Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, July 23 through Friday, July 29, 2022 [Vol.4 No.2]
Manchin and Schumer Have a Deal (?)
The Week’s Most Notable
SHOCK Deal Week? The media had fun with it – Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin hammering out a far-reaching $800+ billion piece of legislation (Inflation Reduction Act) in secret. It contains elements large and small that will affect the economy – and people – for at least the next 10 years. Highlights: Foremost – a real climate change package of $385 billion that includes clean manufacturing tax credits, Medicare negotiating drug prices, drug price inflation cap, new 15% corporate minimum tax, IRS budget and collections increases, $300 billion in deficit reduction. The healthcare and climate change elements are, relatively speaking, groundbreaking. A legislative act this big was considered dead and buried at the hands of Joe Manchin only two weeks ago. Yet here we are. Despite all of Manchin’s previous perfidy, this one had Republicans muttering “My God, Joe Manchin is a Democrat!” Of course, the inevitable question: Can the Democrats actually pass the bill?
Yes, they can – almost forgotten in the hubbub of the preceding months, the Democrats still have a budget reconciliation bill available for this year. As long as the legislation fits the reconciliation model and the Senate parliamentarian approves it, Democrats only need 50 votes, plus the VP as tiebreaker, to pass it in the Senate. House approval, though not automatic, is almost a sure thing. Yeah – but can the Democrats get all 50 votes in the Senate? This time they got Manchin, of course, but what about Sinema? The bill contains an end to the carried-interest loophole, which allows hedge fund managers and the like to have their earnings taxed at the 15% capital gains rate instead of at much higher rates for normal income. Sinema has been vociferously in favor of preserving the loophole, Manchin adamantly against it. Sinema’s position on anything is unknown at the moment, which is nerve-racking. It’s hard to imagine that the Democrats would once again walk so publicly to the legislative brink without knowing if Sinema will or won’t jump over it. A misjudgment here would be utterly disastrous.
The response from the media, the GOP, economists, and even Democrats is somewhere between flabbergasted and indecent outrage. In short, loud and messy, which behooves the Democrats to move as quickly as possible, which means wrapping up before summer recess on August 5. Besides, they desperately want this legislation to register with the public ahead of the midterm elections. It’s a monumental piece of work and just clarifying what it will do, especially against the likely frenzied Republican response, will be a challenge of historical proportions for the Democrats. Fasten your fanny, we’re in for a ride.
Saturday, July 23
[Ukraine] Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive in Kherson Region – Russia claims it has designs on the entire southern coast of Ukraine, from Crimea to Odessa. Ukraine is about to attempt cutting that objective in half by retaking the port city of Kherson, which fell in the earliest phase of the war. Rumors persist that the Russians are having difficulty sustaining momentum and that the Ukrainians are beginning to use the heavy munition supplied by NATO. But this is wartime, and propaganda is the norm.
[Climate Change] California Wildfire Nears Yosemite – The fire in Mariposa County is the largest in the state, so far having burned 12,000 acres and forcing 6,000 people to evacuate. A state of emergency has been declared for the area, and forest fire specialists are being rushed to the sequoia forest in Yosemite National Park. The fire has been 0% contained.
[Monkeypox] WHO Declares Monkeypox a Global Emergency – In a preemptive move, while many officials are uncertain about the extent of the emergency, the World Health Organization decided that making it an official emergency would hopefully stimulate production and distribution of vaccines and treatments. There are approximately 5,000 known cases in the U.S. The disease is transmittable mainly by close physical contact, primarily sexual activity. It is rarely fatal but has debilitating short-term effects. Because monkeypox is usually most visible among homosexuals, the right wing in the U.S. has started to make a political issue of it. [Update: New York and San Francisco declared monkeypox emergencies, not because of the numbers, but to free up money and administrative time to deal with the problem.]
Sunday, July 24
[Jan. 6 Investigation] Jan. 6 Committee Expands Interviews – Making the rounds of Sunday talk shows, committee members made it clear they are not going to be quiet all summer and to that end additional people will be called for testimony, especially cabinet members. Vice Chairwoman Cheney also announced that a subpoena for Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was in preparation. Throughout the week it became apparent that the committee is having an easier time of getting higher level Trump officials to testify. The effectiveness of previous testimony, the high television ratings, the opening of obvious DOJ investigations, and the relative decline of Trump’s authority seem to be producing a modest wave of individuals who wish to go on the record. [Update: Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been interviewed. Former acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney testified in a deposition on Thursday.]
[Ukraine] Ships, Grain, and Uncertainty Begin Stacking-up in Odessa – The Russians apparently agreed to allow grain shipments from the port of Odessa, but then immediately fired missiles at the port from ships in the Black Sea – classic Russian mixed-signals. Ukraine is under pressure because the harvest is coming, various countries around the world are clamoring for food, while Russia, the EU, and Ukraine joust for public attention and various permissions.
