Stuff Is Happening: Refugees, Responses, and Rockets
Updated: May 3
To kick off this new blog, I thought I'd compile a set of recent actions and events that aim to improve the lives of people worldwide. While we might not like everything that politicians are doing, it's good to remember that not everything is getting worse all the time. In the face of world events and the evening news, things may seem scary, but remember that there are always people out there fighting for things to get better. And, of course, if you disagree with one of these courses of action, feel free to reach out to your local representatives and tell them what you think!
I've tried to link my sources, and have put my main sources at the end of each segment. Please let me know what you think of what I've written, and tell me if you have anything you'd like me to cover! I hope that you have a wonderful evening.
-- Seal with a Pen
The United States will be accepting 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. Geopolitics aside, the current situation in Ukraine has been a humanitarian disaster, with the International Organization for Migration, a part of the UN, estimating that around 6.48 million people have already been displaced from their homes. Today, the Biden administration has announced that the United States will do more to help everyone affected by the crisis, including over $1 billion in humanitarian assistance and a plan to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees from Europe until the crisis is over. With so many people fleeing their homes, jobs, communities, and even nation, hopefully these additional efforts will change the lives of thousands of Ukrainians in desperate need of help. Read more: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/03/24/us-ukrainian-refugees-00019978 (Politico), https://reason.com/2022/03/24/u-s-plans-to-welcome-100000-fleeing-ukrainians/ (Reason)
Bill to improve pandemic response moves forward in Congress. A new bipartisan bill known as the PREVENT Pandemics Act has just been approved by the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, allowing it to move for a vote by the whole Senate. After serious job shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the new bill would make hiring easier for the Health and Human Services Department during public health emergencies, begin a study into ways of solving similar problems in the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and create a brand new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, also known as ARPA-H. Like the similarly-named Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which has helped advance U.S. technology since the 1950s, ARPA-H would drive innovation in medicine and health. ARPA-H has already been funded but still needs legal authorization. Read more: https://www.govexec.com/management/2022/03/bipartisan-bill-making-it-easier-agencies-hire-during-pandemics-gaining-momentum/363344/ (Government Executive), https://www.aamc.org/advocacy-policy/washington-highlights/senate-help-committee-marks-advances-prevent-pandemics-act (Association of American Medical Colleges)
Space Launch System (Credit: NASA)
Giant moon rocket is rolled out to the launch pad. After over a decade of work developing a brand new rocket to launch astronauts back to the moon, NASA has finally succeeded in rolling it out to its launch pad. Since is the first time this rocket's been launched, NASA still has a lot of tests to perform before it's ready to launch, and it's not expected to fly until June. Still, this is a huge step forward for the rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS). It's quite a feat of human engineering to see a rocket 322 feet tall -- nearly the length of an entire football field -- roll around outside. Read more: https://spaceflightnow.com/2022/03/22/photos-sls-makes-its-debut-at-nasas-kennedy-space-center/ (Spaceflight Now), https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-mega-moon-rocket-spacecraft-complete-first-roll-to-launch-pad (NASA press release)
The Post Office is investing in more electric vehicles. The current vehicles used by the USPS to deliver mail -- an essential function of government specified in the U.S. Constitution -- were built in the late 1980s and 1990s, and all have exceeded their intended 24-year life span. With the USPS ordering new vehicles to start driving next year, bringing new safety features and air condition, 10% were originally expected to be electric. EVs are more expensive than normal vehicles, in part because the USPS will need to build new charging stations to power the new vans. But, with a new bipartisan bill improving the postal service's financial situation and a new report from the USPS inspector general -- an official who watches the USPS to make sure that its decisions are free of waste and corruption -- indicating that electric vehicles would be less costly than previously believed, the USPS has now announced that they will be doubling their purchases of EVs. Read more: https://www.govexec.com/management/2022/03/usps-has-placed-its-first-order-new-vehicles-and-its-going-more-electric-anticipated/363572/ (Government Executive), https://apnews.com/article/technology-business-environment-postal-service-louis-dejoy-59e530f13fb806d9e632bf1e7e7307f9 (Associated Press)
