Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 6 through Friday, March 12, 2021 [Vol.2 No.34]
Federal Help Is on the Way
The Week’s Most Notable
It was a very special Thursday (especially for Democrats). The week culminated in the most profound boost in decades for federal government involvement during, at least, times of crisis. Biden announced that, with the addition of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, all American adults would be eligible for vaccination by May. Then he signed the landmark American Rescue Act, providing $1.9 trillion for an incredible array of both COVID-19 oriented and social welfare programs. Biden highlighted the day with his first formal address to the nation, combining a eulogy for the more than 500,000 dead from COVID-19 and the arrival of truly mass vaccination (approaching 3 million doses a day), with the soon to be arriving federal money (for example the $1,400 per taxpayer check) designed to support efforts for ending the COVID-19 threat and stimulating the economy back to “normal.” He went so far as to promise that Americans could celebrate July 4 at least in small (vaccinated) groups. Through this tour de force of federal competency, most of which was accomplished in less than 40 days, the Democrats have made a claim for optimism and the future. If they make it happen without rampant inflation, it becomes massive political capital that could carry into 2022 and beyond. If it doesn’t happen, the now relatively-muted Republicans will reap the whirlwind. (Surprisingly, waiting for the outcome of the Democrats’ actions is all the GOP has left, while they diddle their base with juicy but inane social justice issues and other distractions, such as the racism of Dr. Seuss and cancel culture.)
Most Americans think COVID-19 is a decreasing threat. The promise of widespread vaccination, which is essentially real, has also taken the lid off suppression of activity by many Americans – and not only Republican-right wing COVID-19 denialists. The growing prevalence of people no longer wearing masks in public is a sign of this change in attitude. In the process of acquiring optimism, however, Americans are flirting (if that’s the word) with allowing the COVID-19 variants breathing room (if that’s the phrase) for rapid expansion of infection such as what’s happening in Brazil and Italy. Unfortunately, given the relatively primitive knowledge about what, where, and how many strains of the virus are active in the U.S., it is almost impossible to predict whether the rush of vaccinations will outpace the progression of the viral variants. Keep your fingers crossed, which is not a good thing to say about any medical situation.
Saturday, March 6
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 29,656,167; Deaths: 537,455
[Coronavirus] Half of U.S. Seniors Vaccinated – That’s more than 27.5 million people above the age of 65 – a milestone in the progress for vaccination against COVID-19. The caveat is that for many this is only the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Nevertheless, as the number of daily vaccinations begins to average about 3 million per day, coverage of a critical population shows real improvement.
[Pope – Iraq] Pope Francis Visits Iraqi Top Shiite – As part of a historic Middle East tour, the Pope brought his message of peace to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite Muslim cleric. They talked for 40 minutes and emerged promising better treatment of Iraq’s Christians and a hope for regional peace. These days most such religious meetings have symbolic value but little else; this one however, has strong diplomatic reverberations in Iran, where hardliner factions – also Shiite – are not supportive of al-Sistani.
[Cyber Attack] Microsoft Servers Hit by Cyber Attack – Software using the Microsoft Exchange server was hit worldwide by a coordinated attack that many have traced back to Chinese elements. Unlike the previous “SolarWind” attack on U.S. government agencies, which was attributed to Russian elements, this one was far more wide-reaching and disrupted email communications globally.
Sunday, March 7
[Voting Access] Biden Signs Voting Access Executive Order – In part to highlight the ongoing Republican voter suppression efforts, Biden’s executive order directs all federal agencies to promote voter registration and make voting easier. This is part of the early skirmishes that will eventually lead to the fight over passing two major bills (HR-1 and HR-4) that expand and guarantee voting rights. In turn, the Senate fight for these bills Senate will force Democrats to either abandon them or find some method to circumvent filibuster.
