All posts by Marcy

About Marcy

Advocate of Constitutional guarantees to individual liberty.

Research Triangle

North Carolina’s Dr. Ralph Baric, Virologist

North Carolina’s Research Triangle is home to world-class institutions. The Triangle gets its name from Research Triangle Park and three Tier 1 research universities—Duke University, North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Thus, it is not surprising to find North Carolina scientists on the forefront of coronavirus research and pharmaceutical development.

One such person is Dr. Ralph Baric, distinguished researcher and professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Recognition for his contributions to coronavirus research and vaccine development abound. Among his accolades in 2021 are the O. Max Gardner Award which recognizes faculty within the UNC System that make “the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race,” and the News & Observer Tar Heel of the Year award given to North Carolina residents who have made lasting contributions to their community and state.

Acknowledgement of individuals in any cutting-edge endeavor never comes without controversy. In today’s hyper reaction and response to the corona virus pandemic, Dr. Baric’s virus engineering is especially controversial. Dismissing concern about his work as conspiracy theory does not help, since it detracts from the immense complexity of such work. Some of the arguments are worth repeating.

The Lab-Leak Debate

In its September 2021 issue, the Atlantic carried an article about a proposal presented by Peter Daszak, President the EcoHealth Alliance, to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in 2018, describing a $14.2 million project to defuse the threat of bat-borne coronaviruses. Here is an excerpt from The Lab-Leak Debate Just Got Even Messier, the Atlantic, 09/26/21.

The document seems almost tailor-made to buttress one specific theory of a laboratory origin: that SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t simply brought into a lab by scientists and then released by accident, but rather pieced together in a deliberate fashion. In fact, the work described in the proposal fits so well into that narrative of a “gain-of-function experiment gone wrong” that some wondered if it might be too good to be true.

Central figures in the coronavirus-origins debate were involved. Among Daszak’s listed partners on the grant were Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an American virologist known for doing coronavirus gain-of-function studies in his lab, and Shi Zhengli, the renowned virus hunter from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Risks vs. Benefits of Virus Engineering

In June 2021, MIT Technology Review discussed the risks of bat-virus engineering that need to be weighed against the urgency of emerging pandemics. The article quoted Dr. Ralph Baric’s assessment of risk vs. benefit. Here is an excerpt from Inside the risky bat-virus engineering that links America to Wuhan, Technology Review, 06/29/21

His 2015 paper, “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence,” was a tour de force, utilizing bleeding-edge genetic technology to alert the civilized world to a looming danger on its periphery. It also revived concerns about gain-of-function experiments, which Baric had known it would.

In the paper, he spelled out the extra precautions he’d taken and held up the research as a test case. “The potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens,” he wrote. “Scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue.”

The NIH decided the risk was worth it. In a potentially fateful decision, it funded work similar to Baric’s at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which soon used its own reverse-genetics technology to make numerous coronavirus chimeras.

Quest for the Universal Remedy

As arguments pro and con COVID-19 vaccines rage, scientists on the fore front of vaccine development will inevitably receive both accolades and criticism. Again, dismissing all con arguments as conspiracy, anti-science, or anti-vaxxer is unhelpful. More rational and helpful would be to acknowledge that, as human beings, none of us produces perfect solutions, free from human limitations and frailties. Picking a best balance between risk and rewards is perhaps the best any of us can do.

The MIT Technology Review article quoted earlier mentions Dr. Baric’s efforts to develop “universal drugs and vaccines against the full spectrum of SARS-like viruses.” A breakthrough came with his collaborative work in 2013 with Dr. Shi Zhengli, the virology at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Shi had detected the genome of a new virus, called SHC014, that was one of the two closest relatives to the original SARS virus, but her team had not been able to culture it in the lab.

Baric had developed a way around that problem—a technique for “reverse genetics” in coronaviruses. Not only did it allow him to bring an actual virus to life from its genetic code, but he could mix and match parts of multiple viruses. He wanted to take the “spike” gene from SHC014 and move it into a genetic copy of the SARS virus he already had in his lab. The spike molecule is what lets a coronavirus open a cell and get inside it.

