Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, November 13 through Friday, November 19, 2021 [Vol.3 No.18]
The Week’s Most Notable
The week ended with an historical bang: On Friday mostly Democrats in the House passed a monumental social infrastructure bill of around $2 trillion (and sent it to its fate in the Senate), and Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges for shooting and killing two protesters and injuring another. Both of these had immediate impact, but the more profound impact – if any – will come later. The infrastructure bill, more or less officially called the Build Back Better Bill, is nothing until the Senate approves it, which in the cold terms of reality means Manchin and Sinema approve it. If they do, it won’t be the same as the House bill, and will need to be put through a Senate-House conference and then re-voted. By mid-December, if it makes it all the way to Biden’s desk, it will be an astonishing piece of legislation that will affect the lives of many, many people. It might even play a role in the midterms.
The Rittenhouse decision, depending on perspective, let a killer go Scott-free, or upheld the laws of Wisconsin and protected the rights of gun owners to self-defense. The jury’s verdict deeply shocked some people and emboldened others. In general, it reopened the bitter national discussion about gun-owners’ rights and the so-called “stand your ground” laws that exist in many states. The verdict should have been expected: Wisconsin law is fairly clear, Rittenhouse did not need to prove that he acted in self-defense, rather the prosecution had to prove that he did not. In fact, under some circumstances, Wisconsin law allows an individual to provoke an attack and still claim self-defense. In this case, the prosecution needed to show that Rittenhouse consistently intended to shoot somebody. Since they weren’t allowed to make a case of premeditation (that he brought an illegal firearm to Wisconsin from Illinois) and Rittenhouse could speak to his own lack of premeditation (his lachrymose testimony), it was all but impossible to make a strong case against him. It didn’t help that the presiding judge used the drama of the case to make his own points; but in the end, although the jury found the case extremely troubling, the law was fairly clear. Similar to the Trayvon Martin – Zimmerman case in Florida, it’s the accumulation of pro-gun, pro-defendant laws that make it very difficult to convict defendants who claim self-defense. Sooner rather than later this will happen again, and again, until we either change the laws, or settle into the reality of vigilantism (probably in something other than the democracy we have now).
Saturday, November 13
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 47,956,814; Deaths: 786,522
[COP26] COP26 Negotiations Toughen Emission Targets, Fall Short on Commitment – More than 200 nations agreed to a deal for reducing carbon emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. However, bowing to pressure from India (China too, but China didn’t officially attend) the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow were unable to set a foundation for achieving a 1.5°C for global temperature rise. The summit results are not a case of glass half-full/half-empty, more like a few drops at the bottom of the glass to brag about, while everybody knows that under the circumstances it is woefully insufficient. As we’re learning with the coronavirus pandemic, it isn’t even enough that people to see the deadly effects of climate change. Most countries appear willing to sacrifice thousands of lives (if not millions) to maintain the appearance of beneficial growth and the road to prosperity.
[Health Care] Kaiser Permanente and Unions Avert West Coast Hospital Strike – The threatened strike, which would have involved as many as 100,000 healthcare workers, was called off when union leaders signed off on the package of increased staffing and improvements in working conditions (note, wages were not the top priority). It’s a sign of the times that the intense pressure of the coronavirus pandemic, the mass defection from the ranks of healthcare workers, and the general upward trend in favor of labor has produced this kind of settlement. Expect to see similar agreements to be struck by other healthcare operators across the country.
Sunday, November 14
[Coronavirus] Coronavirus on the Rise Again across the U.S. – After a respite during the summer, with school reopening and colder weather sending people indoors, as predicted the number of COVID-19 cases – or more specifically Delta and the Delta Plus variants – are rebounding, moving from north to south. U.S. cases are up by 30%, heading back to an average of 100,000 cases per day. The death rate remains stubbornly above a thousand a day. If this trend continues, or which is more likely gets worse, it will shift the discussion about booster shots to the front of media attention – with all the political implications being amplified. Nobody wants the kind of mitigations that might be necessary (lockdowns, facemasks, etc.), but it is uncertain that vaccination alone will keep the pandemic in check.
