Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, September 25 through Friday, October 1, 2021 [Vol.3 No.11]
Manchin and Sinema
The Week’s Most Notable
This week only one of four possible shoes dropped: Congress managed to extend funding the U.S. government for a couple of months (to Dec. 3). The other shoes – debt ceiling and the two infrastructure bills – remained in negotiation purgatory throughout the week. In a way the week was undramatic, or at least not as billed; nothing happened that was decisive. The media played it almost entirely as if the Democratic Party was coming apart at the seams. It wasn’t. Most of it was the usual krangling among Democrats when serious negotiations are afoot. The “split” in the party was due almost entirely to two senators, Manchin and Sinema, with perhaps half a dozen other congresspeople in their slipstream. In reality, roughly 94% of Democrats wholeheartedly support the Biden agenda, including its “go big” directive. At the same time Republicans and conservative Democrats rolled out the old chestnuts about the evils of deficit spending. Unfortunately, due to this ancient manure fog, it’s difficult to see that Americans confront a vastly important choice: Either allow the government to do important things for the economy and the country, or the government does little or nothing and big corporations control the path of the country. By the polls and Biden’s victory, the majority of Americans seem to endorse government’s role, and concurrently most Americans approve of increasing the tax on corporations and wealthy individuals. That’s not how Republicans and some centrist Democrats see it, and because of Manchin and Sinema that point of view currently has the edge.
As most people will remember, Sen. John McCain ended the Republicans’ attempt to demolish the Affordable Care Act with his single vote. The image of him on the Senate floor turning thumbs down brings up similar possibilities with Manchin and particularly Sinema, heir to McCain’s seat. Either could kill any of the infrastructure legislation, and with it, Biden’s agenda and probably the Democrats’ hope for the 2022 midterms. At the moment, it looks like Manchin will get his pound of flesh, cutting the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill down to somewhere around $2 trillion. The fight now is about what and how much to cut. However, political insiders say that Manchin is inclined to sign off on the legislation when it meets his satisfaction. This cannot be said with confidence about Sen. Sinema (see page 3). Ugly as it is, these are the conditions of a 50-50 Senate. There are no guarantees.
Saturday, September 25
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 43,792,731; Deaths: 709,078
[Deadly Train Wreck] Amtrak Derailment in Montana Kills Three – Fatal train derailments are thankfully rare and they don’t necessarily indicate systemic failures, but this one in Montana happened to be practically in the neighborhood of Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s farm, putting a spotlight once again on America’s tottery infrastructure.
[Coronavirus] Idaho: Surge in Pandemic Cases Fills Hospitals and Funeral Homes – More than 20 Idahoans a day are dying from COVID-19 and ICU units are at 90% capacity. Not coincidentally, Idaho has the third lowest vaccination level in the country (41%).
Sunday, September 26
[German Elections] Social Democratic Party Likely to Form New German Government – Although extensive negotiations are ahead, German voters set up a probable coalition government headed by the SPD, with Olaf Schultz as Chancellor. Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrat Union, suffered an historic defeat, losing more than 8% of its vote. The voting seems to show that while Merkel was extremely popular, her party was not.
[Switzerland] Switzerland Vote Approves Same-Sex Marriage – Switzerland has been profoundly conservative on gender issues, but this time in the face of well-funded opposition, the voters approved legalizing same-sex marriages by 64.1%. [Similar: Iceland elects first all-female majority Parliament. San Marino voters legalize abortion.]
Monday, September 27
[Government] GOP Senators Block Bill to Avert Shutdown – This bill pertained to funding government, not the debt ceiling. With this move, Republicans first told the Democrats they must solve the funding problems themselves and then signaled by filibuster that they will not be able to do so. As is so often the case recently, the Republicans are counting on the right-wing media to spin their hypocrisy and minimize political damage from the chicanery.
[Infrastructure Bill] Pelosi Delays Infrastructure Vote – A vote on the $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill had been promised by Pelosi, but it was apparent that intraparty disagreement prevented it – the Progressives in the House continued to threaten their support for the bill if it wasn’t also accompanied by passage of the currently $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation infrastructure bill. It’s significant that House Progressives don’t trust passage of the second bill in the Senate, if the bipartisan bill is approved first.
