Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, January 15 through Friday, January 21, 2022 [Vol.3 No.27]
COVID – Coming and Going
The Week’s Most Notable
Uncertainty is the rule when it comes to the pandemic. Everybody wants to be free of the COVID curse. So much so, that many people are willing to overlook the fact that it hasn’t gone away. In fact, in many countries more people are sick with COVID – mainly due to the Omicron variant – than at any previous time. Yet, the Omicron variant hasn’t sent proportionately that many people to the hospital or the grave. Why that inspires optimism is certainly nothing to celebrate, and speaks more to a combination of crisis fatigue and the incessant propaganda against all forms of mitigation. It produces all sorts of contradictory activity, such as the Biden administration providing hundreds of millions of free N95 masks, while the same week anti-vaxxers are holding a rally in Washington DC for their “victory.” By the end of the month, the U.S. will be pushing 900,000 dead, truly a piece of American exceptionalism, but in the worst possible sense. COVID along with inflation will continue to be the existential bugbears for most Americans, whether or not the reality is coming or growing.
Trump family in court: Georgia, New York State, Manhattan – it was a busy week for prosecutors investigating the many and various potential crimes of Trump and family. Some legal observers promote the notion of imminent indictments. Others say yes, yes, but criminal conviction is complicated and difficult – particularly when it involves the rich and famous, not to mention still politically powerful. Indicting a former president is a formidable legal challenge. It takes time, and that’s the biggest ploy in Trump’s legal playbook; play for time. As it was with the Mueller investigation, it’s probably not a good idea to pin hopes on an explicit criminal indictment.
Saturday, January 15
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 67,167,335; Deaths: 875,155
[Tonga Volcano] Tonga Volcano Eruption and Tsunami Rock Pacific Basin – A massive volcanic explosion, mostly underwater, threw a column of ash 12 miles into the air and created a tsunami that apparently nearly destroyed the nearby islands of the Tonga nation and was seen all across the Pacific rim including Japan, California, Chile, and Australia. Tonga was cut off from all communication and it is not known what casualties there might be among the hundred thousand inhabitants. [Update: By midweek rescue efforts began to reach the main island of Tongatapu. The devastation is extensive, and casualties are still unknown.]
[Coronavirus] Students in Major Cities Walk Out of Class over Omicron Concerns – The poor handling of coronavirus protocols (various forms of mitigation) prompted hundreds of students in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Boston to stage walkouts. Facilitated by social media, the walkouts may not have been highly influential, but they are almost unprecedented as a coordinated national effort in student protests over health issues.
[Texas Hostages] FBI Storms Texas Synagogue: Hostages Saved, Suspect Dead – Ending an 11-hour standoff, the four hostages were escaping just as the FBI struck. [Update: The details of the attack border on the bizarre, as the hostage-taker is a British citizen and several compatriots were arrested in London.]
Sunday, January 16
[Winter 2022] Major East Coast Storm Prompts Emergencies – Four states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia – declared winter states of emergency. More than 5,000 flights were canceled in the region, and power cut to 250,000 homes and businesses. Transportation is expected to be snarled across the East into Monday.
[Coronavirus] Surgeon General: COVID Wave Hasn’t Peaked – Fueled by the current explosion of Omicron, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that an increase in cases, pressure on hospitals, and a rise in deaths is to be expected over the next 2 to 3 weeks. There was good news, as he reported it appears the Omicron wave is receding in a number of major cities. (The weekend average for new cases was over 800,000 a day.) The impact on the economy has prompted some businesses to ask Congress for additional support.
[Coronavirus] France Approves Vaccine Pass – By a vote of 215 to 58, the French Parliament established a vaccine pass and other measures to help against the almost catastrophic explosion of new cases, now reaching more than 400,000 a day. Under the new law, people must show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, movie theaters, long-distance trains, and other public places. This has not made anti-vaxxers happy- but President Macron already said that he hoped to piss off the unvaccinated and disrupt their lives so much that they give in and get the shots. Vive la différence.
Monday, January 17
[Abortion Law] Federal Court Kicks Texas Abortion Law to State Supreme Court – The Federal Appeals Court of the Fifth Circuit wants a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court on whether state law allows clinics to sue state licensing officials. The process will take many months and probably will be made moot by the U.S. Supreme Court.
