Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, December 4 through Friday, December 10, 2021 [Vol.3 No.21]
Inflation and Omicron
The Week’s Most Notable
Omicron is ascending in Europe and spreading in the U.S. European epidemiologists expect Omicron to be the dominant virus before the New Year. The potentially good news is that it appears to be less dangerous than the Delta variant. Preliminary data seem to show that people who have had complete vaccinations are likely to suffer relatively mild symptoms, and Omicron is unlikely to send them to the hospital or the morgue. It is still highly contagious and perhaps can evade some vaccine immunity, which probably means that a lot more people are going to get sick. Vaccines do not and were not designed to completely prevent contracting a disease. At the moment, there is reason for optimism; but plenty of unanswered questions remain, including the relationship between Omicron and long COVID.
You cannot tell people that the cost of living isn’t going up, that inflation is not rampant. For one thing, costs are going up. In the latest report, they went up 6.8%, the quickest rise in several decades. Yet most reputable economists keep saying that the inflation is temporary, caused by problems created from COVID, and that while a certain amount of increase in the cost of living is likely, relative to higher wages, it’s mostly a gain for most people. Yeah, but it doesn’t feel like it, and the Republicans are better at telling the public how they feel than the Democrats are at telling them how they should feel. Since there’s very little that either the president or the Congress can do to rapidly change the rate of inflation, the Democrats better hope gas prices come down by next summer.
Saturday, December 4
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 50,003,174; Deaths: 809,667
[Mass Shooting] Parents of Michigan School Shooter Arrested – In a somewhat unusual move, the Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor filed charges against the parents for purchasing the killer’s gun and not monitoring its use. Bond was set at $500,000 each for James and Jennifer Crumbley. Their son Ethan Crumbley killed four and wounded seven.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Case Numbers Worsen – As of this week, the daily average of new cases is over 100,000 and the average of deaths is 1,600 per day. In general, epidemiologists see the rise as due to increased travel and interpersonal contact during the Thanksgiving holiday season. With the coming Christmas/New Year season, potentially combined with the explosive contagiousness of the Omicron variant, it is likely that record numbers will be produced by mid-January.
Sunday, December 5
[Bob Dole] Robert Dole, Former Senate Majority Leader, Dies at 98 – Candidate for vice president and president, long-time Republican leader of the Senate, a war hero; he stands out today as an “old school” Republican.
Monday, December 6
[Government] New York City Sets Vaccine Mandate for Private Companies – Controversial or not, the citywide private company vaccine mandate is a first in the country, which Mayor de Blasio called a “preemptive strike” against the coming new wave of infection from Omicron.
[Winter Olympics] U.S. Announces Diplomatic Ban for Beijing Olympics – The ban, such as prohibiting U.S. diplomats from appearing at Olympic ceremonies, is mostly symbolic, intended to protest China’s human rights violations, specifically those against the Uighurs. The U.S. athletes will fully participate.
[Coronavirus] New Testing Rule for International Travel Goes into Effect – The change occurs only a month after travel to and from the U.S. was opened on November 8. At that time the requirement was testing within 72 hours of departure, now it is 24 hours. In practice, this means everyone must have a quick test before boarding an international flight to or from the U.S. The change in policy was forced by the appearance of the Omicron variant.
Tuesday, November 7
[Russia – U.S. Negotiations] Biden Warns Putin Via Videoconference – With more than 160,000 Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border, Biden’s videoconference with Putin seemed either like last second grandstanding, or a ceremonial piece of frosting on a saber-rattling confection. Putin’s troop movements are usually timed with strength or weakness on domestic issues, perhaps in this case because of COVID troubles. This time, however, some experts warn that real pressure exists in Russia to “reclaim their motherland,” the Ukraine. Biden previously secured allied support for sanctions if Russia makes a move on the Ukraine – which if it happens would be a futile gesture.
[Politics 2022] Nunez to Leave Congress to Run Trump Social Media Startup – Devin Nunes, a name associated with cows, fake farms, hanky-panky at the White House, and lots of questionable errand-running for Trump has decided not to run; thanks in part to his district being reshaped to contain more Democrats. He will become CEO of Trump Media and Technology Group, in effect moving from one cow pie to another.
[Trump Presidency] Meadows New Book Features Disclosure Gaffes – Among other things, the former Chief of Staff’s book discloses that when Trump was sent to the hospital, he had a dangerously lower blood oxygen level than previously known. Meadows also opened the gates on the timeline for how long Trump was sick with COVID – days before it became public – and the calculation that he may have exposed more than 500 people; in short, Trump was a superspreader. Of course, Trump was not pleased by the revelation. Meadows attempted to walk back his own book by calling it fake news.
Wednesday, December 8
[Germany] Olaf Scholz Becomes New German Chancellor – After 16 years in office, Angela Merkel went off to tend her garden. Scholz was vice-chancellor and finance minister in the Merkel government but represents the left-of-center Social Democratic Party. He leads a three-party coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats. The first order of business will be a surging coronavirus wave, followed by commitments to aggressively fight climate change.
[Abortion – California] California Plans to Boost Abortion Access – Legislation is forming that will make it easier for women to access abortion services in California. Bowing to the reality that the Supreme Court will probably allow states to make virtually all abortions impractical, if not illegal, California seeks to act as a refuge for those seeking abortion within the preestablished Roe limits (fetal viability). Depending on the Supreme Court’s actions, within a year or two, the country will be divided between no-abortion and some-abortion states. This schism will have unpredictable, but likely destructive, effects not only for women’s rights, but in culture, economics, and politics in general.
