Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 20 through Friday, March 26, 2021 [Vol.2 No.36]
The Week’s Most Notable
The week began with a mass shooting but by midweek media focus quickly transitioned to the topic of voter suppression. On the one hand, this demonstrated just how ephemeral American attention is for these all too repetitive killing events, but it also illustrates the fundamental importance of voting to American democracy. At issue are the literally hundreds of voter suppression bills being enacted in as many as 40 states, especially those controlled by Republican legislatures and governors. The Republicans are hiding behind the veneer of “defending against corrupt elections,” that is, using the Big Lie as justification for voting restriction measures, i.e., voter suppression. An interesting thing is that most people – including most Republicans – know that this is a cover for limiting votes from people of color. It uses the historic tradition of enacting laws and regulations that cut down the number of options for voting “at the margins.” That is, voting by black or other people of color is seldom completely banned, it’s just made difficult enough so that a certain percentage can’t or won’t vote. In many, if not most elections, that percentage – which might be as small as 2% or 3% – is enough to swing the results.
Of course most of this legislation will be challenged in court, but there’s so much of it that the courts – including the now highly conservative Supreme Court – cannot be counted on to stop even the worst of it. If most of the Republican anti-voting legislation stands, it’s going to be very difficult for Democrats to hold the Senate or even the House. All of this puts huge pressure on the Democrats to pass federal voting rights laws that supersede all the state-local legislation. However, to do that, Democrats must circumvent or eliminate the cloture/filibuster barrier to a simple majority vote. It all boils down to that.
Massacres, legislation, and the filibuster: right now, it’s a chain of failure. A terrible massacre occurs, legislation to deal with the gun(s) that were used gets defeated at the state or national level, and in any case winds up dead in the U.S. Senate thanks to the filibuster. There just aren’t 60 votes to pass anything. Like so many things needed in this country, whether part of Biden’s agenda or not, nothing of significance (outside of budget reconciliation procedures) is passed by Republican senators, and will not be until if and when the cloture/filibuster barrier is changed. One important note: 20,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2020, the worst record in more than two decades, even while there were relatively few mass murders.
Saturday, March 20
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 30,487,505; Deaths: 555,507
[Asian Attacks] U.S. Demonstrations against Violence to Asians – In the wake of the Atlanta shootings, rallies were held in many cities to protest the rising tide of attacks and discrimination against Asian-Americans. It was an important point to be made, but it folds into the broader gun control issue, which remains a disgraceful national conundrum. All week, discussions about gun control hit the same Senate filibuster blockade on legislation.
[Coronavirus] State of Emergency Declared in Miami Beach, Pandemic to Follow – With luck the massive crowds won’t be a superspreader event, but epidemiologists are warning that we are running out of luck. The combination of politicized resistance, opportunistic political leadership, pandemic weariness, and the just plain American “don’t tell me what to do” attitude is leading to numerous and significant breakdowns in COVID-19 mitigation. The third wave looms, as usual, just a few weeks after it showed up in Europe.
Sunday, March 21
[Coronavirus] India Prepares for Another COVID-19 Wave – Joining most of the countries in Europe, with COVID-19 cases again on the rise, India is contemplating tightening mitigation restrictions, which will not be popular. Currently, India stands third on the list of the most cases with about 12 million (the U.S. has had more than 30 million). The Hindu Mahakumbeh celebration is beginning and will set in motion about 150 million people. And while India makes its own COVID-19 vaccine, coverage has nowhere reached herd immunity levels.
[Immigration] U.S.-Mexico Border Is “Closed” – Rushing to deal with the PR gaffe created by the “sudden” influx of asylum-seeking children, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the border was officially closed to adult immigrants, but that unaccompanied children seeking asylum would not be turned away. Meanwhile, the Biden administration was busily trying to find solutions for where the children could be housed, how to keep more children (and adults) from coming, and how to deal with the invigorated slew of Republican- right wing lies about the border. Short-term solutions are rare and problematic; long-term solutions are even more difficult.
