Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, January 30 through Friday, February 5, 2021 [Vol.2 No.29]
The Week’s Most Notable
This week it seemed as if Republicans no longer have a Trump, they’d just invent a new one. So, they did. The QAnon lady, a.k.a. MTG, Marjorie Taylor Greene, grabbed the spotlight as the new face of the GOP. There’s nothing like a crazy narrative to excite the base, especially a narrative that really bugs the (baby-blood drinking) liberals, and the QAnon lady has a carpet bag full of provocative statements and positions tailor-made for her removal from committees by a vote of the House. The resulting brouhaha kept the media busy most of the week. It was a useful distraction, although it poses longer-term risks for the GOP. Much like Trump’s continued use of the Big Lie, this new QAnon face signals a split in the party. Trump is going to try some come-back maneuvers after he’s acquitted by the Senate, and it looks like the QAnon lady will take over the bomb-thrower role from Rudy Giuliani. Their presence in the political scene will complicate Republican planning for the 2022 midterms by emphasizing party wrangling and association with the Capitol riot. Of course, all of this presents an excellent opportunity for the Democrats, if they figure how to use it.
The Biden administration, not even a month old, has completed most of their planned executive orders and is entering the legislative phase. (Of course, there is also Trump’s trial.) This week they launched the effort to get their COVID-19 relief bill through Congress. The $1.9 trillion price tag provides an artificial sticking point for Republicans (Oh, the debt!), but the strong public support, especially for the $1,400 stimulus check, is keeping the carping perfunctory. In fact, there was a slim chance a few Republicans might even lend support. Work on the bill and perhaps negotiations continue. It is expected to come up for congressional vote sometime in March. Republican support doesn’t matter much; the Democrats will go ahead and pass it under budget reconciliation rules (a 50% majority Senate vote). They have one more opportunity to use budget reconciliation, possibly for an infrastructure bill. After that comes the crunch time; if the Democrats want any more legislation to pass, they will need to jettison the filibuster. This is a very big decision. Expect this to be the topic by summer.
U.S. Covid situation is two-thirds better. Initial infections are down, way down – 45%. Vaccinations are up, not enough yet, there’s a way to go to get to 2-3 million shots per day, but with new vaccine companies coming online it looks like Biden’s “100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days” was, in fact, too low a target. And the final third? That’s the scary wildcard, the virus mutants from the UK, South Africa, and Brazil (so far). We know the UK variant is already widely distributed in the United States, but we’re not sure where it is in its progression – 2, 4, 16; or 16, 256, 65,536. As they say about the light in the tunnel, it could be the end, or it could be the oncoming express. It’s interesting how many companies, especially travel companies, are betting on things getting much better by the fall; their ads are showing up everywhere. In general, people are becoming almost optimistic. For the most part, that’s great, but as the epidemiologists are saying at the top of their lungs, “It’s not over yet!” No kidding, in about 10 days the U.S. will hit 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. We are going to need COVID-19 mitigation efforts right through the point where it’s thought we have enough herd immunity; and that’s going to be many months from now.
Saturday, January 30
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 26,686,300; Deaths: 451,890
[Coronavirus] Anti-Vaxx Protesters Block Access to LA Vaccination Center – As a perfect expression of the coronavirus vaccination denialism, about 50 people blocked the entrance to Dodger Stadium, one of the largest vaccination centers in the country. They claim the soon to be 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 are a scam, and the vaccines to be dangerous. [Update: Reportedly, the total number of shots given at that site was unaffected.]
[Impeachment Trial] Trump’s Entire Senate Trial Defense Team Quits – Apparently, they quit because Trump wanted them to defend his Big Lie of the stolen election without paying them enough; they were demanding $3 million and he wanted to pay only $1 million. Sounds like a classic Trump transaction.
[Coronavirus] AP Report Shows Racial Bias in Vaccination Distribution – In general, Black Americans are being vaccinated at a rate of about half of their percentage of the population. For example, in Maryland Black people make up about 30% of the population but account for only 16% of the vaccination. The factors for this include distrust of the medical establishment, inadequate distribution of vaccine to Black areas, and too many states relying on Internet sign-up for vaccination. The mix of factors is specific to COVID-19, but the outcome is typical.
Sunday, January 31
[Myanmar] Military Stages Coup, Arrests Aung San Suu Kyi – The fall of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is a long and depressing story of compromise, betrayal, and ultimately ethnic genocide. Ironically, she will be imprisoned for violations concerning possession of walkie-talkies. The Biden administration has warned the Myanmar military that sanctions are a possibility.
[Impeachment Trial] Trump Finds Two Replacement Lawyers – A former Pennsylvania prosecutor, Bruce Castor Jr., and Alabama lawyer David Schoen will take over lead trial duties with a little more than a week’s notice. Not that it matters, since Republican senators have already signaled the outcome.