The resulting chimera would demonstrate whether the spike of SHC014 would attach to human cells. If it could, then it could help him with his long-term project of developing universal drugs and vaccines against the full spectrum of SARS-like viruses that he increasingly considered sources of potential pandemics.

From Splicing to Vaccination

Dr. Baric holds Patent number 9884895 Methods and compositions for chimeric coronavirus spike proteins, among his many other scientific papents. As the inventor of this product (with Drs. Sudhakar Agnihothram and Boyd Yount), Dr. Baric can claim a major contribution to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Risks Necessitate Free and Informed Choices

Identification and manipulation of viral spike proteins entail serious risk. But so is being exposed to the coronavirus without the choice of protection via a vaccine.

Researchers in the life sciences are the primary line of defense against organisms that harms us. Polio and smallpox are no longer the scourges they once were. Hopefully, soon SARS-CoV-2 will also be tamed in a collaborative approach that allows for rational and free assessments of risks and benefits.

Leontyne Price in Aida

And the Soul Felt its Worth

Seems each year that passes, Christmas is getting less exciting. Christmas 2021 is competing not only with the devastation caused by COVID-19 response, but also with the drumbeat of identity politics. Maybe it is time to dial back. Maybe it is time to regain some “Christmas Spirit.”

Here is one way to do both: Sit back and listen to Leontyne Price sing Oh Holy Night. Better yet, also listen to a Price interview, where she is fun, loving, and oh, so self-assured.

Picture above shows Leontyne Price performing one of her most famous operatic parts, Aida. Picture below shows Price in an interview with Anthony Tommasini, chief classical critic at the New York times.

Oh Holly Night and Leontyne Price seem to fit together well. The song talks about Jesus moving people away from desperation to a feeling of self-worth and new beginnings:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

Leontyne Price has absolutely no doubt about her worth as a human being or an accomplished singer. She said:

Accomplishments have no color.

To sing is the most human of the art form delivery, more than, perhaps, an instrument which has to be tuned mechanically. You are the tuner; you are the vessel. Everything depends on how you feel as a person. It is for you to hear how beautiful your instrument is.

In Leontyne Price’s interview with Anthony Tommasini, she talks about her voice range. Her point is you need to know what you want to achieve, visualize the result, and be in complete charge of what you need to do to accomplish what you want. In other words, feel your worth.

Like liberty, self worth is God given. You either find it in yourself or, to your detriment, you wait for others to decide to give it to you or not.

Merry Christmas

Bill of Rights

Alternate Media with Cameron Weber

Thank you to Cameron Weber — economist, historian, and educator — for writing, producing and hosting Hardfire TV. Several of the Hardfire segments are on YouTube.

Dr. Weber and the guests on his show provide the liberal (“liberal” meaning “liberty-leaning”) view on a wide variety of subjects. On December 10, 2021, guests Marcy Berry, John Clifton, and Erik Frankel discussed how government seizes the opportunity of a crisis to expand its power and reach.

20 Years of the USA Patriot Act shows how new laws and changes to existing laws immediately followed the declaration of emergency in the wake of the 9/11 attack. The Patriot Act was not renewed in 2020, but the numerous restrictions imposed by the laws the Act left behind remain.

Guests at Hardfire TV

Erik Frankel for Council

Erik Frankel: Citizen Statesman

As the size of government at all levels grows, so does obscurity and lack of accountability. Most unfortunately, what goes on under layer upon layer of bureaucracy affects us all, mostly in negative ways.

We can choose to accept the status quo and do the best we can to avoid the fallout, or we can actively fight for transparency and accountability.

One such fighter is Erik Frankel of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York.

Erik Frankel sells shoes. His store, Frankel’s Shoe Co., has been in his family since 1890. According to Yelp, Frankel’s Shoe Co. supplies most of New York construction workers, iron workers, and utility workers with their safety toe shoes and clothes. He has shared his knowledge and experience with workers in Vietnam, Myanmar, China.

Upon returning to the U.S., Frankel seems to have had an epiphany – small businesses, workers, communities are all in danger of falling victim to obscure bureaucracies that claim to help but do nothing but hinder. So he ran for a seat in his district’s Council.

