Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, May 22 through Friday, May 28, 2021 [Vol.2 No.45]
Memorial Weekend: Hit the Road
The Week’s Most Notable
You could almost hear it this week, a massive collective sigh of relief across the U.S. as it appears the COVID-19 pandemic is receding. The numbers are good, with new cases decreasing in all states and the death rate falling to around 500 a day (which is still bad but a helluva lot better than 3,000 a day). The apparent reason for the good news is the massive number of vaccinations, now approaching 60%, of all adults. In fact, the effectiveness of vaccines used in the United States is so high that the CDC’s seemingly problematic decision to approve of maskless congregation (movies, restaurants, sport events) for vaccinated people has caused a wave of optimism and a feeling that things could return to normal. This was the week prior to the Memorial Day weekend and Americans prepared to hit the road, with millions returning to the air and planning travel to classic Memorial Day events that once more include families and friends. Despite the medically crazy but politically motivated vaccine opposition, the national mobilization to get “shots in arms” has been a testament to America’s ability to overcome seemingly impossible logistical challenges. We deserve to feel good about what has been achieved, at least for a few days.
The death of democracy by a thousand cuts makes it difficult to dramatize. The “threat to democracy” seems to live in a nether-world caught between derision for the extreme behavior of some in the GOP, the seemingly abstruse legislative activity in key states, and the belief that somehow democratic institutions will weather the storm. Yet the evidence is accumulating: By plan and deliberate orchestration the Trump-Republican party is gaslighting democracy, making it difficult to vote, establishing key posts to redefine election verification, gerrymandering a larger Republican advantage, and establishing PR rationales to hold the Republican base to the Big Lie. (It’s working, in the latest poll 66% of Republicans think Biden is not a legitimate president.) Finally, as a big piece of evidence, the Senate Republicans killing a bipartisan investigative commission on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Put it all together, and the path to circumventing the legitimate results of an election are there. Keep in mind that Biden won the electoral college by hardly enough votes to fill the Rose Bowl, about 80,000, and that it took a handful of bold actions by election administrators to hold that victory together. With margins that thin, it is not exaggeration to suggest they can be broken. There is nothing new about this observation, but as the weeks pass by, warning flags, alarms, and calls to action become more frequent and clamorous. At some point, non-Trumpian Americans will need to exercise one or all of three options: strongly demonstrate opposition to the antidemocratic Republican Party, support congressional legislation. e.g., the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and participate in a get-out-the-vote effort exceeding that which flipped the House in 2018. Right now, it seems like people who favor democracy just don’t believe we could be on the road to losing it. Living in that illusory comfort zone has got to change.
Saturday, May 22
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 33,890,473; Deaths: 605,755
[Coronavirus] Pfizer Vaccine Effective against India Variant – Good news on a major pandemic worry. The India variant, sometimes called the “double mutant,” and known to be more infectious than the British variant, now dominates most northern countries and is considered a major factor in the astounding surge of cases and deaths in India. The biggest concern was about the effectiveness of current vaccines against it. “Vaccine escape” means that a variant of the COVID-19 virus does not respond to vaccination – a very bad news scenario that would require a new formulation of vaccine. However, this first confirmed study indicates that people with a completed Pfizer vaccination (two shots) have an 88% effective immunity against the India variant; people with one Pfizer dose have about 60% protection. A study by Public Health England showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine is also about 60% effective. Similar results were expected for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Though the effectiveness is reduced, it is believed that all the vaccines will limit the severity of India variant cases, meaning that infection will rarely lead to hospitalization or death.
[Infrastructure] Senate Committee Releases Draft of Bipartisan Surface Transportation Bill – This chunk of what could be an infrastructure bill, which covers $303.5 billion in highway, road, and bridge development, was hammered out by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Could it be part of Biden’s infrastructure plan? Could it be an honest answer derived from Republican senators’ lowball infrastructure offer? Or is it just a pointless placeholder? Throughout June, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate will be formulating the specifics of the administration’s plan, and language from this draft bipartisan bill will likely show up in the new bill. In any case, the majority of Republicans will not support any infrastructure bill acceptable to Democrats, the method of payment – raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations – being an insurmountable block. This ultimately means the bill will have to be passed by budget reconciliation and probably without any Republican support.
