Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, December 11 through Friday, December 17, 2021 [Vol.3 No.22]
800,000 Dead – Omicron Ahead
The Week’s Most Notable
In a week where officially more than 800,000 have died from COVID in the U.S., there’s word of a possible million new Omicron cases a day. That’s a number bruited-about by some epidemiologists. Preposterous, yes? No. We are already averaging almost 200,000 new cases a day. Omicron is truly different, not based on the Delta variant, but an evolution from the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is incredibly infectious. In Norway a Christmas party of 111 produced 80 Omicron infections. It is already spreading rapidly in the U.S., e.g., New York City and San Diego – coast-to-coast. Here are some of the salient points (so far):
- Omicron may be somewhat less virulent than the Delta variant, but that remains unproven in data where most of the infected have not been vaccinated.
- Omicron does appear to have more vaccine escape (breakthrough cases) than Delta, but they may be milder.
- Whether less virulent or not, Omicron will produce so many cases so quickly that it can overwhelm medical services. It could also make so many people sick that it will affect the functioning of the economy.
- Full vaccination with a booster shot does not guarantee immunity from Omicron, but it does dramatically decrease the chances of hospitalization and death.
- Many of the usual tools for fighting COVID – vaccines, masks, separation, isolation, antiviral treatment – still apply, but in the U.S. politicization of medical issues makes systematic mitigation all but impossible.
- Thanks to unfettered travel spreading viruses during the holidays, Omicron will probably peak sometime in mid-to-late January.
- It’s hoped that if the Omicron variant is indeed milder, it may more readily produce herd immunity. This is currently speculation. It is also not known how much Omicron will increase the number of long-Covid cases.
A big week for the House January 6 investigation: Revelations coming from materials and a book provided by former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows clarified the pre-event timeline and helped draw serious implications of Trump’s involvement, along with that of several Republican members of Congress. It provided the opportunity for committee cochair, Liz Cheney (R-WY), to grab control of the national narrative – something sorely missing from most of the Democratic efforts. The kicker for the week was the revelation of a 38-page PowerPoint document, in the possession of Mark Meadows, calling for Trump to declare a national emergency, seize all paper ballots, and declare all electronic voting invalid.
Saturday, December 11
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 50,841,579; Deaths: 818,905
[California Gun Control Plan] California Plans to Adapt Texas Abortion Law to Gun Control – Gov. Newsom proposed a law allowing private citizens to sue assault weapons manufacturers, distributors, and sellers. Assault weapons are currently illegal in California. The point being made is that the Texas vigilante abortion law is open for use and abuse; this particular gun control application is not likely to happen.
[Ukraine] G7 Warns Russia about Ukraine Invasion – This is known as the “diplomatic megaphone game” with the sides making dramatic public announcements to signal their willingness for engagement. The point is to make Russia believe the G7, NATO, the EU, and the U.S. are serious about retaliating for any incursion into the Ukraine. Further signals, such as troop movements on either side, are likely to follow.
[Trump – Israel] Trump Trashes Netanyahu, Praises Obama – In a series of rally statements and interview quotes, Trump, among other things, called Obama “smart and sharp” while taking a highly derogatory position against former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for congratulating Biden on his victory. “F… him,” Trump said of Netanyahu. Not the usual trolling, though not necessarily of ultimate significance.
Sunday, December 12
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 800,000 – Historians may someday look at such numbers and shake their heads, wondering how the wealthiest and most medically advanced country in the world could have the worst statistics throughout the pandemic. More than 50 million cases of COVID-19. Already more people have died of the disease in 2021 (450,000) than in the previous year. Most of those dying now are unvaccinated – and winter is arriving with Omicron in the flow. A million deaths are no longer unthinkable, if still unforgivable.
[Coronavirus] Austria Ends Coronavirus Lockdown – It was the first country to impose the lockdown at the beginning of the so-called third wave and is now among the first to end it. Their coronavirus figures have improved, but Omicron is just arriving. Like a bad comedian, governments all over the world are failing the pandemic in at least one crucial aspect – timing.
