Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, June 5 through Friday, June 11, 2021 [Vol.2 No.47]
The Week’s Most Notable
Among other things the week ended with a picture of Merkel, Macron, and Biden walking away together in a hall; Macron had his arm over Biden’s shoulder, the body language all around was warm. It’s hard to extrapolate any durable message from events like the G7, but current preferences have a role to play in diplomacy. America under Biden is renewing its relationships with allies. Given the pandemic, worldwide economic instability, and provocation from antidemocratic governments (starting with Russia and China), Biden’s going to need help. It won’t be given unconditionally, if it ever was, but Trump’s turn at trampling international relations has made everyone wary. Biden gets a familiarity bonus, but his foreign policy decisions will be closely evaluated.
Trump’s manipulating of the DOJ was a running theme for the week, starting with the news that the DOJ had been collecting (debatably illegally) information on reporters and culminating with the New York Times and Washington Post expositions on Thursday that the DOJ had surreptitiously and perhaps illegally put pressure on electronic sources, in this case Apple, to provide personal information on members of Congress, in this case Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) of the House Oversight Committee. Although not explicit in the revelations, it’s clear that the series of investigations, which began with AG Sessions and were magnified by AG Barr, were at the behest of Trump. The targets of the investigation, Trump enemies (including their staff and family members), were not informed until the recent ending of gag orders. In other words, somebody in the DOJ was secretly looking for leaks of classified material – found none, but continued investigating anyway. In a way, most observers assumed the Trump administration always was doing this kind of abuse of power thing, now confirmed by some of the first publicized evidence. Many think this has the air of a Pandora’s Box with more revelations, IG, House, and Senate investigations to come. Others say, nobody cares – especially Republicans – so this will take up some headline space but have no lasting impact. Much depends on how well the ensuing rollout of evidence and accusations are handled.
Saturday, June 5
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 34,216,585; Deaths: 612,236
[Trump GOP] Trump Speaks at North Carolina GOP Convention – Heralded as a triumphant return to the political podium, perhaps the key thing to note is that neither CNN nor Fox News carried his speech live.
[Georgia Politics] Georgia GOP Convention Boos Their Governor and Secretary of State – In another startling demonstration of Republicans eating their own, the pro-Trump convention censured their Secretary of State and booed the Governor for defending the honesty of Georgia elections. Similar stories have played out in several other GOP-controlled states.
[DOJ] Beginning a Week of Revelations about Trump Meddling in the DOJ – Saturday began with the DOJ saying they would no longer secretly attempt to obtain reporters’ records. A few hours later it was learned that Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, had asked the AG to investigate election fraud claims, including one about Italian satellite technology being used to change voter tabulation machines.
Sunday, June 6
[Manchin] Manchin Cudgels Democrats’ Hopes for Voting Rights Bill – In a series of public statements and op-pieces, including one in the Sunday Charleston WV Gazette-Mail, Manchin continued to resolutely maintain he will not support bills that do not have bipartisan backing and that he has no interest in eliminating the filibuster. Keep in mind that an actual vote on any of the significant bills is one to two months away. Meantime Democrats will shift from quasi-bipartisan discussion to actual debates about the language of the bills. If Manchin – and other centrist Democrats – participate in these detailed issues, who knows what compromises may result.
Monday, June 7
[Election 2024] Trump Touts Florida Gov. as Running Mate – In the category of Interesting but way too early for this, Trump endorsed Florida Gov. DeSantis as a potential running mate for 2024. In other words, he is ready to dump Mike Pence. This is no surprise as Trump was not vociferously opposed to having Pence hung on January 6.
[DOJ] DOJ Defends Trump Positions in Some Cases – In something of a surprise, Merrick Garland’s DOJ is taking a few positions in concert with that of Trump; for example, in the case of columnist E Jean Carroll who accused Trump of defamation, DOJ Barr decided to become Trump’s proxy, holding that what he said was part of his job as president, and therefore he was entitled to government defense. The current DOJ appears to have agreed, much to the dismay of Democrats and DOJ watchers. At issue seems to be the desire of the DOJ to be independent of political pressure, while the situation is extraordinary and may require decisions that do not always conform to DOJ precedent.
