• Seal with a Pen

The Upbeat: Honoring Justices, Ending Corruption, and Surveilling Sewage

Updated: May 3

Hello all!


The big news story today seems to be the release of President Biden's new budget proposal, which aims to slow down the growth of the national debt. That, however, is not what I will be covering today. Instead, let's take a look at some more big-tent issues and global happenings that show politics doesn't always need to mean angry words, party-line fights, and harsh feelings.


-- Seal with a Pen


Kazakhstan stays open for business. Kazakhstan, nestled to the south of Russia, has a shoddy record of political freedoms and, since leaving the Soviet Union in 1991, has been a close ally of its northern neighbor, an alliance that includes its participation in the Russian version of NATO as well as the (far less powerful) Russian equivalent of the European Union. But, after refusing to send troops to Ukraine late last month, Kazakhstan has now openly declared that they're not interested in any new confrontation with the West. The declaration from the Kazakhstan's deputy foreign minister: "If there is a new iron curtain, we do not want to be behind it." Read more: https://www.reuters.com/world/kazakhstan-does-not-want-be-behind-new-iron-curtain-deputy-minister-2022-03-28/ (Reuters), https://www.barrons.com/news/kazakhstan-doesn-t-want-to-be-behind-iron-curtain-minister-01648466708 (Barron's)


"Sewage surveillance" may aid future public health efforts. This week Government Executive put out this wonderful article about how sewage can be used to help public health officials to monitor disease trends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials discovered that they could test sewage lines to monitor the spread of COVID in populations. While at-home tests take a while to come back and are hard to track, sewage testing allows health officials to track the spread of various diseases much faster and easier while preserving individual privacy, since the sewage tested comes from a whole bunch of different homes. I recommend reading the whole article if you're interested in learning about how this new practice is being implemented by local governments.


Lynching is now a federal crime. Today, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was signed into effect by the President, the culmination of over a century of efforts to ban lynching at the federal level. One of the earliest attempts to write such a law managed to pass the House but failed the Senate in 1922, with all further attempts also failing... until today. The new bill allows lynchings that lead to death or significant injury of the victim to be prosecuted as a federal hate crime and is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The bill passed with only three congresspeople dissenting, and is being lauded as a significant victory for the civil rights movement. Read more: https://apnews.com/article/biden-signs-anti-lynching-bill-hate-crimes-b477eeeda7b18bf97d20c91f4cb939ee (Associated Press), https://www.vox.com/22995013/anti-lynching-act-emmett-till (Vox), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till_Antilynching_Act (Wikipedia)


Sandra Day O'Connor (left) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Credit: Wikimedia Commons for left and right)


Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg to be honored with statues in the Capitol. In addition to being the seat of Congress, the U.S. Capitol is considered "a symbol of the American people and their government" and "among the most architecturally impressive and symbolically important buildings in the world,"... and of course, it's where plenty of schoolchildren will learn about the fundamentals of democracy and constitutional rule on school trips and vacations. Among its many attractions are a variety of statues and other works of art that depict our nation's leaders over the years. Joining this collection by decree of Congress will now be two more statues, of the first two female Supreme Court Justices, Sandra Day O'Connor (appointed by Reagan) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (appointed by Clinton). Read more: https://thehill.com/homenews/house/600110-house-passes-bill-to-honor-ginsburg-and-oconnor-with-capitol-statues (The Hill), https://www.politico.com/minutes/congress/03-29-2022/dissent-on-statues/ (POLITICO)


Bipartisan group of U.S. senators seek to root out corruption. A new bill has been introduced by a group of four senators, two from each party, with the aim of reducing conflicts of interest in how the federal government awards contracts to companies. The bill has been prompted by a recent disclosure of a conflict of interest within a multi-year contract from the Food and Drug Administration. Instead of turning a blind eye to the potential for corruption, however, the aforementioned senators are working to attack the problem. The new bill would require federal contractors to disclose more potential conflicts of interest and implement more safeguards against that sort of corruption. The government will also be tasked with studying the issue further to prevent future problems. Read more: https://www.govexec.com/management/2022/03/senators-look-root-out-contractor-conflicts-interest/363715/ (Government Executive), https://abcnews.go.com/US/lawmakers-aim-strengthen-transparency-lucrative-murky-federal-contracting/story?id=83719971 (ABC News)


Weekend elections. Two countries, Malta and Uruguay, held elections over the weekend. In Malta, the incumbent center-left Labour Party government was re-elected for a third five-year term, being credited with keeping the economy afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. Meanwhile, Uruguay voted in a referendum on a massive package of conservative priorities passed by the president, which were approved by a small margin. Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/27/malta-labour-party-wins-third-term-in-general-election-victory-robert-adela (Maltese election, The Guardian), https://www.euronews.com/2022/03/27/malta-labour-claim-victory-in-parliamentary-elections (Maltese election, Euronews), https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/25/uruguay-lacalle-pou-referendum-vote-luc/ (Uruguayan referendum, Foreign Policy)

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