Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, January 22 through Friday, January 28, 2022 [Vol.3 No.28]
The Week’s Most Notable
The week’s signature moment hasn’t actually happened. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced that he would be resigning, most likely at the end of the current court session in July. His announcement was a polite and pragmatic tip of the hat for Biden, giving him ample time to find a successor. Of course, Biden knew this was coming sooner or later, and most of the homework was long done. For one thing, he made a campaign promise to nominate a black woman. For another, the historic seating of a black female justice fulfills a political destiny of sorts, and fortunately there are multiple candidates of extraordinary quality. It’s expected that Senate Democrats will be able to put through a candidate in relatively short order. Of course, Republicans are expected to post whatever gas-lit negatives they can. Fox News mouthpieces and some congressional Republicans have sunk to the opportunity, such as attacking the idea of a black woman justice – suggesting affirmative-action incompetence and all that. If evidence were needed of the Trump-GOP racist cantilever, this is it. Otherwise, despite media attempts at dramatization, the nomination process and installation of the new justice, which won’t affect the 6-3 imbalance of the court, should go fairly quickly and smoothly.
However, Justice Breyer’s leaving is a signpost, which many think he is planting himself. Few justices have labored as long and hard as Breyer to hold together the institutional honor of and respect for the Supreme Court – sometimes to a fault. It took a while for him to recognize that he is facing what amounts to a cabal, five justices whose notion of judging and of the Supreme Court are virtually his antithesis. Fxxk precedence is not in his vocabulary. A recent ruling, twisting decades of OSHA policy and practice, forbid the agency to enforce worker safety in the face of the worst pandemic in American history. Breyer knows, as we’ll see by June, there is much worse to come. The 5.5 ultraconservatives on the court are on a mission, it’s what they were put there to do, pull in or create as many cases as possible that reverse previous decisions. On the marquee issues, abortion, guns, voting, they will provide a smattering of fig leaves. Otherwise, most of their rulings, particularly those that favor corporations and business in general, will pass prolifically and naked into the world. In the process of creating their righteous new judiciary, court protocols and deference will be ignored as needed. Public opinion, never more than marginally acknowledged, will become superfluous to most decisions. This is an historically bleak picture of a biased, politicized, and aggressive court, one that even Justice Breyer has begun to acknowledge.
Ukraine and the threat of war: It’s worrisome. People worry that like the fearful numbers of dead in the pandemic, which seemed impossible two years ago, a war in Ukraine could actually happen. Unfortunately, some are unwilling to take the threat seriously until confronted with the facts, and like with COVID sometimes not even then. Putin has already put enough soldiers at the border, 135,000 at last estimate, to overrun the country. It is said he did not expect the U.S. or Western Europe to respond so strategically, making it as clear as possible that the cost of his war on the Ukraine would not be to his benefit. This has widely been recognized as a smart tactic, particularly on Biden’s part. But it does not guarantee there will not be an attack. Putin may be backing himself into a corner, especially in relation to his domestic standing. It’s always possible that some last-second face-saving “compromise,” such as troop numbers or geographic distribution of weaponry, could be engineered to give Putin a chance to declare victory. But far more consequentially than usually the case, this one is too close to call.
Saturday, January 22
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 72,119,382; Deaths: 890,874
[Sinema Censure] Arizona Democratic Party Censures Sinema – “I want to be clear; the Arizona Democratic Party is a diverse coalition with plenty of room for policy disagreements, however on the matter of the filibuster and the urgency to protect voting rights, we have been crystal clear. In the choice between the archaic legislative norm and protecting Arizonans right to vote, we choose the latter.” Party chair Raquel Teràn released this statement as the party voted to censure Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
[Ukraine] U.S. Embassy Personnel and Families Ordered to Evacuate Ukraine – This kind of move is considered serious, so much so that the government of Ukraine protested. Ukraine is, for now, taking the stance that war with Russia is not even imminent, much less inevitable. Let us hope they’re right.
Sunday, January 23
[Coronavirus] Anti-Vaxxers Rally in Washington – Several thousand gathered around the Reflecting Pool on the national mall to protest vaccination mandates and vaccination in general. (More than 20,000 were expected but fewer actually materialized.) Protesters had diverse complaints, often centered on some form of government overreach. The most common rationale was that vaccines failed to prevent coronavirus from spreading. (In the words of the companies that make them, the COVID vaccines were never intended to fully prevent people from getting sick; they were designed to keep people from going to the hospital or dying.)
