Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 27 through Friday, April 2, 2021 [Vol.2 No.37]
The Week’s Most Notable
Over the last decade or two there have been so many “infrastructure weeks” or attempts to start some kind of national infrastructure legislation that no one, not even the people making the proposals, believed it would actually happen. So Americans can be forgiven if last week Biden’s grand overture to a $2+ trillion infrastructure program (Build Back Better) is taken with a grain of salt, or a few trillion grains. And yet, this time, it will happen. For starters, there is a wide consensus, around 70% in most surveys, that America needs massive rebuilding of infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, schools, and much more. Both parties have believed this and said so for many years. The problem, generally, was the price tag. Or more accurately, the Republicans sold national debt phobia to cover for not wanting to prove government can successfully do a large-scale infrastructure program. Then along came the Trump-GOP and the $2.2 trillion tax cut mostly benefiting corporations and the wealthy, and suddenly national debt was said to be “no problem.” Historically low interest rates made that mostly true. Along came COVID-19 and Republicans signed off on a $1.9 trillion emergency package, and again in December 2020 with another $900 billion Covid Relief Bill. Then Biden was elected, Democrats took charge of the Senate, and within two months of inauguration they passed a landmark and highly popular $2.2 trillion rescue package. No wonder when Americans hear about a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan, they hardly blink. A big majority of Americans think it’s high time Congress did something, and seem to accept that spending a lot of money is part of it.
The media is trying to portray passing an infrastructure bill will be “extremely difficult.” It might look that way, but the difficulty has (a) nothing to do with Republicans, who as usual will not vote for anything, and (b) a guaranteed jockeying among Democrats for what goes into the bill and the details. Otherwise, the bill will be passed under budget reconciliation with the usual 51-50 Democratic majority. Pelosi has said she wants the House version ready by July.
Saturday, March 27
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 30,923,753; Deaths: 562,403
[Coronavirus] Dr. Birx Claims Majority of U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Were Preventable – Given that her track record of Trump appeasement, albeit in a very complicated situation, dilutes some of her criticism, the point remains that inaction, ineptitude, and aversion to science set the Trump administration up to fail in protecting the public. As in her case, someday America needs a full accounting of how we managed – and it is WE – to allow so many people to die without appropriate outcry. It is now almost a certainty that before the pandemic is completely over the U.S. will have suffered more than 640,000 deaths – the infamous record of the Spanish flu of 1918.
[Myanmar] Military Junta Kills 114, World Military Leaders Condemn the Violence – After the worst day of military action against protesters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the U.S. and their equivalents in 12 countries issued a joint communiqué condemning the use of force by Myanmar security forces. Though symbolic only, the statement sets the groundwork for making appeals to the UN to form a to act against the Myanmar government.
Sunday, March 28
[Coronavirus] WHO Report Cites Bats as COVID-19 Origin – The report explicitly tagged as “extremely unlikely” that the pandemic started with a virus leak from a Chinese lab. The combination of official Chinese inscrutability, shifting data sets, worldwide skepticism, and the proclivity for conspiracy theories in such matters means we may never know for sure the origin of this outbreak. However, the broader take is that origin in animals remains the most common source, and should be the focus of monitoring and prevention efforts. Heightening the awareness and official monitoring should also help with discouraging human intervention. A resolute and well-funded worldwide system for detection that transcends individual species and locations is needed, as COVID-19 is hardly the last viral pandemic we may face.
[Coronavirus] Biden Administration in Talks about Vaccine Passports – Prompted largely by business concerns – cruise lines, sports teams, convention centers, airlines etc. – that want to verify participants have been vaccinated there is a push for some kind of government standardization. A “vaccine passport” is not a new idea and many countries, including the U.S., have used it. Unfortunately, the American right-wing media immediately fastened upon this, screaming “corporate communism,” and turning it into a political hot potato rather than a matter of scientific or public health management. Expect the administration to go suddenly mute on the issue.
Monday, March 29
[Suez Canal] Ever Given Floats Free, Suez Reopens – A huge sigh of relief from the more than 400 ships waiting to use the canal, and the insurance companies facing billions in client losses. The Suez blockage serves to highlight the fragility of the global supply network. Between the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on world economies, this was also an apt symbol for the many economic adjustments that need to be made, especially with just-in-time inventory management.
[Coronavirus] CDC Director Sounds the Alarm for a New Wave of the Pandemic – Rochelle Walensky used words like “impending doom” to impart the message that even with the vast increase in vaccinations, without proper mitigation – masks, distancing, no big crowds – the rise of COVID-19 variants could prompt new outbreaks in the U.S. These have been characterized as “tornado outbreaks,” limited in geography but intense, as opposed to the generalized “wave” analogy. Biden amplified some of her message about continuing mitigation efforts while announcing that 90% of adults will be eligible to get a vaccine starting April 19. The U.S. is on a pace to have 3 million vaccines a day. Polls show that 72% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the vaccines, including 53% of Republicans.
[George Floyd] Internet Livestream Covers Opening of Derek Chauvin Trial – in what is becoming a global media event, millions of people are watching the Minneapolis trial of former police officer Chauvin for killing George Floyd by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 26 seconds. The heart-rending testimony combined with the uncertain outcome for any trial of a police officer, make this a spectacle worth following.
Tuesday, March 30
[Judiciary] Biden Nominates 11 for Federal Judiciary – As per his campaign promises, nine of the nominees are women and three are black women who are being nominated for U.S. Courts of Appeal (and potential candidates for the Supreme Court). The Trump-GOP filled more than 200 federal judges, 86% white, 75% men. There are currently 72 judicial openings. All nominees must pass through the 50-50 tied Senate, which is doable with or without Republican support, but GOP foot dragging could make it difficult to complete before the complications of the 2022 elections.
