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The relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia

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In the period from 2009 to 2013 when Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State, Saudi Arabia contributed with at least 10 million US dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

Especially in the phases when, incidentally, Hillary Clinton permitted the sale of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia

As stated by Prince Regent Mohammed Bin Salman in an interview released in 2016 to the Jordanian news agency “Petra”, Saudi Arabia also paid over 20% of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.

However, it also subsidized the other candidates to the US Presidency, although to a lesser extent.

In the political campaign for the US Presidency, no foreign investor puts all his/her eggs in the same basket – just to follow a typical US piece of advice.

Moreover, like Russia and other countries, also the Saudi Kingdom has always backed both US presidential candidates financially.

During the electoral campaign, Trump theorized the ban on entry into the USA of tourists and migrants from most Islamic States, including Saudi Arabia. He was also harshly criticized by Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and by the famous Saudi multimillionaire, Al Walid bin Talal, the owner of the Kingdon Holding Company of Riyadh, a huge world financial holding, with packages of personal shares in Coca Cola, AOL, Amazon, Apple until 2005, Pepsi Cola, Fininvest, as well as a 5% shareholding in Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, and many other investments that it is even useless to mention here.

After becoming US President, Trump apologized and made his first trip abroad to Saudi Arabia in May 20-22, 2017. It was there that he placed his hands on an illuminated globe that marked the birthof the Global Center for Combating Terrorism in Riyadh.

Once released from his prison in the Ritz Carlton of Riyadh on January 27, Al Walid bin Talal, the nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, paid a 6 billion dollar fine to the winning faction of the royal family, led by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

After finally realizing to what extent the Wahabite Kingdom is important for the US economy, also Trump has relented and seen reason with the Al Saud’s dynasty.

In an interview with Fox News Night TV released on October 19 last, the US President said that he was interested in knowing the truth about the assassination of Saudi journalist Kashoggi – who, indeed, was also resident in the USA – recently occurred in his country’s Consulate in Istanbul.  Nevertheless, President Trump has refused to stop all the arms sales to Saudi Arabia for this reason.

At the end of May 2017, during his first trip abroad, precisely to Saudi Arabia, Donald J. Trump also signed a contract for the sale of arms and for other economic transactions with Riyadh – an agreement worth as many as 110 billion US dollars immediately and additional 350 billion dollars over the next ten years, with the political aim of countering Daesh-Isis, in particular.

The purchases include 18 billion dollars for C4 systems (Command, Control, Communications and Computers);  13.5 billion dollars for seven THAAD units (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), anti-missile defense systems;  6.65 billion dollars for the old Patriot-class anti-missile systems; 25 billion dollars for the recapitalization of the Saudi purchase of the F-35 fighters; 5.8 billion dollars for three KC130J and 20 C130J transport aircraft;  6 billion dollars for 4 coastal battleships and additional 11.5 billion dollars for ships already ordered by Saudi Arabia in 2015 and blocked by former President Obama, although with the interested pressure of his Secretary of State.

Other Saudi investments are aimed at spy planes, fine electronics, troop movement and ground attack vehicles, as well as the purchase of Apache helicopters and M1A2 tanks, and finally for many human and computer-interactive military training programs for all the Saudi Armed Forces.

Clearly Saudi Arabia has turned a blind eye to the technological upgrading of the weapon systems ordered – far more advanced than the level of current purchases – but in view of a strong future bond with the United States.

Saudi official sources also state that until May 2017 the Kingdom suffered over 60 terrorist attacks by Isis-Daesh and Al Qaeda, with over 25 of them over the last two years.

According to the documents of the Saudi Center for Combating Terrorism, over 200 Saudi citizens, including policemen and civilians, have been killed by Islamist terrorism.

It is strange that a deeply Islamic State defines the “sword jihad” as “terrorism”, as if it did not know what the jihad rules and techniques are.

Some terminologies are used only by Western States, which have not yet well understood what is happening in the Islamic religious and political universe.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia claims to have organized at least 341 air raids against the positions of the self-proclaimed Caliphate in Syria, thus resulting the second counterterrorist power operating in the region after the United States.

Nothing to do, however, with the air raids of the Russian Federation, which the US intelligence services have already counted to thousands.