SpaceX to launch OneWeb satellites to space. OneWeb is a British company that seeks to provide worldwide internet by launching a whole lot of satellites, similarly to Elon Musk's famous Starlink. Russia has so far launched most of OneWeb's satellites into space, but since the Russo-Ukrainian War broke out last month, Russia is now refusing to launch any more of their satellites, and OneWeb has had to turn elsewhere. Lo and behold, SpaceX has been chosen as their new launch supplier due to their ability to rapidly launch large numbers of satellites into orbit at short notice! SpaceX got their start from a contract offered by NASA -- the part of the US government that focuses on spaceflight -- to launch food and cargo into orbit for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. By creating a market for commercial launch services, NASA helped kickstart SpaceX's path to becoming one of the world's most competitive rocket companies. While the size of the new contract isn't known, OneWeb's old contract was worth more than $1 billion, so it's safe to say a lot of new money will be flowing to American jobs in the near future. Read more: https://spaceflightnow.com/2022/03/21/oneweb-signs-with-spacex-to-resume-launching-internet-constellation/ (Spaceflight Now), https://oneweb.net/resources/oneweb-resume-satellite-launches-through-agreement-spacex (OneWeb press release)
Brand new Amache National Historic Site (Credit: NPS/Stuart West)
From the last week in Congress. Last Friday, Congress passed three new pieces of legislation. (If you're ever interested in what Congress manages to pass each week, you can check out their official page here!) The first of these new laws establishes a new National Historic Site at the Colorado location of one of the camps where people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated during World War II. The second bill seeks to address the shockingly high rates of poor mental health and suicide among healthcare providers (doctors, etc.) by distributing grants to treat and support healthcare providers suffering from mental illness. It is certainly good to see that this urgent issue is getting some attention from Congress, even with everything else that goes on every day. The third law passed last week aims to reduce minority underrepresentation at certain medical and health institutions by increasing eligibility for related research grants. Read more: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/594232-senate-passes-bill-to-make-former-internment-camp-national-historic-site (first law on The Hill), https://www.forbes.com/sites/ninashapiro/2022/03/21/president-signs-health-care-provider-protection-act-into-law/?sh=a7e233414b67 (second law on Forbes), https://riponadvance.com/stories/cassidys-bill-to-reinforce-research-on-minority-health-disparities-signed-into-law/ (third law on Ripon Advance)
The Supreme Court to consider discriminatory voter list distribution. Many states distribute lists of registered voters, possibly including you, to political parties and advocacy groups that might then, say, reach out to encourage you to vote. (Some states allow you to opt-out from these lists.) Sometimes these lists are available publicly or for a flat fee, but in some states the major parties -- the Democrats and Republicans -- get the list for free while everyone else has to pay money for the information. The U.S. Supreme Court has docketed -- meaning to take up or admit -- a case from the Libertarian Party of Alabama challenging this discrepancy. Read more: https://ballot-access.org/2022/03/23/u-s-supreme-court-dockets-alabama-libertarian-case-over-access-to-list-of-registered-voters/ (Ballot Access News)
Postal banking is still up for consideration. This one's a bit more controversial, but discussions are ongoing in Congress to try and expand a pilot program which would allow post offices to offer banking services, such as checking and savings accounts, check cashing, and bill payment. A little known fact in the U.S. is that one state actually already has its own bank: heavily Republican North Dakota. In addition to offering banking services to millions of Americans who currently don't have such access, this new proposal has been touted as a potential route to improving the USPS' financial situation. A small pilot program allowed USPS customers to cash checks at a few post offices starting last year, however the program has yet to expand. Since nothing has passed yet (and probably won't for a while), if you don't like this idea, you still have plenty of time to reach out to your representative and tell them what you think. This proposal isn't actually new, however: your local post office used to offer the same sort of services all the way up until 1967. Read more: https://www.govexec.com/management/2022/03/usps-banking-isnt-done-yet-even-though-it-was-stripped-recent-spending-package/363530/ (Government Executive), https://www.aarp.org/money/investing/info-2022/restarting-postal-banking-services.html (American Association of Retired Persons)