[GOP – Schism] GOP Counter-Coup Finds a Face – Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is launching a PAC called Country 1st that will challenge the Trump faction of the party for dominance. Kinzinger was one of the 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment. He is promising a return to “conservative principles.” Whether he becomes a true flag carrier for the GOP – a long, long shot – he does represent an actual movement within the party that probably counts Senate Minority Leader McConnell among its members.
[Chicago – Teachers] Chicago Teachers Ordered Back to Class, Threaten Strike – Prefiguring an issue that became hot during the week, teachers across the country are reluctant to return to class without being completely vaccinated, or having some other mitigation guaranteed – other than remote teaching.
Monday, February 1
[GOP – Schism] McConnell Denounces GOP “Loony Lies” as “Cancer” in the Party – This was an astonishingly strong statement by the minority leader, starkly separating him from the (unnamed) QAnon-GOP leader in the House. “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Junior’s airplane is not living in reality.”
[COVID-19 Relief Bill] Biden Meets with GOP Senators on Relief Bill – The Senate Republicans came bearing a counter proposal for a $618 billion relief plan, one-third the size of the Democrats’ bill. That is not even a serious starting position for negotiations, but rather a PR challenge. Biden seriously but guardedly would like to work with some Republicans on fashioning aspects of the bill, but the “cordial but indeterminate results” of the meeting signaled that Republicans are unlikely to participate.
[Coronavirus] Biden Administration Buys 8.5 Million At-Home COVID-19 Rapid Tests – The Ellume test, which boasts 95% accuracy within 15 minutes, costs $30, and is simple enough to be used at home. The tests will be purchased for $231 million and distributed by the government. The White House also announced it will step up its distribution of vaccine through 6,500 pharmacies nationwide.
[Coronavirus] COVID-19 Figures Retreat from “Holiday High” – Both new infections and hospitalizations dropped dramatically from their January highs, as the effects from the holiday mitigation failures diminish. More than 95,000 people died in January. This would be unalloyed good news, except that the new COVID-19 variants – especially the UK virus, which is more infectious – could bring the numbers back up by March and April.
[Economy] CBO Predicts Robust Economic Recovery by Mid-2021 – Although received with surprisingly minimal reaction, the forecast that the U.S. economy would return to pre-pandemic levels – with or without additional relief money – seems like uncharacteristically good news. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a growth of GDP by 3.7% with the unemployment rate dropping to 5.3% by the end of the year.
[Drug Policy] Oregon Is First State to Decriminalize Drug Possession – The significance is that this includes small amounts of almost all drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, and oxycodone. The point of the legislation, which was approved by voters in a November referendum, is to get drug takers into treatment rather than into prison. Twenty-four state attorneys general opposed this measure and it will be challenged in court.
Tuesday, February 2
[Immigration] Biden Signs Three Executive Orders to Undo Trump Immigration Policies – One order establishes a task force to reunite children separated from their families. A second order addresses the surge in applications for asylum. The third order calls for all federal agencies to perform a top to bottom review of immigration policies. Presumably this is in preparation for a major overhaul of U.S. immigration laws and policies sometime later in the Biden tenure.
[Biden Administration] Senate Confirms Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary – On an 86-13 vote, Senate approval launched the 39-year-old Buttigieg, whose role will exceed that of transportation to encompass most of the infrastructure projects of the Biden administration. Buttigieg is likely to be one of the most visible and articulate members of the cabinet.
[Capitol Riot] Brian Sicknick, Capitol Police Officer Killed in Riot, Lies in State at Capitol Rotunda – It was both a statement to honor his death and also a statement about the continuing anger and remembrance of the January 6 invasion of the Capitol.
Wednesday, February 3
[Government] Senate Finally Reaches Power-Sharing Deal – More than a month after Congress reconvened with the Democrats nominally sharing a 50-50 split, but controlling the chamber through the vice president, Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell finally agreed on a power-sharing protocol. It turns out that it is almost identical to the deal worked out in 2001, the last time there was a 50-50 split. The delay is indicative of tactics to be expected from Republicans from here on out. Nevertheless, Democrats are now in charge of committees, Senate protocol, and ultimately the majority vote.
[GOP – Schism] House Republicans Keep Liz Cheney in Leadership – Now out in the open, the Republican split between those who deny Biden’s presidency (Trumpists) and those who think following the Big Lie is crazy (McConnellists) resulted in a secret ballot that retained Cheney as number three House Republican.
Thursday, February 4
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 779,000 – The rate of claims is dropping, albeit slowly. The most accurate characterization is that employment, retail sales, and productivity are “wobbly.” As long as COVID-19 takes big chunks out of the workforce and threatens retail businesses, a full recovery remains unlikely.
[Government] House Votes to Remove Greene from Committee Assignments – After a couple of weeks reacting to the outré statements by Rep. Greene (R-GA) and the ultimatum to House Minority Leader McCarthy to remove her from her committee assignments, especially education (she repeatedly proclaims that school shootings are mostly false flag); Democrats and 11 Republicans voted (230-199) to remove her from the committees.
