Discover more from Letters from an American
November 18, 2022
The price of crude oil this morning was $78.47 a barrel, down from $92.61 a barrel on November 4, falling by at least 18% over the past two weeks. This should help to relieve high costs of gas for consumers, although when the price falls to around $70 a barrel, the administration will begin to refill the strategic petroleum reserve, the release of which has helped to bring down gas prices. Diesel prices, though, are going up because of shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a shortage of refinery capabilities after a 2019 fire shut down a refinery in Pennsylvania.
Shipping prices are also coming down, getting back to a normal range after crazy heights after the pandemic that fed inflation. The dislocations of the coronavirus pandemic sent shipping costs as much as 547% over the usual range by last January, driving up the prices of consumer goods. The return of more normal costs for transportation should help bring those prices down.
As Americans head out of town for the holidays, President Biden reminded them today that his administration is taking on the hidden “junk fees” on airline tickets and hotel rooms.
In other economic news, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has already spurred dramatic investment in American manufacturing of battery equipment. Previously, China was dominating that industry, but now America is developing its own battery sector to help the nation move toward electrical vehicles and other climate-friendly technologies.
Biden pushed for the IRA to combat climate change, provide jobs, and compete with China. By passing the IRA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden administration “has basically seized the bull by the horns,” Sanjiv Malhotra, the chief executive of a company building a battery plant in rural West Virginia told Harry Dempsey and Myles McCormick of the Financial Times. Malhotra’s new plant will hire out-of-work coal miners.
Meanwhile, the two parties continue to try to organize themselves into new patterns after the midterms. The far-right, pro-gun “Second Amendment Caucus” today hosted Kyle Rittenhouse, the 19-year-old who shot three men, killing two of them, in summer 2020 during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and who was later acquitted of homicide.
Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), whose Democratic opponent, Adam Frisch, conceded today rather than force a hand recount of their close election, told Emily Brooks of The Hill: “It was an honor to have Kyle join the Second Amendment Caucus. He is a powerful example of why we must never give an inch on our Second Amendment rights, and his perseverance and love for our country was an inspiration to the caucus.” Rittenhouse tweeted a photograph of himself at the Capitol with the caption: “T-minus 5 years until I call this place my office?”
Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is facing opposition from the far-right MAGA Republicans in his quest to be speaker of the House, and welcoming Rittenhouse signals to the base that they will have a strong voice in the new Congress.
New candidates for Democratic leadership in the House are stepping up now that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she is stepping down. Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) today launched a bid to become the Democratic leader. Emphasizing continuity from Pelosi, with whom he is close, Jeffries called for working with Republicans “where possible…to deliver results for the American people,” but noted that “the opposing party appears to have no plan to accomplish anything meaningful. If the Republican Conference continues to major in demagoguery and minor in disinformation, their bankruptcy of ideas must be aggressively exposed on an ongoing basis.”
Jeffries called for Democrats to “unify around an agenda designed to make life better for everyday Americans from all walks of life,” and to center Democratic “communication strategy around the messaging principle that values unite, issues divide. House Democrats are actually the party that defends freedom, promotes economic opportunity and values families by uplifting them. We must make sure that the perception of the Democratic brand matches up with the reality that we do in fact authentically share values that unite the Heartland, Urban America, Rural America, Suburban America and Small Town America.”
Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark is running for the number two position in the party leadership—the place Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has held since 2003—and California Representative Peter Aguilar is running for the number 3 position. Both Clark and Aguilar are close to Jeffries, and the three are seen as a team.
The coming Republican control of the House means shifting of the investigation into former president Trump. Trump was subpoenaed on November 14 to testify before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol but didn’t acknowledge the subpoena. The committee said it would “evaluate next steps.”
Yesterday, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said he established a subcommittee about a month ago to look at "all outstanding issues" and to consider criminal and civil referrals to the Department of Justice. The members of the subcommittee are all lawyers: Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Liz Cheney (R-WY), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
Today, days after Trump announced he would seek reelection in 2024, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he had appointed a special counsel to assume control over the investigations of the former president. One is the investigation into Trump’s theft of United States documents, including some that were classified at the highest levels, when he left office. The other is Trump’s role in the events leading up to the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol in an attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election for Trump.
The Department of Justice has been investigating both of these issues since they came to light, but with Trump now in the political ring for 2024—in part because he hoped an announcement would stop his prosecution—and with Biden likely to announce later, Garland said he thought it was important to demonstrate that the investigations were independent. It is also of note that a special counsel can be removed only for misconduct, insulating the investigations from the new Republican majority in the House. The White House was not given advance notice of Garland’s action.
Garland appointed to the position Jack Smith, a graduate of Harvard Law School who served as a prosecutor for government corruption cases and since 2018 has been a war crimes prosecutor in The Hague. A former colleague said of him: “I have no idea what his political beliefs are because he’s completely apolitical. He’s committed to doing what is right.”
The appointment frustrated those who saw no reason to treat Trump differently than any other U.S. citizen and thought it would significantly slow the investigation; others saw it as a sign the Justice Department would indict the former president. Tonight, referring to the issue of the stolen documents, Trump’s attorney general William Barr told CNN, “I personally think they probably have the basis for legitimately indicting [Trump].... They have the case.”
White House press briefing, November 18, 2022, 4:03 pm EST.