Reverting to the Saudi Kingdom, the Wahhabi regime has also started to control private donations to the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

A special and semi-secret Counter ISIL Finance Group between Saudi Arabia, the United States and Italy was created in 2015, with a view to countering the financial networks of the Caliphate.

Saudi Arabia alone has also established a Financial Intelligence Unit, which is also member of the Egmont Group, a network of 159 Financial Intelligence Units between EU, “dangerous” countries and Middle East networks.

Moreover, regardless of their being registered in the Kingdom, the Saudi charities can operate only through the Riyadh center of the Saudi Red Crescent and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid. Any autonomous fundraising through mosques and even through the mere charity public centers is forbidden.

Money transfers without a license (accounting for 60% of the total transfers) are also banned, but there are also sanctions against Hezbollah.

Two birds with one stone, of course.

Until September 30, 2017 -that is the end of the last fiscal year available -the United States sold as many as 55.6 billion US dollars of arms worldwide, that is over 33% more than the previous year.

As President Trump has declared openly, he does not want “to stop a 110 billion dollar investment in the United States” – a sum that, however, also includes the 23 billion dollars of Saudi arms purchases, those already granted by the former Obama administration.

At least since 2012, one fifth of all US foreign arms sales has gone to Saudi Arabia.

One third of all arms sales in the world originates from the United States.

Half of US arms sales, however, goes to the whole Middle East and Africa.

With specific reference to the weapon systems, the largest share of US exports is in the aeronautics sector, followed by the missile sector and finally by the ground weapon systems and transport vehicles.

The countries buying more weapons from the USA are Saudi Arabia, Poland, Japan, Romania, Bahrain, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Greece and Singapore.

Reverting to Saudi Arabia, a royal decree of April 22, 2017 appointed Khalid bin Salman Al Saud -the son of the current King and former pilot of fighter aircraft, who demonstrated excellence in dangerous missions against the self-proclaimed Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate – as the new Saudi Ambassador to the United States.

On October 2, 2018, with his usual frankness, President Trump stated that the Saudi Kingdom would collapse in two weeks without the US protection.

It is true and the current Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia knows it all too well. It is not yet certain that the Kingdom will last only two weeks without the United States, but it knows it is at risk.

Hence Prince Muhammad bin Salman is newly recreating the traditional relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, in spite of the unfortunate incident of the journalist Khashoggi, by underlining two important factors such as the relevance of the Wahabi Kingdom’s investments for the United States, which are now essential for this country, and the bilateral and strategic relationship with the United States that the Al Saud’s dynasty hopes will become even more stable.

Without America, Saudi Arabia is lost. Without Saudi Arabia the United States would definitely become poorer, and no President can accept this.

This holds true also for Yemen, where, since 2015, the United States has been training, arming and sharing intelligence with the Saudis against the Houthi, the Shiite guerrillas of the seventh Imam, obviously organized by Iran. What if the Saudis were afraid of one thing only, i.e. the uprising of the Shiites who are many in the area of their main oil wells?

It was exactly in 2015, the year when King Salman came to the throne and immediately delegated power to his son Mohammed.

Hence a military exchange on an equal footing between the United States and Saudi Arabia? Let us analyze the oil situation between the two countries more closely. Ultimately this is what really matters. However, we will talk about it at a later stage.

Meanwhile, however, let us see how Saudi Arabia presses the US companies and the economy, not only with the most well-known shareholdings.

At the time of the assassination of journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the Emirates’ Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, immediately expressed his full support for Saudi Arabia.

Even Oman, which had certainly not been a supporter of the Saudi-led anti-Iranian coalition, supported the Kingdom in that harsh situation.

Also the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif Al Zayani, supported Saudi Arabia.

Even the Secretary-General of the Arab League, however, has recently expressed his support for Saudi Arabia.

At strategic and economic levels, harshly punishing the Saudi Kingdom for the assassination of journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate of Istanbul – an assassination which has currently turned out to be premeditated and particularly brutal – leaves no other chance for Prince Muhammad bin Salman than resorting to the usual countermoves.