[Jan. 06 Investigation] Meadows Sues to Block Select Committee Investigation – It is what it looks like: Meadows is playing the same delaying tactic used by Trump and so many of his acolytes – tie-up in the courts. The suit is not well-formed, especially in challenging the authority of a congressional committee to issue subpoenas and is unlikely to pass most courts, but it could well achieve its purpose by pushing court proceedings deep into next year.
[Coronavirus] Senate Approves Blocking Biden Vaccine Mandate for Employers – Biden’s vaccine mandate for employers was bound to be controversial, but it was still somewhat surprising to see two Democrats – Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT) – give the Republicans a majority vote. However, it is largely ceremonial as the bill is unlikely to pass the House, and if it did, it faces certain veto by President Biden. The point remains however, that the conservative point of view favors compromising public health rather than negotiating public-private responsibilities in a health crisis.
[Coronavirus] Omicron Variant Partially Evades Pfizer Vaccine – While the U.S. now boasts 200 million vaccinations, with about 60% of the total population fully vaccinated, concerns about the Omicron variant still have more questions than answers. Results from Pfizer and preliminary results elsewhere seem to indicate that while Omicron can to an extent evade current vaccines, a booster shot is effective in making vaccines achieve their primary goal – keeping people out of the hospital and keeping them alive.
[Climate Change] Biden Signs Executive Order to Make Federal Government Carbon Neutral by 2050 – The main thrust of the order is to replace the 600,000 vehicles of the federal fleet with all-electric vehicles. The order also covers conversion of buildings, including those owned or leased by the federal government.
[Defense Authorization] House and Senate Approve $768 Billion Defense Policy Bill – As usual, the enormous bill for the U.S. military skimmed through Congress with relative ease, in fact adding $24 billion more than Biden had requested.
Thursday, December 9
[Debt Ceiling] House and Senate Clear Bill for Debt Ceiling Increase – The agreement worked out between McConnell and Schumer, avoiding another debt ceiling crisis by forgoing a filibuster – unfortunately on a one-time basis – greased the track for passing the bill.
[Jan. 06 Investigation] Appeals Court Rejects Trump-Requested Block on Records for House Committee – A DC circuit federal appeals court three-judge panel upheld the District Court judge’s extensive ruling and augmented it with some stern language of their own. Apparently, the judges were preparing the case on appeal to the next step, the Supreme Court. The essence of the argument was that the legislative bodies of the House and Senate are given precedence in the Constitution (Article 1) and their functioning is the first priority. Most court observers think the Supreme Court will either let the lower court’s decision stand, or they will attempt in some way to put limits on the document’s subpoena power. The speed of their response will indicate which way they intend to go.
[Democracy Summit] Biden Convenes White House Summit for Democracy – The two-day videoconference is intended to highlight the importance and perilous circumstances of modern democratic government. It serves to highlight the more than 100 countries professing to be democracies, while also providing a chance to point to autocratic and nondemocratic countries. Judging by the sparse media coverage, it’s going to be difficult for this conference, or any such effort, to gather much concentrated attention – or enthusiasm.
Friday, December 10
[Texas Abortion Law] Supreme Court Allows Challenges to Texas Abortion Law but Keeps Law in Place – In an “on the one hand/on the other hand” ruling, the court did not halt the Texas vigilante abortion law, which means it will remain in place until more definitive rulings sometime in June or July. The court made challenges permissible, but the same conditions apply, and nothing will happen until the court makes a more definitive ruling in the spring. All in all, the Texas abortion law remains. It should be noted that Chief Justice Roberts issued his own blistering dissent in the 5-4 ruling.
[Climate Change] More Than 40 Tornadoes Strike Southern and Midwestern States, 100+ Dead – A highly unusual December outbreak of tornadoes leveled the town of Mayfield, Kentucky, home to more than 10,000 people. The tornadoes cut a swath of destruction more than 200 miles long including the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 50,705,267; Deaths: 817,343
Unlikely to be heard on Fox News: COVID death rates higher in pro-Trump counties. In a country where 59% of Republicans are vaccinated, compared to 91% of Democrats, it may not be surprising that death rates in red counties are 2.7 times higher than in blue counties. So the reality is, yes, vaccine denialism and the general attack on coronavirus mitigation does cost lives. Right-wing media will call it fake news, but more of their people are dead; that’s a fact.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Congressional Democrats desperately want to get on to the voting rights acts, but they can’t. They must first pass Biden’s Build Back Better infrastructure legislation, or it might not pass at all. But before that, they must get past the colossus who bestrides the narrow world of the Senate – Joe Manchin. And with each passing day, the cost of dealing with Manchin goes up. His rhetoric becomes increasingly Republican and his demands for cuts in the bill get bigger; more precisely he now wants programs removed on the grounds that they won’t be big enough to be effective. His latest shtick is to link inflation to the infrastructure bill, which is bogus but fits right in with Republican talking points. Besides, he just wants to drag it out, into next year is fine. No end to this is in sight, unless the Democrats cave and give Manchin everything he wants and lock him into an immediate passage of the bill before he changes his mind.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Aside from looking at what people say, surely it makes sense to look at what they do. If consumers are really as depressed as the sentiment numbers say, why are retail sales running so high?
And if we turn our attention from consumers to businesses, what we see is a huge surge in capital expenditures. That is, businesses are investing as if they see a booming economy and expect the boom to continue.
In short, the public’s highly negative assessment of the economy is at odds with every other indicator I can think of. Again, what’s going on?
Paul Krugman, “How Is the U.S. Economy Doing?” The New York Times, 12/09/2021.
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