Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, October 30 through Friday, November 5, 2021 [Vol.3 No.16]
Losses and Wins
The Week’s Most Notable
Finally, at the very end of the week the House managed to pass the $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Since it had already passed the Senate, the House approval meant the bill would go directly to Biden’s desk for signature, meaning the deal was sealed on this months ago and no surprise. It was held up because it was a leverage point, a bargaining chip: Progressives in the House and Senate were afraid that if the bipartisan bill passed first, centrist Democrats could ignore the second and larger Build Back Better infrastructure bill – the one that contains all of the legislation and money for child care, climate change, education, and so forth. The fact that progressives allowed the bipartisan bill to pass might indicate that some kind of agreement (guarantee?) had been reached. However, it’s known that serious disagreements linger over the second bill and the timing of its passage is uncertain. It’s understood that the Democrats’ inability to get these bills passed plays a role in the disaffection of voters, the decline in Biden’s approval, and probably contributed to the stunning defeats in Virginia. That doesn’t mean that the struggle over program allocation (read: Manchin’s and Sinema’s whims) for the roughly $1.75 trillion second bill will conclude quickly.
Democrats’ losses in Virginia are painful and scary. It’s not that they weren’t somewhat anticipated, especially for the governor’s race, but the loss of the lower Virginia legislature and most of the state offices underscored the possibility of more fundamental causes – Virginia is supposed to be a blue state, but didn’t vote like it. Why? That question will haunt analysts and politicos for some time. Republicans can be a little more positive about their message, but come out not so certain about Trump’s viability. Right now, neither party can claim to understand, much less control, the powerful forces that are changing the American electorate – Is COVID-19 really ending? What will the post-Covid economy look like? Is the inflation for food and gas permanent? Will the Congress ever pass legislation, specifically the Democrats’ infrastructure bills? – And how much difference will that make? Good questions.
Saturday, October 30
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 46,848,236; Deaths: 767,923
[Tariffs] U.S. and EU Reach Agreement Easing Steel, Aluminum Tariffs – Remember Trump’s bout of executive order tariffs? It was several years ago and little has been heard since, at least in the media; but the reality of cost and inconvenience hasn’t been forgotten by the business community. Consequently, the Biden administration has begun carefully unraveling the network of Trump tariffs, concentrating mainly on the EU but with an eye towards China.
[Censorship] University of Florida Professors Blocked from Giving Vote Testimony – Three professors were blocked from providing expert testimony in a lawsuit concerning the new Florida state law that restricts voting rights. The move was blatantly political, as a university official put it, “The testimony would be adverse to the University’s interests as a state of Florida institution.” More precisely, it would put it in opposition to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), something apparently the school administration fears. [Update: Later in the week the University retracted the gag rule as the move was clearly unconstitutional, demonstrating the malleable nature of politically motivated decisions.]
[Jan. 6 Investigation] Trump Court Filing Seeks to Hide January 6 Documents – The House Select Committee is seeking a long list of White House documents pertaining to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which includes diaries, speech drafts, phone logs, and notes. Trump lawyers on the other hand are claiming executive privilege to restrict the documents. In general, only sitting presidents can invoke executive privilege, but exceptions have been made, and in some cases a Special Master is appointed by the court to review the documents and remove those genuinely covered by the terms of executive privilege. As ever, this process could drag on a while.
Sunday, October 31
[G-20 Summit] G-20 Takes up Climate Change as Priority – For the most part, the G-20 summit is more like a pep rally for the upcoming COP26 Summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of the leaders gathered have already spoken in favor of dealing with global warming and climate change, but the COP26 meeting is where the promises and more specific commitments are made. Most observers agree that the world’s governments are verbally becoming more committed to climate change, but still haven’t put (enough) money where their mouths are.
Monday, November 1
[Kenosha Trial] Kyle Rittenhouse Homicide Trial Begins – The 17-year-old carrying an illegal firearm traveled from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he confronted people demonstrating against the shooting of a black man by a police officer. In the event, he shot and killed two people and wounded another. In defense, he claims he was there to protect Kenosha businesses, that he was attacked by the protesters, and therefore had to shoot in self-defense. [Update: Judge Bruce Schroeder, has become a problem, including a week-ending rant about how the media was distorting the trial and his judicial record. It was the sort of outburst that leads to mistrial.]
