Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, December 12 through Friday, December 18, 2020 [Vol.2 No.22]
The Week’s Most Notable
This week COVID-19 vaccines began to be real in the United States and with that came hope. First out of the gate, Pfizer’s finicky vaccine didn’t take long to garner initial PR attention and a day or two later the first less than good news with distribution problems. The development of an effective vaccine, and in fact two of them so far – Moderna’s vaccine received emergency FDA approval on Friday – represents a major achievement by medical science and deserves celebration. The good news has been tempered by an obvious lack of coordination at the national level for allocation and distribution of vaccines. States will handle their own administration of shots, but most of them are struggling to put together the infrastructure – particularly the tracking capability for two-dose vaccines – needed to handle vaccinations of tens of millions. Most states are also having difficulty financing the project, although there is still hope that Congress will help by passing the second coronavirus relief bill before the end of the year. At the moment, immunology experts are recommending that first responders and vulnerable elderly receive vaccinations through January and February. Critical workers will probably be next from March through May, as vaccine supplies increase, and hopefully the general public will be receiving vaccinations by May and June. Without a major breakdown in distribution, the U.S. may be approaching common-immunity (a.k.a. herd immunity) at around 75% to 80% of the population by the end of summer. That is good and hopeful news.
Propagating mass delusion and fantasy for political and financial gain is one of the most disturbing features of current American politics. This is not the first time that significant political activity is based on propaganda, but not since the issue of slavery has the problem of two different versions of “the facts” been so obvious or so devastating for American democracy. At the surface, the Trump-GOP supporters are using a fog of claims about evidence of mass fraud in the presidential election. More than 60 times these claims have been brought to court – and failed. There is no legally viable (or any other kind of) evidence of mass electoral fraud. The majority of Americans and many Republican officials know this to be true. And yet, the right-wing media, Trump, and most Republican politicians promote the fiction of a fraudulent election. Why? It not only rakes in the cash, more than $300 million so far, it also provides an emotional rallying cry for political identity. After all, more than 70 million Americans voted to keep Trump in office; that’s a resource to be exploited. The Trump-GOP-right wing media propaganda will persist indefinitely, unless we (that is, the citizens, media, and politicians who believe in democracy) can figure out a way to end the “two versions of reality” problem.
Saturday, December 12
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 16,551,197; Deaths – 305,082
[Coronavirus] First Doses of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Hit the Road – Shipments of the newly FDA approved vaccine are rolling out of the Pfizer Kalamazoo, Michigan plant. About 3 million doses are scheduled for delivery, which will cover 1.5 million people with the two-dose vaccine.
[Pro-Trump Demonstration] D. C. Protests Turn Violent – Although limited in scope, clashes between Trump supporters such as the Proud Boys and anti-Trump demonstrators led to some injuries and multiple arrests.
[Britain-Brexit] Brexit Talks Between EU and UK Shamble On – After more than a half dozen deadlines, the ultimate deadline, December 31, 2020 – when the withdrawal period ends – rhetoric turns into reality. At that point, with or without a negotiated deal, Great Britain will sever most legal and commercial ties with the European Union. Negotiators will continue to seek some kind of a “deal” that at least preserves a semblance of organized trade. However, in reality most technical issues have been resolved and what remains are political decisions that hinge on PM Johnson’s positioning with members of Parliament. “No deal” Brexit is widely unpopular, even in his own party, but there is a large faction of conservative members who may revolt if there is any kind of “deal.” It’s apparent that Johnson wants a deal, but one that doesn’t fracture his party. Meanwhile the EU negotiators sit on their hands and wait for the UK to make up its mind, which is likely to be at the very last minute and possibly even then be indeterminate. There could be a “temporary no deal Brexit” followed quickly by negotiations to find a deal. In other words, the situation is likely to remain fluid.
Sunday, December 13
[Russia – Cyber Warfare] Breaking News of Russian Cyber Warfare on American Agencies and Companies – Treasury and Commerce Departments revealed an extensive Russian attack on American networks and computer installations to gather information and potentially take actions harmful to U.S. agencies and companies. [Update: Throughout the week the story expanded as the cause – a breach through a common network control program called SolarWinds was exploited by the Russians to access data and programs. By the end of the week officials were saying this may be the most significant and dangerous breach of American cybersecurity ever.]
Monday, December 14
[Elections 2020] Electoral College Confirms Biden’s Win – With a total of 306 electoral votes – no abstentions or vote shifting – the electoral college officially ratified the results of the 2020 presidential election. After all the hoo-ha of the past month, it all came down to this: The election is over, Biden won. Except, of course, most Republicans hewed to the party line: The election was stolen, rigged, illegitimate, fake news. Nevertheless, McConnell, Barr, and other key Republicans admitted to the reality. If only it had some effect on the right-wing media and most of their colleagues.
[U.S. Attorney General] AG Barr Submits Resignation – Gone by Christmas, it was an early resignation but hardly premature. Apparently, Barr and Trump had a fatal falling-out. It may be a while before we know why, although it is well-known that Barr was not pleasing his master. In any case, he will be replaced for about 30 days by Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen. Rosen was the architect of many of the most controversial DOJ actions, such as the cases for Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. As such he is capable of continuing the use of the DOJ as an instrument of Trumpian politics, although the time for significant mischief is limited.
[Coronavirus] U.S.: 300,000+ dead, 120,000+ hospitalized, 17+ million infected, 250,000 new cases in one day.
Tuesday, December 15
[Coronavirus] FDA Approves First at Home COVID-19 Test Kit – The emergency approval, which is of course provisional, provides the first commercially distributed at-home test kits for COVID-19. They require no prescription, are expected to cost about $30, and provide results within about 20 minutes.
