IUY Weekly Journal Vol.2 No.32 – February 20 – 26, 2021

Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal

The Week of Saturday, February 20 through Friday, February 26, 2021 [Vol.2 No.32]

COVID Relief

The Week’s Most Notable

The Covid relief bill perambulated through the House this week, dragging a number of issues with it. Two prominent features: House Republicans will probably unanimously not vote for the bill, even though many polls show that it is by far the most popular legislation in years, also among Republican voters; and that opposition to the included $15 per hour minimum wage increase is in trouble with both the House and Senate. The bill is big, $1.9 trillion, amazingly comprehensive, and for the most part intelligently detailed. By most accounts it stands a chance of doing what it’s intended to do – address the immediate COVID-19 related problems such as paying for vaccinations and opening schools, and serve as a stimulus for the economy by helping those who need the help the most. As such, even some Democratic economists think it’s “too big” and may flirt with causing inflation. Democrats are dancing around this issue, mainly because the intended impact of this bill is to set a tone – optimism – which is seen as more important than closely calibrating the amount of money being spent. For once, this is a “natural experiment” in Keynesian government intervention economics that isn’t woefully underfunded. It’s likely to pass using budget reconciliation rules as a purely Democratic initiative. We’ll know most of the outcome by the midterm elections.

Better COVID-19 pandemic prospects seem to be real. For several weeks, the numbers have been improving dramatically with new cases dropping from a high of 250,000 per day to a level around 70,000. This is still high, and if the COVID-19 variants proliferate as predicted, March could be a bad month. No one is certain how this will play out, but epidemiologists have hope that the vaccination rate will increase, especially with a newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine coming online in March. Pfizer and Moderna have committed to 140 million more doses over the next five weeks. Biden will hit his “100 million vaccinations in the first hundred days” target, but it may not have been ambitious enough. Nevertheless, the mood of the country (if there is such a thing) seems to be cautiously optimistic, which seems appropriate.

Saturday, February 20

[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 28,711,278; Deaths: 510,778

[Texas Disaster] Biden Issues Major Disaster Declaration for Texas – Normally federal disaster aid for an event as big as the Texas freeze disaster would be a no-brainer; but this aid highlights the failure of Texas state disaster management, which of course has political implications. Biden said he wanted to visit Texas [and did] but that he did not want to “have his visit seen as a hindrance to recovery efforts.”

Sunday, February 21

[Coronavirus] Fauci Highlights Epidemiologists Concern for Ongoing COVID-19 Mitigation – It’s becoming a major theme – COVID-19 mitigation, especially wearing masks, will be with us before, during, and after we have reached common immunity through vaccination. Fauci explained that the presence of a dangerous and virulent virus won’t go away as soon as most people are vaccinated, and that we will probably need to wear masks and exercise care about meeting in groups well into 2022. However, he was optimistic that “a slow return to more normal life” will begin by fall of this year.

[GOP] Half of Republicans Would Follow Trump to a New Party – The survey of a thousand Trump voters is not a measure of what’s going to happen, or even reality; but it is indicative of the degree to which loyalty to Trump is deeper than loyalty to the Republican party. Democrats and liberals have a tendency to underestimate this loyalty; even though it involves tens of millions.

Monday, February 22

[Coronavirus] Biden Leads Solemn Ceremony for 500,000 COVID-19 Victims – It was an important moment, reminding Americans that “that’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on earth, but as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived.”

[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Rules to Allow New York Prosecutor to Obtain Trump Tax Returns – As expected, the chain of appeals arrived at the Supreme Court, which had already signaled that it would rule in favor of delivering the tax returns to the prosecution and grand jury. This does not mean the public will see the tax returns anytime soon, but they and other financial information may play a role in future prosecution of Trump, the Trump family, and the Trump business.

[Biden Administration] Merrick Garland, AG Nominee, in First Day of Confirmation Hearing – It’s taken a while, it could be said to be years, for Merrick Garland to finally testify before a Senate confirmation hearing, but of course not for the Supreme Court but for the position of Attorney General. He announced that his first priority would be investigation and prosecution involved with the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

[Virginia – Death Penalty] Virginia Will Become First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty – It is the 23rd state to abolish the penalty, although it was previously one of the most active in its use.

Tuesday, February 23

[Capitol Riot] First Hearing on January 6 Security Failings for Capitol Security Officers – The first hearing for mostly former Capitol security officials made at least one thing clear – a lot of details are missing. With the amount of finger-pointing and responsibility ducking between the head of the Capitol police, House Sgt. at arms, and Senate Sgt. at arms; it’s clear that more investigation and hearings are justified. They blamed “a lack of intelligence,” which almost no one believes; but there is scant hard evidence of the actual intelligence, who got it, and what was done with it. This is just one small part of the many questions involving the January 6 insurrection. A 9/11 style investigative commission remains a “good idea” but somehow amorphous.

[Biden Administration] Senate Confirms Vilsack for Agriculture and Thomas-Greenfield for UN – Vilsack has been Sec. of Agriculture before, and was confirmed 92-7; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career diplomat, was confirmed as UN Ambassador 78-20. Meanwhile the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget and Deb Haaland for interior secretary are being challenged on utterly political and sometimes personal grounds. Tanden is most likely to become victim to the power-positioning of Joe Manchin (D-WV). [Update: Jennifer Granholm approved for Energy Secretary by Senate.]