Some Saudi leaders have openly mentioned the “oil weapon”, which would be used as a hefty club against European oil consumers, and not as it happened after the Kippur war of October 6-25, 1973 – when someone, namely ENI, escaped the grip of the Saudi-led OPEC.

If the oil price increased, also the US economy would suffer inflationary pressures and pressure on interest rates. This would greatly slow the US economic growth down – and the EU one even more.

Europeans should not believe they can use the Russian oil and gas to counteract the rise in Saudi and Sunni OPEC prices.

Russia fully agrees with OPEC and will not give up a general increase in the oil barrel and natural gas prices.

Certainly the increase in the oil barrel price, which is supposed to reach approximately 90 US dollars by next year, would favor the sale of shale oil and natural gas – a production which has doubled in the United States, but with a shorter price cycle: higher prices generate greater supply, which inevitably leads to a subsequent lowering of the oil barrel price.

The less Iranian oil on the market, the greater tension for the price increase – not to mention the reduction of the Russian and OPEC supply and the almost cessation of extraction in Venezuela for the well-known internal political reasons.

All this happens while the demand for oil and gas is increasing rapidly all over the world.

Combining the restriction to the Saudi and Sunni OPEC production with the growth of US production, it is certain that the growth of the North American supply has significantly reduced the Saudi power to exert pressure. In fact, Saudi Arabia can raise prices only in a way not stimulating a further growth of the extractive production in the United States.

Hence the “oil war” that Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in mind – if it were to start – would lead to a great energy crisis, stronger in Europe than in the United States.

Naturally the weak and now demented European Union has said nothing serious in this phase.

If Europe thinks President Trump can pull its chestnuts out of the fire, it is completely wrong.

The US President does not like Europe at all. He will soon put an end to the German trade surplus and he can scarcely bear NATO. Even Israel, however, has no regard for this EU and not even Russia takes it too seriously.

In this framework of isolation, Europe does not even pursue its most immediate interests.

Every day it only deals with pseudo-economic matters and quarrels with its South that some German economists would already like to leave to the fate of a “Southern” Euro to be separated from the “Northern” Euro.

We will see how the monetary competition between the two “Euros” will be structured – a competition which could be fatal for the Northern and Southern versions of the unsuccessful European monetary union.

A currency that would like to be global, but without the characteristics of a lender of last resort it makes us laugh. Nevertheless, the EU leaders still believe in it.

The economy is made up of geopolitics and global strategy, not the other way round.

The old neoclassical handbooks which are read in Strasbourg and Brussels are now antiques.

If the United States or other countries were to apply sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – who is in a hurry to relinquish the too oil-led economy which, however, made the huge fortunes of his country – would have very good cards to play.

Certainly, since 2015 Saudi Arabia has had public budgets in the red. For the first time in its financial history it has issued public debt securities. Probably it has also problems of slow depletion of some wells, in addition to the insecurity generated by the essential fact that their maximum extraction area has a very strong Shiite minority, on which Iran is constantly operating – from Bahrain and from Oman, which turns a blind eye.

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF)is a sovereign fund which largely operates in the United States, in Europe and in Asia.

The aforementioned Sovereign Fund of Riyadh has a 5% shareholding of Tesla, as well as other stakes in Tesla’s direct competitor, namely Lucid Motors. It has invested 3.5 billion dollars in Uber, the global leader of unlicensed taxis, as well as 20 billion dollars in a US infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone. PIF has built three new cities on the Red Sea coast and invested 45 billion dollars in the Soft Bank. Furthermore, the Prince Regent –  who directly leads PIF – said he wanted to invest additional 170 billion dollars over the next three to four years.

However, Saudi Arabia has also other geoeconomic weapons in its hands: in the United States, PIF owns 70% of Sabic, a large plastics-producing company. There are also the Saudi Telecom Company and the Saudi Electricity, with significant shareholdings in the sector in North America. There is also the aforementioned Blackstone Fund for Infrastructure, as well as a 45% shareholding of the National Commercial Bank, the Saudi Arabian Mining Company, the Entertainment Investment Company and the Fund of Funds.

PIF has also Saudi investments in Europe: the main ones are in Krups, Siemens, Arcelor Mittal and in many other sectors and small and medium-size enterprises.