[Coronavirus] Johnson & Johnson Requests FDA Emergency Approval for COVID-19 Vaccine – Approval is expected before the end of February, which means the J&J vaccine will become the third source for the U.S., virtually assuring an adequate source. The J&J vaccine is a more traditional type; one-shot, with no special handling or temperatures requirements. At 66%, its efficiency is lower than Pfizer or Moderna, but trial results show it is most effective at reducing hospitalizations and ultimately death.
[Yemen] Biden Ends Support for Saudi Military Operations in Yemen – Yet another reversal of Trump policy designed to reestablish alignment with traditional U.S. allies and to rein in Saudi ambitions.
[Smartmatic] Smartmatic $2.7 Billion Defamation Lawsuit against Fox – Significantly, the voting machine company has standing (they lost money thanks to Fox coverage), it has evidence (hundreds of film clips and recordings), it has proof of Fox’s intent through correspondence and statements by Fox employees, and although defamation is difficult as a legal matter, the company is said to have a strong case – the $2.7 billion compensation being sought would wipe out Fox’s entire profit for 2020. The lawsuit also specifically names Giuliani, Dobbs, Bartiromo, and Pirro. [Update: Fox drops Lou Dobbs from lineup.]
Friday, February 5
[Coronavirus] Dems Win Congressional Budget Approval for Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Aid Package – In the Senate, operating under the 50-50 protocol, Kamala Harris voted and gaveled the session to close at 5 AM. Her vote secured the budget resolution for the coronavirus relief package. Later in the day, the House followed suit with its own approval. With that done, the bill must be written into law, negotiated, and then passed by both chambers. Democrats expect that to happen by mid-March.
[Supreme Court] SCOTUS Lifts California Ban on Indoor Worship, within Limits – Consistent with the forming majority on religious issues, the court voted 6-3 to override the state ban but decided the state can still limit services to 25% capacity and restrict singing and chanting.
[Coronavirus] NFL and White House Working on Use of Stadiums for Vaccinations – The White House was already planning on using the Super Bowl for promotion of vaccine acceptance and now is working with the NFL on its offer to use all 30 of its stadiums for mass COVID-19 vaccinations.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 27,407,324; Deaths: 470,705
The more vaccines the merrier? At the moment, the U.S. has two active vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. Both of these use mRNA technologies. Two more, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, will probably come online in a month or so. They use traditional weakened virus technology. Another from Novavax, using a new protein-based technology, is still many months away. Russia and China both have effective vaccines already in distribution, which many parts of the world are planning to use. It’s always good to have options, but we will soon to be at a point where choosing among them will get really complicated. They are by no means interchangeable; in fact, they represent at least three different medical methodologies and present all kinds of logistical issues, such as single or double dose requirements. Who’s keeping track of all of that, especially in regard to every person vaccinated? As well, there still are plenty of fundamental questions about the vaccines: Vaccines prevent serious illness and death, but what can they do to reduce transmission? We still don’t know how long vaccine immunization lasts, and under what conditions. We don’t know how the various vaccines handle the COVID-19 variants. Each vaccine presents its own profile for these questions, as well as practical issues such as cost, handling difficulties, and consumer acceptance. (Yes, people will start demanding that they get a particular vaccine.) National vaccination programs are going to have to become much more sophisticated.
What will be the political fallout if the U.S. enters a big third wave of COVID-19 infections because of the mutant virus strains, and before the effects of mass immunization kick in? Biden’s current approval rating is 61%.
Predictions for a robust growth in the economy for 2021, especially those from the Congressional Budget Office, might give rise to a Republican outcry that further stimulus is not necessary. However, the CBO and the Fed chair, among others, have also said that the economy remains weak. More than 10 million people remain unemployed and unlikely to find jobs, small businesses are still threatened, and the control of the coronavirus pandemic still uncertain. Given this, few economists are predicting any trend toward inflation, regardless of additional stimulus.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
The Trump Senate trial looms, but does anyone want to bet that Sunday’s Super Bowl won’t have more people watching? How many people would watch the Super Bowl if it were a certainty that Kansas City was going to win by 35 points? The situation in the Senate is that predictable. Barring some blockbuster revelation, which is becoming increasingly unlikely, there’s almost no chance of 17 Republican votes to convict Trump. Some people will watch to see if there’s any drama generated by the presentation, but that level of voter participation is unlikely to create enough buzz to influence anybody actually sitting in the Senate. Trump will be acquitted. He will call it exoneration and use it for his ongoing political aspirations. Democrats may have to turn to some other means, such as the 14th Amendment, to attempt to keep Trump from running again.
Quote of the Week
The Myanmar military has done what Trump tried to do.
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, 02/01/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]