

President Biden Arrives in Houston


President Biden gets a hug from a young girl who was volunteering with her mom at the Houston Food Bank. Photo courtesy of Twitter (@dougmillsnyt).

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 26, 2021

BREAKING NEWS (12:00 pm): President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden have arrived at Ellington Airport. Upon leaving the plane, they were greeted by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) as well as Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Cong. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D). The President and First Lady took separate vehicles; the President is reportedly headed to NRG Park, while Dr. Biden is heading to the Houston Food Bank, in northeast Houston. (As it turned out, the president also went to Houston Food Bank. There, he and the First Lady bagged up food to give to Houstonians, according to ABC 13 Houston.)

UPDATE: In a televised address at NRG Park, Biden updated the public about the COVID-19 vaccine efforts in the city of Houston. “I wanna show the American people the extraordinary effort,” he said. “It’s remarkable. About six thousand doses a day here.” People can call by phone, sign up online, drive up, stay in their cars, and get a shot, he explained. That requires massive logistical coordination.

“VP Harris and I did a virtual tour in Arizona,” Biden noted. One nurse told him she felt like she was administering “a dose of hope”. And that’s what Biden was offering in today’s address — along with a lot of information. He’s sent millions of vaccines to local pharmacies (over 7000) because people feel comfortable going there, Biden said. That includes 50 pharmacies here in Houston. Also: pop-up clinics are being deployed to rural areas “to meet folks where they live,” Biden said. Additionally, vaccines are being sent to community health centers, to reach diverse communities. As Biden noted, Black, Latino, and Native American populations have higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths than any other group.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are down; they’ve declined dramatically in recent weeks. But “I need to be honest with you,” Biden said. “Cases and hospitalizations could go up as new variants emerge. And it’s not the time to relax. We have to keep washing our hands, staying socially distant, and — for God’s sake — wear your mask. Wear your mask.” The president warned that “the worst thing we could do now is let our guard down.”

The president acknowledged the history that has many Black and brown Americans hesitant about the vaccine (i.e. the Tuskegee experiment). “There is a history in this country of subjugating certain communities to terrible medical and scientific abuse,” he said. “But if there’s one message that needs to cut through all of this: The vaccines are safe. I promise you. They’re safe and effective. Listen to Dr. Fauci. Listen to the scientists,” Biden urged. “I did. And I took my shot publicly to demonstrate to the American people that it’s safe and effective. To address this challenge, we’re gonna launch a massive campaign to educate people about the vaccines,” Biden said.

‘This past year has been one of the most painful years in American history,” Biden concluded. “I met today with Gov. Abbott, Sen. Cornyn — conservatives Republicans. I’m a Democratic president. There’s plenty of things we disagree on, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a lot of things we can work on together.” One of them, Biden said, is the virus. “We’re not giving shots to Democrats or Republicans; we’re giving shots to Americans,” the president emphasized. “None of this has a a partisan tinge or a partisan element to it.”

Biden highlighted his connection to Houston. At Houston’s M.D. Anderson Clinic, the president’s son Beau Biden was treated when he had brain cancer. “We’re gonna beat cancer. I know we will,” Biden declared. He said if he could be known for one thing, it would be ending cancer as we know it. Biden also noted the landing of a Rover on Mars. That mission was in part developed by a team here in Houston. “We can do anything!” he exclaimed. “America can do anything.”

“Americans never give up, they never give in, they never cry uncle — they just struggle, innovate, and they preserve — and persevere,” Biden said. “God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. You’re the best.”

Senate Slowly Confirms Biden Cabinet Picks

Photo by the New York Times.

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 26, 2021

The Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as Secretary of State today. Mr. Blinken was approved by a vote of 78 to 22, the Times said. Blinken was one of several nominees that then-President-Elect Joe Biden announced on Nov. 24, 2020. In a televised press conference, Biden named his picks for major foreign policy and national security positions. The nominees “will not only repair but reimagine our foreign policy”, Biden told reporters.

“America is back,” Biden said, “ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.”

With that sweeping message, Biden introduced his nominations. The nominees are:

  1. Antony Blinken (Secretary of State)
  2. Alejandro Mayorkas (Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security)
  3. Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence)
  4. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (Ambassador to the United Nations)
  5. Jake Sullivan (National Security Advisor)
  6. John Kerry (Special Presidential Envoy for Climate)

Antony Blinken served as National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Biden (2009-2013). He also was Deputy National Security Advisor (2013-2015). Then he became Deputy Secretary of State (2015-2017). Biden described him as one of his most trusted advisors. Blinken returned the compliment in spades during his remarks, telling Biden: “Working with you, having you as a mentor and friend, has been the greatest privilege of my professional life”.

But he also opened up about his history: his grandmother fled Communist Hungary. His mother was chairwoman of the American Center for Students and Artists in Paris; his father was a U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Blinken’s stepfather was a Holocaust survivor — one of 900 children at his school in Poland, but the only one to survive. His parents and sister were killed during the Holocaust.

Blinken told the story of his stepfather as a teenage boy in Bavaria. “At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria,” Blinken continued. “From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank. But instead of the Iron Cross, he saw painted on its side a five-pointed white star […] He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African American GI looked down at him. He got down on his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him before the war. God bless America. The GI lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.”