[Filibuster] Manchin Indicates Support for Modifying the Filibuster Rules – In a series of statements that could have far-reaching implications, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) the keystone Democratic-vote powerbroker, reaffirmed his support for the filibuster BUT that he was “open to altering Senate rules regarding filibuster.” In particular, he said he was in favor of making the filibuster “more painful” to invoke, thus forcing more bills to the 50-vote requirement instead of the extremely common 60-vote requirement. Manchin’s support for change probably indicates that other “centrist Democrats” will go along with changes to filibuster requirements in order to pass more of Biden’s legislative agenda.
[British Royals – Oprah Interview] A Royal Brouhaha: Oprah Interviews Harry and Meghan – Seventeen million Americans watched the interview – it’s a lot more interesting than arguing about the filibuster. There are undertones of racial discrimination issues, but essentially for Americans this is a Sunday evening’s distraction.
Monday, March 8
[Coronavirus] CDC Announces Fully Vaccinated People Can Gather in Small Groups – Setting the stage for developments during the week, the CDC in effect verified that progress is being made with vaccinations – one in four Americans now have at least one dose. On the other hand, some epidemiologists see this announcement as opening Pandora’s Box, allowing Americans to think that COVID-19 is no longer a threat. It’s the variants, folks. Until we reach common immunity, including the COVID-19 variants, we’re still prone to another wave of the virus.
[Immigration] Biden: 320,000 Venezuelan Refugees to Stay in U.S. – It was one of Biden’s campaign promises, one guaranteed to infuriate the right wing. Biden’s response was based on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela where more than 5 million people have fled the country; nominally, it will end when the crisis is over.
[Derek Chauvin Trial] Opening Day of the George Floyd Related Trial – The trial, along with other anniversaries, has sparked demonstrations in memory of the numerous police killings of black men over the past years. In this case the trial is expected to last at least two months and will have its share of controversy, as the media relives one of the most painful events in recent American race relations – the nine-minute knee-on-neck killing of George Floyd by policeman Derek Chauvin.
Tuesday, March 9
[Abortion] Arkansas Passes Near-Total Abortion Ban – As with numerous other states, Arkansas passed a law that forces the issue into the lap of the perceived anti-abortion friendly Supreme Court. This law, which goes into effect this summer, prohibits all abortions except for saving the mother’s life. Rape and incest are not included.
Wednesday, March 10
[Coronavirus] Biden Administration Purchases 700 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses – In order to fulfill his promise that there will be enough vaccine for all adult Americans by the end of May, 100 million additional doses from Johnson & Johnson, and 600 million from Pfizer and Moderna will not only satisfy U.S. vaccine requirements but put the administration in a position to provide vaccines internationally, especially to developing countries.
[Biden Administration] Merrick Garland Confirmed as Attorney General – After months of delay, the U.S. finally has an Attorney General; he will take office within a day or two. While the DOJ was already reacting to having new leadership and adjusting to the end of Trumpian partisan illegality, it is no exaggeration to emphasize that the change in AG means that the course of government-related cases will be accelerated rather than muffled or quashed. Garland has already promised that cases related to the January 6 insurrection will be his top priority. Cleaning the department of Trumpian influence, though less public, will also be a priority. As Garland said,” there is much to be done.” The Senate also confirmed Marcia Fudge (D-OH) as the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
[Immigration] Biden Restarts Central American Minors Program – From 2014 to 2017 the program was intended to help children with families in the U.S. to escape the violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Coincidentally or not, the U.S. is experiencing a rising flow of children at the southern border, which is straining the resources (processing children’s asylum was inadequate before Trump and almost stopped during Trump) and providing Republicans with a well-known path to score anti-immigration points.
[Coronavirus] House Passes $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan – Slightly adjusted by the Senate, the bill has now passed the House, 220-211 with no Republican votes, and will be sent directly to Biden for his signature.
Thursday, March 11
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 712,000 – The seasonally adjusted number is slightly below estimates but remains historically high. It signifies that the economy is still churning through jobs at or below replacement level, so that the overall jobless count, around 9 million, hasn’t changed much in the past several months. Overall, the unemployment rate continues to drop by 1/10 to 2/10 of a percent monthly. Again, this hardly signifies a return to normal employment although the signs in specific industries, especially retail, are encouraging.
