[The audio edition of the newsletter is here. Anyone with a computer or phone can listen by clicking on the link; no special app needed.]
Well, for the second time this week, I sold Joe Biden short. In my expanded listing of his accomplishments yesterday, I left out two significant achievements: Appointments to the federal judiciary and lifting the economy out of the steep recession caused by the pandemic. Let me make amends (again).
President Biden has appointed more federal judges in his first year—40—than any president since Ronald Reagan. The judges appointed by Biden have been well qualified by experience and education to serve as federal judges. And they have been more diverse than the cohort appointed by any prior president. Per the NYTimes,
Many of the nominees confirmed were “firsts” — including the first Muslim American federal judge and the first openly lesbian judge to serve on any federal circuit court. And Mr. Biden’s administration has also taken pains to nominate not just corporate attorneys, but public defenders and civil rights attorneys.
All of Biden’s nominees to the federal bench have been rated as “qualified” or “well qualified” by the American Bar Association, while ten of Trump’s nominees were rated as “not qualified” by the ABA. Kudos to Biden and Chuck Schumer for managing the confirmation process to achieve such great results!
On the economic front, the U.S. recovered from the pandemic recession faster than any other country in the world. See Brookings Institute, “A most unusual recovery: How the US rebound from COVID differs from rest of G7.” On Wednesday, the Biden administration received more good news, which was summarized by Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post, “Biden gets an early Christmas gift: Good economic news.” Per Rubin,
With a projected 7 percent annualized growth rate for the fourth quarter, the United States is running circles around Europe and China. That relative strength against the rest of the world, reflected in a strong dollar that lowers the cost of imports for U.S. consumers, matters greatly. . . . Moreover, for all the talk of inflation and the pandemic, consumer confidence is through the roof.
Furthermore, supply chain woes are showing signs of abating. As Biden said at a meeting on Wednesday with his supply chain task force, “Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered and shelves are not empty.” He was also able to point to concrete steps his administration has taken to address the issue, such as obtaining the ports’ agreement to operate 24/7.
Against that broad base of good news, Republicans claim the economy is a disaster because of inflation. Though inflation is bad, it is not the defining characteristic of economic performance. But even as to inflation, there is good news on the horizon. A key component of the Consumer Price index is gasoline. Per Rubin,
[The] economic exuberance is driven in part by a drop in gas prices. The White House can now boast that gas prices are down nearly 10 cents from last month. As it noted in a recent statement, “The average price at the pump is now $3.32. This price is in line with the real price of gasoline over the previous ten years from 2011-2020.” Next year, gas is expected to drop below $3 per gallon.
Finally, Biden has once again extended the moratorium on student loan debt until May 1, 2022—a welcome relief as the Omicron variant injects new short-term uncertainty into the employment prospects of those repaying student loan debt. See The Hill, “Biden extends student loan freeze to May 1.”
Speaking of the Omicron variant, there were several positive developments that suggest that there is light at the end of the pandemic. Read on!
Possible good news regarding the Omicron variant and pandemic.
Although scientific conclusions are still tentative and subject to debate, the data suggests that the Omicron variant has peaked in South Africa after only four weeks. See Washington Post, “South Africa’s omicron coronavirus outbreak subsides as fast as it grew.” The reasons for the rapid decline of Omicron infections in South Africa are not entirely clear (see Omicron Update - by Katelyn Jetelina), but several of the possible explanations are good news. But you should still get vaccinated, boosted, and use masks!
In other positive news, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization to a drug manufactured by Pfizer that will prevent mildly symptomatic covid patients from becoming severely ill. See FDA.gov, “Update: FDA Authorizes First Oral Antiviral for Treatment of COVID-19.”
And even better news is that the U.S. Army is testing a vaccine at Walter Reed that has the potential to provide immunity against all Covid and SARS variants. See Defense One, “US Army Creates Single Vaccine Against All COVID & SARS Variants, Researchers Say.” The drug has only been tested through Phase I human trials, so we should remain cautious.
A researcher involved in the testing said, “We want to wait for [the final analysis] of clinical data to be able to kind of make the full public announcements, but so far everything has been moving along exactly as we had hoped.”
If Army researchers come up with a single vaccine for current and future variants of SARS-CoV-2, it would be a dramatic advance that might allow us to finally escape repeated waves of mutated coronaviruses. Then all we need to do is to convince right wing media outlets to stop trying to kill their customers. . . .