[China Population] China Population Growth at All-Time Low – For the fifth consecutive year, China’s population growth has declined to the point where it may potentially reach zero growth. While the country does have 1.4 billion people, the demographics of zero growth puts enormous pressure on both the economy and the government. Despite efforts to encourage people to have children, such as getting rid of the “one-child” policy, it appears that, as in many countries of rising prosperity, the Chinese are not overly eager to have more children.
Tuesday, January 18
[Coronavirus] Federal Website Opens to Offer Free COVID Tests – A link on the site, COVIDtests.gov, allows people to order free at-home coronavirus tests, four per residential address. The tests will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
[Jan. 6 Investigation] Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Giuliani, Sidney Powell – Two other lesser-known participants in staking Trump’s claims of voter fraud, Jenna Ellis and Boris Epshteyn, were also subpoenaed. The committee is looking for their testimony about the development of the “Big Lie” and its dissemination around the country. Giuliani in particular is noted for fronting the message to the extreme. These and other subpoenas indicate that the committee is seeking to piece together a broad picture, before, during, and after the January 6 event.
[Voting Rights] Senate Begins Debate on Voting Rights Legislation – Although doomed by Sinema and Manchin, who will refuse to end the Republican filibuster on the bill, Senate Democrats have for the first time forced a full debate on the issues, and will get a vote that will pinpoint exactly those who are blocking voting rights.
[Trump Legal] New York AG Files Papers Outlining Trump Pattern of Fraud – The papers were offered to counter the attempt by Trump lawyers to quash subpoenas for Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Jr. The filing once again brought to PR attention what the AG calls “an uncovering of significant evidence” of Trump’s phony property valuations for the purposes of defrauding either financial lenders or the IRS. In short, we get glimpses of action in PR bursts and then business goes back to the slow process of developing litigation.
Wednesday, January 19
[Jan.6 Investigation] Supreme Court Rejects Trump Document Refusal – The stock in trade for Trump and his legal team is delay on delay, so the effort to keep his documents pertaining to the January 6 insurrection from the committee investigation was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. However, the high court responded relatively quickly and decisively in an 8-1 decision to have the national archives release the documents. The release began almost immediately. This will have repercussions quickly and for some time.
[Voting Rights] GOP, Manchin, and Sinema Succeed in Blocking Voting Rights Legislation – Using the expected 60 vote filibuster rule, which Manchin and Sinema upheld by refusing tor vote for cloture, Senate Republicans blocked the effort to change the filibuster rules. With that, the current iteration of the Voting Rights Act, and most of the Biden agenda that has not already been passed, will be subjected to radical revision, if moving ahead at all.
[Coronavirus] Government to Send Out 400 Million Free N95 Masks – The Biden administration, as part of its effort to stem the explosion of Omicron infections, will be using distribution via mail, pharmacies, and health centers in what it calls the “largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.” Given how irrationally allergic millions of Republican-Trump supporters are about masks, this is likely to – at the least – seem like a highly ironic gesture. It is somewhat significant to note that the masks in question are much superior to N95s, which coincides with a statement by the CDC endorsing the N95 masks and deprecating, if that’s the word, the cloth masks of yore.
Thursday, January 20
[Trump Legal] Georgia Prosecutor Convenes Special Grand Jury for Trump Election Inquiry – Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis called for a special grand jury with subpoena power to investigate Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss in the Georgia 2020 election. Willis cited the resistance of multiple witnesses to testify as the reason for the special grand jury, although it will not have the ability to make criminal charges. This process has obviously many more months to run.
[Coronavirus] Census Bureau Data Show 9 Million Stayed Home from Work Because of COVID – The statistics gathered during the early part of January confirm that a major effect of the Omicron wave was on the economy, while at the same time it drove infections (more than a million a day!) and hospitalizations to new records. What has been called the “great American sick out” reflects the widespread effect of staffing shortages throughout the economy. What impact this will have on inflation and other aspects of an economic “return to normal” remains to be seen.
[Economy] Mortgage Rate Reaches Highest Level in 22 Months – Reflecting the general inflation trend in the U.S. economy, mortgage rates moved up from 3.5% to 3.56% this week. There is a developing rush to lock-in interest rates for expensive projects such as house buying. The expectation is that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates more quickly to deal with the stubborn inflation.