[Coronavirus] Vaccine Mandates Versus Staff Shortages – Nationwide, hospital and medical facilities are imposing staff vaccination mandates. At the same time some medical professionals are threatening to quit over the mandates. National media tends to equate these two positions; so far, about 3 to 5% of medical professionals have actually quit in similar situations. This puts a strain on some institutions but so far has not been catastrophic. With much more widespread mandates, it will be important to adequately measure the impact of walkouts and firings.
[Coronavirus] Biden Has His COVID-19 Booster Shot – Under the full glare of national media, Biden signaled his endorsement of booster shots – which is still relatively controversial even in the medical community – but he and his administration have obviously made the decision to go all-in. Pfizer is the only currently available booster shot, with Moderna and J&J, both of which remain effective for slightly longer periods, having announced their own boosters will soon be available.
[Voting by Mail] California Law Makes Universal Mail-In Voting Permanent – Though not the first state to encourage universal voting by mail, it is by far the largest and most significant.
[Afghanistan] Kabul University Bans Women – Breaking an earlier promise, the new Chancellor of the University commented “I give you my word as Chancellor of the Kabul University, as long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work.” As expected, the Taliban are routinely reverting policy to their previous period of control from the 1990s to 2000.
Tuesday, September 28
[Afghanistan] Gen. Milley Tags Afghanistan a “Strategic Failure” – The comments came during a Senate Armed Services Committee session that provided a number of nuanced contradictions from the military, which moved between recognition that the U.S. needed to leave Afghanistan and that the U.S. should have maintained a security garrison. Republicans promise that this will become fodder for the 2022 election; already most Americans don’t care.
[Government Default] Yellen Puts October 18 Deadline on Debt Default – The Treasury Secretary warned lawmakers that the date was not the starting point but the ending point for American credit, which she said would be catastrophic to the economy. In fact, she warned that the functional default could happen earlier, depending on circumstances. Senate Republicans are still weaponizing the Big Lie of the Debt Ceiling – that it is for future expenditures, when it in fact is for paying already existing debts.
Wednesday, September 29
[Brexit] Brexit Problems Proliferate – Food, gas (petrol), some medicines top the list of shortages in most of Great Britain. In most cases supply chain problems caused by a shortage of workers, especially truck drivers resulted in shortages, some long-term. Initially the government denied there was a problem, then switched to blaming the pandemic, to recently admitting a problem and looking to use the Army to fill in the gaps in driver supply. Because Brexit shut off the availability of European workers, labor shortages are becoming structural.
[Species Extinction] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Declares 23 Species Newly Extinct – The list includes the ivory billed woodpecker, once the largest woodpecker in the country and dubbed the “Lord God Bird.” Loss of habitat due to climate change and human development are considered the principal causes of extinction in the U.S.
[Coronavirus] YouTube Bans Content Spreading False or Misleading Vaccine Information – It took a while, like 18 months, but YouTube (a Google company) finally determined that the thousands of clips containing verifiably false and/or massively misleading information about vaccines and other elements of the pandemic were doing harm. While many cases are extremely clear-cut, there will be others where the intent of the content is obscured – including some purportedly medical sites claiming some kind of scientific rationale. The question is, will Facebook and other social media sites follow suit?
Thursday, September 30
[Economy] September Stock Market Records Largest Drop since March 2020 – The drop of about 5% for the S&P and 1.2% for the Dow Jones marks a reversal from previous months and reveals market concerns with the economic impact of the surging Delta variant. Good news: The Delta variant seems to be waning and its rather mild shock to the economy may prevent a rise of inflation at least through Christmas.
[Government] Congress Passes Temporary Bill to Keep Government Open – Congress avoids government shutdown with funds to keep operating until December 3, when the cage au folie will start over again. They did it with less than 12 hours to spare.