And finally, the Supreme Court has set an expedited hearing for January 7th on an emergency petition to decide whether OSHA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have the authority to issue vaccine mandates for health care workers and employers with more than 100 employees. See WaPo, “Supreme Court sets special hearing for Biden’s vaccine rules for health-care workers, private businesses.” Putting aside the outcome, the fact that the Supreme Court is acting with haste to deal with an issue of national importance besides abortion laws is a positive sign about the responsiveness of the Court. A good outcome will validate vaccine mandates, and a negative outcome will hasten the day when Democrats enlarge the Court to diminish the death grip of the reactionary majority. Let’s hope for the former, but be prepared to implement the latter, if necessary.
House Select Committee wants to “sit down with” Rep. Jim Jordan
Jim Jordan is hiding something, and the House Select Committee wants to know what it is. It would be an understatement to say that Jim Jordan has been “evasive” about his conversations, if any, with Trump on January 6th. Last July, a reporter asked Jordan “Yes or No, did you talk to Trump on January 6th?” Jordan twisted himself in knots to avoid answering the question. The excruciating and unintelligible answer is set forth verbatim in TPM’s article, “Subpoena Jim Jordan.” If your teenager gave you the same type of answer to a simple question like, “Did you drink and drive last night?”, you would ground him without further evidence.
As I said, Jim Jordan is hiding something. When the Special Committee “invited” Jordan to sit down for a chat next month, the Committee reminded Jordan that he said last month, “I have nothing to hide. I’ve been straightforward all along.” Good! Now that we have that out of the way, Jordan should be happy to sit down with the Committee.
Upcoming Podcasts for Today’s Edition.
The second podcast of Today’s Edition with Robert Hubbell will go live on the Callin app on Sunday, December 26th, 2021, at 11:00 AM. If you download the Callin app from the Apple app store, you can join the conversation live. The link to the live podcast is here: Holiday Party and Year-end Review. The podcast will be recorded and included in next Monday’s newsletter (where everyone can listen without the app). Although the podcast will usually focus on readers of the newsletter who are involved in organizations focused on preserving democracy, because the upcoming podcast is scheduled for the day after Christmas, it will be focus on the “year in review.” I will talk with early readers of the newsletter (from February 2017) and look back at the major stories of the year.
Also, last week’s podcast interview with Jessica Craven of Chop Wood, Carry Water is available here: Interview with Jessica Craven. The last five minutes of the interview with Jessica are inspirational and not to be missed. Among Jessica’s descriptions of what she would say if she had five minutes to address everyone in America, she says “No matter who you are, your voice matters.” Your voice does matter; hear Jessica explain how you can make it heard!
In yesterday’s newsletter, I linked to the testimony of Amy Jo Hutchison before the House Oversight Committee in 2019. Ms. Hutchison testified about conditions of the working poor in West Virginia. I urged readers to watch the video of Hutchison’s testimony and promised that it would change the way they think about legislation like the Build Back Better bill. Thousands of you watched the video, and hundreds of you wrote to say “Thank you” for recommending the video.
Most readers commented on the fact that Amy Jo Hutchison gave voice and life to the plight of the working poor. When we talk about a “$1.7 trillion bill” or the “Child Tax Credit,” those abstract words describe a distant and bloated federal government. But Ms. Hutchison’s testimony dramatizes the excruciating choices that the working poor must make: Feed their children or pay for life saving medication; accept a promotion at work and disqualify their families from food assistance programs or turn down the promotion and retain the food assistance. If you did not review the video, I urge you to do so. It will cast an unforgiving light on Joe Manchin’s cruel decision to doom the Build Back Better bill and its promise of a better life for tens of millions of Americans. The video is at the homepage of RattleTheWindows.
But the importance of Ms. Hutchison’s testimony transcends the particulars of the Child Tax Credit or the BBB legislation. First, Hutchison teaches us how to humanize the programs and policies that Democrats promote day-in-and-day-out. Democrats are struggling in the messaging contest with Republicans. If you want to see how we can dramatically improve our connection with and appeal to voters, listen to Ms. Hutchison’s testimony. She spoke from the heart; she spoke with passion; and she talked about real-life consequences of political decisions.
Second, and most importantly, Ms. Hutchison should serve as a model to all of us when facing adversity. She is struggling to stay above the poverty line as she raises her family. She had to decide “which bills I wouldn’t pay” so she could travel to D.C. to testify before Congress. She lives in a state with a legislature that is captive to the GOP, which goes out of its way to silence, disenfranchise, and oppress the working poor. And yet, she is a community organizer who is fighting a battle that must seem unwinnable on most days. But she hasn’t given up, hasn’t retreated into despair, and is not indulging in self-pity. Instead, she is making her voice heard in a way that inspires others. As Jessica Craven said, “No matter who you are, your voice matters.” We have a moral obligation to make our voices heard. Follow Amy Jo Hutchison’s example. Speak from the heart, with passion, and about the real-life consequences of political decisions. We can do that. If we do, we will win.
Talk to you tomorrow!