[Climate Change] COP26 Gets Underway in Glasgow – The yearly climate change summit, this year featuring more than 120 world leaders – minus the Chinese and Russians – continues to be verbally more aggressive. Even India, which has a long record of dragging its feet for climate mitigation, pledged to meet its Net-Zero goal by 2060. For its part, the U.S., represented by President Biden, apologized for having withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord and pronounced the U.S. commitment to hold warming to 1.5°C. The U.S. also announced new methane emissions rules being developed by the EPA and intended to cut emissions by 30% by 2030.
[Stock Market] U.S. Stocks Hit Record Highs – For what it’s worth as a barometer of the economy, the Dow Jones average hit a record high of 35,913. While not uncommon for the stock market to be doing well when most consumers seem to feel the economy is not doing well, this time the market seems remarkably optimistic.
Tuesday, November 2
[Virginia Elections] Youngkin (R) Defeats McAuliffe (D) for Virginia Governorship – This was the marquee election, but Republicans also swept most of the statewide offices and regained control of the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature. Polls and many analysts had predicted the possibility of this shift but the magnitude exceeded expectations. Many explanations will be forthcoming, but it seems obvious that no one factor was decisive – the Democrats will have a difficult and sometimes contentious task to unravel what happened and what to do about it. When Virginia flips control, historically so does New Jersey. It didn’t happen this time, by a very narrow margin: incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D) was reelected.
[Elections] Minneapolis Voters Reject Police Department Replacement – This is the second time police reform has failed in the city since George Floyd’s death in 2020. Given that Minneapolis is one of the most Democratic voting cities in the country, it appears that the “defund the police” meme continues to be intensely unpopular.
[Infrastructure Bill] Congressional Democrats Agree on Lowering Prescription Drug Prices – After months of wrangling, Democrats in both the House and Senate have agreed on compromise language to include a plan lowering prescription drug prices in the president’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Bill. It allows Medicare to negotiate some prices, caps seniors’ out-of-pocket costs at $2,000, and limits price increases to no more than the rise in cost of living.
[Climate Change] COP26 Countries Pledge to Reverse Deforestation – More than 105 countries agreed to accelerate reforestation and increase their investment in sustainable forestry. On the other hand, almost no concrete commitments were made containing specifics of what countries actually plan to do.
Wednesday, November 3
[COP26] Financial Coalition Puts $130 Trillion into Green Energy Transition – The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero announced that more than 450 banks, insurers, and other asset managers had pledged $130 trillion for the financing of clean energy. Naturally, for anything this ambitious there is plenty of skepticism, but it does represent some developing weight behind the elements necessary to make a clean energy revolution work.
[U.S. Economy] Fed to Begin Reducing Financial Stimulus Programs – In the view of officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve, the economy has stabilized enough from the initial shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic that is no longer necessary to provide the amount of financial security it has been pumping into the economy. The Fed currently provides about $120 billion a month and intends to reduce that by $15 billion per month, starting now.
Thursday, November 4
[Economy] Positive Signs for the Economy – The number of people applying for unemployment benefits declined to 269,000 last week, another low since the beginning of the pandemic. The economy also added 531,000 jobs; the expectation had been for around 450,000. Correspondingly the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6%. It looks like the economy is responding to the easing of the pandemic. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans only consider the real inflation they see; there is still a lot of negative feeling about the economy, even when the data and economists’ analyses are bullish.
[Coronavirus] Biden: Vaccine Mandates to Begin January 4 – The requirement for COVID-19 vaccinations for all companies with more than 100 employees, with a testing regime for those who do not wish to be vaccinated, instantly created one of the most controversial moves by the Biden administration, setting off a round of angry right-wing denouncements and court cases. On the other hand, many companies and large corporations have already put the mandates in place – it’s much cheaper than insurance.
[COP26] More Than 40 Countries Pledge to Phase out Coal Fired Power Plants – Unfortunately, the two biggest offenders – the U.S. and China – didn’t sign up.