Sunday, May 23
[Belarus] Belarus Jet Forces Commercial Flight to Land to Enable Arrest of Journalist – While the act was clearly in breach of international law and as a precedent cannot be allowed to stand, the tools for dramatic reprisal are limited. Sanctions, condemnations, and economic pressure can be effective but usually only long after the incident is forgotten. Belarus and Russia immediately cooked up excuses, but the act seems to have been done simply because they could. There is no question that Putin and Lukashenko collaborated on the incident, which makes it even more difficult to respond, especially for the EU. If reporter Roman Protastevich turns up dead relatively soon, there may be more action, but this issue will cook on the sanctions back burner for the time being.
Monday, May 24 fifth
[Mueller Probe] DOJ Decides to Contest the Revelation of Trump-Barr Documents – Although under order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to make public DOJ memos about the decision to not charge Trump with obstruction of justice, the DOJ has apparently decided that revealing the process does not set a good precedent. The decision has invoked loud protest and must still be considered by the judge.
[Capitol Defense] National Guard Troops Leaving Capital – Although part of the furor concerning defense of the national Capitol, maintaining more than a thousand National Guard soldiers is expensive and unusual so, as scheduled, they are departing.
[Climate Change] Biden: Additional Billion for Extreme Weather Planning – Partly as a statement of his commitment to counteracting climate change, Biden doubled the funding for extreme weather research, primarily through FEMA and NASA. The central idea for the additional money is to conduct research on preparedness, and to encourage the general public to confront the effects of climate change. Forecasts for the upcoming hurricane season call for near-record activity.
Tuesday, May 25
[George Floyd] One-Year Anniversary of George Floyd’s Murder – Family and activists marked the event with memorials and marches. There is little question that the killing of George Floyd, recorded on video, continues to have an international impact, but whether it has made a statistically significant change in the 18,000 U.S. police departments is debatable. This is another issue pending approval by Congress that is blocked by potential filibuster. While state and local changes can and are being made, widespread changes backed by the momentum of a federal set of laws is needed.
[Trump Legal] Special Grand Jury to Consider Trump Evidence – Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. convened a grand jury to consider the (mountains) of evidence concerning Trump, his family, his employees, and the Trump Organization. Generally, convening such a jury indicates that the prosecution is close to indictments.
[DOJ] Senate Confirms Kristen Clarke as Head of DOJ Civil Rights Division – Clarke is an experienced civil rights lawyer with an excellent reputation, which accounts for much of the strident opposition from Republicans. Democratic insiders consider her the ideal candidate for a period in which civil rights issues will be high on the DOJ priority list.
Wednesday, May 26
[Climate Change] Three Significant Blows to the Oil Economy – By coincidence (really) a small hedge fund unseated two ExxonMobil board members and thereby forced the company to make policy changes and join in fights addressing climate change. Earlier in the day investors in Chevron Corporation instructed the company to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, and a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to commit to deeper emission cuts. Taken singly or together, industry analysts are saying that the unusual day does not misrepresent underlying movements within the oil industry. In short, the handwriting – once done in invisible ink – is now appearing on the wall: fossil fuel is declining and the industry needs to find compensations, primarily in the new energy fields.
[Coronavirus] Biden Orders U.S. Intel to Focus on Pandemic Origins – In something of a surprise move, Biden widened conflict with China over COVID-19’s origin. According to sources, the reason for the move was additional information casting doubt on the official Chinese account, which does not admit to apparent cases of the coronavirus among workers at its Wuhan laboratory. Biden gave the agencies 90 days to report.