Frankel wasted no time doing his homework as to who his main opponent was, and how in his view, she was a strong spoke in a bureaucratic wheel. Alexa Aviles managed the huge portfolio of the non-profit Scherman Fund. The fund distributed money to various progressive groups locally and nationally.

Then Ms. Aviles ran for a spot in Council District 38 – with endorsements and support from receivers of her largess?

It goes without saying that with high-profile endorsements Alexa Aviles won the race with 9,228 votes vs. Erik Frankel’s 2,209. Interestingly, though, that 2,209 votes was a strong showing, given that the other opponents of Alexa Aviles each received 1 to 3 votes.

The Founding Fathers had a point – folks running the country should do it out of patriotism not necessity. A politician needs to get elected by any means necessary to put food on his family’s table. A store owner does not.

Now, Erik Frankel is running for Congress. Stay tuned.

The Just Vote No Blog recommends Erik Frankel’s opinion piece of October 15, 2021, regarding his run for City Councilmember. His op-ed appeared on Star Review, a paper serving several Brooklyn neighborhoods. Please read on:

Is Aviles Conflicted?

The Scherman Fund is a huge non-profit fund with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, including millions invested in hedge funds, some in the Cayman Islands.

As Program Director, Alexa Aviles managed a portfolio in the tens of millions. She was given a mission to spread the money around to various progressive groups in New York and around the country.

During her tenure, she oversaw donations to numerous organizations in Brooklyn, including key grass roots groups in Sunset Park and Red Hook within District 38.

Ms. Aviles has yet to explain how, as a socialist and a member of the DSA, she justified working for a non-profit largely engaged in investing in the very same capitalist institutions she reviles. It turns out, it was worth it for her.

The Scherman Fund’s 990 tax forms from 2018 show a series of large donations to one organization, Make The Road New York. $200,000 in two contributions for “Sanctuary NYC Campaign” and another $25,000 for “Get Out The Vote”. The 2018 form also shows $40,000 to the Red Hook Initiative for “RedHookFarms”.

It’s no wonder Make The Road’s action committee felt the need to endorse Alexa in the Democratic primary in June. The irony is Ms. Aviles was in charge of the Governmental Transparency and Accountability program at the Scherman Fund. Ms. Aviles clearly was thinking about her run for a long time. She wanted to make sure potential backers knew she means business. Especially in a crowded field with a number of qualified candidates.

While she champions her record as an educational activist and her time as a PTA member, she really has been making hundreds of thousands of dollars, first as a consultant, then at a politically beneficial job as program director of an influential charity.

While we don’t expect to hear from the Aviles campaign on this, we encourage them to at least respond with a statement for the public’s sake. We are running a campaign based on transparency, something that is desperately needed in District 38 where third party groups and the community board have provided anything but.

Our opponent is running with the support of all the very same institutions that have stifled growth in Sunset Park and Red Hook for years. They claim to be for environmental justice and housing justice but have failed to deliver for the working people of the district. They want affordable homes and good paying jobs,not empty promises and continued gentrification.

We’re running a campaign to provide an alternative to the status quo which, despite her radical leanings, Ms. Aviles will continue to represent. We call on her campaign to release the Scherman fun’s 990 tax forms for 2019 and 2020 which are unavailable to the public. We ask them, for transparency’s sake, to reveal if any of the money went to groups which then backed her bid.

Skyline in Charlotte, North Carolina

Hello North Carolina

Greetings from North Carolina. The Just Vote No Blog just moved here. Therefore, the Blog now has a new page dedicated to the state. Here is an overview of JVN’s new home.

Population and Growth

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states, along with Texas and Florida. People are moving here seeking economic opportunities — especially in the expanding technology field — affordability, and open spaces. In 2020 there were 10.4 million people living in North Carolina, making it the ninth largest state in the nation, and one which gained an additional congressional seat in the 2020 census. Net migration in and around the state’s largest cities has been a key component of North Carolina’s growth.