“That’s who we are,” Blinken emphasized. “That’s what America represents to the world, however imperfectly.”

For Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Biden nominated Alejandro Mayorkas. Mr. Mayorkas, 61, was born in Havana, Cuba. Like Blinken’s family, Mayorkas’ family emigrated from Communist countries. “My father and mother brought me to this country to escape Communism. They cherished our democracy and were intensely proud to become American citizens, as was I,” Mayorkas said on Nov. 24.

Mayorkas served as U.S. Attorney for California for 12 years. He served as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009-2013. USCIS oversees the naturalization process that helps people obtain green cards and become American citizens. As head, Mayorkas oversaw DACA. He later served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (2013-2016). If confirmed, he will be the first Latino (and first immigrant) to lead the Department.

For Director of National Intelligence, Biden nominated Avril Haines. Ms. Haines, 51, earned a J.D. from Georgetown University. She served as the first female Deputy Director of the CIA (2013-2015). Haines assisted the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in carrying out his duties and responsibilities, including gathering and processing national security information. She then replaced Blinken as Deputy National Security Adviser (2015-17). “She always calls it as she sees it,” Biden says.

Ms. Haines was confirmed by the Senate this week as well, making her the first woman to become Director of National Intelligence.

Please stay tuned for further updates.

Biden Gets to Work On First Day in Office

Jan. 20, 2021 (Updated Jan. 22)

By Terrance Turner

President Joe Biden got right down to brass tacks after his inauguration today. After the shortened inaugural parade on Jan. 20, the new president went to his office and got to work. “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,” Biden said. “That’s why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families.”

On his first day in office, President Biden signed 17 executive orders. The orders cover a wide range — from DACA to the border wall to COVID-19. Wearing a mask at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Biden issued a mask mandate in federal buildings. The executive order requires masks to be worn on federal land and in federal buildings. The order applies to any federal employee or contractor working in these locations and facilities, according to Business Insider.

Since Biden does not have the legal authority to require every American to wear a mask, his order instead challenges the public to wear masks for 100 days. He has called on governors, mayors, and public-health officials to support him in the mission.

President Biden also created a COVID-19 “response coordinator” who will report to the president on vaccines, testing and personal protective equipment production, supply, and distribution, per CBS News. On Wednesday, Biden rejoined the World Health Organization. He put a stop to the US withdrawal process started under Trump. Biden also tapped Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to represent the US at WHO’s annual meetings this week.

Biden also rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, which the previous president had withdrawn from. The international agreement calls for dramatically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet. Countries set their own goals to try to curb global temperature rise, with a collective aim to stay well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to The Independent.

Biden revoked the previous president’s “Muslim ban” — which prohibited immigration from majority-Muslim countries — and abolished the so-called “extreme vetting” practices that were hard on immigrants and led to rejected visa applications. The order also instructed the State Department to restore fairness in visa processing and remedy harms caused by the previous bans, according to Forbes.

Biden also directed an immediate halt to construction of the border wall along the U.S. Mexican border and called for a review of the legality of funding and contracting methods used by the previous administration. The order terminated the “national emergency” declaration used to justify the wall. (The U.S.-Mexico border spans over 1,900 miles; the Trump administration added merely 80 new miles of barrier fencing along the border.)

Another executive order directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to take appropriate measures to fortify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and ensure that “Dreamers” be protected from deportation. Biden also revoked the prior administration’s orders to exclude undocumented individuals from the census.

Furthermore, Biden signed an order calling for an eviction moratorium until the end of February. He also requested that student loans be paused and that interest rates be set at zero percent. According to the Huffington Post, Biden has extended the pause on student loan payments until September 2021. Borrowers may defer payments without penalty.

President Biden also issued an executive order addressing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people. Titled “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation”, it is written in Biden’s voice. The order begins: “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.  Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.  Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes.  People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.  All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

These principles are reflected in the Constitution, which promises equal protection of the laws.  These principles are also enshrined in our Nation’s anti-discrimination laws, among them Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Biden writes. “It is the policy of my administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gedner identity and sexual orientation,” he goes on.

The order mandates that the head of each agency shall review its order, regulations, programs, policies, etc. that may be inconsistent with Section 1. The head of each agency must then also consider whether to revise, suspend, or rescind such agency actions, or to effect new agency actions, in compliance with this. (He or she must also determine whether that policy was administered under Title II.)

The Human Rights Campaign called Biden’s order the “most substantive, wide-ranging LGBTQ order in U.S. history.”

UPDATE (Jan. 25, 2021): President Biden has signed an executive order reversing Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.

A New Era Begins on Inauguration Day

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 20, 2021

Today, in an inauguration unlike any other, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar served as an emcee of sorts. The morning featured a performance of the national anthem by Lady Gaga (who campaigned with Biden in Pennsylvania). Clad in a black turtleneck and dramatic red hoop skirt (with a voluminous train), Gaga delivered a masterful version of the anthem that was alternately operatic and soaring.