[Afghanistan] Defense Secretary Makes a Surprise Visit to Afghanistan – In tacit recognition that the situation in Afghanistan is moving toward some kind of sea change, but that short-term tactics are complicated, Lloyd Austin met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to discuss U.S. troop deployment, the Taliban’s position, and the future.
Monday, March 22
[Mass Murder] Shooting in Boulder Supermarket Kills 10 – Among those killed was a police officer, store employees, and people just out shopping. As is becoming customary, release of background and motivational information remains skimpy. The event quickly became a political football as the NRA and right-wing media stepped in to preempt the usual pro-gun-control outrage following such events.
[Coronavirus] CDC Director Warns of Potential COVID-19 Wave – Adding to the voices of epidemiologists the world over, Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that if Americans stop wearing masks, ignore social distancing, and drop other coronavirus mitigation, the country could suffer “another avoidable surge of COVID-19 infections.” In a way, the U.S. is being lulled into complacency by its suddenly effective vaccination program. Nobody wants to cut back on the optimism, but the price may be additional hospitalizations and deaths in the tens of thousands. We’ll know how this plays out by this time next month.
[Biden Cabinet] Senate Confirms Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary – Walsh, currently mayor of Boston and longtime union organizer, completes the roster of Biden’s cabinet. Despite all the polarization, Biden managed to get this accomplished more quickly than did either Trump or Obama. Walsh’s confirmation quickly led to the appointment of Kim Janey as the first black, female mayor of Boston.
Tuesday, March 23
[Immigration] Biden Sends Migrant Troubleshooting Team to Mexico, Guatemala – The Biden administration is trying to rapidly piece together solutions for both the PR and the real immigration situation/crisis at the southern border. By using a combination of U.S. diplomacy, foreign aid, coronavirus vaccines, and other resources they are attempting to have (bribe) Mexico and Guatemala help with restraining and managing migrants moving north toward the U.S. Whether this can be substantial and quick enough to allay the Republican/right-wing political threat remains to be seen. [Later in the week, Biden put VP Harris in charge of the migration task force, signaling its priority for the administration. Long-term solutions such as a thoroughgoing revision of U.S. immigration policy, better messaging, and proactive changes in the countries where immigration begins, are just that, long-term (years ahead).]
[Suez Canal] Massive Freighter Blocks Suez Canal – The pictures of the behemoth ship stuck katterwhompus in the most important transportation corridor in the world are iconic, and fodder for endless jokes; but economically it’s a minor disaster, not only disrupting supply chains but also in some cases desperately needed supplies.
[Infrastructure] Biden Administration Has Plans for $3 Trillion Infrastructure Bill – Normally, this wouldn’t be considered “news,” since every administration for the past 20 years has touted an upcoming infrastructure bill, which somehow never seems to find the light of day. However, with the Democratic Senate majority, an available budget reconciliation bill for 2021, and the strong evidence that such a bill is needed, Democrats are preparing the ground for development – nominally hopeful for Republican participation – of a very large, very complicated, and likely very controversial bill. Current outlines include measures for combating climate change, infrastructure improvement (roads, bridges, schools, etc.), and potential tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for it.
[Gun Control] Biden Calls for Tightening Gun Laws – Following the mass shooting in a Colorado, Biden stuck with his campaign promises, and called for gun control measures: “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone another hour, to take commonsense steps that will save lives in the future.” Of course, this is only symbolic, since the Senate Republican impediment remains. Nevertheless, it’s the opposite approach of the former administration.
Wednesday, March 24
[Voting Rights] Senate Committee Opens Hearing on Expanding Voting Rights – The House has already sent the For the People Act, (HR 1/S1), to the Senate. The hearings were intended to be part of the response to Republican legislation throughout the country aimed at suppressing voter turnout; they also bolster testimony in favor of the act. Senate Republicans remain totally adamant in opposition to any voter rights legislation.
[Coronavirus] Daily COVID-19 Cases Fall Back to November 2020 Levels – Encouraging as this is, the numbers began to creep up by the end of the week and specialists continue to warn that without maintaining mitigation discipline we are far from seeing the end of the pandemic.