Monday, July 25
[Ukraine] Russia Resumes Cutting Gas Flow to EU – First it was a barrage of excuses, “Sorry about cutting the gas line, doing routine maintenance.” This time the Russian energy company Gazprom warned that supplies will eventually be cut to about 20%. It mentioned that shortage of replacement parts caused by the sanctions made repair and maintenance of the Nordstream I pipeline very difficult. Russian flow or no flow is by now largely irrelevant for the EU, as it has been busy seeking alternative supplies for the past several months. [Update: EU agrees to ask for a 15% cut in use of natural gas by all member countries.]
[Pope Francis] Pope Apologizes to Indigenous Canadians – For more than 100 years the Catholic Church operated about 70% of Canada’s indigenous people schools, an era marked by rampant sexual and racial abuse, sometimes fatal – all in the name of assimilation. As Pope Francis put it, “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples.” [Update: The Pope found the Canadian trip so exhausting that he’s considering retirement.]
[DOJ – Jan. 6] DOJ Grand Jury Hears Testimony from Pence’s Top People – As a clear sign that the Department of Justice is beginning to rev up its criminal investigation into the activities surrounding the January 6 insurrection, two of former VP Mike Pence’s top people – Marc Short, former Chief of Staff, and Greg Jacob, Pence’s chief counsel, testified before the grand jury. Short was quoted as saying, “If the mob had gotten closer to the vice president, I do think there would’ve been a massacre in the Capitol that day.”
Tuesday, July 26
[Space Station] Russia Announces It Will Withdraw from the International Space Station in 2024 – In all likelihood this heralds the end of the space station; it’s already superannuated beyond safety – part of the reason the Russians are withdrawing. They’ve been threatening to pull out since 2021 and sanctions over Ukraine have provided cover. China and Russia plan to build their own stations. It looks like the era of international space effort is over, at least for now.
[DOJ – Jan. 6] AG Garland Reiterates Intention to Prosecute Jan. 6 Criminality – Perhaps feeling more pressure from the public and Congress (at least the Democrats), Garland affirmed in his interview with Lester Holt, “We pursue justice without fear or favor.” The tenor of DOJ remarks lately has left the impression that more prominent indictments, up to and possibly including Trump, are in the offing. Keep in mind that there is no timetable, but stretching this process into 2023 is more than likely.
[Climate Change] Record Rainfall Floods Parts of St. Louis – Almost 9 inches of rain caused serious urban flooding and at least one death.
Wednesday, July 27
[Congress] Manchin and Schumer Make a Deal – SHOCK was generally the reaction. Not only did this surprise new bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, top out at around $800 billion but it was unusually substantive, especially in the area of climate change, which was not considered one of Manchin’s priorities. The media chewed on this package, it’s sudden birth and chances of adoption, while Republicans attempted to cover for being caught flat-footed by emitting a cloud of objections. If it passes, which is possible but not a sure thing (Kyrsten Sinema has yet to check in or out), it will not only be one of the most significant pieces of legislation in decades, but it could theoretically resurrect Democratic chances in the midterms and Biden’s chances in 2024.
[Economy] Fed Raises Interest Rates Another .75% – For the second straight month, the Federal Reserve hiked its interest rates three quarters of a percent to fight inflation. A full 1% rise was on the table but the Fed indicated that there are some signs that consumer purchasing is weakening – along with plenty of talk about recession. As is often the case, the Fed must perform an almost blindfolded balancing act between accelerating and decelerating the economy.
[Brittany Griner] U.S. Proposes Prisoner Swap for Brittany Griner – High-profile political prisoners such as WNBA Star Brittney Griner, who has been in a Russian jail since February, almost inevitably became part of a diplomatic ping-pong match. In this case, Russia is pitting its pique over the Ukraine-related economic sanctions in the trading game between Griner, another U.S. prisoner, Paul Whelan, and a notorious Russian arms dealer in U.S. custody, Viktor Bout. The U.S. has made the first dramatic move, but expect the Russians to milk the moment – resolution, if any, could require days if not weeks. [Update: Russia tossed a new name into the mix, convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov; currently in German custody. Since it involves another country, this is a serious complication.]
Thursday, July 28
[Climate Change] Disastrous Flash Floods in Kentucky Kill at Least 16 – Areas in Eastern Kentucky received 8 to 12 Inches of rain, and more is expected. Local rivers and small tributaries have seriously flooded, damaging hundreds of homes. [Update: Current assessment indicates 25 dead, more likely, and weeks of cleanup ahead.]