[Coronavirus] Austria Implements Lockdown for Unvaccinated People – The move, while ahead of most other countries, is probably indicative of what the Delta variants are doing to Western Europe – surging cases to unprecedented levels. As is clear throughout the world, the unvaccinated contract the disease at a much higher rate, put greater pressure on hospitals, and more often wind up in the morgue. Some governments recognize this reality, many people do not, and in many countries the issue is politicized. This is true of Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, where protests and now riots against coronavirus mitigation are beginning.
Monday, November 15
[Infrastructure Bill] Biden Signs $1.1 Trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill – Without doubt a signature moment for Biden. There are a couple of important caveats: Anything around a trillion is a lot of money, but in this case $550 billion of it is actually new, and it is strung out over 10 years. Still, it should provide $66 billion for Amtrak, $65 billion for broadband, $47 billion for climate change response (wildfires, storms etc.), and $7.5 billion for stations to charge electric cars. Considering we haven’t had major infrastructure funding at the federal level for more than 30 years. . ..
[China Relations] Biden and Xi Conclude Virtual Summit – “We should talk more often.” That might be the bottom line for this particular meeting between the two remaining global superpowers. The Chinese want a freer hand to establish their worldwide trade network, the U.S. wants to tamp down the saber rattling over Taiwan and continue to negotiate the trade problems with China. Complicated stuff, lots of talking involved.
[Infowars] Alex Jones Ruled Liable for Sandy Hook Defamation – The original atrocity happened in 2012; within a year Alex Jones and his Infowars organization began claiming the massacre was a hoax. Many court appearances later, there is another judge’s ruling, this time more definitive. It could be a huge liability for Jones, but the ruling is being appealed.
Tuesday, November 16
[Coronavirus] Fauci Talks “Double Whammy” – While the Republican campaign to demonize Fauci continues, he remains the chief spokesperson for the government’s pandemic effort; his warning needs to be taken seriously. Essentially, the Delta variants are increasing infections rapidly, while many people are beginning to lose the effectiveness of their vaccines. That’s the double whammy. Right now, they are called “breakthrough” cases but really, it’s what happens with most vaccines; and like with most vaccines COVID-19 is going to need booster shots. Fauci announced that the need for booster shots is increasing and may become routine with a month or two. Politically, booster shots are problematic.
[Voter Fraud] Las Vegas Man Doubles Down on Voter Fraud – The poster-guy for right-wing accusations of voter fraud, Donald “Kirk” Hartle, pleaded guilty in court to voting twice in the 2020 election. He cast a ballot for his dead wife. Do not expect a right-wing media retraction.
[U.S. Economy] October Retail Sales Surge – Inflation notwithstanding (or more like a cause of inflation), American shoppers opened their wallets and found some cash, some of it thanks to the government. Consumer sales rose 1.7%, a significant improvement, although consumers still say that they think the economy is in the toilet. Let’s see how Christmas plays out.
Wednesday, November 17
[Government] House Censures Gosar, Removes Him from Committees – Lines have to be drawn somewhere; apparently House Democrats reckon it’s where another representative depicts himself killing one of his colleagues and threatening the president in an anime video. Of course, it’s “just a cartoon” – that’s why it’s just removing him from committees. And, of course, Paul Gosar, being the kind of man he is, reposted the same video the next day and doubled down on attacking women. From the Republican point of view, just another effective distraction.
[Coronavirus] U.S. to Buy Pfizer Covid Pills to Treat 10 million People – The newly developed drug, Paxlovid, is a post – infection treatment that helps to reduce the severity of the illness. Pfizer claims that it has more than 90% efficacy. The Biden administration is gambling that this new drug will help ameliorate the impact of the coming Delta variant wave.