Friday, January 21
[Ukraine] Blinken. Lavrov Meet Over Ukraine Crisis – The U.S. Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister don’t generally meet until lower-level issues have been clarified. In this case, it’s either good news that the negotiations are serious, or very bad news that the endgame is near. Blinken also probably spent time covering Biden’s gaffe that appeared to sanction a “minor Russian incursion” into the Ukraine. Something along the line of no such thing as half pregnant, which was obvious in the diplomatic sense but necessary to refute any bad PR.
[Coronavirus] CDC Study Confirms Boosters Help Omicron Patients – The key take-away of the study was that both the Pfizer and Moderna boosters are 90% effective in reducing hospitalizations of people infected by the Omicron variant. People will still become infected – Omicron is extraordinarily contagious – but the impact on those vaccinated and boosted will be greatly reduced. This will be particularly true for those over 50 or who have compromised immune systems.
[Ukraine] Russia Rattles Sabers: Show or Go? – As befits the Russian playbook, raise threats to a maximum – move more troops to the border, hold military exercises, put ships in strategic Black Sea positions, and threaten the U.S. with military assets in Cuba and Venezuela (push those buttons much?). It’s no joke, and certainly the State Department takes it seriously, but the reaction of NATO allies belies a certain skepticism.
[Stock Market] U.S. Stock Market Has Worst Week since the Pandemic Began – A combination of persistent inflation forcing the Fed to raise interest rates and uncertainty about the impact of the current Omicron wave pushed the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and S&P to the lowest levels since the crash of 2020. Some analysts say this was a necessary and temporary correction, others point to a more fundamental overvaluation of stocks.
[Coronavirus] Texas Judge Blocks Vaccine Mandate for Federal Workers – Although the Supreme Court may have left a crack in the anti-vaccine issue – healthcare workers might be an exception – the Texas court ruling concerned federal workers. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey V. Brown ruled that Biden did not have the power to mandate every federal employee consent to vaccination or lose their job. Of course, the Justice Department will appeal the decision.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 71,416,243; Deaths: 887,782
Waning wave? Everybody wants to be optimistic, including the epidemiologists, but as we have learned from the Omicron variant – which appeared suddenly and dramatically – it ain’t over till it’s over. Nevertheless, statistics worldwide show that countries have their wave of Omicron infections, which can lead to some startlingly large numbers as in the U.S. where more than a million people a day become infected. But the wave slowly but surely does recede. If another even worse variant doesn’t show up, and that truthfully is still a pretty big if, we actually could see the pandemic greatly reduced by summer.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
If Humpty Dumpty was a stand-in for the Democrats’ agenda, why was it on the top of the wall in the first place? Let’s not do this again, provoke Americans’ expectations that the Democrats will do great things in Congress, and then somehow ignore that the Senate is two votes short (Manchin and Sinema), implacably short, on key issues such as modifying the filibuster rule. It’s fair to ask, didn’t Democratic leadership know that this was a possibility and prepare a framework – both in developing legislation and in public relations – that would take this into account? Somehow this PR debacle, which has greatly damaged Biden, should have been mostly avoided. Wonder why a recent Gallup poll showed that 47% of Americans prefer the Republican Party, 42% the Democrats? Apparently, Americans don’t believe the Republicans are trying to destroy democracy or, conversely, that the Democrats offer anything significantly better.
Logistics expose the real: U.S. Embassy in Ukraine requested evacuation of non-essential employees. This is not reading tea leaves. Logistical moves like this are most often serious, but not absolute proof of a pending Russian invasion, just highly indicative.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quotes of the Week
[W]hen government is seen as dysfunctional amid partisan fighting, the president and his party are blamed, because they run the place. When Republicans uniformly oppose the president’s policies, voters fault him for failing to secure bipartisan cooperation. That’s why McConnell wants to deny him “broad agreement.”
Greg Sargent, “Mitch McConnell’s Plan Is Working,” The Washington Post, 1/20/2022.
[W]hy are right-wing elites so hostile to vaccines? Have they carefully considered the evidence? Don’t be silly. Their real motive is the desire to prevent Democrats from achieving any kind of policy success. And is it really implausible to suggest that some leading figures on the right actively want to make things worse, in the belief that the public will blame Biden?
Paul Krugman, “Biden Versus the Friends of COVID,” The New York Times, 1/20/2022.
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