The state’s most populous and best-known cities are,

  • Charlotte, population 912,096, is a business and financial center. Bank of America headquarters are in Charlotte, and Wells Fargo Bank has a large presence in the city.
  • Raleigh, population 483,579, is the state capital. The city is known for financial, educational and cultural facilities.
  • Durham, population 283,506, is the principal city in North Carolina’s famous Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). Duke University and Duke University Health System are Durham’s largest employers.

Despite growth, North Carolina’s rural population remains significant. In 2019, 40% of the state’s population lived in rural areas, and 85% of North Carolina’s municipalities had less than 10,000 residents. Residents of the more suburban areas enjoy tree-lined streets, large leafy backyards, and lots of open space.

Major Industries

North Carolina is home to 13 Fortune 500 companies. Major industries with headquarters or business presence in the state are:

Aerospace and defense: Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, GE Aviation and Spirit AeroSystems.
Automotive and heavy machinery: Bridgestone, Caterpillar, Borg Warner, Freightliner, and Thomas Built Buses.
Food processing and manufacturing: Campbell’s, Butterball, Smithfield, Sierra Nevada, Texas Pete (known for its Louisiana-style hot sauce) and Mt. Olive (known for its pickles).
Information Technology: Google, IBM, Cisco.
Biotechnology and pharmaceutical: Bayer, BASF, LabCorp and Novo Nordisk.
Furniture: Ethan Allen, Ashley Furniture, Lexington Home Brands and Sealy.

Income, Housing and Employment

Real median household income is $60,266 (U.S. $67,521; California $77,358).
Average listing price of homes is $513,120 (U.S. $710,321; California $1,554,478).
Unemployment rate is 4.1 (U.S. 4.6; California 7.3)

Note: When we speak of homes in North Carolina, especially in southern counties such as Holly Springs or Apex, we are talking about relatively large residences. Neighborhoods with few, if any, homes smaller than 3-bedrooms 3-baths are not uncommon.

Politics

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state’s General Assembly, but do not have veto-proof majorities. Thus, Governor Roy Cooper, Democrat, uses his veto power prolifically. This arrangement satisfies the majority Democrat voters for now. Libertarians and Greens do not comprise a share of the voting public significant enough to affect political outcomes.

History and Culture

North Carolina was one of the original 13 British colonies. Despite hardships and disease, the colonies grew and prospered along the Atlantic coast during the 17th and 18th centuries. Growth was mostly the result of migration of free and indentured people fleeing war, persecution, or lack of opportunities in Europe; convicts sent to America by the European courts; and Africans sold to slave traders.

Climate, soil, natural resources, and proximity to the sea determined how the colonies developed. New England Colonies — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — flourished with fish, whale products, ships, timber products, and furs. The Middle Colonies — Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey — with vast fertile ground, were the “breadbasket” of the colonies, where farmers produced corn, wheat, beef, and pork. The Southern Colonies — Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia – had hilly coastal plains with good soil to grow large tracks of cash crops like tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar cane and indigo.

The large, labor-intensive cash crop plantations of the Southern Colonies encouraged the adoption of cheap labor. Slavery was the cheapest form of labor. After the initial outlay for the purchase of a slave, a plantation owner spent little more in food and shelter, and garnered the benefit of subsequent generation of slaves. Slavery did exist in the Northeast and Middle Colonies, but not to the same extent, since the economies of those colonies did not depend on sizeable manual labor.

Slogan and Motto

On April 12, 1776, North Carolina’s Provincial Congress met in Halifax and passed a resolution calling for independence from Great Britain. The Halifax Resolves made North Carolina the first state to call for independence.

By that time, the colonies had developed some form of self-government. They also had developed sustaining trade both with one another and with Great Britain. So the time was ripe for independence, which formally came with the 1784 Treaty of Paris.

Today, North Carolina motorists can choose to have the official slogan “First in Freedom” on their license plates to commemorate the Halifax Resolves.

Obviously, that slogan did not come about without controversy, since antebellum North Carolina was heavily dependent on slave labor and joined the Confederacy in 1861. The state was not readmitted to the Union until 1868, after it agreed to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Given North Carolina’s slogan, the state’s motto seems almost chiding: Esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem.” The phrase is from Cicero’s essay On Friendship chapter 98: Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti sse quam videri volunt, “Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.”