[Coronavirus] Biden Signs Landmark American Rescue Plan – It is the largest bill favoring lower- and middle-income people since the era of FDR. From the $1,400 per person (mainly taxpayer) to the vastly expanded child tax credits, this bill not only provides money to combat COVID-19 and restore confidence in the economy, but also represents the largest expansion of the welfare safety net since the Affordable Care Act. It will literally be months and years before the full impact of this bill can be recognized. To considerable amazement, this stunning enhancement of the role of the federal government in times of crisis was supported by more than 70% of the public, including 60% of Republicans. The speed of its passage, the phenomenal popularity, the eminent need, and the precedent of Trump-GOP spending seems to have muted the Republican cry of outrage. Time will tell how much this plan will accomplish and whether it over-stimulates the economy, but for now it seems to be a source of great national confidence building.
[Biden Administration] Biden Gives First Primetime Address to the Nation – Bundling his signing of the American Rescue Plan, the opening of vaccinations for all adults by May 1, and a promise that Americans could celebrate July 4 with vaccinated friends and family made this one of the more authentically upbeat speeches in many years. Although it was begun with a eulogy for the more than 500,000 COVID-19 dead, Biden’s tone was more like a fireside chat than a rousing rally speech. No doubt a deliberate contrast with the former guy.
[Gun Control] House Passes Two Gun Control Bills – Although passed with some Republican support, these two bills, which enhance background checks, are essentially teed up for the Senate, where they will not pass without changes to the filibuster. Republicans have consistently rejected any gun control.
Friday, March 12
[George Floyd] Minneapolis Awards $27 Million to George Floyd’s Family – It is the largest police-related settlement in American history. The settlement will probably be an item in the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd.
[Governor Cuomo] Dems Coagulate around Cuomo Removal – After a week of additional sexual-harassment accusations against Cuomo, apparent lack of support for him by New York Democrats (the state assembly voted to begin an impeachment inquiry) and now calls for his resignation by the two New York U.S. senators (Schumer and Gillibrand), Cuomo goes into the week-end under high pressure but still insisting he won’t resign.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 29,993,423; Deaths: 545,544
You may have noticed the “Help Wanted” signs appearing in the windows of numerous retail businesses and fast-food places. It may be premature, but Americans think the economy is going to recover. It seems like most people will be a bit cautious but willing to spend money again. As the year progresses, shopping, gathering in small groups, limited travel, and other things that constitute a normal economy will be officially “okay” per the CDC. Possibly, there could be a close to normal Christmas. Of course, the grinches among us are beginning to bleat about inflation. It’s been so long since we saw inflation in any serious form that it’s become a kind of bête noire, a bogeyman. Obviously, Republicans will cheerfully link arms with the bogeyman. However, the Fed continues to say, ”don’t worry about it,” we’re a long way from harmful inflation.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
Democrats are marshaling PR/propaganda in favor of changing the rules for filibuster. This campaign has been going on for several months, and it’s unclear why it’s even necessary. The Republicans oppose modifying the rules of filibuster always and unequivocally. Most of the public is at best hazily aware of the filibuster and not engaged in caring about its modification. In fact, it might be argued that Democrats could be much more open about the re-formulation and simply go about making changes with some dispatch. Changing the rules requires only a 51-vote majority, which the Democrats can do anytime they have unanimity within their own Senate caucus. It’s clear that without changing filibuster rules, most of Biden’s agenda cannot pass the Senate with the exception of bills passed under budget reconciliation (probably two this year and one in 2022). In point of fact, the House Democrats are now queuing bills for the Senate on what must be the expectation it will limit the use of filibuster. Senate Democrats should just get it done already.
Taking bets: Which comes first – an infrastructure bill (under budget reconciliation) or a voter protection act (HR-1 and HR-4, which, however, requires changing filibuster rules)?
Quote of the Week
Somehow low-key Joe Biden gets yawns when he promotes progressive policies that would generate howls if promoted by a President Sanders or a President Warren.
David Brooks, “Joe Biden Is a Transformational President,” The New York Times, 03/11/2021.
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