[Election – 2020] Biden Campaigns in Georgia for Ossof and Warnock – Signaling the overwhelming importance of the Georgia senatorial runoff race, the “drive-in rally” staged by Pres. Elect Biden highlighted not only his endorsement but the willingness of Democrats to spend money and political capital on these two pivotal campaigns. By most reports the elections will be extremely close, their outcome – control of the Senate – the most important political event of early 2021.
[Biden – Cabinet] Biden Nominates Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary – Not only would Buttigieg be the first openly LGBTQ cabinet member, but it is also rumored he would be a linchpin in developing an infrastructure strategy for the Biden administration.
Wednesday, December 16
[Coronavirus] Record East Coast Winter Storm Complicates Vaccine Delivery –Parts of the Northeast receive more than 3 feet of snow, paralyzing transportation – including distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
[Poverty] U.S. Poverty Rate Jumps, 7.8 Million Americans below Poverty Line – Thanks in large part to the devastation of the coronavirus and the slumping economy, the poverty rate jumped 2.4 percentage points, the largest increase in 60 years.
Thursday, December 17
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 885,410 – Now increasing week by week, the number of unemployment insurance claims is the highest since September. The impact of deteriorating coronavirus mitigation is being reflected in layoffs, sick outs, and a general weakness in the labor portion of the economy. If Congress fails to pass a new coronavirus relief bill, these numbers are likely to become much worse by the end of the year.
[Google – Lawsuit] Google Hit with “Search-related Monopoly” Charges by 30 States – In another dramatic legal attack on the tech industry, Google was accused of illegally squelching competition. Texas, along with 17 other states, filed charges against Google for advertising-related antitrust behavior. As with last week’s charges against social media giant Facebook, these legal actions are extreme “long-haul” court cases, which will become Biden’s issue.
[Biden – Cabinet] Biden Chooses First Native American Interior Secretary – In an historic selection with obvious ironic ripples, Biden nominated Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) to be Interior Secretary. Simultaneously, Biden nominated Michael Reagan as the first African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Friday, December 18
[Coronavirus] FDA Authorizes Emergency Use of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine – Moderna promises to begin immediate shipping to 3,000 locations nationwide of its mRNA-based vaccine, very similar to the Pfizer vaccine approved last week.
[Government] Senate Punts Government Funding and Stimulus Bill to Sunday Night – In classic leaving everything to the last-minute fashion, Senate and House negotiators are feverishly trying to put the finishing touches on the $900 billion+ Coronavirus Relief Bill, which is currently stuck on the issue of the Federal Reserve pandemic relief program (huh?). In the balance are individual relief checks, unemployment benefits, support for coronavirus vaccine distribution, and a myriad of other vital but stopgap monies for the current economic and virus crises. For arbitrary and hypocritical reasons Republicans refused to use the word trillion, although that may be what is required by conditions that we encounter in January and February.
[Coronavirus] Pence, Pelosi, McConnell, and Others Receive COVID-19 Vaccine – Meanwhile Trump continues to fulminate about the pandemic restrictions, his stolen election, and remains silent about vaccinations and Russian cyber-attacks. It is a time of mixed messages, which makes pandemic mitigation all but impossible. The U.S. “lead” with the worst coronavirus statistics in the world continues to grow.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases – 17,888,359; Deaths – 320,845
Coronavirus vaccines so far: The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the first to be distributed and injected in people’s arms in Great Britain and then the U.S. it was developed in Germany without direct U.S. subsidy, requires complex manufacturing, long-term storage at -94°F, delicate handling (it’s vibration sensitive), and must be injected within five days after thawing. It reports 95% effectiveness. As the second arrival in the U.S., Moderna’s vaccine uses the same novel messenger RNA approach as Pfizer; however, it stores at -4°F (normal freezer temperatures), is stable at normal refrigeration temperatures for 30 days, and at room temperature for 12 hours. Moderna reports an effectiveness of 94.1%. Both vaccines are intended to be “two-shot” with Pfizer’s being 21 days apart and Moderna’s 28 days. Next in queue, at least for the U.S. and Great Britain, is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in Great Britain and Sweden using a traditional immunology approach. It is more robust (normal refrigeration, no special handling, one-shot, roughly 70% effectiveness) and is much cheaper to manufacture and distribute. Unfortunately, it has run into some uncertainty over results, which is delaying approval. Elsewhere in the world, the Chinese have had multiple vaccines in the field for a couple of months and we know next to nothing about them. The Russians likewise have had a vaccine for several weeks, and India has begun manufacturing their version. There will eventually be numerous COVID-19 vaccines with varying degrees of effectiveness, practicality, and cost. It’s almost certain there will be some confusion and competition as this “global market” settles down.
It was herd immunity all along. For the record, emails from White House officials confirmed that the unofficial policy of the White House was to support the concept of herd immunity, that is, let the old and weak die so that the young and strong may be immune (or words to that effect). The approach appealed to Trump because, as long as he survived, who lived and died was of no particular concern, and herd immunity equated into a “do-nothing” policy, which of course was easy. This is how a federal response to COVID-19 faded away into nothing and contributed to the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
The Russians have been here, again. At this point everybody, including the intelligence agencies, seem to know less than they ought. So far, the Russian hacking into numerous government agencies and many U.S. companies seems to have been intelligence gathering rather than destructive interference. Trump’s total silence on the matter, while typical, begs the question of an investigation of not only Russian cyberattacks but Trump’s relationship with the Russians.
A poisoned transition or merely woefully messed up? It’s hard to tell, sometimes it looks like Trump is trying to set traps, permanently disfigure the bureaucracy, and make it as hard as possible for Biden to take over. Other times it looks like a chimpanzee trying to do the same thing – all over the place, uncoordinated, with an illiberal flinging of feces instead of substantive sabotage. It’s probably both.
Have a great and merry Christmas!
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