[Mass Shooting] Gunman at San Jose Railyard Kills 10 – There were a number of mass shootings during the week, killing 11 and injuring 69, none worse than at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority where a former employee shot and killed nine other employees and then himself.
Thursday, May 27
[Economy] New Unemployment Claims Dropped to 406,000 – The number shows a continuing strengthening of the labor economy. Economists see a return to pre-pandemic spending patterns, including leaving home to shop, and the use of external services including restaurants, movie theaters, and other forms of entertainment. There is agreement that inflation will accompany this growth but its rate, duration, and impact is being debated.
[Infrastructure] Senate Republicans Propose $928 Billion Infrastructure Bill – Since the bill contains about $600 billion of already committed infrastructure funds and purports to pay for itself by transferring unused money from the COVID relief bill, the fact that it’s about half of the Democrats’ new proposal of $1.7 trillion makes it seem like an afterthought. In any case, as the Republicans know, this proposal is DOA. Budget reconciliation here we come in July sometime.
[Coronavirus] DeSantis Threatens Cruise Lines over Vaccination Requirements – The CDC requires that 95% of cruise ship passengers and 98% of crew members be fully vaccinated. DeSantis said the cruise line, Royal Caribbean in this case, would be fined $5,000 for each passenger because of his executive order barring vaccine passports or any other requirements for proof of vaccination. Political headbutting at its finest.
Friday, May 28
[Capitol Riot] Senate Republicans Kill Nonpartisan January 6 Commission – As expected, Republican senators refused cloture on the establishment of the bipartisan investigative commission in a 54-35 vote – where 60 votes were required to pass. The logic seemed to be that taking a political PR hit now would be less damaging than six months of investigation headlines. Besides, no way the Trump-GOP wants to get near the issue of Trump and the Big Lie, which instigated the attack on the Capitol. What’s next? The Democrats will convene a special committee in the House, which will do pretty much the same thing the bipartisan committee would do, only the Democrats are completely in charge. Of course, the Republicans will insist the committee is biased. As an event of national and historical importance, their big bet is that the issue will be dormant by the time the midterm elections roll around.
[U.S. Budget] Biden Offers $6 Trillion Budget Proposal – A president’s proposed budget is always a wish list, still the number attached to this one seems breathtaking. It relies on increased taxation of corporations and the wealthy to pay for most of it, meaning that it is instantly anathema to Republicans. The budget encompasses the current American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan as well as a major increase in military spending. This budget probably won’t even function as a guideline.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 34,022,657; Deaths: 609,071
Vietnam reports new deadly COVID-19 variant. The previous week’s concerns focused on the Indian variant to COVID-19. It’s still a problem, especially in India, Great Britain, and parts of Southeast Asia, but its importance has been modified by the knowledge that current vaccines have a significant safety margin with the India variant. However, the wider issue is always there – some strain will come along which is not only more virulent but evades current vaccines. That may be the case with a new virus discovered in Vietnam. The reports are preliminary but it seems to combine the worst elements of the previous variants, including the Indian variant. This new virus strain is extremely contagious and the efficacy of vaccines has yet to be tested.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
What to do about Joe Manchin? The Democrats, their surrogates, the media, and to a certain extent the public Democratic organizations are beginning to circle the wagons – not to keep Republicans out but to keep Joe Manchin in. The PR campaign is becoming intense. Somewhere along the line, either with the voter rights bills or any number of other bills threatened by the filibuster, Joe Manchin and to a certain extent Kyrsten Sinema will either need to modify their positions or face not only consequential opprobrium but the possibility of being blamed – directly – for enabling the path to democracy’s end in the United States.
23% of Republicans agree that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”
73% of Republicans blame “left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Pinned Trend: The newly reported Vietnam variant looks to supersede the Indian variant. Watch this space.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
[McConnell’s rationale to not back a Jan. 6 Commission] is a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6. I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about . . . one election cycle after another?
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), quoted in “The Plum Line,” The Washington Post, 05/28/2021.
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