Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, September 18 through Friday, September 21, 2021 [Vol.3 No.10]
Wait ‘til Next Week
The Week’s Most Notable
The important thing about this week was that it set the stage for next week. Start with the debt ceiling. By law the ceiling must be raised to cover pending debts by Thursday, September 30. The House did its part this week by passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling; now it goes to the Senate where McConnell has refused to allow any Republicans to vote for it, even though it requires 60 votes. If it doesn’t pass the Senate and goes past the deadline, the U.S. will technically be in a position to default on its payments – which by all accounts would be a financial and governmental catastrophe (never happened before in American history). Monday next week was the day Speaker Pelosi said the House would vote on the $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. However, progressive Democrats say they will block passage of this bill in the House if the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation infrastructure bill isn’t also passed. All this week progressive and centrist Democrats jockeyed for position on what is included and the price tag on this other bill. There may be a deal struck, maybe not, but in any case, the most important Democratic legislation in decades hangs in the balance. So perhaps does the Democratic Party and Biden’s presidency. Democrats have also said that they will introduce a new version of the Voting Rights Act in the Senate, but this will definitely require changing filibuster rules in order to pass. If all of this sounds more than a little scary – and utterly important – it is. Unfortunately, we’re so accustomed to hyperbolic rhetoric that when the real-deal shows up, with real dangers and real consequences, it’s hard to recognize it. It may take more than a week or two to play out, but this is the real deal.
Never has so significant a faction in American politics behaved in a way that so directly claims the life of its own supporters. Not even pre- or post-Civil War politics incited party members to self-destruction. From the beginning, in March 2020, when Trump denied the significance of COVID-19, to the mass acceptance of quack medicine by right-wing media, to the political leaders who continue to disparage vaccination and wearing masks, the Republican Party and its right-wing constituents promoted and rewarded behavior that aided and abetted the killing of its own people by the disease. Not just a few, but at least tens of thousands. Even today, it is said that at least some Trump conservatives would rather die than not “own the libs.” What a strange perversion of “give me liberty or give me death.” Perhaps history will compile an accurate perspective about this political contribution to the worst pandemic in American history and its more than 700,000 dead.
Saturday, September 18
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 42,945,772; Deaths: 694,790
[Right-Wing Rally] D.C. Rally in Support of Jan. 6 Rioters Draws about 450 – Massively hyped by both mainstream and right-wing media, in the event, there were more journalists, police, and counter protesters than supporters. In short, a massive PR dud. The enhanced security for the capitol cost several million dollars. On the other hand, from the rally supporters’ point of view, any coverage – even negative coverage – might’ve been the goal.
Sunday, September 19
[Haitian Refugees] U.S. Begins Deporting Haitians from under Texas Bridge – This began a weeklong sequence of optics and policy calamities for the Biden administration. The incident with thousands of Haitian refugees, drawn from all over the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, huddled in squalor under a bridge in Texas, along with graphic pictures of border patrol on horseback lassoing refugees, provided weeks’ worth of right-wing propaganda and disturbed many Democratic supporters. Haiti is still ravaged by hurricane damage, COVID plague, political chaos, and a massive earthquake.
[Immigration] Senate Parliamentarian Rules against Immigration Legislation in Budget Reconciliation Infrastructure Bill – It was a long shot to begin with, but still constituted a disappointment for Democrats. Many issues, including immigration, gun control, police policy, and voting rights cannot be shoehorned into omnibus budget reconciliation bills. They have to be tackled the old-fashioned way which, because of the filibuster, means there will be no legislation passed by Congress.
[Afghanistan Evacuation] Evacuation Flight with 230 Leaves Kabul – Bound for Qatar, the flight contained Afghan and foreign citizens, as the Taliban continue to allow a slow drip of evacuation. For how long is unknown, as the Taliban government continues to strengthen its position, clamp down on opposition, and reimpose conditions of Sharia Law.
[Gabby Petito] Body of Gabby Petito Found – A story that has delighted the media with its popularity has apparently moved to another chapter with habeas corpus and the search for her killer. The massive coverage has stirred justified resentment from non-white communities where disappeared women receive little or no attention.