[Harris-Central America] VP Harris to Migrants: “Do Not Come” – Speaking in Guatemala, Harris tried to walk the fence between discouraging migration to the border while trying to shift attention to decreasing the reasons for migration in the home countries. Of course, the problem is a huge synchronization issue in that the migration to the border is happening now, whereas fixing source problems takes years. Harris is taking flak from many sides about the Trump-like tone of her statement – the usual style versus substance problem.
[DOJ Colonial Pipeline] DOJ Hypes Recovery of Pipeline Ransom – Somebody wants this highlighted department: For a few days the DOJ and the media broadcast the good news that the ransom money for the Colonial Pipeline attack was cleverly recovered. It turns out that $2.3 million out of the $4.4 million in bitcoin was rescued, a little more than half. Good, but no cigar, and certainly not a demonstration of a long-term solution.
Tuesday, June 8
[Taxes] Leaked Report Shows Most Super-Wealthy Pay Little or No Income Taxes – Proving the common wisdom that the world’s richest people pay almost no federal income taxes, the report acquired by ProPublica documents from tax returns and other financial information that most years the wealthy pay almost no income tax because the system is rigged to let them report they have no direct income. Of course, there is now almost as much of a storm about the leak as there is about the actual scandal it describes. IRS and congressional investigations are planned.
[China Bill] Senate Passes “Chinese Competitiveness” Bill for $250 Billion – Stop a moment. Think about it: This is a major bill, $250 billion, bipartisan, passed in the Senate by a 68-32 vote, at a time when Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on any other bill. This is a pet project of Democratic Senate majority leader Schumer – why is it being passed so quickly, with so little opposition, with so little media attention? It’s remindful of the prison reform bill of the early Trump administration, which passed quietly and quickly, and almost never shows up in the list of significant bipartisan actions. Moreover, this is a “science and technology bill” to provide subsidies for research, technological manufacturing, and numerous other programs aimed to beef up replacement of Chinese products with American products. Who stands to benefit? American corporations and businesses. It still must pass the House, probably a foregone conclusion.
[Infrastructure] Biden Cancels Small-Group GOP Infrastructure Negotiations – A fair amount of media time had been spent on the negotiations between Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), but Biden summarized it like this – he’d cut a trillion dollars from the Democrats’ proposal, and the GOP returned with a proposal for only $330 billion in new money, disappointing. Somewhat confusingly, attention immediately shifted to a new group, containing Manchin and Sinema with Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and probably Rob Portman (R-OH who) and Mitt Romney (R-UT). While the discussion seemed mainly to involve what elements to include as infrastructure and how much money for each, the big sticking point remains “pay fors.” Democrats continue to want tax increases on the rich and corporations, and the Republicans want none of it. Hence, no complete basis for real negotiations. Meanwhile progressive Democrats made sure their voices were heard that all of this was fruitless, and the Democrats should go on their own under budget reconciliation. Of course, they know that without Manchin and Sinema, even that won’t work. The saga continues.
Wednesday, June 9
[Biden G7 Trip] Biden Leaves on First Overseas Travel – It’s an ambitious trip, eight days in Europe, studded with consequential meetings, numerous speeches, and a lot of fence mending. While ostensibly focusing on the G7 Summit, the overall goal of the trip is to bring the personal Biden connection back to heal many relationships with allies that were severely damaged by the Trump administration. The trip also features at the very end a meeting with Putin, which promises to be wildly over analyzed but possibly of symbolic importance.
[Biden G7 Trip] Biden Diplomatic Offensive Capped by Worldwide Donation of 500 million Pfizer Vaccine Doses – As part of asserting America’s come-back as a world leader (and to steal a march from China and Russia), Biden promised delivery of 250 million doses to the Covax project this year and another 250 million next year. The expectation is that other countries will augment the numbers, as they pledged to do during the G7 meeting.
[Keystone Pipeline] The Keystone XL Pipeline Is (Apparently) Dead – After more than a decade of demonstration, strife, political handwringing, global warming alarm, and Native American solidarity, it appears to be over: TC Energy, the prime developer for the XL pipeline, following Biden’s revocation of the construction permit, has decided to call it quits. This is a major environmental victory.
[Infrastructure] House Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan – Just when Senate negotiations more or less collapsed, 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, the House Problem Solvers group, have come up with their own $1.25 trillion infrastructure plan, which is not what Biden wanted and is and not what the GOP said they would accept, but it is a compromise. Can they sell it to Senators? So far, they’ve got some product, something of a price, and as yet no way to pay for it. As they say, this bird has no wings.