[Afghanistan] Taliban Meets Western Governments in Norway – A series of meetings in Norway, by the Taliban? This is not the Taliban of old, but then the Taliban of old didn’t have a country to run where more than half the people are starving and the government has no money. It is one of several ultimate standoffs – Ukraine, COVID mitigation, to name a couple – where either a solution is found or many, many die.
[Food Shortages] Omicron Cases Cause Food Shortages – While it is close to proven that the Omicron variant is not causing the pathogenic results of its predecessor Delta variant, it is far more infectious. The numbers of infected people are astounding; for example, the U.S. hit more than a million new cases a day several times in January. That many sick people, and the number is undoubtedly undercounted, means that many people don’t show up at work, often for days at a time. That number is so great that in some industries production and supply chains are breaking, which causes shortages. Nowhere is this more obvious than in supermarket shelves where foodstuffs are dwindling. Food industry experts expect the shortages to persist for weeks or even months.
Monday, January 24
[Astronomy] Web Telescope Arrives at Its Observational Perch – So far so good, with every step a marvel of technical complexity, the deep space telescope now a million miles from Earth, has successfully taken up its position to observe the cosmos. Among other things in its multiyear mission, is to find new planets.
[Georgia Elections] Georgia Judges Okay Special Grand Jury to Investigate Trump Election Efforts – Fulton County Superior Court judges approved the request from County District Attorney Fani Willis to impanel a special grand jury with subpoena powers. Willis asked for the jury because of difficulties in gathering witnesses.
[Stock Market] Stock Market Bounces Back, Still Unstable – Labeling the recovery of the stock market a “correction of corrections,” it’s still expected that developments of the pandemic, continued inflation, and an uncertain international trade environment will continue to keep the stock market somewhat more unbalanced than usual.
[Supreme Court] SCOTUS to Hear Challenges to College Affirmative Action Policies – The Supreme Court accepted cases involving racial considerations in college admissions. It is likely the 6-3 conservative court will begin to find these policies unconstitutional.
Tuesday, January 25
[Coronavirus] Contrast and Compare: Biden Cancels Vaccine Mandate/New York Judge Upholds Mandate – Admitting to defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court, the Biden administration withdrew its vaccine-or-test mandate for large companies. Meanwhile, a New York appeals court judge temporarily restored the state’s mask mandate. The ruling was immediately challenged. These cases exemplify the almost uniquely American confusion between public health/safety/life or death, and individual freedom. The U.S. has more official deaths from this pandemic than any other country.
[Coronavirus] CDC Confirms Omicron Less Severe Than Other Variants – Popular scuttlebutt has long held that Omicron is not as pathogenic as Delta; the data seem to confirm that. What’s usually missing from the headlines is that Omicron is less virulent because it’s encountering populations with a higher vaccination rate, not necessarily because the virus itself is all that weaker. People who are vaccinated and boosted have a very high probability of NOT going to the hospital or dying. However, Omicron is so much more infectious than previous variants, that it is creating havoc for hospitals and economies as millions of people drop out, even with relatively mild infections.
Wednesday, January 26
[Supreme Court] Justice Breyer Announces He Will Retire – The 83-year-old justice, the oldest on the court, has chosen to leave at the end of the current session (July), allowing plenty of time for Biden to pick and confirm a successor. Breyer’s leaving and replacement will not affect the 6-3 conservative majority.
[Ukraine] Unified NATO Rejects Russia’s Ukraine Demands – Russia wants NATO to reduce deployment in Eastern Europe and guarantee that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO. Of course, Russia knows NATO will never agree to this; instant standoff. NATO just confirmed its position in a letter to the Russians. The Russians will be looking for any subsurface cracks in the NATO front; NATO will be looking for a similar backdown-point in the Russian front.
[Gun Laws] San Jose Becomes First U.S. City to Mandate Insurance for Gun Owners – Liability insurance for gun owners is an idea surprisingly late in coming, but then opposition will be fierce. The city ordinance will be challenged in court and is sure to draw concentrated fire from Second Amendment and gun rights advocates nationwide.