[Economy] U.S. Economy Contracts for Second Straight Quarter – When is a recession not a recession? By the book, two consecutive quarters of economic decline constitute a recession. However, the book doesn’t make the determination, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) does, and as usual, it hasn’t said anything for months. The panel of NBER economists uses many factors, which in this case is likely to be complicated, especially since employment figures are so strong. Currently, Republicans are cheering for recession, Democrats are hopeful that it isn’t; neither party has a clue.
[Economy] “Chips Bill” for Boosting U.S. Semiconductor Business Passes Congress – The $280 billion price tag for the Chips and Science Bill, helping the U.S. be more competitive with China and Taiwan in the production and research of critical semiconductors, cleared the Senate on Wednesday – which triggered Schumer and Manchin to roll out their new Inflation Reduction Act, much to the chagrin of Republicans – and today it passed the House by a close vote of 243-187. Republicans in the House turned against the bill because they were angry about the inflation reduction bill, although 24 of them still voted for it. It should be noted that this bill certifies the U.S. can’t keep up with China and Taiwan without government intervention, which should have been anathema to Republicans (except that there’s a bunch of Republican businesses that will benefit from it).
[China-U.S. Relations] Biden and Xi Talk for More Than Two Hours – Indicative of the current relatively tense situation, the conversation between the two leaders no doubt had a long checklist of topics, most of them pro forma – Taiwan, Ukraine, South China Sea, human rights. However, the length of the conversation might indicate there are some more substantive points on the table as neither side wants a “hot” confrontation at the moment.
[Supreme Court] Justice Alito Makes Pro-Religious Speech in Rome, Attacks Critics – Highly irregular might be one way of putting it, but Supreme Court justices rarely make waves in speeches, especially abroad. Alito’s professed preference for religious primacy in governmental matters (church should usually win over state), and his acerbic comments about Great Britain’s Prime Minister and Prince Harry, who criticized the judge’s Dobbs decision, put him at odds with more than 200 years of U.S. judicial practice. His significantly arrogant approach may one day contribute to a showdown over the composition of the court.
[Coronavirus] Biden Administration Settled on Second COVID-19 Booster in Fall – Although infection rates are rising throughout the U.S. (averaging 450 deaths and unofficially nearly 400,000 new cases a day) the administration has decided to hold off on pushing a second booster until one is prepared to counter the currently dominant Omicron BA.5 variant. It is expected to be ready by September. Technically, the U.S. is already in another significant wave of COVID-19, but officially and personally has no stomach for a stringent mitigation effort. It remains to be seen whether if things get worse in the fall, effective counter-measures can be implemented.
Friday, July 29
[Ukraine] East Ukrainian Prison Explosion Kills at Least 40, Injures 70 – Located in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, the prison houses mainly Ukrainian prisoners of war. The Ukrainians obviously blame the Russians, calling it another war crime; the Russians are claiming “false flag” Ukrainian operations by hitting the prison with a US-made missile.
[Gun Control] House Passes Ban on Assault Weapons, DOA in the Senate – This was another “stand up and be counted” type of bill designed to put a spotlight on “No” voting Republicans in both House and Senate. It has no chance of passing the filibuster in the Senate.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
Is Trump disintegrating? Forgive the analogy, but something is needed to describe what seems to be happening. Trump’s hold on the GOP and the radical right is like a bundle of sticks (fasci) held together by a thick old rubber band, where the rubber is aging, flabby, tired, and checkered with many small cracks. One day it may reach a point of disintegration where it is so loose, it just falls off, or breaks. This is not (just) wishful thinking. How many pictures have been seen during the last several weeks of an old looking Trump? His pictures used to be carefully curated, no matter the outlet, to give him a well-groomed Mussolini vibe; not so much recently. But this observation is superficial. Much more fundamentally, last week the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post simultaneously posted very negative editorials about Trump. It was, in fact, a sign from the Overlord, Rupert Murdoch himself. Since then, throughout the Murdoch media empire, even Fox News, Trump has had less coverage, DeSantis more coverage. It’s been noticed.
What happens if the “Big Lie Bundle” comes undone by the disintegration of Trump’s standing with the base? Murdoch consolidated that base; how quickly might he dissolve it? What happens to all those politicians who have kissed the ring? How does the Republican party walk away from the Big Lie? Lots of (good) questions.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
In an eleventh-hour act of cowardice, Republicans chose today to rob generations of toxic-exposed veterans across this country of the health care and benefits they’ve earned and so desperately need. Make no mistake — the American people are sick and tired of these games.
Senator Jon Tester, “Senate Republicans Block Bill to Help Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits,” The Washington Post, 7/28/2022.
Favorite Headline: Democrats in…array!?
The Atlantic, 7/28/2022
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]