PIF has also operations in place, of a size comparable to those in the USA, China, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine and  the Philippines.

In South Africa, the Saudi government is negotiating with the Denel arms factory for cooperation with the Kingdom’s defense industries.

According to the Saudi press sources, the country would already have in mind at least 30 major operations to harshly respond to the possible US sanctions for the Khashoggi case.

They would not be oil sanctions, but rather financial, banking and industrial sanctions.

A “Samson” operation is also planned, with a fast and very significant reduction in oil production, capable of making the oil barrel price jump up to an incredible level of 400 US dollars.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman could also block the purchases of weapons already planned in the USA – and it is worth recalling that the Saudi Kingdom is the second largest importer of weapons in the world.

The Prince Regent has also invested significantly in the Silicon Valley industries, which he is integrating into the Saudi Giga Projects.

Finally, the Saudi investment line could head to countries such as China, Russia and India, instead of the USA and the EU.

Egypt, too, would soon participate in this game, with currently unpredictable consequences in the Maghreb region, and especially in Libya – where Egypt is the major supporter of General Khalifa Haftar – as well as in the United Arab Emirates.

A transition from the West to the East that would probably be the tombstone of Western economic and financial development.

It would also create a structural financial crisis in the United States, which could partly retaliate by unleashing a harsh trade war precisely with the European Union.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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The 4 groups of Senate Republicans that will decide Trump’s impeachment trial

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With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing back the Trump impeachment trial to mid-February to make sure things cool down, Senate Republicans’ positions on the vote are far from crystallized yet. Here are the four groups of Senate Republicans, according to views and likely vote. The numbers and composition of these four groups will decide Trump’s future political faith. Which group Mitch McConnell chooses to position himself in will also be a deciding factor in the unusual and curious impeachment trial of a former US president no longer sitting in office.

Group 1: The Willing Executioners

There surely are those in the Republican Party such as Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Ben Sasse who cannot wait to give that Yea and the final boot to disgraced former President Trump, and will do that with joy and relief. Both the Utah Senator and the Nebraska Senator may be vying for the leadership spot in the Republican Party themselves but that is not the whole story. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska openly said “I want him out.” This group is unlikely to reach as many as 17 Senators, however, needed for the two thirds Senate majority to convict Trump.

Group 2: The Never Give up on Trumpers

There are also those Republican Senators who will stick with Trump through thick and thin until the end – some out of conviction, but most as someone who cannot afford to alienate the Trump supporter base in their state – a supporter base which is still as strong. 

At least 21 Republican Senators are strongly opposed to voting to convict former President Trump, as reported by Newsweek. They realize that doing so would be a political suicide. Republican voters, on the whole, are unified in their belief that the presidential elections were not fair and Joe Biden did not win legitimately, with 68% of Republican voters holding the belief that the elections were “rigged”. The majority of the Republican Party constituents are Never Give up on Trumpers themselves.

Among them are Senators Cruz and Hawley. Both will fight at all cost a vote which certifies as incitement to violence and insurrection the same rhetoric they both themselves used to incite the Trump crowd. Cruz and Hawley will try to avoid at all cost the legal certification of the same rhetoric as criminal in order to avoid their own removal under the 14th Amendment, as argued already by Senator Manchin and many others.

Senator Ron Johnson even called upon Biden and Pelosi to choose between the Trump impeachment trial and the Biden new cabinet confirmation. Group 2 will fight fierce over the next weeks and you will recognize them by the public rhetoric.

Group 3: I’d really like to but I can’t be on the record for convincing a President of my own party

Then there is a large group of Republican Senators – maybe the largest – who would really like to give that Yea vote and leave Trump behind but they do not wish to go on the record as having voted to convict a US President from their own party. Some of these Senators will share their intention to vote Yea in private or off the record with the media, but when push comes to shove and the final vote, they will be hesitant and in the end will vote Nay. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida falls under Group 3.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is also the illustration of the average Republican Senator right now – someone who said that Trump committed “impeachable offenses” but who is not sure about convicting him through trial, so that probably means a Nay. 