Pictured Above

Skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pictured Below

Fuquay-Varina is one of the fastest-growing towns in Wake County, North Carolina, but visiting Fuquay is like stepping into a quiet past. Fuquay’s Christmas Parade was on Sunday, December 5. It was a pretty relaxed, fun event, with lots of cheering for the marching local groups. Pictured is the enthusiastic brass band.

A parade always shows what is important to residents. This parade was led by police and firefighters in uniform. North Carolina is host to several military bases; thus, unsurprisingly the state National Guard and other military contingents rode their military vehicles or marched. The Fuquay Cruisers showed off their pre-1970s classic cars. High schoolers, home schoolers, ROTC, and Scouts were all there.

One had to wonder how many of the happy people lining up the parade route were transplants from California and other states.

Brass band in parade
Leaves Turning Brown

California Emptyin’

Thank you to Steve Frank, publisher of California Political News & Views, for publishing my adieu to California. In October 2021, my family and I joined the exodus out of a state we once loved and once offered so many opportunities for work and growth. A misguided political class that rose to power in the early 1990s has chased away the middle class, invited in the billionaires, and blanketed the streets with the homeless.

Those of us who bailed out are not looking back. Those who chose to stay behind have one more choice to make: fight for a return to sanity or slowly descend into irrelevance.

Marcy Berry
Just Vote No Editor

________________________________

California Emptyin’

Some of us are old enough to remember the Mamas and the Papas’ iconic hit California Dreamin’.

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin’
On such a winter’s d
ay

There was a time when people did dream of coming to California. There was a time when L.A. was safe. But today, California is experiencing it’s own kind of winter’s day. There is less of California dreamin’ and more of California emptyin’.

Today the middle class – the backbone of America’s economy – is choosing brown leaves and wintry days over California’s nightmare of inordinate living costs, back-breaking taxes, endless restrictions, miserable schools, homelessness, and unsightly streets.

As I look out of the window of my new home in North Carolina, I see loads of brown leaves. I have already felt a couple of days of bone-chilling breezes, and I have been advised to purchase some heavy winter clothes. And I have met several California ex-pats who are happy to be here and are not looking back. We are the middle class. We are the workers on the ground. And we are leaving California.

The California political class is either amazingly brilliant or abysmally dull on the head. If their aim is to grow and cement inordinate power by methodically obliterating their constituents’ individual rights, they are doing a magnificent job. If they are hoping to maintain California’s stature as having an impressive production of goods and services, they are, as the saying goes, not all there.

Either way, though, the picture is not pretty. Either way, the state will disintegrate as other jurisdictions from Rome to Detroit have in the past.

This is the time to choose: bail out, roll up your sleeves and fight, or quietly descend into irrelevance.

Our family chose to bail out of California. But we have not chosen to stop fighting for the survival of the Republic our Founding Fathers envisioned.

We send you best wishes.

Workers vaccine protest

Mandates v. the survival of our Republic

Yes, we have a pandemic. It does not matter whether the pandemic originated from some spliced bug engineered with the help of the U.S. Chief Medical Advisor or not. We still need to deal with the bug. How we deal with it, though, has become a determinant whether our nation remains a free Republic or a restrictive Fascist state.

To elucidate, a free Republic is what our Founding Fathers envisioned – a nation ruled by a government that abides by the will of its people. A Fascist state is ruled by the will of the unholy alliance of government and corporations. And socialism? Questionable whether socialism is taking hold in the U.S. For starters, true socialism views all citizens as responsible for one another, not one group solely responsible for another group.

Now, back to the subject at hand, mandates.

On September 9, 2021, President Joe Biden directed the U.S. Department of Labor to draft a rule to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate that their employees receive the COVID-19 injection or undergo a weekly COVID-19 test.

On November 4, 2021, Biden and the Department of Labor announced the mandate, including heavy fines for employers that do not comply with the injection or testing mandates.

Big corporations, including pharmaceutical corporations, have been reaping government largess for the last couple of decades. Cheap money courtesy of the Fed has allowed corporations to gobble up small and nascent businesses – their competition – creating the kleptocracy we now have. Big Pharma has joined Big Data in their alliance with Big Government, while we the average Janes and Joes of America lose our individual freedoms, our economic power, and our will to fight back.