[Matt Gaetz] Congressman Gaetz Scandal Widens – A New York Times article asserted that Gaetz is under DOJ inquiry concerning a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. This opens a new, and very serious, legal possibility. The story adds to the many layers of this political-legal-moral tale that is everything the media loves, Republicans hate, and Democrats will use to keep Republican voters and politicians spinning while important legislation, such as infrastructure, is being pitched and formulated.
[Trump Lawsuits] Two Capitol Police Officers Sue Trump Directly – Based on the events of the January 6 riot, the officers are linking their personal physical and mental problems as a result of Trump inciting a crowd to riot at the Capitol. There are now four such legal cases against Trump, but they must first cross the barrier that his speech was part of his presidential duties and shield him from litigation. However, if the courts rule that litigation may take place, the discovery process could unearth a great deal of new evidence.
Wednesday, March 31
[Infrastructure] Biden Announces $2.25 Trillion Infrastructure Plan – Call this the opening PR gambit for “Build Back Better”. The House and Senate are months away from having a written piece of legislation, but Biden is opening the debate by signaling the scope and general content of what appears to be his first infrastructure plan. Among the most progressive elements are support for green energy and high-speed broadband Internet. It includes U.S. infrastructure: $650 billion, access for elderly and disabled: $400 billion, affordable housing: $300 billion, U.S. manufacturing support: $300 billion. Additionally, the bill will include $400 billion in clean energy tax credits. Much of this money will wind up in the pocket of business, but only after purchasing goods and services that benefit poor and middle-class Americans. To pay for much of the infrastructure upgrade, which is scheduled over an eight-year period, a key piece of this legislation will be increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, and the top individual income tax rate to 39.6%, up from 37%. The GOP is already screaming about “tax increases!” However, polls show these increases are broadly popular and not only with Democrats. Biden is said to have a second infrastructure plan dealing with children, education, and parenting that will be presented in April.
[Transgender Military] Pentagon Reverses Trump de Facto Ban on Transgender Troops – In a move that affects about 15,000 transgender servicemembers, the new guidelines increase their medical care and largely reinstate Obama’s policies.
Thursday, April 1
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 719,000 – Mixed signals on the economic front: Employment insurance claims were up 61,000 from the previous week, but a surprising 916,000 jobs were added in March, dropping the unemployment rate from 6.2% to 6%.
[Infrastructure] Biden Cabinet Meeting Designates High-Powered Surrogates for Infrastructure Battle – Biden has tapped a “Jobs Cabinet” to push for his infrastructure plans: Transportation – Buttigieg, Energy – Granholm, HUD – Fudge, Labor – Walsh, and Commerce – Raimondo. Buttigieg will be the most visible spokesperson.
Friday, April 2
[Coronavirus] CDC Announces Fully Vaccinated People Can Travel Safely within the U.S. – It will be interesting to see how many people pay attention to the qualifications of this announcement: Travel like this means no need for getting tested or self-quarantining, but it also means continuing to wear a mask in public areas, avoiding crowds, and practicing personal hygiene.
[Capitol Attack] Police Officer Killed as Car Rams Capitol Building Barricade – Another officer was hospitalized and the driver of the car fatally shot by police. As yet, there are a few details, though it does not appear to have been a terrorism or even politically motivated attack.
[Voting Rights] MLB Moves All-Star Game Out of Georgia – In response to protests about Georgia’s voter suppression laws, a combination of organizations and corporations brought pressure to move the location of the All-Star Game, something that will cost Georgia tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 31,316,972; Deaths: 567,706
Some really good news about preventing COVID-19 infection: Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are now reported to be highly effective in preventing infections in real-world conditions. Simply put, if you are fully vaccinated, you are 90% less likely to pass on the infection to someone else. This point had been controversial among scientists, but data from clinical trials and hospital records suggest that transmission is rare among vaccinated people. This will help even those who have not yet been vaccinated. It also improves the effectiveness for “herd immunity.” Pfizer also announced that trial data indicate their vaccine is 100% effective with adolescents, ages 12 to 15. We still don’t know the longevity of immunization from these vaccines; however, Pfizer announced that in the six months since introducing their vaccine, it was still 91.3% effective. If this holds up, it may mean that the vaccinations will be good for at least a year – and then fall into the routine re-vaccination pattern of seasonal flu.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
As more Republican states press on with anti-voting legislation, the PR war ramps up. Removing the All-Star Game from Georgia prompted right wing media to attack the MLB organization, while the Georgia House of Representatives voted to cancel a $10 million tax break for Delta Air Lines because they objected to the voter suppression laws. It looks like Texas will pass a similar set of laws, while at the same time under attack from major corporations in the state. Ultimately, it appears that anti-voting legislation will pass in at least 30 states. The question is whether these moves will be unpopular enough to leverage Senate Democrats into modifying the filibuster rules. It’s a little unclear why some Senate Democrats seem to feel that preserving open and fair elections isn’t worth changes to the filibuster, but all the key players, including Biden, Manchin, and Sinema, have already indicated a certain “flexibility” in their interpretation of how filibuster should be permitted, or not. Perhaps they are mostly posturing to enhance their negotiating clout.
Quote of the Week
Regarding the Sleazy-Gaetz issue: “This is—as was most Trumpist policy for four long years—simply a comms strategy run amok, a comms strategy that ends up overtaking everything else, including important policy discussion about existential crises like a worldwide pandemic and crushing income inequality. It relies on doing nothing, building nothing, fixing nothing, but fomenting distrust in reality, in the media’s reports of reality, in reality-based institutions from government to law enforcement…” Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, March 31, 2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]