Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, February 5 through Friday, February 11, 2022 [Vol.3 No.30]
The Week’s Most Notable
It’s the economy, stupid. That might’ve been the motto for the week. Inflation, like the pandemic, isn’t over – despite what some people and politicians are saying and pretend is true. It’s mid-February, 2022 and it’s coming up on the time when most American economists and the Biden administration said we should be seeing signs of decreasing inflation. We’re not. According to the week’s economic report, January saw about a 7% increase in prices, a 40-year record. Inflation causes real anxiety, and often pain, especially for people whose status is “just keeping up.” Unfortunately, the political fallout for inflation anxiety is almost universally and forever to blame the party in power; this time up, the Democrats. Inflation may not be the only thing tanking Biden’s approval rating, but it’s a big piece of it. At a time when the majority of Americans apparently choose to think the pandemic is no longer public problem number one, and the right-wing media is delighted to incessantly promote something like the “impending collapse of the American economy;” the bread-and-butter issues, like being able to afford food, shelter, and gas, go to the top of the list.
Also unfortunately, the real story behind inflation is usually way more complex than most people care to explore. The current inflation is even more intricate than usual, and will take analysts years to pick apart: Serious inflation is worldwide and the pandemic has played a big role. On the one hand, COVID restrictions and people’s increased spending created built-up demand. That demand is now unleashed greater demand leads to higher prices. The pandemic also forced governments to pump money into the economy, and played hob with supply chains, manufacturing schedules, labor availability, and a host of other factors that make goods and services more expensive. Labor shortages have pushed increases in wages, which wasn’t helped by the almost complete shut-off of immigrant labor. Americans suddenly created a strange new factor, the “Great Resignation” – more than 25 million people over the last five months have voluntarily quit their jobs and gone looking for better ones. Of course, the pandemic isn’t really over; around 2 million people a week are getting sick and most don’t go to work. Finally, inflation has its own momentum; at a certain point, businesses in a particular industry see that everybody else is charging more money and choose to get into the stream of inflation themselves – whether it’s really tied to need or not. This is to say that greed has also been a significant factor.
There is no immediate all-encompassing solution to this kind of complicated inflation. In fact, for many of the factors, such as post-pandemic consumer demand and labor shortages, realistically the problem has to sort itself out. Under these circumstances, there is little the government, business, or consumers can do without big risk. Most of the factors are not structural, built- in to the way the economy works, but most of them are going to need a lengthy period of adjustment. For example, supply chains took years to establish and will take many months to fix. Economists were looking for a six-month turnaround on inflation; realistically, it will be a year or more – and most prices are not going to come down. How things look in the fall, say by November 8, may have a lot to do with what happens in the elections.
Truckers on a bridge too far: How could a convoy of semis roll-up on the world/media so surreptitiously? They weren’t exactly quiet (horns a-blaring). But obscure; it was in Canada don’tcha know? It took a few days and a traffic impaired capitol city (Ottawa) to get attention. And they got attention: part curiosity, part expressing common grievances (COVID restrictions to begin with), part funding and organizational support from U.S. groups (e.g., QAnon). At first Canadian officials tended to treat the convoy and blockades as a PITA (pain in the ass). But then the truckers blocked main U.S./Canada bridges, making real losses for companies such as GM and Ford Canada. The tactic spread worldwide in a week. Now officials in a clutch of countries are fretting over an appropriate response – arrests and forceful removal, water cannons, admonitions (!), fines? – like treading on eggshells now, is it? The truckers already have won, along with their opportunistic allies (yeah, Ted Cruz). [Update: State of emergency declared in Ottawa.]
Saturday, February 5
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 78,142,989; Deaths: 928,633
[Queen Elizabeth] Queen Elizabeth II Celebrates 70 Years on the Throne of Britain – Long(er) live the Queen.
Sunday, February 6
[RNC Censuring] Some GOP Congresspeople React against RNC – It’s not time to call it a rift, but the GOP congressional forces behind McConnell and the insurrectionist-minded Republican National Committee are lining up. For example, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) called the censuring of Cheney and Kinzinger “absolutely wrong.” Ultimately, everything about the upcoming elections hinges on the current GOP membership litmus test – Do you believe Trump won (the Big Lie)? Perhaps a pivotal moment in recent American history depends on the fate of that question, whether Trump, his lie, and his supporters will be held to account, or not.
[Joe Rogan] Rogan Remains Employed – The ongoing brouhaha over COVID misinformation and N*word use by Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan, forced his employer (who reportedly paid $100 million for his show) to say that yes, he will continue to be employed, but they regret his anti-vaccine comments and racial slurs. The stand-in for the right-wing Cancel Wars will now probably stand down, for a while.
[Ukraine] NSA Advisor Warns Russia Could Invade “Any Day Now” – This was the U.S. laying out its “what Russia will do” scenarios for what may come, a proactive media process that’s been ongoing for several weeks and will continue as long as Russia pushes up the tension. The current odds are in favor of a negotiated settlement whereby the U.S./NATO will guarantee (in writing?) that Ukraine will not be admitted to NATO or the EU for xx-years. Something like that, where Putin can go home and say “We won.” For Putin this is part of his legacy, so there’s always a personal edge that might be crossed if he calculates that some kind of military action will give him greater payoff.
Monday, February 7
[Ukraine] Germany, U.S. Agree to Block Nord Stream 2 Pipeline if Ukraine Invaded – Given that the pipeline is vital for the natural gas supply to Germany and was probably Angela Merkel’s most significant foreign policy decision, the agreement to shut off the pipeline is both significant as a political lever against Putin and as a sign of Allied solidarity. It will be interesting to see, eventually, what was the quid pro quo.