The Pushback

But that is not the end of the story. It might be that this nation is still the land of the free and the brave. It might be that some are drawing their line in the sand issuing the same warning as the Revolutionaries did back in 1775,

DON’T TREAD ON ME

Yes, we have a pandemic. Yes, our hearts break when we lose a loved one to COVID-19. But some states like Florida and Texas are not willing to let our Republic die too. Citizens of those states, and brave souls in more repressive states such as California and New York, are willing to let nature and natural immunity take their course. They are willing to take chances on behalf of the survival of our Republic.

Pockets of resistance to decrees from above have been popping up, in spite of mainstream media’s habit of calling resisters to government overreach “anti-government,” in spite of peer pressure calling resisters “selfish,” in spite of loss of jobs for resisting. Here are some high-profile upsets to the status quo:

* Airlines, healthcare, and municipal workers were among the first to protest vaccine mandates.

* On November 2, 2021, Edward Durr, a commercial truck driver won the New Jersey Senate seat over long-standing politician Steve Sweeney. His words,

It’s people told they can’t have a job. They can’t go to church. They can’t go to school. You can’t go shopping. They can’t go and eat dinner. …You cannot continue to tell people they cannot do things when we live in the freest country in the world. Edward Durr

* In Virginia financier and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin defeated career politician Terry McAuliffe in the governor’s race. Youngkin’s platform included private sector creation of jobs and lower taxes. But what prompted his win was his support for parents of school-age children concerned about school closures, mask mandates, and curriculum over which parents exercised little control.

* On November 12, a three-member panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed its ruling to place President Biden’s on hold.

The public interest is also served by maintaining our constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions – even, or perhaps particularly, when those decisions frustrate government officials. Circuit Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt

* A slick video, reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, landed on DC Patriots website opposing P&G’s vaccine mandate. The video reminds viewers of the byword “our body our choice,” and warns of the results of our allowing politicians and corporations to push producers too hard.

Our company has threatened us with termination in the near future for daring to say “our body our choice.” … When the factories in which we work grind to a halt you will be to blame.

The Real Fight

Children suffocate under masks, workers live under threats of termination, going to work or going to our house of worship now comes with numerous restrictions.

The fight is no longer against a bug. The fight is for the survival of our free Republic.

Picture: New York City firefighters protest vaccine mandates in front of Mayor’s office.

Chaos at Kabul Airport

Afghanistan and the sunk-cost dilemma

Afghanistan is back in Taliban hands after 20 years of U.S. occupation. On August 16, 2021, President Joe Biden explained his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.

So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghans — Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives — American lives — is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?

I’m clear on my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces. Joe Biden, August 16, 2021

U. S. costs since 2001 have been: 2,500 U.S. military deaths, 4,000 U.S. civilian contractors killed, an estimated 167,000 Afghan deaths, and $2 trillion spent.

The probability was low that Afghanistan’s central government installed after the U.S. 2001 invasion would survive without a strong U.S. presence.

When I hosted President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah at the White House in June and again when I spoke by phone to Ghani in July, we had very frank conversations. We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight their civil wars after the U.S. military departed, to clean up the corruption in government so the government could function for the Afghan people. We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically. They failed to do any of that. Joe Biden, August 16, 2021

A good interpreter interacting with the locals might let you in that the locals were confused about our presence there. A great interpreter would take the time to explain to you that outside of a few select people tied directly to the government, many locals were confused by even the mention of Afghanistan. They identified themselves as “Pashtuns” and if asked where they lived, believed they were in “Pashtunistan,” encompassing a region that is parts of Southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Task & Purpose, August 17, 2021

Joe Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, recognized the realities in Afghanistan, and on February 29, 2020, signed an agreement with Taliban leaders that set the date for U.S. troop withdrawal by May 1, 2021, and lay down a strategy for evacuating U.S. personnel and allies.

