Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 13 through Friday, March 19, 2021 [Vol.2 No.35]
The Week’s Most Notable
Prior to this week, the U.S. was already gearing up for a campaign about violence against Asian-Americans. The House Judiciary Subcommittee had scheduled a hearing on the subject; Biden was meeting with Asian-American representatives. Then in what seems to be a peculiarly American-style coincidence, a gunman in Atlanta with a newly-purchased 9 mm handgun walks into three Asian-run spas (massage parlors) and guns down eight people, six of them Asian women. The media immediately focused on the shooter, not the victims. An attending police officer said the shooting wasn’t racially motivated. Of course, the whole incident was immediately politicized. Once again, a bloody incident triggers a reaction to a long-standing but deteriorating situation. Like so many shootings, the details of this event will not be available for weeks, at best. It did kick off something of a firestorm, which burns hottest for a week, but might still be lodged in many people’s memories as yet another incidence of America’s proclivity for guns, violence, misogyny, racially charged rhetoric, and yet another set of appeals to do something about all of it. At least, with the Biden administration the wheels of response were already in motion.
Saturday, March 13
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 30,089,271; Deaths: 547,303
[Racial Justice Protest] Louisville March Honors Anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s Death – The march was one of several events in past weeks marking the anniversaries of police killings of black people, in this case the killing of a black woman in her apartment during a police raid. The issue of injustice against people of color still lies close to the surface. The Biden administration, and what promises to be a more engaged Department of Justice, will play a big role in the coming months in determining whether the simmering protest turns to violence or vindication.
[Immigration] Biden: FEMA to Help with Surge of Migrant Children at Border – While the current border problem is about children, and not as the GOP-right wing media pictures it, an immediate adult illegal alien crisis, the situation for the Biden administration is, and will be for some time, very difficult. An inherited nearly dysfunctional Border Patrol, a patchwork of leftover policies, a poorly anticipated surge of migrants, and with the political environment all too ready to blow up, this issue presents few good short-term solutions.
[North Korea] Combative Noises Resurface in North Korea – U.S. Relations – The North Korean nuclear problem, far from having been solved by Trump, is now years down the line of further development in nuclear technology, especially missile delivery systems, and a willingness of the North Korean government to challenge U.S. diplomacy. Expect this issue to show up inconveniently over the next several years. Also, keep in mind that there are linkages between U.S.-China relations and the level of provocation coming from North Korea.
Sunday, March 14
[Coronavirus] AstraZeneca Insists Vaccine Is Not Linked to Blood Clots – Apart from the several countries that have paused their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the company, and subsequently health organizations such as WHO, have consistently maintained that while cases of blood clotting (and other side effects) happen with all vaccines, so far, they have not proven to be statistically significant. Such problems have been used to gaslight vaccination in general. In this case, at a crucial time in the world vaccination program to overcome COVID-19, the borderline between managing public risk and public opinion has become problematic.
Monday, March 15
[Biden Administration] Deb Haaland Confirmed as First Native American Cabinet-Level Secretary – After considerable grumbling by Republicans about her opposition to drilling and mining on public lands (which of course she does) she was confirmed as Interior Secretary by a 51-40 vote.
[Coronavirus] Biden and Harris Launch National American Rescue Plan Tour – For once, Democrats are launching a real PR effort to follow up on their success in passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The plan already ranks high in approval polls, consistently around 70% or better. Since the plan has long coattails and involves giving the voters a lot of money, it will generate goodwill – presumably for Democrats – for at least a year or two.
[Stock Market] Dow, S&P 500 Hit Record Highs – On the heels of good vaccination numbers and passage of the American Rescue Plan, Wall Street has taken optimism to new highs. In fact, Wall Street seems to be betting on a surging economy within the next 12 to 18 months.
Tuesday, March 16
[Mass Shooting] Atlanta Gunman Targets Asian Massage Parlors, Kills 8 – Six of the eight killed were Asian women, primarily Korean. A Georgia state senator had warned of Asian hate crimes the day before the shooting; in fact, the steady rise of attacks on American-Asians has for the past several months become a specific national concern. The increase, generally traced to attacks based on the Chinese origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of anti-Chinese terminology (Kung flu, Chinese pandemic, etc.) is usually generalized toward all with an “Asiatic appearance.”
[Coronavirus] New COVID-19 Hotspots – The CDC is reporting increases in cases for Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, and New Jersey. This reverses the national trend for declining cases. It’s expected, yet unverified, that the increases are the result of mutant strains of the virus. Public health officials have been warning that early relaxation of mitigation efforts, such as masking and business restrictions, are premature and potentially could help generate a new pandemic wave. We’ll probably know by the end of April what’s winning: vaccinations or viral mutants.
[Immigration] Homeland Security: Migrant Surge Potentially the Biggest in 20 Years – At least Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was willing to be candid. In all likelihood this will become a leading political issue over the next several years unless the Biden administration is able to make some dramatic moves. Currently, the Border Patrol is turning back almost all adult immigrants, but is accepting over 500 children a day – a number that is very hard to manage properly.