[Canary Island Volcano] Canary Island Volcano Forces Thousand to Evacuate – The eruption of Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma Island has forced the evacuation of more than 5,000 people and already destroyed more than 20 homes. [Update: The volcano continued erupting and pouring lava onto the island causing another 3,000 people to evacuate and the destruction of more than 190 homes and other buildings.]
[Vaccine Booster] Fauci Suggests Moderna and J&J Boosters Are in the Offing – While the availability of the Pfizer vaccine booster has spearheaded government and media coverage of booster shots, many people worried about their Moderna or J&J immunization. According to Fauci, those boosters are being developed and may be available before the end of the year. [Update: J&J announced it has a booster vaccine that increases COVID-19 protection from 74% to 94%, and has already been submitted to the FDA for approval.]
Monday, September 20
[Coronavirus] U.S. to Lift Travel Ban for Vaccinated Foreigners – In a sign of coronavirus laissez-faire, the U.S. will allow travel to and from the country by people who can demonstrate valid vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within three days of their departure. Unvaccinated Americans will require a test within 24 hours before and after travel. The policy change begins in early October.
[Coronavirus] Pfizer Announces a COVID-19 Vaccine Dose for Children – From the age of 5 to 11, the availability of the Pfizer vaccine will help close the gaps in coverage. Currently children make up about 20% of new infections with higher percentages requiring hospitalization. The rollout, much less widespread coverage, in this age group is still months away and will probably not affect schools and students this year.
[Coronavirus] U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Exceeds That of 1918 Spanish Flu – As the U.S. death toll approaches 700,000, it is now widely recognized that it exceeds the death toll from the Spanish flu of 1918, estimated at about 675,000, albeit it was a U.S. with just one third of the population. The flu killed one in 150 Americans; COVID one in 500. The question remains: How could the wealthiest and most medically advanced country have had the worst coronavirus record in the world?
[Canadian Elections] Canadian Voters Re-elect Trudeau, but Still without Strong Parliamentary Control – The snap election, called because Trudeau thought he could increase his parliamentary advantage, wound up largely reinstating the status quo, with the Liberals holding 155 seats, Conservatives 121 seats, Québec block 33, and the NDP 27.
[Immigration] Biden Doubles Refugee Cap to 125,000 for 2021–22 – The increase is in preparation for thousands more Afghan refugees and possibly some from Haiti. Trump had set the level at 15,000; Biden had reset it to 62,500 in May.
Tuesday, September 21
[Biden UN] Biden UN Speech Offers New Era of Diplomacy – The sentiment was essentially diplomatic boilerplate, but following the era of Trump, it sounded pretty good, if a little thin on backup. The UN’s role in trying to reestablish a cohesive world response to pressing problems like climate change and the pandemic remains elusive, yet somehow still important.
[Debt Ceiling] House Passes Temporary Debt Ceiling Bill – It must also pass the Senate, which McConnell said no Republican would support – meaning that it won’t pass the Senate because it requires 60 votes. It’s well understood (though not by the public) that the debt ceiling bills authorize payment for expenditures that have already taken place, in this case, for things that happened during the Trump administration. The Republicans are being completely disingenuous, and are reckoning on right-wing media to make the counterfactual stick among their voters. As usual, this is a game of political chicken that one day may foul-up the entire economy.
Wednesday, September 22
[Police Reform] Congressional Talks on Police Reform Collapse – Stuck on the major issue of police accountability, negotiators on both sides of the bipartisan discussion admitted that no progress had been made. Both sides were pointing fingers at the other side, although it seems clear under the circumstances that this was another case of a prolonged negotiation which the Republicans had no intention of ever approving.
[Infrastructure Bills] Biden Begins Process of Presidential Influence on Infrastructure Negotiations – As deadlines and media pressure get real next week, Biden has, as expected, begun to use presidential authority to work a compromise between the centrist and progressive Democrats.
[Russian Assassination] European Court Finds Russia Guilty of Litvinenko Murder – Former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko was a Kremlin critic murdered by polonium poisoning in London in 2006. The verdict of the European Court of Human Rights found that Russian agents were responsible.