Although Biden shared Trump’s vision of troop withdrawal sooner rather than later, he delayed the withdrawal and the evacuation, allowing the Taliban to take control before allies were orderly evacuated. The ensuing chaos, reminiscent of the fall of Saigon in 1975, prompted criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

There has also been criticism of perceived disregard for the fate under Taliban rule of women and girls. The Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic principles calls for the subservience of women. The Taliban is now in charge, and expecting the U.S. government to dictate how the Taliban should treat women appears arrogant. If women and girls of Afghanistan value their education, right to work outside the home, owning property, and having other individual freedoms enjoyed by men, they have a challenging road ahead.

Shibboleths like “You broke it, you own it,” feel more like someone’s admonition at Faberge than a reference to the devastation of wars. The U.S. went into Afghanistan to rid itself of Al-Qaeda. It appears it did that, for now. In the context of war, no further action is required.

In the context of diplomacy and intelligence, there is much that can be done, especially now that the Taliban wants to be seen as a gentler, kinder version of its former self.

Since capturing Kabul, the Taliban have sought to rebrand themselves as more moderate, promising former rivals amnesty, urging women to join their government, pledging stability at home and trying to persuade the international community to see beyond a bloody past defined by violence and repression. New York Times, August 21, 2021

The correct response to the sunk-cost dilemma is to realistically evaluate the situation, and if most variables are not conducive to success, get out – mitigate as best you can, but get out. President Joe Biden failed to conduct an orderly conclusion to U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, but at least he gave the orders to get out.

Congress could still be MIA after new war powers bill

On a regular basis, members of Congress grumble about the Executive Branch usurping the war powers granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, air strikes and other incursions continue unabated. Last month, President Joe Biden ordered “defensive precision air strikes” in Iraq and Syria, reportedly in response to drone attacks on U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq.

This month, Congress’ grumbling resulted in Senate Bill 2391, the National Security Powers Act, introduced on 07/20/21 by Senators Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

SB 2391 aims to do the following:

  • Increase Congress’ control over the authorization of military actions.
  • Reform the review of weapons sales to foreign countries.
  • Increase Congress’ control over the declaration of national emergencies.

The Bill aims to accomplish its objectives principally by the following:

  • Repeal of the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
  • Sunset four existing authorizations for the use of military force. One of which is the open-ended authorization President Dwight Eisenhower obtained from Congress in 1957 purportedly to protect Middle Eastern nations from Communist aggression. The remaining three authorizations are those Congress granted following the 9/11 attack on the U.S.
  • Set forth the minutia of what words in the Bill mean, when a U.S. President can send troops into military action without Congress’ authorization, and when authorizations are supposed to end.
  • Require Congressional authorization for foreign arms sales over certain amounts.
  • Require a President submit underlying laws and protocols supporting declarations of emergency, and limit the duration of states of emergency.

In spite of rhetoric about usurpation of war powers, all this bill aims to accomplish is a reform of how Congress can continue to dodge its Constitutional responsibility to speedily and efficiently deliberate on matters of war, and choose to declare or not declare war when military hostilities arise.

If Congress were really serious about curbing Presidential usurpation of power in matters of military action, all that Congress needs to do is repeal all war-related statutory authorizations now on the books and abide solely by what the U.S. Constitution states in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11; and Article II, Section 2,

Article I – Congress shall have the power,

  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.

Article II –

  • The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.

Articles I and II make clear that Congress needs to declare war before a President exercises his duties as Commander in Chief. Constitutionally, in matters of war a President’s duties are solely military, directing deployments of troops placed at his command by Congress.

This Bill requires Congressional approval of government foreign arms sales over certain amounts. This requirement implies Congress’ view that choosing arms buyers is akin to choosing friends and foes. Besides, the U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole power in Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 to “Regulate commerce with foreign nations.”

The last time Congress exercised its Constitutional responsibility under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 was December 1941. For the last 80 years, men and women in the military have been sent into battle without public debate or a formal declaration of war. Although Senate Bill 2391 falls short in requiring that Congress exercise its Constitutional duty regarding the declaration of war, it does call for some restraints that could prevent the Executive Branch from engaging the nation in forever wars.

Pictured: Korean War – Nearly 40,000 U.S. soldiers died in action and more than 100,000 were wounded in a war that was never declared by the U.S. Congress.