[SCOTUS] Supreme Court Puts Hold on Alabama Redistricting – Supreme Court conservatives use another Shadow Docket ruling to allow “temporarily” something to go ahead, which in practice means that the action in contention, in this case enforcing a lower court’s ruling that redistricting maps for Alabama must be redrawn, will not happen. Again, in this case, the gerrymandered map will be allowed to function in the upcoming primaries, although the issue goes back to the Court before the November vote. A similar mechanism was used for the Texas abortion law.
[National Archives] National Archives Recovers 15 Boxes of Records from Trump – At first blush, the ongoing activity surrounding Trump’s cavalier handling of official – and in some cases classified – documents and materials seems incidental. However, it quickly blossomed into revelations about Trump ripping up documents, flushing documents down toilets, missing segments of the White House logbook, and other violations of what are actually laws – some of them relevant not only to history but national security. Suddenly, a new dripping faucet of Trump investigation opens. [Update: The National Archives has called for the DOJ to investigate Trump’s document handling.]
Tuesday, February 8
[Jan. 6] McConnell Doubles Down on RNC Censure Criticism – In an act of drawing lines more clearly, McConnell affirmed his opinion that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was a “violent insurrection” aiming to “prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election.” This is a significant public move; McConnell is squaring-off against Trump. Trump’s response was characteristically bellicose: “He did nothing to fight for his constituents and stop the most fraudulent election in American history.”
[Coronavirus] CDC Confirms COVID Mitigation Guidance Unchanged – In the face of a growing number of states, even some Democratic controlled states, officially abandoning COVID mitigation, the CDC and the Biden administration closed ranks around the need for continued mitigation and actions against the spread of Omicron. If nothing else, it puts on record that it’s too early to abandon all mitigation, and that the consequence of once again opening up too early will be the loss of more thousands of lives.
[Freedom Convoy] Canadian Truck Protesters Block Key Bridges – It started with a wall of noise, truck horns, and the traffic nuisance in Ottawa, but the Canadian truckers protesting COVID restrictions has quickly been directed into a highly politicized right-wing/anarchist movement, now spreading into several other countries. At the U.S./Canada border, trucks now block traffic on key bridges of commerce, such as at Windsor-Detroit.
[Economy] Household Debt Surges – On the heels of significant inflation in the price of cars and houses (among other things), Americans added $1.02 trillion in household debt, the most since 2007.
Wednesday, February 9
[Ukraine] Russia Starts Large-Scale Military Exercises in Belarus – This was significant saber rattling on two counts: the number of troops involved (tens of thousands) and the fact that Belarus was actively taking part. This will make the neighboring Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) even more nervous.
[Jan.6 Investigation] Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Peter Navarro – The former Trump trade representative and frequent mouthpiece for the delay of presidential certification, will be questioned about his role in the insurrection. He will not cooperate.
Thursday, February 10
[Jan.6 Investigation] Liz Cheney Vows That the Truth Will Come Out – After a week marked by revelations of Trump’s document peccadilloes and continued subpoena activity by the Jan. 6 Committee, acting as the chair apparent as well as spokesperson for the committee, Republican Liz Cheney released an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for continued principled resistance to Trump’s Big Lie. The Democrats are more than willing to let her take the lead, and it appears she may have spiritual company in the form of Mitch McConnell – a strange turn of the political landscape.
[Economy] Consumer Price Index Jumped to 7.5% in January – This marked the fastest pace for inflation in 40 years. The biggest increases were in food, electricity, and shelter. The Fed is expected to react by raising interest rates aggressively starting in March.
Friday, February 11
[Ukraine] Putin and Biden Speak by Phone – According to the media, the background of the conversation was a “looming invasion.” There’s no question that the tone and tension of recent diplomatic maneuvers indicate that the situation is reaching a turning point. That’s typical of this kind of crisis, which is two thirds diplomatic tit-for-tat and one-third potential catastrophe. Two observations: Believe nothing said officially reflects the underlying reality, and do believe that personal missteps can trigger action. There is little reason to believe that the Russians want to occupy and hold the Ukraine; there is every reason to believe that they want more leverage in what happens there. It probably comes down to a marked but limited military action or a compromise – NATO promise to not include Ukraine or Georgia in (short-term) plans.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 79,234,345; Deaths: 942,071
In the previous week the sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2, came to media attention. It’s an iteration of the previous virus, characterized by being 1.5 times more transmissible, which is significant because Omicron was already four times more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus. The worry is that BA.2 may be just different enough to cause a new rise of infections. In short, it would delay recovery from the current wave. Worldwide, countries are relaxing their COVID mitigation efforts, mainly because Omicron is so infectious that there is little or nothing that can be done to stop it. What often gets left out of the reporting and official policy is that vaccination is still extremely important in keeping the Omicron infected from going to the hospital or dying. Countries with relatively low vaccination rates (that does include the U.S. for boosters) and that have dropped almost all significant mitigation – testing, masks, ventilation, quarantine – will see COVID-19 effects linger. The U.S. is now at approximately 940,000 deaths for the pandemic, rising at the rate of 2,500 per day; we probably will reach a million deaths by the end of March.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
It was gazpacho week in Congress. Yes, Representative Greene did confuse gazpacho the soup with Gestapo the Nazis. Basically, Democrats all over Congress held their tongues and hunkered down to work; the Republicans went off in all directions like bottle rockets, sometimes crashing into each other.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would end forced arbitration in workplace sexual assault and harassment cases, allowing survivors to file lawsuits in court against perpetrators. [The House passed the bill on Monday.] An estimated 60 million American workers are subject to such agreements. It now heads to President Biden to be signed into law.
Amy B. Wang, “Senate Passes Bill to End Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Harassment Cases,” The Washington Post, 2/10/2022.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]