[Infrastructure] Pelosi Again Delays Vote on Nonpartisan Infrastructure Bill – She doesn’t have the votes, or more specifically the Progressive block in the House refuses to vote the bill through without the budget reconciliation infrastructure bill either going first or simultaneously. The Progressives are concerned, given the attitude of Manchin and Sinema in the Senate, that once the bipartisan bill is signed and sealed, they may say we don’t need the second bill. Republicans would love that. What’s going to happen is there will be significant cuts to the second bill, and that will take time, possibly a week or two. Biden knows this and has said “It’s just reality. Patience. We’ll get this done.” That still won’t guarantee passage in the Senate, but it is a way through the current impasse.
[Immigration] New Guidelines Limit Deportation of Migrants – In a solid reversal of Trump policies, a memo from Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas informed officials that they could no longer deport migrants just because they are undocumented. The objective is to no longer punish people who have contributed to society without blemish because they did not have proper documentation. [Related: Mayorkas is updating DACA policy.]
Friday, October 1
[Government] California Becomes First State to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination for All Students – There will be plenty of exceptions: The FDA must first fully approve vaccines for children 5 through 11, and for 12 through 17. This will take long enough that the mandate will not go fully into effect until the next school year. There will also be exceptions for religious exemptions, medical reasons, and personal beliefs. Nevertheless, expect widespread chest-pounding by the right wing and a certain amount of violence.
[Philippines] Duterte Announces He Is Leaving Politics in June – His term as Philippines president was up anyway, although he thought about running for VP before facing stiff opposition. But then he’s known for keeping his fingers crossed behind his back. The Philippines is still in the hands of oligarchs and authoritarians.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 44,444,415; Deaths: 718,984
Is the pandemic winding down? By the numbers, it looks like it – worldwide. It’s not going down rapidly but it seems steadily. There are plenty of anomalies which medical science has yet to explain, like countries that are seeing a decline in new cases but a steady increase in the number of deaths. In other countries the correlation between a high level of vaccination and a lower spread of the Delta variant doesn’t seem very strong. There are three other flies stuck in the ivermectin ointment: What will be the result of vaccines losing their effectiveness over time? How much has the worldwide drop in systematic testing affected our analysis of what’s happening with the pandemic? (Remember Trump saying “If we don’t test, our numbers get better.”) Finally, with winter coming to the populous northern hemisphere, will the pandemic stage a rebound?
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Sinema the cypher. From the beginning of legislative haggling in the Senate, it seemed clear that for the Democrats the most relevant complication isn’t the Republicans, it is Senators Manchin and Sinema, the two DINO, whose recent public utterances sounded much like Republican talking points. For the media it was routine that Manchin got all the detailed attention and for Sinema, the second name, few or no details. The working assumption by the media and politicians seems to be that whatever Manchin decides, Sinema will fall in line. As of this week, it still seems like that is the prevailing assumption. It may be totally wrong. Some evidence – Sinema’s meetings with wealthy donors, conversations with McConnell, failure to provide her negotiating terms, and awkward aloofness from the Democratic/democratic process – could lead some to believe she’s going rogue. Or could go rogue with only the slightest push. Just like Manchin, her vote in the Senate against any Democratic legislation kills that legislation. If she officially declares herself an independent or a Republican, then the Democrats lose control of the Senate. There is some evidence that she is narcissistic enough to do something like that. So, figuratively in several senses, she’s become the elephant in the room, or possibly the Republican Trojan horse –the enigmatic cypher that no one wants to talk about or write about.
About that fake audit in Arizona: It was a clown show from the get-go and then wound up confirming that Biden won, in fact increasing his margin. Why did Republicans let this happen? Something of a head scratcher. But the risible exercise actually took place, had a responsible outcome, and set a precedent – a new norm in which fascist inclined Republican operatives can “audit” any and all future elections to throw out a Democratic victory as illegitimate. Given the strategy, it seems understandable that Republicans wish to replicate the precedent in other states.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
We often think that what we should be waiting for is fascists and communists marching in the streets, but nowadays, the way democracies often die is through legal things at the ballot box — things that can be both legal and antidemocratic at the same time. Politicians use the letter of the law to subvert the spirit of the law.
Daniel Ziblatt, co-author, “How Democracies Die”, quoted in “Today’s Worldview”, The Washington Post, 10/01/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]