Yoga Moms United for Slow Streets

Today’s urban streets that feature barricades prohibiting thru traffic sport different names depending on target population – slow streets, car-free streets, safe streets, and open streets are the most popular titles.  Bikers, joggers, and central planners love these streets.  Central planners especially have been dreaming about the extinction of automobiles for decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the brass ring, the golden ticket for car-free-streets implementation in cities throughout the U.S.  Sheltered-in-place folks in urban areas needed safe outdoor spaces for fresh air and exercise, and car-free streets stepped in as a solution.

The City of Oakland was the first in California to implement a slow-streets program back in April 2020.  The cities of Emeryville, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, Alameda, and others soon followed.   

However now as the pandemic wanes, so does the temporary nature of car-free streets.  Local legislation is popping up to make these streets permanent.  Cities are rebranding the streets’ existence as good for health, recreation and pedestrian protection regardless of pandemics. 

California assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-LA) introduced AB 773 (at present awaiting referral) to facilitate the “closing of a portion of any street to through vehicular traffic if local authorities deem such action necessary for the safety and protection of people using that portion of the street.”

All the enthusiasm for car-free streets comes with a measure of cynicism. 

Car-free streets are best suited for yoga moms, cycling dads and others in the higher-income brackets.  They fit right in with the lifestyles of work-from-home professionals that like to go out for a stroll between Zoom meetings.  They are fantastic for bike messengers and able-bodied non-workers. 

Generally, they are impediments for workers that need to drop off their kids in daycare and/or school and be at work by 8:00 am.  Closed areas that provide direct access to destinations, such as the Great Highway in San Francisco, represent scarce time spent on meandering.  Car-free streets do not serve residents of neighborhoods plagued with crime, where taking a stroll down a street might not be the wise thing to do. 

In spite of talk of aiming for racial equity in car-free streets initiatives, neighborhoods with majority black and brown residents often reject them. 

Ah, but slow streets help small businesses that often employ those of lower income, no?  – picture of happy people sitting outside in a “shared space” on a sunny day enjoying their margaritas.  Feels more like advertising than truthful reporting. 

But slow streets reduce pollution and traffic fatalities! – no picture of the irate motorist barreling through a slow street barricade, or another just clogging up the parallel street.

San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton made pretty clear what he thinks of slow-street equity.  Of the proposed permanent closure of the eastern half of Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive, Supervisor Walton said like “1950s in the South.”  Walton’s supervisorial district contains large populations of lower-income residents that live in less than safe areas, without efficient public transit.  Thus car ownership and usage is high compared to the rest of the City.  Where do they park if they want to visit the north-eastern part of GGP?  No parking along the closed portion of JFK, and the park’s underground garage is expensive.

In the city of Oakland, initial surveys on car-free streets showed the program was popular.  Problem was, two thirds of survey respondents were white and 40% had household incomes of $150,000 or more (Oakland’s population is over 70% non-white, and the median household income is $76,000).  So, Oakland’s Essential Places program, designed for lower-income neighborhoods, chucked the strolling/biking narrative, strengthened barricades so cars would not plow through them, and rebranded objectives as helping pedestrians move around safely in reaching essential destinations.  Maybe lower-income Oaklanders view slow streets as suspiciously as does San Francisco Supervisor Walton? 

Government programs are immortal by nature.  Like government bureaus, they are also “the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”   Especially so are programs such as car-free streets that help implement agendas like climate change, smart cities, or transit-oriented development.  For example, Smart Growth America, advocates for smart cities, contributed to the funding for Oakland’s slow-street initiative. 

The elites can comfortably ignore or embrace these agendas. The less affluent cannot.  Urban housing developments have contributed to gentrification and increased cost of housing for families.  Divestment from petroleum has increased the cost of energy and transportation.  Slow streets, coupled with a “transit first” policy that lacks reliable transit, only serve to inconvenience the working poor. 

Politicians and the public need to stop the cynicism.  Streets are for transit and responsible drivers that need to get where they need to go.  Bike lanes, street crossings, sidewalks, playgrounds and parks are the domain of folks not driving at the time. 

This article, written by JVN website editor, was first published on California Political News and Views