Wednesday, March 17
[Election Interference] New Intelligence Reports Highlight Interference by Russia and the Dangers of Election Fraud Claims – First, there is a declassified intelligence report that fingers Russia for interfering not only in the 2016 but also the 2020 election. In fact, the report specifically names President Vladimir Putin for ordering the 2020 attacks. The Russians immediately took exception to this and have “recalled for consultation” their ambassador to the U.S. Second, another report, newly released, warns that continued “narratives of fraud” in the 2020 election will likely trigger domestic terrorism and embolden foreign support for that terrorism. The key here is that such reports were previously suppressed; now they are likely to form the basis of U.S. foreign policy to halt Russian (and other) interference, and to bolster efforts at disrupting domestic terrorist groups (e.g., right-wing groups such as Proud Boys and Oath Keepers).
[U.S. Taxes] IRS Officially Delays Tax Deadline to May 15 – Overwhelmed by the logistics of managing payouts for the American Recovery Plan on top of the complexity of dealing with taxes during a time of pandemic, the IRS bowed to its practical limitations – it actually has “a massive backlog that has left it unable to fully process about 24 million tax filings.”
Thursday, March 18
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 770,000 – Rising by 45,000 over the previous week, the number was higher than expected and is interpreted as an indication that the economy’s growth is not as robust or consistent as hoped. Economists have latched onto the new figures to further justify the stimulus portion of the American Recovery Plan.
[Coronavirus] Biden Affirms Goal of 100 Million Vaccine Doses Is Reached – Actually, the more important news was that the U.S. is now administering up to 2.5 million doses a day, more than any other country. The Biden administration also announced that it plans to send 2.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada. The vaccines are sitting in U.S. warehouses because the FDA has not yet approved its use. (Coincidently, Biden is seeking additional cooperation in managing migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.)
[Biden Cabinet] Senate Approves Becerra for HHS and Burns for CIA – The Biden cabinet is beginning to seat his last nominees, this time former California AG. Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services Secretary in a close 50-49 vote. William Burns, a long-time diplomat and former ambassador to Russia, was confirmed by unanimous consent as Director of the CIA.
[Anti-Asian Violence] House Judiciary Subcommittee Calls out Anti-Asian Racism and Violence – Coincidentally scheduled, the committee meeting quickly focused on the Atlanta shootings as the culminating representation of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. Some testimony repeated often heard complaints about mass shootings, especially the availability of weapons. The truth of the matter is that like other incidents of racism, this one being focused on Asians, there is no one solution. What’s required is a broad change in a pattern of national culture, reducing the availability of guns, and a more equitable justice system.
Friday, March 19
[Anti-Asian Violence] Biden and Harris Meet with Asian American Leaders in Atlanta – The official administration response was rapid and unequivocal. Biden said, “Americans must speak out, our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.”
[Government] CDC Changes Distance Guidelines for Students – The change is a good example of learning from data, as tests and surveys show that as long as students are wearing masks, changing separation from 6 to 3 feet makes no difference on infection rates. This seemingly small change has huge implications for physical distancing in the classroom and other school activities.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 30,426,219; Deaths: 554,079
Focus is shifting in COVID-19 vaccines: While still experiencing a temporary shortage of vaccine doses, it does appear the U.S. is on course to meet Biden’s projections, specifically having enough vaccine for all adult Americans by May. What’s shaping up to be a more difficult problem is attaining common immunity at about 70% to 85% of the population when about 25% to 35% refuse to be vaccinated. The problem is widespread but has been identified as particularly strong in three communities: male Trump supporters, Blacks, and Native Americans. Plus, of course, there are plenty of anti-vaxxers. Common immunity may be even more difficult given the infectiousness of some of the new COVID-19 variants. Combining the big gap in immunization with failing mitigation discipline could leave the U.S. very vulnerable to another wave of infection.
When did the federal debt stop being the boogeyman? Seriously. For decades, if not forever, Republicans have catechized Americans about the evils of debt, often equating personal debt with national debt. This, although people are not allowed to print money or take on debt indefinitely. That is, management of the federal budget, and debt, doesn’t work by the same rules as managing personal finances. As an example, since currently interest rates for government debt are at historic low levels, it’s a great time for the government to invest (borrow) for the future with infrastructure. Economists do not know of a fixed limit to government borrowing, except that at some point it can become politically unacceptable. The Republicans, especially in the Trump regime, effectively blew up their paranoia about the debt. The Democrats are exploiting that. A new infrastructure bill appearing within the next several months will be largely fought over the issue of debt.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
Filibuster update: The media continues to frequently mangle the conditions of filibuster, for example, “Democrats need 51 votes to kill off the filibuster, but Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said they oppose changing the rules, as has Biden.” Keep in mind that the operative situation is the inability to close debate, cloture. Democrats are not seriously talking about “killing off the filibuster,” but changing the rules for invoking it. Biden, this week, and Manchin, last week, have indicated their willingness to change the rules of filibuster. It should be an absolute truism that any legislation passed from the House to the Senate will be brought to committees and to the floor by Majority Leader Schumer, but without changing filibuster rules, there will almost never be 10 Republican senators (60 votes) to pass it. Therefore, unless the Democrats want to twiddle with doomed legislation, it’s imperative that rules of cloture/filibuster be changed. They will be; the only question is how will they be changed and be acceptable to the Democratic caucus.
Quote of the Week
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut actually [filibustered] in 2016 — kept talking for nearly 15 hours — in order to get a vote on a bill banning people on the terrorist watch list from obtaining guns. While you’re shaking your head in amazement at the idea that this could be controversial, I will further stun you by noting that the bill failed.
Gail Collins, “Stop Talking and Just Pass the Gun Bills,” The New York Times, 03/17/2021.
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