[Trump Lawsuit] Trump Sues New York Times and His Niece over 2018 Story – The extensive, Pulitzer prize-winning exposé of the Trump family’s tax evasion will be difficult for Trump to attack. Although his usual tactic is to sue everybody and everything, this one is so late and will be so expensive that it seems it might have been initiated through personal pique rather than through legal strategy.
Thursday, September 23
[Economy] Signs of Economic Recovery – The Fed has been signaling it will begin to end the financial stimulus pumped into the economy at the beginning of the pandemic in spring of 2020. The Fed is carefully monitoring the effect of the Delta variant on the economy, and Chairman Powell has reserved the option to alter policy if current growth trends fail to hold. There are still shortages, especially with semiconductors for electronics and automobiles, but retail trade continues to make considerable growth, despite the psychological restrictions of the continuing pandemic.
[Haitian Immigrants], Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote Quits over Inhumane Deportations – The issue of maltreatment for Haitians seeking asylum in the U.S. took another jolt by this resignation. The topic is already a favorite for criticism from both left and right.
[Jan. 6 investigation] House Select Committee Subpoenas Trump Allies – Signaling that the investigation will not tolerate delay tactics, the committee went after key people – Steve Bannon (Trump whisperer), Mark Meadows (Trump Chief of Staff), Dan Scavino (senior aide), and Kash Patel (senior aide to Defense Secretary). The subpoenas are seeking documents and personal depositions to find answers to what happened before, during, and after the January 6 riot.
[Coronavirus] CDC OKs Pfizer Booster Shots for Seniors and Vulnerable People – The CDC announcement followed recommendations by the FDA and went beyond recommendations of its own advisory panel. This somewhat unusual move raised eyebrows but seems consistent with other inconsistent messaging. The upshot, pardon the pun, is that booster shots will be more widely available, somewhat along the lines called for by Pres. Biden.
[Mass Shooting] Gunman Kills One, Injures 12 in Memphis Area Grocery Store – Grocery store shootings seem to have become a “thing” among American mass murderers. This is the fourth such incident this year.
Friday, September 24
[Arizona 2020 Elections] Arizona Special 2020 Election Audit Confirms Biden Win – The published “draft” of the final audit (a.k.a. Fraudit) shocked almost everyone by headlining that Biden not only won in Arizona but that his margin was greater than originally reported. This was the third audit of returns from Maricopa County and cost the state and private donors close to $6 million, not to mention the months of crazy publicity. That coverage might’ve been the point. However, Democrats should be able to create an enormous stack of PR hay from this astonishing result. Republicans are already indicating that it will change nothing in their plans to keep undermining election results.
[Jan. 6 Investigation] Biden Will Not Use Executive Privilege to Hide Documents from Investigation – It is not widely understood that only the current president can invoke executive privilege on contemporary cases. This also applies to documents and statements about the January 6 insurrection from former Trump administration officials, and even Trump himself. This will probably be challenged in court, but is a matter of long-standing precedent. The House select committee appears to be addressing any possible obstacles to gathering documents and testimony.
[Cryptocurrency] China Bans All Cryptocurrency Transactions – Holders of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were smacked with the news that the world’s second-largest economy is basically outlawing all forms of cryptocurrency transactions. Whether this has a profound effect will depend on how other countries react in the coming months.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 43,671,490; Deaths: 705,293
It’s a rather new term, “coronavirus laissez-faire” but it’s been around for a while. Fundamentally, in some political regimes it has meant, do nothing. That usually hasn’t worked; too many people die. On the other hand, lately, with the impact of widespread vaccination in some countries, the rate of infection – perhaps combined with a certain natural decline in the potency of the virus – looks like it’s causing optimistic trends. On this basis, many countries are behaving as if liberalization of travel, mitigation, and commerce are just the right thing to do. Make no mistake, this is a big gamble. Winter is coming, at least in the most populous northern hemisphere – the pandemic is nowhere and by no means over; but, if we’re lucky, it won’t get worse.
Pinned Trend: The threat of a current COVID-19 variant, other than the Delta variant, seems to be receding.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
Research published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against hospitalization fell from 91 percent to 77 percent after a four-month period following the second shot. The Moderna vaccine showed no decline over the same period.
Apoorva Mandavilli, “Moderna vs. Pfizer: Both Knockouts, But One Seems to Have the Edge,” The New York Times, 09/23/2021.
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