[Death Penalty] Virginia Formally Abolishes Death Penalty – After having been one of the most prolific states utilizing the death penalty, Virginia became the 23rd state to abolish it.
Thursday, March 25
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 684,000 – Though still high, this is a huge drop, more than 100,000, in claims and may signal an improving economy. The stock market has turned record-setting bullish, and more fundamental signs, such as an uptick in retail sales, are beginning to appear.
[Biden Administration] Biden Holds First News Conference – A Biden news conference is never going to be flashy or loud, but it can contain news and be straightforward. That’s a welcome contrast. While this news conference could be said to be tardy after 65 days, Biden opened with the good news that in his first 100 days there would be 200 million vaccinations instead of the earlier promised 100 million. Thereafter, the media asked no, NO, questions about COVID-19. That’s either some kind of negligence, or more likely it’s a vote of confidence: since the news is undramatic, they don’t need to cover it. The session ran over an hour; Biden could have gone on longer. He did not keel over. He answered all the questions, some of them quite well. The Republicans are trying very hard to develop the senility meme about Biden; it’s going to be hard to make that stick.
[Voting Rights] Georgia Enacts Far-Reaching Voter Suppression Law – Democrats should be thankful; Governor Kemp has just signed into law so much anti-voter legislation, it’s like a textbook on how to suppress the vote. Some of it’s so egregious – like making it illegal to give food and water to people standing in a voting line – that it almost seems like a parody. Are they serious? Apparently so, even making it possible for the legislature to overrule local voting results.
Friday, March 26
[Climate Crisis] Biden Calls for Virtual Climate Crisis Summit s – He sent out invitations to more than 40 world leaders asking them to attend via Internet a conference on Earth Day, April 22, to discuss plans for dealing with the climate crisis. Yes, it’s symbolic, but it’s also Biden being a world-level organizer, something the U.S. hasn’t done in quite some time.
[Voting Rights] Biden Assails Georgia Voter Suppression Laws as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” – Speaking for Democratic/democratic outrage, Biden set the stage for a “we must do something about this” response without actually outlining what that response should be. Republican/right-wing media call Biden’s rhetoric “outrageous.”
[Corporate Defamation] Dominion Voting Systems Sues Fox News for $1.6 Billion – Following Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion suit with Fox over election fraud claims, the Dominion suit puts a particular economic spin on the case: “Fox made a conscious knowing business decision to endorse and repeat the broadcast of these lies in order to keep its viewership.” Dominion had served a cease-and-desist order, which Fox ignored, and now that document will become a key piece of evidence for the suit because it shows timing, Fox’s intent, and Dominion’s losses.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 30,853,483; Deaths: 559,225
Rising gas prices are an indication that as people believe the pandemic is ending, it’s time to hit the road. This is good news for the energy companies, which are happy to augment the usual rising summer gas prices in the hopes of recovering losses from the year of the pandemic. It also presages an expected fall recovery by the tourism industry. Epidemiologists are worried this is all premature, and if we get hit by another wave of COVID-19 – probably in the form of the variant strains – the psychological hit to the economy could amplify economic declines.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
“No reasonable person” would mistake her baseless accusations of an elaborate multinational, communist election-rigging scheme as “truly statements of fact.” With these words, lawyers for Sidney Powell, the former prominent wingnut legal advisor to the Trump administration, presented their defense in the massive $1.3 billion Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit. Aside from the fact that it is a weak, even risible defense, it amounts to a confession that Republican/right-wing spouting about the Big Lie is what it looks like, bullshit, and everybody should know it. Democrats pounced on this, and it is likely to show up in campaign posters; the right-wing media ignored it.
Quote of the Week
D.C. would be the only state — the only state — without an airport, without a car dealership, without a capital city, without a landfill, without even a name of its own, and we could go on and on and on.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), quoted in “How the Founders Decided You Needed a Car Dealership to be a State,” The Washington Post, 3/24/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]