Wednesday, February 24

[Coronavirus] FDA Review Clears Johnson & Johnson Vaccine as Safe and Effective – There are a couple more steps, but almost with certainty the new vaccine will be approved for shipping this weekend. This vaccine is delivered as a single shot, stored in a normal refrigerator, 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and 85% effective at preventing hospitalization and death.

[Post Office] Biden Nominates Three USPS Board Members – Amidst the brouhaha surrounding Postmaster Gen. DeJoy, who simultaneously bragged that he would “be around a while,” the Biden administration has been working on the upstream part of the problem for several weeks. Mainly they are arranging for the majority of the Postal Service controlling board to be Biden appointees. When this happens, Louis DeJoy will be out. After that, Democrats plan to introduce legislation reorganizing the USPS and getting rid of the uniquely onerous burden of paying a share for 75 years of pensions every year, at a cost of several billion dollars, which always makes the post office look like it’s losing money.

[Biden Administration] Biden Issues More “Trump Cleanup” Executive Orders – This batch includes lifting visa bans particularly for green cards and H1B; revoking sanctions on sanctuary cities; and revoking Trump’s order for “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture.”

[Coronavirus] COVAX Program Delivers First Vaccine Doses – The World Health Organization’s program for distributing COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries, delivered 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Ghana. Although, so far, a drop in the proverbial bucket, the COVAX program is an international collaboration, which the Biden administration recently joined.

Thursday, February 25

[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 730,000 – This represents a first serious drop of more than 110,000 claims in one week, it still high but perhaps a harbinger of better numbers for the spring. There are still about 19 million officially unemployed, most of my now long-term.

[Syria] U.S. Hits Iranian Militia Sites in Syria – It’s almost a ritual, every president begins their term in office with some kind of military action in the Middle East. It’s almost always symbolic, announcing that this government is prepared to stop some kind of aggression. In this case Biden appears to be reacting to attacks on American contractors and outposts in Iraq. As usual, Congress was informed but not consulted, which always leads to recriminations from one party or another, or both. This will pass quickly.

[Equality Act] House Passes Equality Act to Expand LGBTQ Protection – Originally formulated and passed by the House in 2019, the bill has been slightly modified and sent on to the Senate where – this time – with a 50-50 Democratic control of the Senate it, along with other bills, will force a decision on changing the filibuster if it is ever going to be passed.

[Capitol Attack] Chief of Capitol Police Warns about a Threat to Blow up Capitol – Sometime in March Biden will give his first overview of the country (this is not officially a State of the Union address), but it will bring together the entire Congress and many other officials – obviously, as seen in a bunch of movies and novels an ideal target. Given current paranoia, an attack is highly likely, but the chatter is out there, to be rightly or wrongly interpreted.

Friday, February 26

[Coronavirus] House Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill – Three Democrats voted against the bill (219-212) but it was passed with the $15 per hour wage increase intact. The House has no budget reconciliation protocols like the Senate.    

[Budget Reconciliation] Senate Parliamentarian Rules against Minimum Wage in COVID-19 Relief Package – For all the media palaver, it didn’t sound like the parliamentarian’s ruling was expected, but it was. In fact, it had been ruled out of budget reconciliation in previous years. Do the Democrats have a plan B? Sort of, but the minimum wage is out of the relief package; it could be piggybacked onto another bill (particularly a defense bill which nobody will vote against), or it could be presented as a standalone bill, which would be rejected – or force the showdown on filibuster.

[Khashoggi Killing] U.S. Releases Report Blaming MBS for Khashoggi Killing – This makes it official, Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the Saudi throne authorized the killing of the U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist. As ever, the real question is what’s anybody going to do about it? Trump, of course, protected MBS. Biden will officially go mum.

[CPAC] CPAC Conference Opens with Raucous Support for Trump – It’s all too easy to take the golden head of Trump on a statue in his honor as the icon for CPAC – bow down to the golden calf. Yes, the rhetoric is consistently at the same level as the golden bust, but within the right-wing media bubble, this is all considered true and reasonable. It’s the same rhetoric seen in the 2020 Republican National Convention, and again at the Capitol Insurrection. Keep in mind that in a recent poll, 73% of Republicans say Biden wasn’t legitimately elected. At some point, the language must be taken seriously, or at least some serious thought has to be given on how to challenge it.

[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 29,138,504; Deaths: 523,115

Economy Notes

Promises by the Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, to maintain the near zero interest rate and other policies to boost the economy have propped up the stock market to new record highs, while simultaneously working with the expectation of passage for the COVID-19 relief bill, there is considerable optimism among analysts that the economy is due for a strong rebound probably beginning this summer. Revival of consumer spending, partly from newly available government stimulus money, increasing employment, and a belief that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning are contributing to the optimism.

Constitutional, Political, Election Notes

McConnell says he’d “absolutely” support Trump for president in 2024. Right. A couple weeks before he said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the attack” on the Capitol. By now it’s obvious Republicans have absolutely perfected the political two-step. Combined with copious and brazen lying, and an amazing ability to shamelessly promote denial (of almost anything), Republican politicians have even begun to specialize. A group of them, who could be labeled “The Distractors,” seem to be in some kind of rotation for lobbing incendiary or logic-smashing statements on a regular basis. Mark these names: Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Lindsay Graham, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley as charter members of the group.

 

Quote of the Week

 

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