[Opioids] America’s Other Epidemic: 100,000 Drug-Overdose Deaths – The CDC reported 100,306 drug related deaths through April of this year, a record and a 29% rise over last year. Bad as the coronavirus pandemic is, it’s not as deep or as intractable – caused by and embedded in the society – as opioid addiction.
[Jan. 06 Insurrection] “QAnon Shaman” Sentenced to 41 Months in Prison – One of the most visible and colorful of the invaders of the Capitol, Jacob Chansley, has since renounced his support for Trump and all things QAnon. The judge commented on that, and gave him the low end of the sentencing, which is three years five months in prison.
Thursday, November 18
[Belarus Immigration] Belarus Dismantles Migrant Border Camp – Perhaps Putin said “time to stop” or Lukashenko felt he made his point with the EU. Whatever the reason, the migrant camp that was being used to provoke incursions into Poland has been cleared out, although where all the migrants have gone is unknown. Some have elected to take to the forests and hide out, not a good strategy with winter coming on. What’s left is a mess with literally tens of thousands of people caught in an untenable limbo – they can’t go on to the EU, it will be difficult to go home – all for the political benefit of dictators.
[Death Penalty] Oklahoma Governor’s Clemency Halts Julius Jones Execution – It was a long-standing and high-profile case with a lot of new evidence exculpating Jones, nevertheless Gov. Kevin Stitt () waited until nearly the last minute and then invoked clemency, though with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had recommended leaving the possibility of parole.
Friday, November 19
[Vigilante Law] Rittenhouse Acquitted on All Counts – It required nearly 3 days for the jury to come back with a verdict, which turns out to be indicative about how difficult the issues were, but in the final tally Wisconsin law, which favors self-defense arguments and those who carry guns, more or less dictated a not guilty verdict. The reverberations from this verdict will carry for a long time; however, the process is not over. There is a possibility that the DOJ may become involved. The trial judge may come under ethical scrutiny. Almost for certain there will be a civil case. [Update: There were no riots in Kenosha but some violence in Portland, Oregon.]
[Infrastructure] House Passes Build Back Better Legislation – It was a lengthy birthing process, even for an infrastructure bill. The media and unfortunately some Democrats made it sound like it would pass in July; not even close. Even at the last minute, with the final words being put in the text, the process was held up by the grandstanding of minority leader McCarthy whose eight and one-half hour mini-filibuster probably garnered as much media attention as the bill itself (his mission accomplished). At around $2 trillion, the second bill targeted mostly at social infrastructure is probably going to be whittled down by Manchin and Sinema in the Senate. Expect a certain amount of weeping and wailing for the next three weeks, but in the end the content of the bill and its timing are probably up to Manchin. If all goes well, it will pass the Senate before the Christmas break. Since it will probably change, it will have to go back to the House for reapproval. Whether all this can be done before the end of the year is problematic.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 48,521,596; Deaths: 793,539
North America and most of Europe are experiencing a rise in Covid 19 infections. There are several causes: In areas where vaccine uptake is low (anywhere from 40% to 60%), the Delta variants rule; they are exceptionally infectious. Among those who have been vaccinated, many were jabbed more than six months ago; now there is a decline in the level of immunity, which is leading to breakthrough cases. In time, there will probably be as many of these as there are infections of the unvaccinated. In most developed countries freedom to travel has been restored, which in public health terms means the Delta variants, especially Delta Plus, will spread freely. Finally, there is a growing complacency about masks and distancing. It’s even worse in countries like the U.S. where vaccination and mitigation for a pandemic have become a political football. The net result: it’s likely to be a bad winter with record numbers of infections. Hopefully continued vaccinations, booster shots, and new treatment options such as Paxlovid will keep the numbers of hospitalized and dead below a crisis level.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Americans say by a roughly 2-to-1 margin that the Supreme Court should uphold its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, and by a similar margin the public opposes a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Scott Clement, et al., “Americans Broadly Support Supreme Court Upholding Roe v. Wade and Oppose Texas Abortion Law,” The Washington Post, 11/16/2021.
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