Thursday, June 10
[DOJ] DOJ Secretly Sought Data on Trump Enemies Including Two House Democrats – Reporting by both the New York Times and the Washington Post confirmed that early in the Trump administration the DOJ had sought data from Apple concerning at least two representatives, Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA). It was a search for leaks, which Trump classified as national security sensitive and carried the DOJ well beyond its protocols and guidelines. [Update: DOJ IG announces investigation of subpoenas for Democrats’ data.]
[Economy] Consumer Prices Rise by 5% in May – Most economists agree that uncorking consumer demand as the pandemic threat recedes is the cause for most of the rise in prices; the question is once that has peaked, will prices level out or even recede? Therein lies the potential political battle.
[Mueller Investigation] McGahn Testifies Behind Closed Doors – After literally years of obstruction and legal dodging, the former White House counsel finally testified before the House Judiciary committee. Though without substantive revelation, his commentary did reinforce the feeling that when Trump told him to fire Robert Mueller and then shortly thereafter to erase all record of that order, the U.S. was perilously close to constitutional chaos.
Friday, June 11
[DOJ] AG Garland Announces Expansion of Voting Rights Enforcement Unit – Under pressure concerning the explosion of voter suppression laws in Republican states, and for other pressing voter-related issues, it appears that the DOJ will substantially beef up its ability to investigate and prosecute voting rights violations. The plan is to double the size of the staff within 30 days. This will not compensate for the lack of the voting rights act passing Congress, but it might help.
[George Floyd] Darnella Frazier, Who Filmed the Killing of George Floyd, Receives Pulitzer Citation – She received a special citation for “courageously recording the murder.”
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 34,306,446; Deaths: 614,647
The India COVID-19 variant (now officially the Delta variant) has been put back into focus by the decision in Great Britain to delay the final step of reopening because of the rapid growth of cases. Officially the UK says the India variant is responsible for 91% of all new cases. Variant H.1.617.2 is roughly 100% more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus. In short, if it gets started in a community, it can spread from arithmetic progression to geometric progression within as little as 3 to 4 weeks. At the beginning of May, the UK was registering a little under a thousand cases; now there are more than 28,000. Predictably the virus spreads most rapidly among those who have no vaccine and seems to spread quite readily among younger people. The India variant is present in the U.S. and health authorities are concerned that it will become the dominant variant in communities where vaccine denial and resistance are the greatest. Its current status in the U.S. could mean that it will become the most dangerous driver of COVID-19 in the fall and winter. Although partially ameliorated by current vaccines, it requires a full two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to provide satisfactory protection.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
If you’ve been following negotiations for an infrastructure bill, you have every right to be confused. So far there have been at least five groups, some in the House, some in the Senate, in some kind of negotiation. For another thing, this is the preliminary phase where everybody argues about the broad strokes – what’s in the bill, how much is the cost, how will it be paid for. Most of this is very generic, often done for PR effect, and not necessarily the true components that will go into the completed sausage. Soon though, probably by the end of June, Democrats will present a written bill, in actual legislative language. They’ve been putting this together for months and it provides an opportunity to synthesize, reconfigure, and structure a bill that covers most of the issues that have been debated so far. When that appears, the real arguing begins, although in this case it’s probably going to be the Republicans saying “no way” and the Democrats saying “way [budgetary reconciliation].” Somewhere around the end of July or early August we might actually know the true shape of an infrastructure bill and whether it has a ghost of a chance of passing.
Pinned Trend: Put it back on the board, COVID-19 variants, especially the India variant. could well drive a resurgence of the pandemic in the fall and winter, even in the U.S.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
It used to be considered shrill to say that Republicans were deliberately sabotaging the economy under President Barack Obama. We were supposed to believe that their demands for spending cuts in the face of high unemployment, which greatly delayed the economy’s recovery, reflected genuine concern over the implications of the budget deficit. But the way the G.O.P. lost all interest in deficits the moment Donald Trump took office confirmed everything the cynics had been saying.
Paul Krugman, “Why Won’t Republicans Rebuild America?”, The New York Times, 06/10/2021.
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