Monday, December 13
[Jan. 6 Investigation] House January 6 Panel Holds Mark Meadows in Contempt – Meadows started out as if he would comply with the investigation, in fact turning over thousands of documents. But then, somebody must’ve bellowed in his ear. He still published a kind of tell-all book, which got him in trouble with Trump, but then he refused to appear for his subpoena. For that, he will be held in Contempt of Congress by the House sometime this week. [Done on Tuesday.] However, his ineptitude gave Liz Cheney the opportunity to get extensive media coverage for some of his correspondence, including very damning quotes from Fox News people and some Republican congresspeople.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Does Not Block New York Health Workers Vaccine Mandate – The court majority (dissenting: Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas) continued the set of rulings granting states considerable control over their public health mandates. The big one is yet to come, a decision on Biden’s large employer vaccine mandate. It will be interesting to see if a few weeks down the Omicron outbreak road may change a few opinions.
[Coronavirus] California Renews Statewide Mask Mandate – While some states would be happy to make wearing a mask illegal, California acknowledged its already high rate of infection and the coming Omicron wave by extending its indoor mask wearing mandate.
Tuesday, November 14
[Government] Senate Raises Debt Ceiling by $2.5 Trillion – This closes the issue for a while, probably until early 2023. McConnell and Schumer worked out the deal whereby all Republicans voted against it, all Democrats for it, and VP Harris broke the tie.
[2020 Election] AP Study Finds Too Few Fraudulent Votes to Change 2020 Results – They found 475 potential cases in six battleground states. Not all of them were votes for Biden most of them had been caught and never counted. The AP found no collusion among those casting fraudulent votes. Does this end Trump’s stolen election claims? Will this be headlined at Fox News? Will unicorns prance in Central Park?
[Producer Price Index] U.S. PPI Jumps 9.6% – The prices suppliers charge businesses, comparing this year to last year, showed the highest increase since 2010. (Caveat: 2020 was a year of depressed prices because of COVID.) The current wave of inflation is likely to persist well into 2022.
[Capitol Insurrection] D.C. Attorney General Sues Proud Boys, Oathkeepers Over insurrection – Using the 1871 Ku Klux Klan act, the suit seeks multimillion dollar financial penalties, long considered more effective in crippling such organizations than protracted criminal trials.
[Anti-Islam] House Passes Anti-Islamophobic Bill – The bill from Ilhan Omar (D-MN) fighting Islamophobic activity and language, such as Boebert’s (R-CO) anti-Muslim rhetoric, passed on a party line vote; it will have difficulty in the Senate.
Wednesday, December 15
[U.S. Economy] Fed Commits to Fighting Inflation – After months of essentially sitting on the inflation sidelines, the Federal Reserve said it will taper bond purchases to fight rising inflation. This is a preliminary move to raising interest rates, which it said it will do three times in 2022. The price increases in November were given as a motivation for changing the inflation policy. Unlike stimulus, the Fed has relatively few tools to deal with inflation, especially in the short term.
[Military Spending] Senate Passes $768 Billion Defense Spending Bill – The House already approved the bill, so it’s on to Biden for signing. The bipartisan bill is $24 billion more than Biden asked for, which demonstrates the alacrity both parties have for spending military money, as opposed to money for social benefit.
[George Floyd Case] Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty in Floyd Civil Rights Case – Already a convicted murderer, Chauvin added years to his sentence in lieu of a public trial and a potentially longer sentence.
[National Security] Putin and Xi Agree to Jointly Reject Western Security Pressure – Translation: Putin is orchestrating his Ukraine campaign to include China as an interested party. China, as ever, seeks to buffer Western/U.S. power. The agreement is puff pastry for diplomatic purposes, but does signal a willingness on the part of China and Russia to work together against Western interests.