And then came one of the morning’s most crucial moments. Kamala Harris was sworn in as the Vice President of the United States. Harris became the first female, first Black, and first Indian-American to become Vice President. She was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the first Latina on the Court.

As Vice President, Harris becomes president of the Senate. Her work begins today. This afternoon, she will be in the U.S. Capitol to execute her constitutional role and swear in three new Democratic senators: Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the two Democrats elected in a Georgia special election this month, and Alex Padilla, her own successor to the California seat she resigned on Monday. But this morning, she ascended to the second-highest office in the land.

Harris used two Bibles in the ceremony, according to NPR. The first belonged to Regina Shelton, a family friend whom Harris saw as a second mother. Harris used this Bible before when she took the oath of office as both California attorney general and U.S. senator. The second Bible was was owned by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black member of the Supreme Court.

Image
Vice President Kamala Harris takes her oath of office. Photo from Reuters.

As NPR noted, the vice president’s oath of office is slightly different from the president’s. It’s the oath typically taken by members of Congress. And it was that oath with which Vice President Kamala Harris sealed her place in American history.

“I, Kamala Devi Harris, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Another performance followed, with Jennifer Lopez delivering a mellifluous medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful”. Growing increasingly impassioned after a gentle beginning, Lopez recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish (!) towards the end. “Una nación, bajo Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos!” she enthused, in a nod to her Puerto Rican roots. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Her all-white pantsuit ensemble drew praise from ABC commentator George Stephanopoulos.

Also making waves on the fashion front was country singer Garth Brooks. Mr. Brooks came down the stairs, arriving at this black-tie event in a cowboy hat, black suit jacket, and blue jeans. His inclusion came as a surprise, given his conservative country roots. But Brooks made his intentions clear days ago:  “This is not a political statement. This is a statement of unity.” And unite he did.

Removing his hat, Brooks sang a spellbinding a cappella version of “Amazing Grace”. He asked the crowd outside and those at home to sing the final verse with him. His stunning performance was followed by an equally stunning move — a warm-hearted flouting of social distancing. Upon finishing the song, Brooks shook hands with Biden, former VP Mike Pence and Vice President Harris. Then, remarkably, Brooks — a Republican — ran over and hugged former President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and the Clintons.

Afterward, Joe Biden took the presidential oath of office. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts did the swearing-in. Biden placed his hand on a Bible that, according to the New York Times, has been in his family for 128 years. With his hand on that Bible and his wife by his side, Biden, 78, became the oldest president to take office.

Biden was sworn in with a 35-word oath of office at 11:49 am EST, just 11 minutes before the constitutional deadline at noon. He swore: “I, Joseph R. Robinette Biden Jr., do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”

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President Joe Biden is sworn in as president by Justice John Roberts.

Shortly afterward, Biden delivered his inaugural address. It was a cogent, compelling call for unity and healing. “This is America’s day,” Biden began. “This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, or renewal and resolve. Through a crucible for the ages, America has been tested anew, and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause: the cause of democracy.

The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” The crowd broke into applause. Biden continued:

“So now, on this hallowed ground — where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation — we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries. We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.” Biden noted that “the American way depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. On ‘We the People’, who seek a more perfect union.”

“This is a great nation and we are a good people,” Biden stressed. “Over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we have come so far. But we still have far to go. We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.

Much to repair.

Much to restore.

Much to heal.

Much to build.

And much to gain.

“Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now,” Biden went on. “A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.

A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, that we must confront and we will defeat.”

“To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity.”

Unity.

It was the name of the game throughout Biden’s address. “With unity we can do great things, Important things,” he said. “We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.”

Biden continued: “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos.

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward. And, we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together. And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh. All of us.

Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this.

And, I believe America is better than this.

To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”

“Yet hear me clearly,” he said. “Disagreement must not lead to disunion.”

“And I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans.”

“I understand that many Americans view the future with some fear and trepidation. I understand they worry about their jobs, about taking care of their families, about what comes next. I get it. But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you do, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” Biden said. And in a moving display of his own heart, Biden’s first act as president was asking Americans to join him in a moment of silence for the 400,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus.

Those Americans were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, Biden reminded us. They were our neighbors, our friends, and our co-workers, he said. “We will honor them by becoming the people and nation we know we can and should be.”

It was an elegant, eloquent speech; Chris Wallace (of Fox News!) said it was the best inaugural address he’d ever heard. But the day’s most memorable moment belonged to 22-year-old Amanda Gorman.

Joe Biden Sworn In As 46th President Of The United States At U.S. Capitol Inauguration Ceremony : News Photo
Amanda Gorman delivers the inaugural poem on Jan. 20, 2021. Photo by Patrick Semansky.

Today, Gorman became the youngest person ever to deliver a poem at an inauguration. In a spellbinding speech that lasted nearly six minutes, she captivated the nation. She spoke of the need to both acknowledge the past and to repair it. She referenced the deadly Capitol riot that killed five people (at last count) and which symbolized an attack on democracy — in the very same area in which she and Biden spoke. In rhythmic, mesmeric, lyrical prose, she met the moment.

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice.

And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We, the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.

[…]

We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb,
If only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.

“The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gourmand