[Economy] Fed Signals a Rate Hike in March – Acknowledging the pressures from inflation and spirited economic growth, leaders of the Federal Reserve talked about not needing to boost the economy from coronavirus. The March rate hike is still conditional – they will to wait and see what Omicron does to the economy. Current rates are at historic low levels and have been so for almost 2 years.
Thursday, January 27
[Economy] Economy in Strongest Growth since 1984 – Apparently the U.S. public didn’t get the memo, as most polls continue to show the economy, especially inflation, as the number one concern, and a big reason why Biden’s popularity has been tanking. The economy grew by 5.7% in 2021, a strong rebound from the COVID stricken economy of 2020.
[Supreme Court] Biden Reaffirmed His Promise to Nominate First Black Female Justice – “Long overdue,” said Biden. He has already begun meeting with candidates, starting with the one considered leading at the moment, Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, former clerk for Justice Breyer, currently appeals court judge in the D.C. Circuit and recently vetted by the Senate, having been approved with even three GOP votes.
[Affordable Care Act] ACA has Record Enrollment at 14.5 Million – To the tune of “healthcare on my mind” the Biden administration touted the record numbers, smashing the previous high by 2 million.
[Gulf Oil] Federal Judge Puts Kibosh on Massive Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale – The judge ruled that the Biden administration violated federal rules by using analyses that didn’t take fully into account how the leases would affect climate. The leases involved 1.7 million acres and $192 million in sales, and were ordered by an earlier court. Environmental groups had sued on the assertion the sale was based on a flawed and outdated model. The judge agreed. As did the Biden administration.
Friday, January 28
[Mail-In Voting] Pennsylvania State Court Slaps down Mail-In Voting – The state law passed in 2019 allowed for no-excuse absentee voting by mail. The court deemed this legislative overstepping. Thirty-four states allow this kind of voting, some for decades. The ruling will be appealed to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
[Jan. 6 Investigation] Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Bogus Alternative Trump Electors – No week goes by without the House Jan. 6 committee advancing some action. This time it focused its subpoenas on 14 people who signed their names to documents making them look like electors. “The Select Committee is seeking information about attempts in multiple states to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including the planning and coordination of efforts to send false slates of electors.”
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 75,289,094; Deaths: 905,734
Who’s afraid of BA.2? It’s a variant of a variant, in this case the Omicron (BA.1). It recently showed up on medical observation radar as being even more infectious than the original Omicron variant. Indications are that it is not more pathogenic, but that it might out-reproduce Omicron, which would mean prolonging the pandemic. It could be worse.
Vaccine immunity does not last forever. People seem to want to forget that, or they somehow think vaccines are miracle drugs providing instant and immutable immunity. Rarely true, and certainly not with COVID vaccines. Most of them degrade in effectiveness over a period of months. That’s why, for example, flu shots are given every year, or why the Israelis are developing a second COVID booster (fourth shot). This does not go down well with anti-vaxxers, but then a century of vaccination routines, dozens of lifesaving and essential vaccines, and the overall record of safety provide data that anti-vaxxers simply ignore.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Republican leaders, appalled, yes, absolutely appalled, by Biden weakness, call for greater toughness against Putin and Russian aggression. Meanwhile, over on Fox News, some of the key mouthpieces have come out in favor of supporting Putin and the takeover of the Ukraine, while the rest of the right-wing media have joined in the chorus denouncing Ukraine. Polls show that Americans in general, including Republicans, are against siding with Putin or Russia. Most people seem to recognize that Russia remains a dangerous opponent, if not momentarily an enemy.
In the bonfire of books. It seems every decade or so, members of the right-wing and some in the GOP get enthusiastic about banning books. Sex is usually the starter rationale, but they can never resist spreading it to racial and ethnic groups, religious groups (ban the Holocaust), and pretty much any kind of book that they don’t like. It usually passes quickly, but people tend to forget when they vote that forbidding things is a core activity of the right when it gets the power.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Republican-controlled legislatures in Southern states including Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas have passed industry-backed bills to prevent cities from restricting fossil fuel use.
Maxine Joselow, “Gas Stoves in Kitchens Pose a Risk to Public Health and the Planet, Research Finds,” The Washington Post, 1/27/2022.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]