Thursday, December 16
[Coronavirus] New Coronavirus Cases Surge as Delta Teams with Omicron – Average daily cases are now over 120,000 and climbing rapidly toward 200,000 per day by next week. New York cases alone are over 70% above Thanksgiving levels. As in Great Britain, there is concern that pockets of Delta and pockets of Omicron will exist simultaneously (not to mention pockets of normal flu), all of which will compound the difficulties facing hospitals and treatment centers.
[Abortion] FDA Lifts Restrictions on Abortion Pills by Mail – DIY abortions through pills received by mail are likely to become a huge battleground between the courts, states, the federal government, and drug manufacturers. That is, presuming the Supreme Court permits states to enforce their own abortion bans.
[Infrastructure Bills] Biden Makes it Official: Build Back Better Bill Next Year – Predictably, the Democrats were unable to navigate around the rock called Manchin in 2021. Accommodating Manchin is probably the only way to get through some kind of bill if, like Lucy, he doesn’t keep moving the ball.
[Opioid Crisis] Judge Rejects Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Settlement – It was called a sweet deal, a settlement for approximately $4.5 billion with Purdue Pharma but giving the Sackler family owners immunity. The ruling explicitly opened the door for suing the Sacklers directly. As AG Merrick Garland put it, “The bankruptcy court did not have the authority to deprive victims of the opioid crisis of their right to sue the Sackler family.” The ruling will be appealed.
Friday, December 17
[Coronavirus] Appeals Court Reinstates Biden Employer Vaccine Mandate – This case is definitely headed for the Supreme Court, and emergency appeal. Even so, by the time it reaches the court, the Omicron variant could well have changed the playing field.
[Ukraine War] Russia Threatens NATO, Rattles Sabers, Nerves – “NATO is balancing on the edge of war,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Russia does not want Ukraine and Georgia to ever be part of NATO, and for NATO to curtail deployments in Eastern Europe. Of course, NATO cannot submit to either demand. Hence the impasse, threat of war, and the possibility that Russia will try to catch the West, the U.S. in particular, with its guard down. It’s likely to become quite blustery on the European diplomatic front.
[Coronavirus] Pfizer Predicts That Pandemic Could Become Endemic By 2024 – That means it’s far from over.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 51,610,281; Deaths: 826,719
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Democrats have known from day one of their takeover of the Senate that Sen. Joe Manchin was the pivot point for any crucial legislation. Without his vote in the 50-50 tied Senate, nothing on their agenda could pass. They knew he was the pivot point because, somewhat like John McCain, he was a maverick, a lone Democrat in a very Trump-red state. He was also inclined to be conservative in a truly Republican fashion and a spokesperson for big industry. He was not likely to be enthusiastic about a progressive agenda. He wasn’t, and isn’t, but they went ahead with it anyway. They probably figured, what else could they do? They had to get it out there – COVID relief, infrastructure, voting rights, filibuster changes. None of which was going anywhere without Joe Manchin’s blessing. It was true then, still true now. Knowing this, it could be said the Democrats should’ve done a better job of setting up the situation – ultimately giving Manchin what he wants. Now they’re going to have to do it having eaten a bucket of crow for mismanaging public expectations. In the new year, Senate Democrats will have to craft an infrastructure bill exactly as outlined by Manchin: a few programs fully mandated and funded for 10 years with the total bill at $1.75 trillion or less. It’s going to take a while to get that worked out; it’s going to be messy. Will it affect voting in 2022? Only if they fail, otherwise it’s arguable that at this point most voters, including Democrats, have lost interest.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, much of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Last week, [Sen. Chris] Murphy asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to take up his background check bill. ‘I understand the low likelihood of success,’ he said — accurately, as it happens. But given the tragedy in Michigan, he thought it was the least he and his colleagues could do. Actually, it’s always possible to do less. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, blocked Murphy’s request.
Gail Collins, “What We Still Haven’t Learned About Guns,” The New York Times, 12/15/2021.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]