The BBC quoted a New York Time’s estimate from mid-January that as many as 20 Republican Senators are open to voting to convict Trump, but it should be recalled that in the first Trump impeachment trial in 2020, several Republican Senators also shared in private and off the record that they would be willing to convict. After so much discussion, calculations and prognosis, in the end, it was only Senator Mitt Romney who broke ranks on only one of the two impeachment articles, and voted to convict.

The Capitol events, of course, are incomparable to the Ukraine impeachment saga, but it should be accounted for that the trial vote will likely take place sometime in March 2021, or two months after the Capitol events, when most of the tension and high emotion would have subsided and much of American society will be oriented towards “moving forward”. Group 3 will host the majority of Senate Republicans who in the end will decide to let it go. Most of the 21 Republican Senators who already expressed their opposition to convicting Trump actually belong to Group 3 and not Group 2 Never Give up on Trumpers.

Group 4: I am a Never Give up on Trumper but I really want to look like Group 3

And finally, there is the most interesting group of Republican Senators who are secretly a Never Give up on Trumpers but would like to be perceived as belonging to the hesitant and deliberative Group 3 – willing and outraged but unwilling to go all the way on the record to eliminate a former Republican President.

Senator Ted Cruz might move into Group 4 in terms of rhetoric. Never Give up on Trumpers will vote Nay willingly but will try to present themselves as conflicted Group 3 politicians doing it for different reasons.

Which group Mitch McConnel chooses will be the decisive factor in aligning the Senate Republican votes. McConnel himself seems to be a Group 3 Senator who, in the end, is unlikely to rally the rest of the Senators to convict Trump even though McConnel would really like Trump out of the Republican Party, once and for all. The very fact that McConnel is not in a hurry and is in fact extending the cool-off period places him in Group 3. 

Yea voters don’t need time to think about it and look at things. It took House Democrats exactly three days to get it over and done with. McConnel is quoted as willing to give time to “both sides to properly prepare”, allowing former president Trump enjoy due process. But Trump’s legal team will notice quickly that there is not much to prepare for, as they won’t find plenty of legal precedent in the jurisprudence on American Presidents’ incitement to violent insurrection for stopping the democratic certification process on an opponent who is the democratically elected President.

McConnel himself has said that he is “undecided” and that speaks volumes. He is a Group 3 Senate Republican, and with that, Group 3 will describe the mainstream Senate Republicans’ position in the impeachment trial. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set 8 February as the start of the impeachment trial, pushing earlier McConnel’s time frame. This is when it all starts.

It is my prediction that when all is said and done, there won’t be as many as 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict former President Trump. Trump will walk away, but not without the political damage he has incurred himself and has also left in American political life.

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Two Ways that Trump Spread Covid-19 in U.S.

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

1. Encouraging infected workers to continue working even if it infects others:

On 12 May 2020, two hundred and twenty five labor organizations signed a letter to Antonin Scalia’s son Eugene Scalia who was Donald Trump’s appointed Secretary of Labor, and it urged his Department to change its policies “that address the standards that apply under the federal U[nemployment] I[insurance] law to determine when workers remain eligible for regular state UI or P[andemic] U[nemployment] A[ssistance] if they leave work or refuse to work due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.” In more-common language, an economist Jared Bernstein headlined in the Washington Post six days later on May 18th, “The Labor Department is forcing workers back to jobs that could make them sick” and he explained that Scalia’s Department “has issued guidance that virtually ignores health risks and encourages employers to report workers who refuse job offers [while unemployed] so their unemployment payments can be taken away. The agency is busy urging employers to snitch on ‘claimants that have turned down suitable work.’” Trump’s Labor Department ignored the labor-organizations’ letter. Then, a barista headlined at Huffpost on 22 January 2021, “I Work In A Coffee Shop In Montana. Anti-Maskers Have Made My Job Hell.” She complained that the many customers who refused to wear masks were causing her to fear working there — she was blaming those customers, but not Trump. However, Trump and his Labor Secretary were responsible and simply didn’t care about the safety of workers, such as her, and were instead encouraging employers to force these workers to stay on the job, though doing so endangered themselves and their co-workers. Millions of infected workers were infecting others because not to would cause them to become fired and could ultimately force them into homelessness. Maybe the billionaires who funded Trump’s political career profited from such exploitation of their employees, but nationally this policy helped to increase the spreading of Covid-19. Also: since so many of those bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees are Blacks and Hispanics, etc., this Trump policy helped to cause the drastically higher infection-rates that have been reported among such groups.