Friday, November 5
[Infrastructure] House Passes $1.1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill — This legislation alone is a “big efffing deal” not only according to President Biden but for its impact on the American economy in future years. This was most easily recognizable as a classic infrastructure bill, providing money for roads, bridges, airports, and generally to upgrade the physical condition of America’s public economy. Interestingly, although Republicans helped develop and pass this bill, numerous radical Republicans have been screaming that those turncoats be primaried for their sins of joining with the Democrats on the sorely needed piece of legislation.
[COP26] Greta Thunberg Leads Tens of Thousands in Protest against Lack of Climate Change Action – She called the COP26 summit “a failure” because once again it represented a “global green-wash festival” and “a two-week long celebration of business as usual.” Two days of demonstrations in Glasgow highlighted not so much a massive green revolution, but the fact that she represents a large number of young people, who are impatient, scared, worried about their future, and “don’t need any more empty promises.”
[Coronavirus] 22 States File Lawsuits against Biden Vaccine Mandate for Big Companies – Constituting a massive wave of legal challenge, most of the suits challenge the right of the federal government to impose health mandates on states. The irony is that by the time these challenges get to the Supreme Court, if at all, the issue is likely to be largely irrelevant based on the current advancements in vaccine and treatment technology.
[Crowd Killed] Eight People Die in Astroworld Music Festival Crowd Surge – During a performance by rapper Trevor Scott, an audience surge near the stage killed eight and injured scores. Fatal accidents at performances are not that uncommon, but when they happen, they seem particularly random and unnecessary.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 47,280,993; Deaths: 774,673
Vaccinating children to close the loop. As of this week, the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 became available across the country. It’s roughly a third of the regular Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose (10 micrograms vs 30 micrograms), uses a different buffering agent, and a smaller needle. It’s administered in two doses, two weeks apart. So far, it’s had the same safety record with children as it does for adults. Although children tend not to show symptoms as severe as those of adults, COVID-19 has infected 6 million children, sent thousands to the hospital, and resulted in about 700 deaths. Perhaps more to the point, the CDC and immunologists believe the effort to vaccinate children is necessary to help close the “infection loop” where children pick up the disease at school and carry it home to parents and other family members. Right now, that connection is particularly vulnerable to the Delta variant. Pfizer is also developing a vaccine for the youngest children (aged 1 to 4), although it’s not expected to be available until sometime next year.
The other big COVID-19 news is the announcement of effective treatments for people who have been infected. Pfizer announced PAXLOVID that has been found to reduce hospitalization and death by 89% – a phenomenal result. It joins Merck’s molnupiravir, which has an efficacy of about 50%.
Putting it all together: Standard vaccines for all ages are available from several manufacturers, follow-up or booster vaccinations from many of the same manufacturers, oral vaccinations (an Israeli firm, Oramed Pharmaceuticals, is testing Oravax), a growing list of COVID-19 treatments, and the usual battery of COVID-19 mitigation (masks, separation, quarantine, etc.) can be used in combination to reduce COVID-19 incidence and severity to roughly where we are now with the common flu. Most of this will be in place by spring of 2022. The question is whether sufficient populations from countries will be in a position to participate.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Preliminary analysis of the electorate in Virginia, and elsewhere, points to really big issues unsettling the public and not so much things like parental school control or congressional legislation. Exit polls and other surveys pointed consistently to inflation (economy), the pandemic, and unemployment (the economy again) as the biggest factors in their political decisions. (This does not apply to the more radical members of either party.) In the broadest overview, people just don’t feel good about the situation in the country and, in the absence of other evidence, they blame the Democrats. Put another way, Democrats got little to no credit for their recent good works; and Republicans a lot less traction from their culture wars than the media might indicate.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit over Texas’s new voting restrictions, alleging they disenfranchise eligible voters — including older Americans and people with disabilities — and that they violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ‘Our democracy depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted. The Justice Department will continue to use all the authorities at its disposal to protect this fundamental pillar of our society.’
Amy B. Wang, quoting AG Garland in “Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Texas’s New Voting Restrictions,” The Washington Post, 11/04/21.
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