2. Refusing to deal with the pandemic on a national basis:

On 15 July 2020, the Washington Post headlined “As the coronavirus crisis spins out of control, Trump issues directives — but still no clear plan” and reported that, “health professionals have urged the White House to offer a disciplined and unified national message to help people who are fatigued more than five months into the crisis and resistant to changing social behaviors, such as wearing masks and keeping a distance from others. Trump, for instance, refused to be seen publicly wearing a mask until last weekend, when he sported one during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ‘You can get a really strong and eloquent governor who can help at the state level, but it does seem like we need some more national messaging around the fact that for many people, this is the most adversity they’ve faced in their life,’ said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.” Every country (such as China, Vietnam, Venezuela, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and Finland) that has been far more successful than America is at having a low number of Covid-19 cases (and deaths) per million residents has dealt with the pandemic on a national and not merely local basis, but all of the worst-performing countries (such as America, which now is at 76,407 “Tot Cases/1M pop”) have not.

It therefore also stands to reason that 

which ranks all 50 states according to how high is the number of Covid-19 infections per million inhabitants, shows (and links to the data proving) that “In 2016, the top 17 [most Covid-infected states] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump.” The correlation of high Covid-infection-rate with Trump-voting was astoundingly high. Trump, it seems, gave the high-infection-rate states what they had wanted. But what he gave to America is the highest Covid-19 infection-rate of any nation that has at least 11 million population. It is the 7th-highest Covid-19 infection-rate among all 219 reporting nations. Trump’s policies produced the type of results that had been expected by well-informed people around the world.

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A Most Unusual Inaugural

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President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden enter the inauguration platform during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes worldly glory, which seems an apt phrase for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20th, and earlier  Donald J. Trump departed the White House quietly for Florida — his last ride on Air Force One as president — leaving behind a generous and gracious letter for Biden.  So it is described by Joe Biden himself.  Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first president not to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, who remained inside the Capitol building because of poor health while his successor Warren G. Harding was installed.

It was a most unusual inauguration this time.  There were no crowds on the lawns outside; instead row upon row of American flags representing them.  The official attendees all wore masks and included three former Presidents (Obama, the younger Bush and Clinton).  President Carter, who is in his 90s and frail, sent his apologies. 

The usual late breakfast before the ceremony and the lunch afterwards were also cancelled — one cannot eat with a mask in place!  No evening inaugural balls either.  These were sometimes so many that the new president and his lady could only spend a few minutes at each.  In their stead, there was a virtual inaugural celebration hosted by Tom Hanks the actor.  It consisted mostly of pop-singers who supported Biden plus a disappointing rendering of Amazing Grace by Yo-Yo Ma on his cello. 

Biden’s first act was to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of Trump’s policies.  He announced the U.S. would not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and would continue to contribute to it.  On climate change a complete policy reversal now means the U.S. will abide by the Paris climate accord.   

Biden’s other executive orders totalling 15 responded to the coronavirus crisis with the goal of giving 100 million vaccine shots by the end of April.  He proposes to establish vaccine centers at stadiums and community facilities and also plans to speed up production of the supplies required for making vaccines.

The U.S. now has lost 406,000 lives (and counting) from COVID-19.  That number is noted to be greater than U.S. deaths during WW2.  The virus has so far infected 24.5 million people.  However, the problem is more complicated than simply inoculating everyone.

Swedish authorities report that 23 people, mostly elderly and having other health issues, have died after being given the Pfizer vaccine.  Its side effects apparently can be severe and mimic the disease itself.  Thus given a choice, one would prefer the Moderna vaccine.  

Old age is a poignant sight to behold.  Biden the ex high school football star now having difficulty lifting his feet to walk.  Very gamely, he even tried a jog or two to say a quick hello to bystanders during his short walk to the White House.  We wish him well and hope for a successful presidential term.  Thirty-six years as senator and eight years as vice-president certainly make him one of the most experienced to sit in the White House Oval Office.   Good luck Mr. President!  

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